The Toronto Comic Arts Festival is one of the most influential and important comic book event in North America. It’s mission is to “promote the creators of comic books in their broad and diverse voices, for the betterment of the medium of comics”. In the spirit of this mission, the Comics Beat has conducted a series of interview with some of the phenomenal cartoonists in attendance at this year’s festival. The Comics Beat will be releasing a series of interview with cartoonist in attendance. We hope that these interviews will improve our understanding of these creators voices, techniques, interests and influences.
We’ve had the chance to discuss with François Vigneault, an illustrator and comic book artist from Montreal. François is also the art director over at Study Group Comics . We’ve showcased his work on Titan previously as part of the ongoing “year of free comics” feature. If you haven’t read Titan yet, I highly recommend it. It follows the story of MNGR João da Silva, as he is sent to Homestead Station on the moon of Titan to assess the issues with the station and gets caught in long simmering tensions between the genetically engineered workers and the small team of management. The conflict on the verge of erupting could have repercussions and disrupt the whole solar system. Caught between his management duty and the conflicts that are arising, he befriends Titan worker Phoebe who shares his goals to de-escalate tensions on the station, as well as a love of classical music. I’ve spoken with François about his work on Titan, colour, music and the translation of his comic.
Philippe Leblanc: For those readers who may not be familiar with you and your work, can you tell us a little bit about yourself?
François Vigneault: Sure… I am a illustrator, designer, and comic book artist living in Montréal, Québec. Prior to moving here a couple years ago I lived up and down the West Coast of the USA, where I published a lot of mini-comics by myself as well as other artists, and also co-founded Linework NW, an illustration and comics festival in Portland, Oregon. I’ve been drawing comics fairly seriously for a decade or more, but Titan is my first full-length graphic novel.
PL: You are the Art Director for Study Group Comics, a platform for both print and web comics. How has that experience been?
FV: It’s been great. That came about a few years back because I was retiring my own small press company, Family Style, and my friend Zack Soto invited me to redirect my energies towards Study Group. Being the Art Director there has meant I have designed just about every book we’ve put out, including The Short Con by Aleks Sennwald and Pete Toms, Magical Character Rabbit by Kinoko Evans, and Study Group Magazine. I work with each artist to make their work looks its best in print… Sometimes designing logos and such, other times just framing the artist’s work so that it really pops on the stands. It’s been very satisfying collaborating with so amazing many creators… Zack has great editorial taste.
PL: You’ve been working on Titan, a sci-fi comics serialized on Study Group since 2012. Chapter ten was released in April 2017 with two more chapters on the way. What was that initial spark that made you want to create Titan?
FV: Before I had any of the concepts of the titans, the mining colony, the characters, or anything, I was inspired by watching two dogs interacting… A chihuahua and some sort of big breed, a wolfhound or something, I can’t remember exactly. I was thinking about the fact that these two very different animals were in fact, the same species, but genetic engineering over millennia had made them very, very different… and it made me wonder what might be in store for humans. Could giant humans exist? Why would they? What would relations between the different groups of people be like? From there various ideas, characters, and scenes accumulated, until now, five years later, it’s become a complete graphic novel somehow!
PL: Each issue is using a basic black and white and a different colour in each issue. A bright yellow, purple, or green. What prompted you to choose a single colour per chapter and how did you select which colour to use in each chapter.
FV: I come from a DIY printmaking background, and I am a big fan of spot-color and limited color palettes, I think it is just the right balance for me. The spot color can interact with the black and white in really interesting ways, creating forms and compositions that couldn’t exist in either black & white of full-color. I’m not doing anything too experimental or ground-breaking, but I like the way I can render João’s skin tone or Phoebe’s freckles in the spot color to add depth, while leaving the overall look pretty simple.
I don’t have a great answer as to why I chose each chapter’s respective color, most of the time they were just chosen because it was a color combo I was enjoying at the time I drew it. One major exception was Part 05: Just Like Honey, which features an important (NSFW) scene which was flooded in red as an homage to the opening shots of Jean Luc Godard’s Contempt. The colors also reflect the changing formats of the comic… Each chapter is a different color on the Study Group Comics website, but each issue (2-4 chapters) is a single color, and the entire book coming out from Éditions Pow Pow will be black and purple all the way through! That was a tough decision, it was a three-way race between pink, orange, and purple.
PL: Each chapter is named after a song. How does this tie into Titan?
FV: The concept that the two main characters (João da Silva, a terran manager, and Phoebe Mackintosh, a titan worker) would have an unexpected mutual love of 20th century “folk music” (a category they lump everything from blues and rock to hip hop and pop music into) came early on in my development of the characters and their world. Naming the chapters after songs was a way that I could connect to and reflect on themes in my work… and in turn the chapters are sometimes reactions to and reflections of the music. The lyrics of “Oh! You Pretty Things” by David Bowie, with its beautiful and apocalyptic sci-fi imagery (“Look at your children / See their faces in golden rays / Don’t kid yourself they belong to you / They’re the start of a coming race”), for instance, was a definite influence on the book, so it was only natural to name one of the chapters after it. The songs create a lens to look at the story through, and each chapter title is like a little literary reference, a quotation to shed light on what’s going on in Titan. And of course, they also make a pretty decent soundtrack for the book too!
PL: There is an upcoming collection of Titan that will be published in French by Éditions Pow Pow. Why was it important for you to have this tale translated in French?
FV: I am just incredibly excited about it… Éditions Pow Pow is actually printing the first collection of Titan anywhere, before it even gets an English collection (I’m still looking for an American publisher if anyone wants to get in touch!). Luc Bossé, the publisher at Pow Pow, approached me about publishing a French edition shortly after I moved to Montréal, and for me it is really moving to be published in French, by a Québecois publisher. My mother is from Québec, and I came to Montréal a couple years ago to reconnect with my francophone heritage and improve my French… It is actually my first language but I forgot everything when I was really young (I grew up in California). To come here and be welcomed into the vibrant comics community in Montréal has been incredible… Luc and the authors at Pow Pow really made me feel like a part of the family. Titan was translated by Alexandre Fontaine Rousseau, a prolific author, and it was really interesting working with him to capture the world of the book in another language. As a bonus, it is definitely good French practice to re-letter and proof-read your own 200-page book!
PL: The final chapters of Titan will be published soon and with this, the series will be coming to an end. What are your next projects?
FV: The world feels very open at the moment! Immediately, I’ll be doing more work as a freelance illustrator and graphic designer. I’ve been going through my stories and ideas and trying to decide what’s next… I feel a bit pulled in different directions. I do have a pretty good concept for a Titan sequel, but I think I’ll let that one simmer for a little bit before I dive back into that world.
François Vigneault will be attending TCAF. Come and meet him, he’s friendly!
Philippe Leblanc is a Canadian comics journalist. In his regular life, he improves Canadian medical education, and is the co-host of the Ottawa Comic Book Club. He reads alternative, indie and art comics at night and write about them for the Comics Beat.