In 2012, Benjamin Renner, Vincent Patar, and Stéphane Aubier co-directed and released Ernest & Celestine, a French animated feature film based on a series of children’s books by Belgian author Gabrielle Vincent.  The heartwarming story, which features an adventurous young mouse and a hungry bear, was critically lauded around the world.  The film won an award at Cannes and was even nominated for an Academy Award in 2013.

Now, one of the directors, Renner, has returned to the creative stage with Big Bad Fox, a graphic novel set to be published in the United States by First Second.  The comic focuses on the eponymous fox, who is unable to satisfy his predatory urges thanks to “a stupid rabbit, a gardener pig, a lazy dog, and a bossy chicken.”  Thus, he hatches a plot: steal chicken eggs, “raise the chicks, scare them, and eat them.  But things don’t go exactly as he planned…”

Renner says that “Big Bad Fox is a light-hearted comedy that I intended for the children and their parents. It was a pleasure to write this story and I can’t wait to share it with the US readers. I hope they will have as much fun reading it as I had fun drawing it.”

Featuring effortlessly beautiful watercolor artwork and a brilliantly devious story, Big Bad Fox is sure to entertain readers of all ages.  Featuring effortlessly beautiful watercolor artwork and a brilliantly devious story, Big Bad Fox is sure to entertain readers of all ages.  Check out our exclusive Q&A with Renner after the jump!

Alex Lu: Benjamin, you achieved some impressive notoriety with Ernest & Celestine‘s Academy Award nomination for best animated picture in 2014.  As someone who has garnered great success in animation, what made you decide to tell the story of Big Bad Fox as a comic instead of as an animated film or short?

Benjamin Renner: When I finished Ernest & Celestine, I was very tired. It took me five years to produce a single long feature. After I finished the film, I needed to work on a new project, but a project that wouldn’t take five years to finalize. So I decided to make a graphic novel. I had Big Bad Fox in mind for years, so that’s how I decided to work on it.

Lu: Some people might say that comics are like animation stills, though the two mediums are in truth, worlds apart. In your words, what unique tools and strengths do comics have to offer you that allow you to fully express your vision for Big Bad Fox?

Renner: As a writer I love graphic novels because you can experiment with a lot of different scenes and see immediately if it’s working or not. You have an idea in mind, you draw some pages, and you have the result. In animation, you have to work very hard and be very patient before you can see the result of your work. On Big Bad Fox, I had fun drawing thousands of different scenes, exploring many options, and seeing what was the best for the book. I was not afraid of throwing out a scene from the book as it didn’t take me a lot of time — compared to animation where it’s always dramatic to throw away a scene of your film.

Lu: Your stories, both in comics and in animation, are predominantly centered around animals.  What draws you to them as an artist?  

Renner: I’ve always fascinated by animals, both in real life and in stories. I love watching them — they feel like a mirror of our own society of humans. If you watch animals for long enough, you will discover thousands of little details in their way of acting, moving, and talking that you can relate to human emotions.

Lu: As a storyteller, you imbue these animals with distinctly human emotions. What do you think that stories featuring animals who feel like humans can offer us that stories that only feature people don’t?

Renner: Using them as characters in a story helps you work on a lot of themes related to the human feelings. When you draw a pig for example, the reader will expect a character fond of food, if it’s a Lion, he will expect a loyal and brave character… I think this way of expecting something from someone occurs often in the relationship between humans. So in a way, using animals as characters is a wonderful way to talk about ourselves, maybe easier than using human characters.

Lu: The character designs in Big Bad Fox are distinctly separate from those in Ernest and Celestine.  How would you characterize these differences and how does your stylistic choices here play into the story you tell?

Renner: In Ernest & Celestine, my goal was to pay tribute to the creator of those characters: Gabrielle Vincent. So I did my best to be the closest to her style. Working on Big Bad Fox was very different as the story is more eccentric. I wanted to experiment with different scenes and have fun drawing the book.

Lu: In stories, from the time of folklore and fable to 2016 with Disney’s Zootopia, foxes are often portrayed as cunning and capable tricksters. Your Big Bad Fox initially seems similar, but turns out to be something less than competent. Did you set out to turn the stereotype on its head when you wrote this story?

Renner: When I started imagining the story, the character of the fox came very quickly. I thought of him as the opposite of a fox because I thought it would bring a lot of comedy. Also i thought it was a good way to talk about prejudices and how people tend to judge someone from their looks. The Fox looks like a fox but he sucks at being a fox.


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