Bengal is a comics artist residing in Reims, France. His published work includes Naja, Luminae, and Meka published in the US by Magnetic Press and Batgirl: Endgame and Batgirl Annual #3 (not published at the time of this interview). On the last day of San Diego Comic-Con 2015, I had the good fortune to chat with Bengal, tucked in the back of the very busy Magnetic Press booth.
Comics Beat: How has your Comic-Con been so far?
Bengal: Awesome? It’s not only my first Comic-Con, but it’s my first time in the US at all, so I’m enjoying it massively.
CB: I was introduced to your work last year at Comic-Con when someone on a colorist panel described your work as very inspirational. Would you mind quickly describing your process?
B: It’s very basic, old-school stuff. I have a cool mechanical pencil I like and I work with it on my favorite paper, of course. It’s a manga paper that I like. Then once that is done, I ink with mostly Pigma Micron pens – very awesome. Then I scan and move to digital colors, finally in Photoshop after years of Painter.
CB: Who would you consider your major artistic inspirations – not just for your penciling style, but for your color sensibilities as well?
B: For colors, I feel like I was subconsciously influenced […] for instance I learned that you could do something fantastic digitally many years back when I discovered Katsuya Tarada, the Japanese artist. Up to that point, I was like “who cares about digital colors?” Then it was all “oh my fucking god…” It’s amazing. There are other artists too, but that was the trigger.
For my storytelling, narration, and action, it derives mostly from tons of manga that I read. I read comics too, French comics obviously, but I’ve been binge-eating manga for a long time. I have this guy that no one knows about called Tetsuro Ueyama. For me, he’s the reference for the movement you choose to put in your panel – for me it was a revelation.
CB: What’s your favorite series by him?
B: Um, Mitsuyoshi Solevision. It’s awesome – for me it’s the reference in action. He has the best poses, the best key moments of action. He’s finding new moments in the action that other people haven’t done so far, in my opinion.
CB: I’m assuming that you’re also a fan of works by Otomo, Urasawa, and so on?
B: Obviously, yeah. I’m a huge fan of Otomo and Satoshi Kon. He knew how to construct things perfectly.
CB: Shifting gears a bit, what was the process like getting your books overseas through Magnetic Press?
B: Oh, it simply began with Mike [Kennedy] being interested in translating my books. I knew him briefly when he was still at Archaia as an editor there, he commissioned me a cover for Hawken – that’s how we got in touch. Later on, he moved on and created Magnetic Press and bought my French comic books. He did an amazing job – the layout was crazy and he took a lot of care for them. How could feel that he liked them so naturally they’re great.
CB: The production on their books is remarkable.
B: Personally, I prefer the American versions to the French ones. He put more focus on the layout, a good design for the title, switching some images to give a new graphic aesthetic to them. The slipcase is awesome, you know – stuff like that.
CB: Now you’re doing work for DC – a issue of Batgirl: Endgame just came out. I was pleasantly surprised that it was dialogue-free.
B: Yeah! That was a coincidence, my first job for DC Comics would be a Batgirl was zero bubbles. Since they were in a rush, the script was not completely detailed – they gave me a raw script and it was up to me to do the storytelling on that. It was an opportunity to prove myself and apparently I did!
CB: Do you feel that they would have trusted another artist with that, considering your experience with drawing action?
B: Well, we didn’t know each other so I had no idea that they would ask me to do interior art […] I was so happy that they asked me, I still feel blessed that I’ve had the opportunity! It all came from a Spider Gwen fan art I did last summer and they liked it: Cameron, Brendan, Babs too. They asked me if I would do a Batgirl with the same type of environment – urban style environment. I was like “yeah, are you joking?” That’s how it started! They liked the cover and eventually they asked for interiors, not really knowing what sort of interiors I was already doing, so it was a bet for them.
CB: So they weren’t that familiar with your previous work?
B: I don’t think so, no. Plus I was starting to do things differently. I ink now; I try to make my storytelling still personal but adapted to the [American] comics format because I don’t draw the same size. It’s not the same pace, it’s not the same amount of pages, so they had no trace of what I could do.
CB: Is that why from Naja to Batgirl, it looks like your work has become more rendered?
B: Yeah. With Batgirl, I wanted to come back to inked because I didn’t ink for about 12 years or something like that. I wanted to get back to it for the comics aspect; I wanted to put more blacks in it to have something more dynamic. I was mainly afraid not to keep the dynamic action I have in my pencils. At first, it was a little stiff or a little cold, but I kept working and it’s becoming more and more alive. I’m becoming satisfied with my inking.
CB: I can’t recall, did you also color Batgirl?
B: Yeah, I did.
CB: It’s always nice to see an artist who is used to coloring their own art be able to, even at DC.
B: Yeah, that was a nice opportunity too. They told me that there was time to color myself, which is what I would rather do.
CB: It allowed the action to have clarity. It read a lot like manga, really.
B: [Laughs] That’s a compliment to me!
CB: Kind of an offshoot, but have you read the series Battle Angel Alita?
B: Yeah, of course.
CB: It might’ve been my love for the series, but I felt like I saw some Panzer Kunst in Batgirl.
B: I can see that, that makes sense.
CB: Getting back on track, you’ve wrapped on Batgirl: Endgame, you’ve done a cover for Grayson, and your Magnetic Press books are finding success – what’s next?
B: Well, just this morning I had a talk with the boss at DC and the partners on Batgirl and stuff like that and I now know what I’m officially going to be doing for the next six to eight months or something like that. I’ll be on something more regular with them – still in the same environment, around Batgirl still though I can’t say too much yet. I’m happy, they’re happy, and we’ve got something together. I’m very blessed.
CB: It’s good to hear that you’re finding a great audience in America as well as in France.
B: I’m actually working only in the US market now. Last year, when this all started, I was expecting to just be asked to do a few covers, but now it’s become crazy and I have a regular job in the US.
CB: Was that ever a goal of yours?
B: More or less, yeah. The format is more attractive to me. I did try to put some of my manga influences in my French-published books and I cannot get it out as much, I feel. Don’t get me wrong, I’m still very proud of the books I’ve done before. The comics format seems better and I’ve been trying to get in touch with US publishers for seven or eight years now. I almost did a Spider-Man thing seven years ago but it didn’t go through because it got cancelled. It was a frustration that I wanted to get rid of and finally it started working out.
CB: Will be staying in France for the foreseeable future or are you considering moving over?
B: No, I’m staying in France – I’m living there with my family so we’re not thinking of moving at the moment, but you don’t know what the future holds.
CB: Thank you very much, Bengal.
B: Oh, thank you!