A friend of mine recently asked me to answer some questions about Hugo & Co. for some research, so I decided to share my answers by posting them here. You can read the next episode of Hugo & Co. by visiting http://www.michaelewing.co.uk/blog, look out for it this weekend!
1. You’ve been working as a Flash developer for the last few years – what’s it like picking up a pen again and pursuing a lo-tech path?
My day job is creative but predominantly involves using a computer, so it was refreshing to come back to drawing and rediscover how different it is as a creative process. My aim with Hugo is to keep as much of the work away from the computer. So apart from the colouring and minor retouching, everything is done on the drawing board with paper and pen. The smell of ink and the shine of clean white paper is refreshing. Hugo & Co. aims to tell modern stories but retain that ethos, and this new adventure, Hugo and the Chameleon, will be the first.
2. What led you to go back to your cartoonist/design roots?
Since I was young I have been an avid fan of Tintin, but in particular I am a raving fan of the drawing style Hergé (the author) created. The style is often referred to as ‘Ligne Claire’. Until the 1990s I was of the impression that Tintin was the only example of this style, and remember the excitement of snapping up Bob and Bobette books (also known as Spike and Suzi) by Willy Vandersteen when they were published in English. There was a realisation there that the style extended beyond Tintin and Hergé. Of course, now the internet has made it possible to explore the works of many artists, and the recent publication of the Rainbow Orchid last year by Garen Ewing (no relation) is particularly exciting. The publication of this book is probably the most significant development in home-grown ‘Ligne Claire’ in the UK. The enthusiasm of the British never really extended beyond Tintin, and while Central Europe have a ‘ligne claire’ industry, the thought of anything similar here seemed nigh on impossible. Infact, apart from some individual works (e.g. One Bad Rat, Brian Talbot) there is practically no history of ligne claire artists to speak of.
3. Hergé is obviously an influence on your work. What in particular about his work appeals to you?
Ligne Claire requires a certain discipline that sets it apart from other comic styles. In particular, a faithful adherence to ‘reality’ if that makes sense. There is a strong dependence on observation rather than imagination and as a practitioner you get to learn a lot about illustration as well as cartooning. For me, this makes Ligne Claire a real visual treat, where each small part of a frame can be studied and admired. Each frame stands on its own.
4. Of Hergé’s work, is it Tintin that you’re particularly drawn to, or is it Hergé’s style in general?
Hergé’s work sets the standard, you can’t talk about Ligne Claire and not talk about Tintin, but there is massive inspiration to be drawn from the work of other artists. I think he started Tintin at age 22 and continued up until his death in 1983. They are great tales with such variety and breadth of themes, drawn with masterful skill and each story is unique. For me, the stories have a flavour which you can’t find anywhere else. More and more titles from Central Europe are being published in English, for example Blake and Mortimer by Edgar P. Jacobs and this previously inaccessible field is now opening up for English speakers. When I collected all the Tintin books I yearned for more stories to read, and still have that yearning now.
5. What was the inspiration behind Hugo & Co?
The reason I’m drawing again is a partial response to that yearning I mentioned – Hugo and the Chameleon aims to hold onto that spirit of adventure, while telling stories that are contemporary. While Tintin never aged, each story ages with time, yet when they were first published they were bang up-to-date, portraying life at the time, cities, cars, aeroplanes and the latest technology and styles. I wanted to tell adventure stories but set today in the world we live in now.
6. Any clues about where the story’s going?
I don’t want to give too much away. There are subtle clues in the story to suggest where the story is going. Though, as the story teller, it’s a bit hard to tell just how subtle they are. I can tell you that this is a story about forgotten places, those nooks and crannies that the world passes by.
7. How does Hugo & Co fit into the rest of your portfolio?
All my work has some sort of crossover, comics in games, animation in comics and Hugo is taking a step back to a more established format, mainly to see if I can do it. In the modern world, we’re undergoing a revolution with the internet and new media. In the 1920s, it was the same but with different technology. Hergé is cited as among the first to bring comic strips to Europe.
8. Your work has always tended to have a cartoon style to it, but this is the first extended story, and it’s also the first to be truly ligne claire. Why did you decide to do it?
Firstly to see if I can. Secondly, because I think it’d be great to see new, different and contemporary stories presented in the nicely polished format that is ‘ligne claire’. The appearance of new titles in English is a source of inspiration. As mentioned, when Tintin stories appeared, each title was like a chronicle or snapshot of the year it was published, and carried on like that throughout the 20th century, I want to see that carry on into the 21st century. Hugo and the Chameleon will tell modern stories.
9. Are you excited about the new Tintin movie?
Yes, and I’m sure fans are very keen that the film stays true to the material, I know I am. There are big names behind the project, so I put faith in that. It’s interesting – the comics always had a cinematic quality and while there have been attempts to take the style and animate it for film and TV, they could never quite match the quality of the albums. There have been lots of promises in interviews that the film will retain that style, I’m very excited to see how it will be done.
10 When will Hugo and the Chameleon be finished?
Ha ha! The truth I’ve learnt is that this style takes a long long time, much longer than comics I’ve made in the past. Everything from the pose of the characters, to the details in buildings and objects all affects how convincing the drawing appears to the reader and so I’m putting in a lot of research. I’m also drawing Hugo & Co in my own time. Ultimately, this means a new double strip appears approximately every fortnight. So it’ll take patience, but I’d rather do it this way, in praise of slow, than rush out a comic for a deadline. It’ll take a while to reach the end, but when I get there I’m sure it’ll be all the more satisfying.