And that isn’t just physical, there’s also…
No, there’s also gesture, there are many things. I focused a lot on Dominique’s face, but sometimes it was also his way of holding a cigarette, of putting his hands in his pockets. And the same goes for “Émile” – Antoine – whose expressions are totally different and that, for me, is very, very important, and very moving, to draw. Whether I succeed, I don’t know, but that’s what I hope to achieve. I want to make it clear that these aren’t characters, but people. So even if you don’t know them, I think the reader will understand that behind what I show there is somebody real; it’s not just a paper character.
But with the sergeant that’s not the case, because he’s a construction.
No, because I didn’t have a picture of him [laughs] and, yes, what I wanted to portray was a fantasy. He was real, but I didn’t have an image of his face, so I did this sequence where I’m thinking ‘this could be him, this could be him, that could be him’… that part wasn’t in the original version. There, I write that he looks like Stéphane from the first volume. And he’s also the character I use for my science fiction story – he’s a morphotype.
Let’s talk some more about your decision to augment that particular scene, to make it more explicit. What do you think that adds to the scene?
It permits me to foreground two important moments later in the book. In the original version, I think you understand that the sergeant…
I found that later scene very moving in the original version, because you suddenly understand that something important happened earlier that you didn’t see. It helps convey the significance of that experience with a certain delay, which increases the effect.
Yes, but my reasoning there was that “this time I’ll draw what happened, and I think you’ll understand even better, when that scene reappears, that yes, that’s it, he told it exactly as it happened to him.” There’s that, and there’s also the image that recurs very often, for example with the man in the “video” episode and with Dominique and I, this kind of symbolic scene that is kind of lifted from the way cosmic beings are sometimes presented in Marvel comics, this kind of meeting… [laughter]
But you don’t think it’s too much to have that passage, with the sergeant, in there twice?
You find it to be too much?
I don’t know, but I really liked the way it arrives so suddenly, and with a significant delay, in the original.
Well, if I did it, it’s because I thought it was important… maybe not necessary, but it was important to me to take a little more time with this sergeant, because he was important to my life. He was this ultimate fantasy that was suddenly right there, and especially because he was actually willing to see the narrator again, and like an idiot, I told him, “no, I’ll see you around the way,” and he never came back. This makes you understand better why, after he left, I feel negated, and I actually show how it was this idiot’s own fault [laughs].
You could have seen him again, and…
I could have seen him again, and I try to explain that this is not the fault of others. I totally wasted this great shot at happiness that was just handed to me.
In your exhibition you’ve included several pages that are not in the book, which are even more explicit than the ones you have added. What are your thoughts on depicting sex in a book like this?
Yes, it’s complicated…
To me, the way you’ve augmented the scene gives a more distinctly physical accent, a sense of realness. That this meeting did happen and was clearly important…
Yes, yes, thanks.
But on the other hand I understand why you didn’t include those other pages. With those, it would have become a little too pornographic.
An indulgence. I realized that those pages didn’t really make sense, so I stopped and scrapped them. The representation of sex isn’t easy. It’s not anodyne, it’s not innocent, it’s not easy. By leaving out those pages, I think the scene works well now in the context of the book as a whole, with the pages I did add. If I had put those extra ones in, I think it would have been thrown off course – it would have been too much, much too much. It’s difficult. I could have expanded plenty more scenes in the book, and in other books too, but you get to a point where it’s just too much.
When I saw those pages, I wondered why you don’t have more sex scenes in your work – it’s obviously an important part of life for everyone, and certainly in your work.
Yes. In this case, because it’s such a big book, it was important to have the sex right at the beginning, in order to show, too, that there’s none in the rest of the book. The narrator doesn’t have any sexual relation after that, or at least so little that it doesn’t matter, and this coincides with the appearance of Dominique, with whom he never has sex. Showing the sexual encounter at the beginning becomes a way of emphasizing the frustration that follows.
I see. But have you made a choice generally in your work not to show too much sex in order to avoid the risk of the kind of indulgence you mentioned?
Yes, I sometimes really want to include more [laughs]. I think that today I might be able to pull it off more easily than earlier. So I think there’ll maybe be more in my future work, because I feel ready to tackle it. The reason I haven’t so far is because I wasn’t ready, and also for the reasons we’ve talked about: it wouldn’t make sense. But yes, I want to deal more directly with it now.
It’s a part of reality.
It’s a part of reality. And the usual ideal is to show it in this kind of lush way, like in porn: everyone orgasms, the women are happy, and the men too – but this encounter with the sergeant, which was very exciting to me, wasn’t that. The guy tried to achieve penetration but didn’t succeed because it hurt, and we stopped. Despite its significance to me, it was a somewhat failed encounter with a guy whose attention quickly drifted elsewhere; he talked a little about me making a portrait of his sister and then left. And I, like an idiot, was just like “well, ok, bye” [laughter]. It’s not the kind of lovemaking scene we know from fiction, where they kiss, then fellate each other, after which there’s penetration and they both come simultaneously, after which they smoke a cigarette in the afterglow. So, if I choose to include more scenes of sex from now on, it’s also to show the diversity of sexual experience, and occasionally to show really happy encounters that don’t necessarily conform to that ideal. We’ll see.
You make an interesting and sort of surprising choice. The narration in the captions isn’t direct, which lends to this otherwise intimate scene a sense of distance.
Yes, yes. Whereas in the pages I didn’t include, the text is direct, which doesn’t work.
Yes, but it’s also the way they’re drawn, this…
Yes, it also creates a distance, it makes it feel artificial.
But at the same time, that is actually lived experience: it’s the detail with the shoes. The narrator, well me, in that moment wasn’t totally in it, because I suddenly found myself looking at those shoes, and I didn’t get it: here I was, with the most beautiful guy in the world, and I’m still thinking of something else. And alas, that actually happens frequently in real life: you see somebody beautiful, or find yourself in a really wonderful place, and suddenly – whoops! – you miss it.
And the narration here helps convey that.
Not necessarily, but here, in order to incorporate it into the book, it was necessary.
So it wasn’t a choice you made in order to avoid the problems of representing sex directly?
No. No, it wasn’t just that.
Things left unsaid
OK. I have another question. When I heard about the augmented version of the book, I immediately thought of the scene, in the original, where you meet Dominique and he says something that you don’t want to repeat in the book. I wondered whether you were going to do so now, in the expanded version. But since you didn’t I imagine there are still a number of things that you’ve left suppressed.
Yes, there are still things…
Are you going to do another augmentation one day? [laughs]
No, I don’t think so. The book now has everything that needed to be in there. The most important thing was the video. And yes, I could have been cruel, because the worst things anybody said about that whole episode were said by Dominique. But I couldn’t put those in there – it would have been very mean-spirited. And for no purpose. I think the portrait of Dominique that I create is sufficiently clear that the reader understands that this is not a fool, but somebody who is a little cynical. If I put in the things he said on that man they filmed, it would really have been very, very unpleasant and people would believe I did it to get back at him. He said some really, really horrible things back then. Anyway, I decided not to include them. And he, the real Dominique, when he received the first edition of the book, told me that he thought I could have been much more of a dick with him [laughter]. That was a compliment, actually!
To finish up, I wanted to ask about what you said earlier [during the Angoulême on-stage interview] about your current work, this sense that it’s almost impossible for you to continue depicting people for fear of the problems that it might cause – this is a central theme in your story “Émile”, or course. Do you see any possibility of continuing despite these problems?
[Chuckles] Well, with “Émile” it’s possible, because – there he is [points toward a photo on the wall] – he has authorized my depicting him. But there’s another, more recent encounter, the young man over there [points to another photo], who has succeeded legally in preventing my depicting him. If I draw him, I can be prosecuted. So I can’t really answer your question. What I do know is that I can’t continue if I can’t draw people. It’s fundamental to me, it’s my entire life. I think I’m ready to go very far, even sacrifice my life, to be able to draw a person who I love. And it is very, very risky; I risk problems with the police, which makes it extremely hard… but yes, it’s possible to continue, but I’ve gone about as far as I can. I mean this [taps the book], if Dominique wanted to sue me, he would win the case and the book would be withdrawn from the trade. But Dominique, who told me that he thought I could have been harder on him, and who is an artist himself, also said, “I appreciate the book as a work of art, so being an artist I can’t tell you that you don’t have the right to do it.” But not everyone is that smart; not everyone understands that even if I make a really nice book for them… if they don’t want it… anyway, I don’t have an answer for you, except that everything I do, I do at an increasing risk.
It seems clear that the problems you’ve had are of a kind that might stop you from doing this kind of work entirely and force you to do something else.
Yes, that’s the risk.