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“You Also Wanna Have a Couple Weirdos”: Sloane Leong Talks to Vincent Kings

Vincent Kings is Southern Californian illustrator currently living and working at the Maison des Auteurs comic artist residency in Angouleme, France. He has illustrated covers and comic issues for New Worlds Comics, published work in Heavy Metal, and his full-length graphic novel with writer Chris Miskiewicz is due out from Z2 Comics later this year. Prior to moving to France, he worked as a Cinematic Artist at Telltale games on such properties as Batman, Minecraft: Story Mode, and The Walking Dead. After lunch Vincent stopped by my studio at the MdA and we talked about his newest oil-painted comic, his background and development as a cartoonist.

Sloane Leong: Can you tell us a little bit about your current project?

Vincent Kings: Sure, I’m working on The Weight of the World which is an oil-painted graphic novel of a hundred pages. The gist of it is that there’s a meteorite which will crash into earth and make it uninhabitable for ten years. So humanity’s building a bunch of rocket ships to go live in orbit for that time, and space is limited so they have some hard decisions to make about what to take with them. The museum director of Paris is in charge or choosing which is art is going to go on the rocket ship - but any amount of art he saves is going to take away spots from living people. And a pair of sisters - one who is an aspiring artist and the other who is an aspiring revolutionary - decide they want to sway him one way or the other.

Crazy. (Laughs)

Yes.

That’s pretty dense for just a hundred page story.

Yeah. (Laughs) I have the completed script though, so it can be done I swear!

(Laughs) What was the inspiration for this story?

Mostly it was getting at all the questions that I was asking myself as a kid in art school, like what is the role of art? How is it useful? I went into art school with kind of a big chip on my shoulder, like: ‘No this is important I swear. This is a worthy thing for an eighteen-year-old to pursue!’ I’m less that way now I think, but that was the impetus - to come up with the most - I dunno-  urgent way to pose the question and heighten the stakes. It’s an autobiographical comic in disguise.

How long ago were you in art school?

I’m twenty-five so that would have been…not that long ago. I had this idea six years ago.

Six years?

Oops, seven. Sorry,  I’m newly twenty five .

Okay so not too long ago. And you’ve found that these questions are still very relevant to you? Or do you answer them in your comic?

Honestly I started rewriting the story as soon as I came to France because it became clear that there was so much more that I had to address. Obviously if you have people who have to be chosen over others you have a whole bunch of other societal questions that come up, and I’ve tried to do my due diligence to research France and make it a thing that is culturally specific. But I’m always going to be an American writing about France.

Why the setting? Why choose France?

At first it was literally just because the Louvre is here, and the story is so big in stakes that I wanted the biggest art collection in the world to be on the line. But once I got here I started to appreciate the value of setting it in a country with such a rich history of social unrest too - thinking about the various revolutions, Algerian War refugee crisis, riots of May 1968, and the recent Gilet Jaune movement.

I’m curious as to how such an epic and kind of dark story feeds into the questions of art, meaning and purpose?

It’s a tough balance because if I do my job right and get people to really care about the characters, are people really going to want to stop to ask about like - the Venus de Milo? But I’m trying to make sure it always feels like a compelling two-sided argument.

Hmmm. Interesting. How do you feel personally pursuing art? Obviously, you’re still drawing so you think it’s worth it.

Right, I didn’t give up on it! I guess what I’ve come to is that there are real heroes in the world with their heads down, working hard to keep things running properly and just survive. But you also wanna have a couple weirdos who look up every once in a while, and really examine the direction we’re going in and the things we might be losing on our way there - and hopefully make art that communicates that. So for me personally, that’s the value of art - and I’m trying to infuse that into the story,  that a museum collection is like a catalogue of a society’s values and identity. So can a society survive if it loses its history, you know?

Yeah.

I’ll bring up a quote that I have no hope of properly delivering, but I’ll paraphrase. It’s a letter that John Adams wrote to his wife where he said, ‘I must study military and tactics so that my son can study politics and history, so that his son can study building and architecture, so that his son can study painting and drawing.’ So who knows how many generations there have actually been since he wrote that, but I like the idea that once you build a stable society that meets people’s basic needs, the highest aspiration of it is to give people a chance to really think and be creative and be…I don’t know spiritually rich people, I guess. So I’ve been lucky to have that chance and have taken it. And I’m trying to be responsible and... worthy of that opportunity, does that make sense?

Yeah it does. So what are some works that are inspiring this kind of…or doesn’t have to be inspired by…but maybe works that are in conversation with this piece.

Hmm, well my favorite comic of all time is Gabriel Bá and Fabio Moon’s Daytripper. That to me is to me a comic that sets out with a weighty question of what makes a life, you know, worth living. And then explores that in a really beautiful and poetic way. It’s a comic with a real intention to it. Gosh what else? (Laughs) Actually there’s a movie that meant a lot to me for this project -- Brassed Off. It’s set in Britain during the Thatcher mine closure period. And it’s it’s based on the true story of this mining town that had a little brass band that was their pride and joy, but their community is going to be torn apart by the mine closure and the brass band is like, ‘You know what? We’re still going to be the best damn brass band we can be to draw attention to our plight’. And that kind of love of art in the face of a real working class social problem - an apocalypse for this little community, really… it was super helpful to me in conceiving of my story.

Right.

Oh! And then there’s this comic called Five Weapons by Jimmy Robinson. And that one I just stole the layout scheme from. He does these full-width panels stacked on top of each other, so there’s no question how to read it, and I thought that would be kind of a cool way to approach oil-painting a comic because a simple layout scheme hopefully combats how static paintings can sometimes be.

Okay.

The stories are not particularly similar but (Laughs) I take good ideas wherever I find ‘em.

Yeah, yeah. Have you always done comics and or do you come from a more fine art background?

I have a weird comic education. I drew and read a fair amount of comics as a kid. But I kind of missed or at least was ignorant of the 90’s comic book goldrush. So I bought some second-hand eBay lots to to kind of buff up. But I never honestly got the experience of going into the comic shop on Wednesdays to get stuff.

I went to university for animation, mostly because there’s not a whole lot of comic majors in the US and it just didn’t occur to me to do illustration. I ended up hanging out with all the fine art kids while I was there though, so I ended up with animation storytelling applied to oil-painted images. It’s kind of odd background but it always made sense to me (Laughs) When I graduated I worked in video games cuz that was the job I could get. I worked a year and a half at TellTale Games, and left mere months before they went bankrupt. All my friends lost their jobs and it was really terrible.

Yeah that’s so sad.

I personally took a weird message from it like: ‘You can’t come back from doing your comics thing now’. And I’ve been loving this town and I’ve been staying much longer than I anticipated so… yeah, I’m one of the lucky ones I guess.

Yeah, yeah, yeah.

But it's been kind of an odd path. And I’m just starting it, you know?

So why oils for your project?

Well it’s an epic story about the Louvre, so I thought it should be illustrated in the manner of the most epic works in their collection. Plus I have this, this fascination with how people interact with museums. I feel like people feel really lost in museums right now. They walk around and they don’t feel like they can have an opinion on anything cuz its in a museum and someone else decided for them that it’s important. And I just think we should be able to look at Manet’s Olympia and be like: the cat’s eyes are crooked… what’s up with that? That’s what people did when it was first exhibited, you know! So using oil painting for a more commercial art form like comics is my effort to make the medium accessible again.

So can you talk a little bit about the specific tradition you're trying to paint it in? Because it’s kind of realistic…the style that I’ve seen but are you going to move into more impressionistic style?

That’s what I’m trying to do. It’s kind of built into the narrative that as society falls apart with the end of the world approaching, the paintings will get more energetic and impressionistic - which gels with my own personal goals for where I’d like my painting to evolve. I did a short oil-painted story called Queen of the Crawlers as a trial run, and got it published in Heavy Metal Magazine 290, so that was a nice little proof-of-concept.

Nice. I guess what have you learned here since you’ve been at the Maison? Either about yourself, your process, or stuff you’ve learned from the other residents?

Well for better or worse, I learned that if left to my own devices, I will become a vampire that works at the night. (Laughs) Like the first thing I did here was become nocturnal. Then I realized that was kind of unsustainable because you know… human beings need sun. So I’ve got what I hope is a more balanced schedule now, which is helped by having really wonderful residents from all over the world who I go to lunch or coffee with on a daily basis. It’s a stereotype, but the French are really good at guarding and maintaining a healthy work/life balance, so being around that can’t help but rub off on you. And I’ve noticed myself having conversations and ideas over coffee that I definitely couldn’t have without being in a supportive environment like this with people who are just as into comics as I am. There’s a general vibe in this town of working professionals getting books done that is really healthy and encourages good work... Does that answer your question?

Yep it does. (Laughs) So when does your book come out? Your next one?

Right! Uh, well my next book is actually an unannounced project with Z2 Comics, but I’m looking for publishers for Weight of the World in the hope that it’ll be my follow-up after that!

Awesome.

Fingers crossed, anyway. It’s all so tentative. I’ve been told that things get easier once your first book comes out? But we’ll see.

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