Giorgia Casetti was born in 1989 in Florence, Italy. She studied at the Scuola Internazionale di Comics in Florence from 2007 to 2010. After graduating in 2011, she joined the animation studio Stranemani. She worked as an illustrator on titles like La Piccola Principessa (Piemme editions), City of Abymes (Algorithmics editions) and colorist on I, François Villon, Editions Delcourt). I got to explore her extensive body of beautiful watercolor work in person and discuss her new narrative project inspired by an ancient Persian poem The Conference of the Birds by the poet Farid od-dîn 'Attar. This interview was conducted and edited for clarity by Sloane Leong, with transcription by Kate Thomas.
Sloane Leong: So Giorgia, what are you currently working on?
Giorgia Casetti: Two things now. I received a proposition for a new project. I’m excited because the writer, she’s an author I love, I love her books for children, especially for children.
Who is the author that you want to work with?
Her name is Anaïs Halard and I love a series she’s doing now, it’s “Sasha et Tomcrouz”.
Why are you excited to work with her? What kind of stories does she tell?
The story is quite in my universe, easy for me like is fantastic story, but in a historical context. It’s a story of a young girl, Abby, she’s with her mother in a hostel in 1853 in England. It’s a residency, like a rest home, where sick people go to relax and to take times for them and to regain some strength. Zabeth, her mother, she’s depressed, so they are there, but Abby is young and a bright girl, she’s bored, no childrends are there. She discovers a strange room in this hotel, a forbidden chamber that is haunted by a ghost. She falls in love with a portrait, the painting of a young guy: he’s so beautiful! When, I mean, she kisses him on the painting and he wakes up. And he’s really annoying. Not like he’s a guy he’s really like, (high pitched voice) ‘Oooh I go like this, I go like that”. He smelled so bad.
So, it’s really comic. And even Death doesn’t want him back! Because he’s too, too…
Leong & Casetti: (in concert) Annoying? Annoying!
Giorgia Casetti: So, all the story is about how to give this guy back to Death, to take him and just be free. It’s a funny situation. And then the girl Abby she’s like a girl but not in her own skin in this period. The half of 19th century. She’s more wild.
Ah okay. More adventurous.
Adventurous. She’s like 12 years old. So, it’s exactly what I do usually and I’m trying to do some research about her. But It’s hard: I don’t know how to draw her, because it is a moment when I would like to do something different from my style. My last book, Océane et la Fée des Houles, it’s still about a girl, a younger one, but she’s always this kind of girl. You know? So, a little bit like…
She’s like a tomboy. Like more rough?
Yes! And I would like to detach me by this and try some other things but I received this proposition for what I do usually, it’s okay. If I want to change “my style”, this is probably not the right moment. (Laughing) It’s the reason I found this job but before this I can have research and everything
Ah okay, trying to find what she’s gonna look like?
Yeah cuz I’m trying really to find something different but before this I was working on my own personal project. I wanted to show it to the other editors but I’m entrusted in animation too. So I was curious, I mean I wanted to, and I want to (emphasis), do a book for animation and comic at the same time. So I have this story, the story is mine, oh and a friend of mine too, the idea is to double up characters and the grounds and stuff about the story, everything about the story, and the disposition of the book will be for an animation book, but the story is for a comic. And so I started to work on the characters. This, this story is the story I had two years ago when I was officially here in the MDA residency. I haven’t found an editor for this story but an editor proposed me to do the other book, Océane. So I had to stop it and do the other one. But is was always the story of a young girl, Brigid, she’s eleven years old in Ireland. I try to move her like to create a good book for animation. But I am not an animator so I don’t know héhé.
This art is beautiful.
I’m preparing all the pages. Here I made a page about her when she’s wilder and wants to transform. Because…eh, the story is quite complex, lots of birds and dragons!
And I have lots of drawings I’ve done in the past. This little girl Brigid is so fascinated in ornithology, she usually rescues birds in secret. But her mother doesn’t want to have animals at home, and the parents fight all of the days so she is really unhappy and she wants to leave her home. And the fact that she is so nice and able to take care of birds is the reason why the birds of the kingdom of the birds arrived at her home to steal her away to ask her help because the king is dying. So there is this really sick king, Simourgh. The name of this king is special because is a creature of the Persian mythology.
I discover a book, The Conference of the Birds, a poem of the 12th century from Attar. It’s a Sufi poem about 30 birds who need to find their own king. They feel like they have no reason, there’s something they miss, and so they decide to find the king. And this king is Simourgh. To arrive at the end of the trip, they have to find him. They have to cross a set of valleys. And at the end of the trip, full of losses and troubles, they found their king in the reflection of a mirror: Simourgh is them. Simourgh is another way to say thirty birds. So it’s a special poem, really philosophical, but also linked to the Islam. This is why it is a complicated story. For editors and for friends. (Laugh)
To link the myth together? That’s pretty cool though.
It’s really esoteric. But the problem is because this girl to save the king she will be obliged to redo this trip. And it is a bit dangerous trip. Because each valley is like you have to cross some difficult…like you have to accept. I mean like to be free for your, I don’t know, if your too attached to objects. These valleys are attacked by the enemies of the king, the Dragons, who are the army of the ex-queen, Kur: this “Dragon Queen” seems very mean, and she wants to destroy Simourgh and his kingdom. But she’s really sick, like the king too. Why are they both sick? They were a couple, but they weren’t able to understand each other. Love is so complicated sometimes. We’ll discover how a big love like they had can be so powerful but so delicate at the same time. And finally, trying to save the kingdom of birds, Brigid understand it’s a problem of listening, of understanding: with this trip she’ll try to save the king and the ex-queen but finally she’ll try to save her parents too.
Here some sketches . I tried to redo everything because I’ve done lots of sketches but it was two years ago so I’m trying to re-find. So I’m doing this book, but now I received the proposition for the other and I’m trying to find a way to do both. I will do the ghost one because it is just one shot, like sixty-four pages, and it fits with a good, probably a good, editor. With the writer we will show that this work to different publishers. The one who usually works with her is a French one is on Soleil, a big French editor. I need to work. This is why I was creating an animation book too because I would like to enter in animation too. But I’m not so…I mean I’m trying to do some animation on my own but I stopped because it was like it needs time and I prefer to try this. I try to do different things at the same time because my last book went out in October 2018.
And this one is called Oceana?
Yes, and there is another version of this which is without colors went out in june 2018. Blue and white.
What do you use to color digitally? Just photoshop? Or?
Photoshop. I’m really bad at doing technology. It’s really crazy because I would like to be more and more free from the computer and technology. I mean, that’s so necessary, but I can’t do that now because I don’t feel enough sure to change completely…and I’m not able even. So will see, for my future I’d like to use just direct color, but now I’ll keep using photoshop, it’s not so smart to totally change my technique in this moment.
Especially for the project they propose to me, they expect that too. I mean I need to…
Yeah. Their like just the same old thing just do that. Safe.
Yeah so it’s a strange moment.
Yeah you want to grow and change.
It’s strange but it’s interesting.
How do you want to draw? Who are some other artists that you like? Or wish you had more of those aspects of, you know?
Handmade colors. Artisanal aspect. And even all…because I’m so symmetric and clean and I would like to do the opposite. I think I need more fun. I need to draw for other contexts not just for work. Because when I have to concentrate and create kind of regular drawing to fix on some rules and everything I stop the creative part maybe I can discover with just sketch books and stuff. But I’m really scared for this. It’s hard to branch out and like fail at things cuz like you have to do that in order to grow. You have to fail and try. When you were younger maybe had the freedom to look for, searching, take your time, but now I would like to have money with my work, be professional and work hard.
I don’t think your inspirations are that far off from you. I mean you use watercolors like…
Yes it’s not so far. Is something in my head I have to work. Like…
Yes exactly. I want to destroy this filter but at the same time I…I dunno. I feel like sometimes I just thought, ‘Oh it’s okay you have time, don’t worry, do your safe drawings’ But now I feel really badly.
Oh I see another one of your inspirations is Jiri Trinka. So good. I love how each illustration is like a little composite of texture and flow and bold shape. Everything’s so good.
So good. And it’s all like a golden age of illustration. I love painters…like symbolism and impressionism. When I’m on the comic I prefer to have inspiration far from comics.
Yeah same. When I’m drawing comics I don’t like to look at other comics. Because I feel like it’s too close? Or something?
I’m just really curious. I like photography, architecture, painters, animations and so many different kinds of art! And now I’m trying to search between all of that, taking inspiration to try to draw free. I would like just to write and draw what happens. Even like ugly character…not ugly like not beautiful in monsters kind of…just to fix some image some…
Yeah just dash something out really quick. To nail down the feeling.
Yes, yes. And they have a problem of to be quick. I don’t know how to be…and I never try to draw myself. So I’m trying…I try to but it’s really hard.
Was it hard just because it made you uncomfortable or were you just kind of like....
I don’t know...but I wanna try, it’s important . Even something simple, rough. I really love synthetic stuff sometimes but I am…or maybe I’m not so good with the singular line…
Yeah. I would like to find a way to draw without the code I already use for other stuff…
Right. Like you have a set vocabulary of how you draw and you want to break out.
Yeah that can be like this and the body like this and you’re not obliged to have your head fixed like seven times. For example,I love collage. It’s like to try even different tools. Maybe for this work I have to do my own to keep this…
The same code. (Laughs)
Because maybe is not I mean it’s the reason they proposed to me. It isn’t the moment really. Strange.
There’s like conflict between what you have to do and what you want to do.
Even for my own story: I’m so attached with Brigid, the little girl with the birds, and the fact that I really had to renounce to it because I have to do other projects. But she’s still alive, and she will be, I have to do nothing more…it’s just there. This story. But I need to trust in myself so maybe now, with this other project, I will find the courage to do it quickly. Professionally. But after that be more me. Sorry, maybe I’m quite confusing?
No, no I think it’s cool to hear about your process on what’s challenging you right now cuz I feel like we all go through that. So it’s nice to hear about it. How has it helped to be at residency? How has that helped your work?
I arrived here two years ago. I was here for the birds project, but I arrived in Paris seven years ago. It was really difficult because it’s really expensive city. I had to work, the first year I was a babysitter all week. So I had a really brief moments to draw and I stopped my animation course in Florence to come there. It was intense and really hard at the beginning. Beautiful, yes, but hard. And after that I found a job in a book store so I was happier. And it was a great way to understand French editions and everything. And I had done lots of activity with children. But I was always…in the other part of the…you know I was in this part of the line and the other part I was seeing students and artists and I invited lots of the artists and the students to have atelier in the bookstore. But I was a bookseller, not the illustrator.
So I was working there and I applied to arrive here and they accept me so this was the way to switch positions. I discovered that I was able…I mean it was possible to be an author. So it’s really the best. And so I’m really attached to this place, it gave me the courage. But at the same time, now, I want to be sure about myself even “on my own”.
I helped my friend Giorgia Marras, she was finishing her book and I helped her to the mechanical final part of the book, scanning pages and doing balloons. Now she finished and I focus on my own stuff. I’m cleaning out a space at my place, in the apartment where I live. Space down in the hole… it was an atelier before, and I’m trying to recreate it. It will be an atelier really, really soon because Giorgia will come if she has to stop her residence. Like at the end of the month! You can come to see.
Yeah that would be awesome. The Giorgias workshop!
And so it is an intense moment. I want to be courageous! I spent three months here, at La Maison des Auteurs, two years ago. After these three months I came back to Paris and I tried to be a comic artist there. It’s not impossible, just very expensive. But a really good friend helped me so much offering me a working space in his atelier. But it was an extraordinary situation, so after a while I re-started to looking for a working space , but the prizes are soo high! It depends where, but is often between two hundred and three hundred every month. To add to the rent of an apartment or a room.
So it’s a lot.
It’s a lot. And they proposed for eighteen euros each month so three hundred and eighteen. So three hundred and eighteen I was like asking to my boyfriend, ‘what do you think?’, and he was really not supportive and I decided that it was too much because we had different problems. But it was like the…the final straw. And I was like okay I’m good because I need to finish my book.
How long did it take you just to do the art?
One year? I mean something more. Because especially for the researches and everything. And I study a lot the boat but funnily enough no boat images. Just one or two but nothing nice…at the beginning we were like…the project start because me and the writers we met and he decided to…at the beginning he proposed to do a short story after he changed his mind and he’s done a bigger forty six pages spread. This is why it’s the number one but the number two is…I mean to finish the story you need a number two. I have problems with my editor because he doesn’t pay me.
He doesn’t pay you?!
The editor have some problems, so he hasn’t finished paying for. I’m waiting for the colors forfeit.
Ooh okay. He’s just taking forever to pay you. Taking a long time or is he just not doing it?
I don’t know.
Hmmm. This is your first book, right?
This is the first book I drew before I done like color for other books. And illustration for an entire book and for another. But nothing really me. So this is why I want the really professionals. I know you pay me like tomorrow.
Yeah (Laughs) Well I’m really excited about your conference of the birds story. It sounds so cool. And all the designs look amazing.
Do you have an idea of how long its gonna be?
I know everything.
You know everything?
I’ve already done like eighty pages of story board. 3x80 but the beginning was three books of eighty. But I think it will be less.
Oh okay, okay. A nice big graphic novel!
I loved it. I’m crazy. This is why it’s really hard to find a publisher.
When do you think it will be done? Maybe like two years?
Maybe more. It depends because if I work on this project. The other one will take time just because I need a publisher too…I mean I can do the entire work without the publisher.
Right. Right. You need the support. And the money to do it.
Yeah. I hope to find an editor for Brigid and the Birds. Drawing this here. Because I need to. I want to. But if I do the other project, a good second book with a bigger editor, they will trust me better after.
Right. Right. So it’s a good opportunity to widen out your access to publishers.
Exacly. But there will be a moment where I will be able to say no because I want to do my own story. I hope soon! Probably with more experience will be better and easier!
Exactly. That’s true. What is your bird story called? Does it have a title yet?
The royals. Like the kingdom of birds. And I hope…I don’t know. We’ll see. I want to be sure about this.
I believe in you Giorgia! Can’t wait to see this book come to life!