Pénélope Bagieu at the Gaithersburg Book Festival

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You wouldn’t know it to look at her, but French cartoonist Pénélope Bagieu is a knight.

Bagieu laughed off being a Chevalier des arts et des lettres, saying it mostly consisted of getting a hug and a heavy pin, it did set the tone for her conversation with George O’Connor at the Gaithersburg Book Festival on May 16.

Bagieu, who is a recent transplant to the U.S. (Brooklyn, specifically — she joked the next thing she’s working on is finding a couch), discussed with O’Connor the recent translation of her first graphic novel, Exquisite Corpse (First Second, 2015) into English as well as her life, her work and being a rock star (she’s a drummer! Despite the fact she said her former band sucks, she was still a drummer in a rock band and that’s amazingly cool).

Bagieu got her start drawing a comic called Josephine for Swiss magazine Femina. While she had a background in animation, she had never drawn a comic before, so she said she learned as she went. After she completed a year, she realized she had a book. After three years, she had enough and liked the idea of writing a complete story. That became Exquisite Corpse.

O’Connor asked about why it took so long for the book, originally published in France in 2010, to appear in English. Bagieu talked about meeting First Second editor Mark Siegel in France and how he expressed interest in her work, but because of translation and rights issues, it just took a long time. She also discussed the differences between French and American markets. In France, books are just released; in the U.S. there are worries about if it’s for adults or if it’s for kids. She also laughed that books can’t be “too French” for American audiences.

Bageiu said she’s enjoying her time in America and loves that people are connecting with her work. She finds it amazing and delightful her book was translated. She joked that she doesn’t even care if people come up to her and say Exquisite Corpse is “crap” because they “said it in English.”

O’Connor asked about the main character of Exquisite Corpse, Zoe. Zoe wasn’t a reader and O’Connor found that intriguing. Bagieu said that was actually something she could relate to, mentioning that famous people were the people on TV in her world. She also mentioned that despite making comics, she didn’t really read them until some bookstore clerks helped her out. She mentioned My Mommy: Is in America and She Met Buffalo Bill by Jean Regnaud and Mile Bravo as the breakthough comic for her. It left her “crying like a fountain” and made her realize that comics aren’t just adventures or “boyish.” She said she now gives all her friends comics as gifts, and she pointed out, she’s “never wrong.”

Bageiu and O’Connor then discussed her process. She writes a lot before she ever starts drawing, and said no one else can really understand her scripts but her. She plans things out because the moment she starts to draw, it’s “scary.” She said the one thing she’s really careful about and clear about is the dialogue.

When asked about her influences, Bageiu said her mom had a lot of picture books, and she spent a lot of time with those. She mentioned ’50s and ’60s illustrators, especially, and cartoons. She used to tell people she wanted to grow up to be Tex Avary.

As far as upcoming projects go (other than a couch), she just completed a book about the ’60s folk scene, focusing on Mamma Cass, called California Dreaming. While there’s no promising it will be out in English, she’s hopeful.

In conclusion, O’Connor asked if Bageiu had any dream projects. She said she doesn’t really think that way, but at a panel at Toronto Comic Arts Festival, she and other panelists were asked what all illustrators dreamed of doing. Everyone one of them said “the cover of The New Yorker.” While she didn’t say she hopes for that, it doesn’t seem out the realm of possibilities for her.

After all, there are so many things she wants to do. She wants to live “one hundred years” because she has so many stories to tell.

But since Bageiu has already been knighted, I don’t think any of us should worry about what the future holds for her.

Review: Part-Time Princesses by Monica Gallagher

Part-Time PrincessesSenior year isn’t going as well as they’d hoped.

Best friends Amber, Tiffany, Michelle and Courtney perform as princesses at their local theme park, The Enchanted Park (which has seen better days) and are looking forward to their futures. However, as obstacles keep them from their perceived dreams, our heroines in Monica Gallagher‘s Part-Time Princesses (Oni Press, 2015), realize they can use their strengths and abilities to save their park from those who want to destroy it.

It’s refreshing to read a comic about teenage girls that’s not focused on them being misfits. Although our heroines are popular, they’re more Clueless than Mean Girls — they can be a bit self-involved but they’re well-meaning and each has her own motivations and interests, from the ambitious, smart Michelle to the dramatic Tiffany

Gallagher has a wonderful eye for fashion and the way teen girls actually interact. Each girl looks unique — down to her body type and style (Courtney is athletic and sporty, wannabe model Amber is tall and graceful). While Gallagher’s backgrounds are sparse, they focus the attention on her strong ability to convey personality and emotions through body language and facial expressions. The girls not only feel like friends to each other — they feel like girls you know.

While the story mostly proceeds with the expected beats as each girl finds her true abilities, there are a few curves — an unexpected romance, a hidden conspiracy — that keep the plot from feeling too obvious. Gallagher’s gift for the playful rhythms of life keep her storytelling strong and fresh.

As much as I love comics about girls and women in extraordinary circumstances (whether it’s real life or fantastic), it’s refreshing to read a graphic novel that’s about normal girls doing mostly normal things. I would love to see more comics like Part-Time Princesses in the world.

Digital review copy provided by Oni Press.

2014 Comics Superlatives

As I started rounding up the comics I liked this year, I saw a pattern, so I made a joke:

And then I just decided to go with it.
This is not a definitive list but these are all comics, creators, events and projects from 2014 I want to recognize. I think we can all agree that 2014 was a pretty remarkable year for comics.

Review: Art Schooled by Jamie Coe

art-schooledCollege (or university or your otherwise geographic equivalent) is a transitional time for most of us. It’s our first taste of freedom and adult responsibilities in a mostly low-risk environment.

Jamie Coe‘s Art Schooled (2014, Nobrow Press), focuses on this exact time through the eyes of Daniel, a young man from a small English town who goes to (you guess it!) art school in the big city. While it sometimes indulges in the expected navel-gazing young man stereotypes, Coe’s look at the ups and downs of the artist life is both sweet and satirical. While it’s not necessarily going to defy your expectations, there are surprises to be had here.

Our protagonist Daniel is a shy and awkward but completely normal young man. He comes into conflict with his roommates, embarrasses himself and quickly comes to realize art school is full of ridiculous people — both students and teachers alike. The book is told mostly through anecdotes — small vignettes about the creepy male model who poses for classes, visiting art galleries, the pretensions of other students.

The book is full of asides — Daniel offers up detailed portraits of the types of art students you’ll find, “person on the street” features where students answer questions such as “What’s the worst thing about art school?” for examples — and they give depth to the slightly generic plot (Daniel goes to art school! He meets a girl! He has self-doubt! He then finds his voice as an artist!). It was a wise choice on the part of Coe, letting Daniel’s inner life shine through in a playful way.

While Coe’s art does invoke a lot of the previous generation of indie-comics masters (you know who I’m talking about), he does shine with his ability to capture personalities through fashion and body language. His faces have a life of their own, revealing raw emotions clearly.

But the most striking part of Art Schooled is Coe’s inspired use of color and layout mark him as a distinctive talent. Greens compliment times when Daniel is smoking pot with his roommates, orange haze brings to mind the late-night glow of city streets. Tiny, multiple panels push fast-moving conversations and wide, page-filling images give space to smaller, quieter moments. Coe definitely understands the emotional language of comics.

As his first full-length graphic novel, Art Schooled announces Jamie Coe as an exciting talent. This book is fun. It will be even more fun to see what he does next.

(Coe will be Short Run in Seattle this weekend. I won’t be since I’m on the wrong side of the country and no one is paying to fly me out there.)

Review copy provided by publisher.

Briefly noted:
  • REM Pt. 1 by M.R. TrowerREM begins M.R. Trower’s dystopian sci-fi epic (I assume it’s going to be an epic, anyway). It’s one part Moebius, one part punk rock. Trower’s art is surreal and sensitive and the world feels fully developed. (You can catch up online but I just like print.)
  • Magical Beatdown Vo1. 1 & Vol. 1.5 by Jenn Woodall — Woodall takes the magical girl genre to its inevitable conclusion — super violence! — and the outcome could not be more delightful. Purposefully ridiculous and over-the-top, the swearing and the gore actually comes across as charming, and Woodall’s pastiche of manga tropes is fun. The two color printing (blue and hot pink) add nicely to the effect. I love this more than I should.
  • The Art of Cooking with Michelle, Chloe and Mia by Liz Brizzi — Liz Brizzi pointed me to her Kickstarter for her comic cook book. It looks super cute and I’m a huge fan of comics about food/recipe comics. There is about two weeks to go and she still needs about $5,000. She has a good selection of reasonably-priced rewards.

Movie Review: We Are the Best!

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We first meet Bobo, sitting sullenly in the corner of her mom’s rambunctious 40th birthday party. Awkward and androgynous, she’s appealing and out of place. This is not a a world she wants to be a part of, but you immediately want to be a part of hers.

It’s 1982 in Sweden and everyone keeps telling Bobo that “punk is dead.” Bobo knows different. Punk isn’t a genre of music. It’s a feeling you have in your heart.

Lucas Moodysson’s We Are the Best!, based on his wife’s, Coco Moodysson, semi-autobiographical comic, Never Goodnight, is the punk-rock movie you didn’t know you wanted but absolutely needed. It’s one of the few movies that gives absolutely respect to the inner life of girls. There is nothing here that makes fun of them. They are treated as the absolute forces of nature that they are.

The reserved Bobo and her more antagonistic friend, Klara, decide to form a band on whim — mostly to show up a few jerky teenage boys that made fun of them. Despite not being able to play instruments (or know anything about music), they decide to write a song about how much they hate gym class. In the process, they befriend the talented but conservative Hedvig.
The three girls’ friendship is at the core of the movie. They are all open and sweet, and the three young actresses (Mira Barkhammar, Mira Grosin and Liv LeMoyne) bring a natural quality to their roles. Some scenes feel improvised and the chemistry between the three is a delight. Even when they come into conflict over boys (stupid boys!), it is such a minor part of their journey. The band is the most important thing! It’s so refreshing to see a movie that celebrates female friendship in such a way.
There is sweetness at the core of this movie — all three girls come from loving families. While Bobo’s parents are separated, they both still care about her. Klara’s family is wild but supportive and while Hedvig’s family is presented as being a bit more uptight, her mother just has her best interests at heart. The lack of conflict grounds the movie. The girls don’t really have much to rebel against, no, but that makes them feel real and honest. Maybe there are bigger problems than gym teachers, but these girls are fighting against what they know to fight against. I’d be excited to catch up with them in a few years.
This is a kind-hearted movie that shows the power of girls to change their worlds. I am not 13 but I still want to go start a band now. It’s never too late to be a punk.
This review was originally written for and posted at Unseen Films.