Transator’s note : There are two problems in presenting this interview to English-speaking readers : first of all, it was recorded almost 4 years ago, so the information is hardly up to date ; more importantly, there is to date essentially no Baudoin available in English. My main reason for translating this, though, is to eventually generate enough interest in his work to convince some brave publisher to publish some of his work in English. I have made a few notes about such titles and background info as I know anything about.This interview with Edmond Baudoin was made while he was signing books in Paris on April 5, 1995. The man is extremely friendly and generous, and was able to put the most timid of his fans at ease. His responses are both broad and fine, like the lines his brush makes across the blank pages of his books. The conversation revolves mainly around the cartoonist’s career since the interviewer was completely in a swoon.
Jessie Bi : Éloge de la poussière is somewhat of a synthesis of your other books. It features your usual autobiography but also reportage…
Edmond Baudoin : Yes, but at the same time it follows everything I’ve done before, since even Couma Aço still has carryover in relation to my manner of expressing myself, although in that case it’s even more liberal, in a way. So it’s not reportage anymore… it’s…
JB : I was going to say that it’s just between the two…
EB : Exactly ! It’s true that in the meantime I have done La mort du peintre , which really was reportage so I made a lot of use of what I learned with that book as far as my manner of expression. You could say that my comics, not the more traditional ones like those I am doing for Japan but those I want to do in my own work, are heading in the direction of Éloge de la poussière.
That’s where I want to go. Not because it’s more like documentary but because it’s closer to my way of expressing myself.
JB : In Éloge one sees a lot of corrections, a lot of reworking such as one sees in painting… there’s also some collage…
EB : Yeah, yeah, it’s just that I have a problem believing a book is finished. I could pick up Passe le Temps right now and redo it completely, a bit like the postman Ferdinand Cheval who spent his whole life building his “perfect palace”. A book, a drawing is never finished, neither is a painting or a sculpture… but I’m not the only one who thinks that !
The decision to leave signs of corrections, showing my mistakes, fits in with a work that is in reality continuously being produced. The next Éloge de la poussière might have a different title but it will continue a line of reflection on memory which I began a while ago but which is ongoing.
Anyway, you have to eventually give names to things, and then one day you give it to a publisher, who decides it’s finished even though of course it’s not finished ! A Swedish publisher put together my first three books — Passe le Temps, La peau du Lézard, et Un flip Coca — and called the trilogy Amour.
Why not ? The idea wouldn’t have occured to me, but perhaps since I talk about love in so much of my work, in the end it would only make sense to collect it into a single volume. Not everything, of course, not the work I did with Frank or even with Lob.
Still, in my work as a whole there is an obvious continuity, even if the characters are different and there is no continuing storyline…After all, in a certain sense I tell the same story every time !
JB : There are some reproductions of canvases in Éloge de la poussière. Are you still painting ?
EB : Yes, yes, but… well, the problem there is that I already spend too much time with drawing and comics to be able to set aside time for painting as well. It’s a drag, but at the same time I tell myself that the time will come ; that it’s not happening because it’s not necessary right now…
Since I am doing stuff for kids with Seuil Jeunesse — and in fact I’m working on some paintings for them right now — I’m looking… As much as in comics I am starting to get some small idea of where I am going, in painting I am nonetheless still a beginner.
I even think about it when I’m doing fan sketches : where should I go with this ? What should I do ? I do paintings but as far as I am concerned they are not for public viewing because… they’re research ! I’m bumbling as a cartoonist, to be sure, but as a painter even moreso…
JB : There was just that one show at Escale in Paris ?
EB : Yes, I’ve only had the Escale show in recent years. Before doing comics, art exhibits were all I did so Escale wasn’t the first, but you need to go back a good 18 years.
JB : Will we be seeing the work you’ve been doing for Japan ? Is it going to be translated ?
EB : Yes, it will be translated in France, but not right away. It won’t be until at least 1997. The publishers decided that. As for me, I’m a Japanese author, I can’t decide if I’m going to be published in France. It’s the Japanese who bought my work who will decide. They are the sole owners. The French publishers they’re talking to aren’t sure whether they want to publish the first book, but they like the second one a lot so they want to publish the second one before the first one, but I’m still working on the second one, and in Japan when I finish 300 pages they won’t publish the book immediately. My first book in Japan won’t be out until June, which makes one year since I finished it, so it will be the same thing with the second book. So there’s kind of a backlog of things I’ve done over there that won’t be published in France for quite a while.
It’s really not so bad, except maybe for you since you’re thinking “shit, I’d really like to see Le Voyage !” But since I continue to do work here — unlike Baru, who invested himself entirely in Japan and then was peeved because he didn’t have any work coming out in France — since I continue to do stuff with L’Asso, and keep putting stuff out, I’m not so bothered by the fact that my work in Japan is held up. It’ll come out, even if it’s in ’97 and I’m dead by then, in which case tough luck… But I want to say that things will be coming out. I exist ! This book just came out and I’ll have some stuff out in the fall. I work fast, which allows me to exist here as well.
JB : As I understand it, there are a lot of silent sequences in your Japanese work…
EB : Yes, it’s different in Japan. In a comic I make a lot of use of the drawing.
Well, the drawing tells something, the framing tells something else and the word balloons something else again. And in the following panel I can break things up even more and make some panels which clash quite dramatically. In Japan, it’s impossible for a Japanese reader to have the same cultural background as a French reader, and if I do that he’ll be lost.
On the other hand, in Japan, instead of having one page to relate our interview I would have many. Here, if I say in a comic that I am drawing and being interviewed at the same time I’m going to have one page to get across the atmosphere, the way people look, etc. In Japan I’ll have eight pages to relate the same thing, which allows me to play around a lot with people’s aspects : how you hold yourself, how you are, how I am…. not in the framing but in physical psychology. When a guy scratches his nose three times… imagine things like that, you see… I can act more as if it were animation, almost. I have eight pages to express myself in.
A guy who dares to take a girl’s hand, well, I’m going to do it in four pages. In France, I would do it in two panels. You see, it’s a cultural difference, but I end up with the same result, which is to say that reading one of my Japanese comics, you can read it without reading the text since everything is told in the gestures and attitudes of the characters. I like it a lot, it’s different, it’s something else.
JB : But do you write your own text ?
EB : I write the text myself. In terms of work, there aren’t many things that are different. The Japanese read from right to left so I work like that, in that direction. Which results in me occasionally screwing up when I’m back working for the French : I work in the wrong direction.
So there’s that and also I can’t put my word balloons in the panels since their text runs vertical, so I fill up the whole panel and I draw all over, knowing that there are some kind of dead areas where they can put in a word balloon, but I draw the entirety of the panel and then I quickly write down the French text on tracing paper and then they translate it–I can’t tell you if they do a good job or not, though…
JB : I thought it was you who did the lettering, especially since your line is so calligraphic…
EB : Yeah, but no, they use a computer for that, there’s no one — I would have to be able to write in Japanese myself for it to be… but after all that’s not going to be any time soon, is it ? I don’t even know how to speak English, so…
Really, there’s nothing else with them — oh yeah, one thing they’ve taught me to do which I didn’t do before is that I have to write a synopsis beforehand. I send it to them and they tell me if they like it and then I do the whole thing. Sometimes they have some comments since there are certain things a Japanese audience won’t understand.
Imagine you’re doing a thing in the subway : you draw the train, then you draw someone opening the door of the train… The Japanese won’t understand because for them it opens automatically ! They’re not going to realize that there’s a guy who opens it, you see ? Then there are things that I have no way of knowing about.
JB : La diagonale des jours is a completely new direction…
EB : That was done with a friend. We were corresponding and then after two years he said our correspondence might make a good book, and since I like his sensibility… and it’s my way, perhaps, of seeing that he gets published, and that could help him. You know, it’s a thing between friends.
JB : Still that’s something truly novel, correspondence entirely in comics form…
EB : In the end, it seems to me that I do a lot of things, a lot of first drafts, and if there are other artists who are into a story like that, a correspondence about the world of today and all that… that can generate some ideas so why not, you know ? Let them do it, let them get into it, it could be good. Listen, it’s an idea that I am offering of a way to do things with comics. But I’m not going to do any more, myself.
JB : Really ? So there isn’t going to be a sequel ?
EB : No, I have too many things to tell by myself as it is. Too many, too many. The rest of my life won’t be enough time to tell all that I have to tell, unfortunately. I already know that.
I don’t have anything, right ? No one has told me, “you have cancer and you are going to die” ! But I know that I won’t have enough time.
JB : Now that Futuropolis has closed down are you going to work exclusively with L’Association or with other publishers as well ?
EB : Well, I’ve started working with Z Éditions in Nice and I’ll stick with them. But with Z it’ll be stuff a bit like this : text, images…. (shows Chagrin d’encre).
With L’Association, it’ll be the continuation of Futuropolis and of my stories. I also work for Seuil Jeunesse, things for children, since I want to try doing stuff for kids. Am I capable of also doing comics for children ? I like trying my hand at that, each time it’s a challenge !
So, that’s a lot : Seuil Jeunesse, Z, the Japanese, L’Association… plus a gag strip ! I don’t know if it’s going to work. I was at the twentieth anniversary party for Fluide Glacial — I find that stuff pretty asinine, myself (laughter) — and while I was there they asked me to do some pages, so if I’m also working for Fluide … (still laughing) No, but you can imagine me in Fluide Glacial !
So I said, “Wait, I don’t get it, I do whatever I want ?” “Yes, yes, you do what you want.” All right, well, if I can do whatever I want… The regular readers aren’t going to get it, though ! (laughter)
JB : And the story about Charlie Schlingo in Éloge, is that true ?
EB : That his real name is Nioduab ?
JB : Yeah.
EB : Yeah, it’s true. But I don’t know how or why. I swear I don’t know, because nobody is named Nioduab. And I imagine that… There have been many Baudoins. It comes from Baldwin ; it’s German ; it comes from way back with the Visigoths and the Ostrogoths and all that, who were invading Gaul, and —
(Baudoin pauses since “the eyes are too close together” in the sketch he is working on. He corrects it for a few moments and then continues…)
— I don’t know the true story of Nioduab. It’s so crazy. So there are a lot of Baudoins in the south of France and in Italy. And Charlie is Italian. So I imagine that someone in his family must have done something horrible in the past and that they completely changed their name. You see, because Baudoin is Nioduab backwards. It’s… it’s crazy because I just can’t imagine an Italian named Nioduab.
So there’s a problem there, someone in his family history did something bad. You’d need to be an archeologist and go see if there are lots of Nioduabs in Italy. In any case, it’s true, his name is Nioduab, I’ve seen his ID card. It was him who came to see me : “Look ! Look ! I have the same name as you only backwards !” (laughter) And since the fact is that he’s the exact opposite of anything I could be, it’s a good gag, I like it.
It’s possible that Charlie and I are cousins…
JB : There are some color pages in Carla. Are you going to do more of that ?
EB : No, uh… well that was a bit of mischief on my part. I thought Casterman was going to publish that book. I wanted them to pay the highest possible price for the book, so I told myself, “put in 3 pages in color and the book will be just as expensive as if all the pages were in color !” (laughter) It’s my anarchist side. As it turned out it was Futuropolis who did the book and they had to pay but, well, too bad…
JB : However, in the story I think it works well.
EB : Yes, yes, because I chose a story in which color was necessary. And I did the same thing with les Humanoides Associés ! I put a panel in the middle of the book, in color, which meant that the book cost as much as if the entire thing were in color… They’re pranks, that stuff, they’re cruel ! I’m really cruel ! But maybe you shouldn’t write this down because later on the publishers are gonna say, “Fucking Baudoin, what an asshole ! Whenever we work with him he does something impossible just to make us pay the maximum…” (laughter)
JB : The next book will be a “patte de mouche,” right ?
EB : Uh, yes, yes, it will be a little comic, since I had a grandfather who was a cowboy and who knew Buffalo Bill and all that… The most far out story you can imagine ! And since I wrote about my other grandfather in Couma Aço… You see, I can write about a farmer, but to write about a guy who knew Buffalo Bill, who participated in the construction of the Panama Canal… you see, it’s impossible, it’s a joke ! But in fact it’s true, so I made it into a “patte de mouche”, even if you can’t devote a book to a guy who was American and who came to France… anyway, in this case, it’s just the opposite… (laughter)
JB : Your first books with Glénat are impossible to find. Can you tell us something about them ?
EB : I started working for Glénat at the very beginning, for a magazine that was called Le canard sauvage at that time. I did things there, and eventually they made a collection of the comics that had appeared in Le canard sauvage. So it’s a collection of my very first comics. It’s interesting for Baudoin historians and archaeologists, but otherwise there’s nothing to write home about in those books.
JB : Are they gags or more conventional stories ?
EB : There was a bit of everything. Yeah, there were some gags. I did a life of Christ in a bit of a Monty Python style, things like that. But we didn’t have Monty Python in France at the time, so I was ahead of the trend… There were things like that, but…
JB : Could that stuff run in Fluide Glacial now ?
EB : No, no, it was bad ! If a young person were to show up with the drawings I started out with, if he were to arrive on the scene with that stuff, he would never make the grade, never, never… Those first stories I did, they were done almost completely without words, they were incomprehensible, that was true Japanese there, and without translation ! (laughter)
JB : Do you plan to work with a writer again ?
EB : No, like I said, I won’t have enough time in my whole life to do all I want to do. But after all you can’t swear to anything. I say yes to things all the time. If I come across a text that’s really — but I don’t think I will… For example, the comics with Lob, that was really done out of friendship. So imagine something done out of friendship like that, and that that sort of thing comes up once in a while. So yes, I could do that, it could happen.
(Interview conducted at FNAC Montparnasse, April 5, 1995.)
- One of Baudoin’s first books.
- This is a reference to a French folk art house.
- This part of the interview revolves around work Baudoin has been doing for Kodansha in Japan, joining such other Western cartoonists as Baru, Paul Pope, and Tom Hart. The book Le voyage has in fact been printed by L’Association and won an award at the Salon Angoulême.
- A widely available — even, for better or worse, in the US — magazine featuring a few notable artists like Blutch and Goosens, but mostly tits-and-ass humor.
- Charlie Schlingo is a cartoonist who does underground-style funny animal comics ; a full 2-page story of his is reproduced in Éloge de la poussière, ending with the narrator’s remark that Schlingo’s given name is Nioduab.
- L’Assocation’s small format books, relatively easy to find in the US
- Called Made in USA.