Twenty-five years later, Richard McGuire comes back to "Here", a story like no other, initially published in the pages of RAW in 1989. In this twenty-five-year-span, the initial six pages have grown to become three hundred, without losing any of its singularity or its evocative power.
Xavier Guilbert : To begin with, do you consider yourself as a comic author ?
Richard McGuire : It’s not the only thing I do, comics. I don’t really feel like a professional — in some ways, I don’t feel like that big of an authority. I mean, I have my opinions, but I’m not so… like this question a guy asked me yesterday, was to compare the way Art Spiegelman or Chris Ware talked about comics and the structure of buildings being… and I have no real strong opinion about — making a comment about the medium, you know, like that. Because I feel like I’m not an authority. (laugh) They can speak about it much better than I can.
Xavier Guilbert : Even though this is obviously a comics festival, besides the Here book, there’s what, maybe a dozen comic pages you did…
Richard McGuire : Less, less…
Xavier Guilbert : Okay, so maybe eight, and six of them are of the earlier version of Here.
Richard McGuire : (laughs) Yeah, I did the six pages, and then I did — I don’t know how many pages that was, maybe another six pages ? In McSweeney’s, the thing that Chris Ware made, and he pushed me to do that. And then I did maybe one or two — I did one page in RAW… I mean, very little. But I feel like I’m an honorary member of the comics tribe, because I feel… I have many friends who are cartoonists, but I don’t have that devotion to the medium. I really don’t. And I’m so amazed when I see people like Chris or Joost Swarte, and when I see the body of work. You have to have such patience… I mean, I have such a respect for comics.
Xavier Guilbert : And this comes from someone who just spent fifteen years putting out a book.
Richard McGuire : (laughs) But I wasn’t working the entire time on the book like that. I would work on it, then put it away, then get confused, and not know what to do. I doubted myself, many many times. And said to myself : why do I think I can do this ?
Xavier Guilbert : Do you consider that what you’re doing is comics, or something that is on the fringe of comics ? Considering that the definition of comics is usually very limitating, or focuses on specific elements. You use frames and speech balloons, so from a formal point of view, that might qualify as a comic, but at the same time, people talk about the first “Here” as being avant-garde, and twenty-five years later it’s still avant-garde. So it means that in this twenty-five year span, comics haven’t evolved that much…
Richard McGuire : I don’t know. I have few ways to answer this thing. First of all… I was talking to a good friend who is more of a comic artist than me. He said : “are you using balloons ?” And I said “Yes.” And he said : “Then it’s comics.” For him, that was the defining thing. And for me, I like experimenting with different mediums. Sometimes when I’m talking about it, I talk about it as an artist’s book that’s disguised as a graphic novel. But I think that, you know, what I really like is that people are picking it up who wouldn’t normally read comics, and I’ve heard the story, especially around Christmas time, when families are together and the book is there, and you have people who are picking it up who would never read comics. Like a friend of mine : his dad picked it up and he was really into it ; he started making notes and looking at the book very intensely ; my friend was so surprised. And then I heard a similar story of someone who was going to interview me, and his 7-year old daughter picks it up and she was enjoying it. (laugh) So I don’t know, I like it that it reaches different people.
It’s kind of comics and kind of isn’t.
Xavier Guilbert : Looking back twenty-five years in the past, about the first “Here” story. Where did it come from ? Formally, it has a link to comics, but it doesn’t rely on the usual reading process that’s central to comics.
Richard McGuire : I think it’s more approachable now because of the way we look at the Internet, and having multiple windows seems so common now. That was one of the inspirations for it originally. I’ve answered this question about the origins of it a lot, but the more I think about it, the more different I see it. First, I moved into an apartment, and I was thinking about who lived there before me. I had just seen a lecture by Art Spiegelman and what I took away from that conversation, or that lecture, was that comics are essentially diagrams. So I was thinking about that. I had the idea of a corner of the room, because I wanted to use the corner as a dividing line, and have one side of the room going forward in time, and the other side of the room going backward in time. That’s the only reason I used the corner. And then, when a friend visited me, telling me about the Windows program. That’s when I thought : okay, I can have multiple views of time.
So now, it seems to have come full circle, that I’m doing the interactive version of it, which I have on my iPad. But it does come really from that. I really think that now, that kind of multiple views is accessible to everyone now.
Xavier Guilbert : If you think that what you pioneered with the first version has now become more commonplace because of computers being everywhere, why did you set on doing this super-extended version, so many years later ?
Richard McGuire : So the original is 1989, and in 1999, I already had done some children’s books, and I decided I wanted to do a book for an adult, and then I thought : okay, that story has an infinite amount of space, so I can expand it, so it seemed logical to do it as a book. Chris Ware has just signed the contract to do Jimmy Corrigan, and he said : “oh, you should meet the Pantheon people.” So I signed the contract then, and I started, and I didn’t know where I was going. And I stopped, and I put it away, to work on the films that I worked on. It took me years to get back to it, and then… it did take a while to get back to it. And it took me multiple attempts to… I was lucky to get a fellowship at a library in New York, the main Public Library where I did a lot of the research. I knew that if I was going to go deeper, I had to have the foundation more… just deeper, I needed to go deeper. So I did all this research.
In the first version, I never said exactly where the place was, and I did that on purpose, because I wanted it to be kind of every place, but in the book I knew I had to be more specific. Even though I never mention the place, it’s pretty obvious, I think — not completely obvious, but it’s definitely America, it’s definitely East-coast America. The clues are there — I mean, when you have Benjamin Franklin showing up.
Xavier Guilbert : I think he’s mentioned, but not in the past sequences. It’s in the present that it says “Oh, Benjamin Franklin used to live there…”
Richard McGuire : Yes, I was afraid to make too big of a deal of it. Because it’s like suddenly like having a superstar walking in. I’ve been using this in a lot in interviews, but the motto that I had was : “Making the big things small, and the small things big.” It was a way of looking at it, and so… But it’s true, when I did the research, I found out that it’s true about Benjamin Franklin coming to visit his son across the street, it has really happened. So I thought that I should include it.
Xavier Guilbert : How do you plan for such a book ?
Richard McGuire : I was looking at all sorts of sources, that I have on my wall on my studio, on a big scroll of paper. And I try to make a timeline — that was one of the ways of just plotting the stuff out. And then I made lists and lists and lists. To do a six-page story is a thing, to do a 300-page book with the same kind of feeling… what I had the most problem with was how to hold the audience. I thought I would have to have very long narrative threads, and I worked at it that way, and it wasn’t working, it slowed it down too much. So I thought I had to go back to a more cut-up version, but even there, I wondered whether anyone would care if it’s too fragmented. I thought you wouldn’t have a feeling for anybody if you don’t have a central character. So I worried about that.
Ultimately, what I decided was that it was more like a musical shape than anything. So I put the entire book, every page, on my wall, and I was constantly cutting and rearranging things, and trying to find a nice rhythm for it. And that’s mostly how the flow of the book came into being — once I realized it was more about a musical feeling, I was more comfortable with it, because I’ve played music in the past. I know that seems a more natural way for me to work.
And the dialog was similar, as a collage as well.
Xavier Guilbert : Do you know if someone has put up a chronological version of Here ? Reading it, some dates emerge as being more important than others… there’s this moment where somebody probably has a heart attack, and then you try to figure out what happens next…
Richard McGuire : It’s funny, because a friend of mine actually did that. He bought two copies and cut the book up, and he put it in order. (laughs) And it didn’t make much difference, it felt as a similar reading experience. In fact, when we did the interactive version, the programmer made a thing so that we could do that. And press a button, and have it go all suddenly in order. But I didn’t want to go that route. That didn’t seem necessary.
Xavier Guilbert : In fact, there are a lot of echoes, like the page with all the interjections. But also around some themes, like death, or with the children. Like you’re putting up this corner of a room like a scene for the theater of life.
Richard McGuire : Exactly.
Xavier Guilbert : … with things happening again and again. And putting it in order would eventually lose all those connections.
Richard McGuire : Yes, I know. Because we don’t think in order. I mean, every day, I’m walking on the street, my mind is jumping all over the place. I’m thinking : oh, I have this appointment, and then, it’s like I’m thinking of last night, and I go : oh, I should have said this, during this conversation. You know, it’s like we are never in the moment, we are always jumping around. Or you’ll see something that reminds you of something else…
When people ask me what is the book about, I always say “impermanence”, which I think really is the key to the whole thing. It’s just to realize that the now is the most important thing, and that everything goes by so quickly. To just be more conscious of the ‘now’. So that was the goal.
Xavier Guilbert : So do you live in the ‘now’ yourself ?
Richard McGuire : I do not. I think we all do not. I think we should more become conscious of what is happening around us and be more centered. But I think that’s a struggle. I think your mind is constantly throwing you information. I mean, I think we are overloaded with information right now. And that’s something that some people have brought up to me. They talked about Boyhood, the film, and they talked about — there are a few other things that are HERE-like, and they are saying : “How come all these things are happening now ?” And it seems because we are so overloaded with information that this is why these things — the fact that you can get access to the history of anything at a moment’s notice, that multiple reality… that’s the way we live.
Xavier Guilbert : At the same time, reading HERE, there’s this kind of impermanence, but also the fact that you can really relate to the ‘now’ by exploring all that life cycle that has repeated itself.
Richard McGuire : It’s a funny thing, as you get older too, I see reflections of my parents in me, all the time. You can get through times when you realize : oh my God, this is what he went through, or what she went through, and you really feel it. It’s like an important thing to know. And I see it reflected in all my family.
Xavier Guilbert : Do you think that the fact that it took you fifteen years to complete the book played a role in that ? In the sense that there were pieces that you made right at the beginning and others that were more recent… or did you keep doing the whole thing over and over again so that everything came together at the same time ?
Richard McGuire : I don’t think… I went back and looked at my notes that I did when I originally signed the contract. And I did use some things, but basically, it was only in the last two years that I really pulled it together. I mean, it was — I’d say, a year of research, and maybe two years of actual execution. That’s really what it came down to.
Xavier Guilbert : And twelve years of gestation ?
Richard McGuire : Yeah, but also — I mean, all the life experience that happened, it wouldn’t have been the same book if I had done it in 1999. The big changes to my life happened right before I really started getting back into it : both of my parents passed away, my oldest sister passed away, we sold the house that I grew up in. And just going through — my parents had collected everything, and they lived there fifty years and there was so much stuff in the house… and to go through everything, it just brings back all those memories. So having all that happen right before I started getting into it really did have an impact.
Xavier Guilbert : And from what I’ve read, there were a lot of pictures that you used — pictures of you, of your sisters, and those family pictures your parents used to take of you. So considering the house you grew up had just been sold, doing this book, was it a way for you to recapture all that for yourself ?
Richard McGuire : I think it was a therapeutic thing to go through all that, when I was working on the book — because that’s the only thing I took from the house : boxes and boxes of photos and films. That was mostly — the only things I took. Because I was looking at that material over and over, I was having dreams about them. There is actually one dream in the book, there’s a future scene where there are two old guys and they’re looking at some kind of virtual reality kind of thing, and one of the guys sticks his head in and becomes younger. That actually came from a dream I had, where I was in the house, and my sister (who, I mentioned before, passed away), I saw her out the window, and I went to yell to her. I opened the window, and I stuck my head out, and suddenly there’s all this wind and there’s all this hair in my face — and I don’t have hair now (laugh). So when I woke up, I was like : oh, I was younger, when I stuck my head through the window, I was younger. I wanted to use that somehow, and then I made it for that future scene.
But you know, a lot of my family is in the book. And then also there’s also a lot of my contemporary friends in the book too. Because I did a lot of — I shot a lot of videos of people doing things, and then drew from that.
Xavier Guilbert : I was more thinking of it as a way to bring your whole past with you. Looking at the book now, how it’s done, it really looks like a “house-in-a-book” : there’s the front with the window, at the back there’s the brick wall and the back alley, and when you open it there’s the corner in the middle…
Richard McGuire : Yeah. You know, I can’t remember — because I wanted to go back to my journals to try to see if I had some Eureka moment of the corner of the room being the actual architecture of the fold of the page. But I can’t remember what… because I built a little model of the room, and I thought — maybe that’s where I got the idea — when I put the two pieces together, I was like : oh my God ! Maybe it was that, or could it just have been that I folded a piece of paper and that I had the idea… but I don’t remember where the actual idea came from. But it really was like, a big moment, because I thought — In the early versions of the book I had multiple panels the way the original was. And once I had that feeling that it could be a full-page spread, it was really utilizing the architecture of the book, so you feel you’re in the physical space by opening the book.
And it’s funny about the cover design. I had a different cover at first, and I met with a good friend of mine, Peter Mendelsund, who is a great jacket designer. He’s very famous, just came out two books about his work. And he’s somebody I didn’t know, but I got his email address and I just wrote to him and I just said : look, I’d like to show you what I’m working on. And I came into his office, and within two — like, a few seconds, he looked at my book, and he said : “oh, the cover should not be more of the inside of the book.” And he said : “okay, I’m just going to throw this out. How about the outside of the house ?” It was just like he had shot an arrow right into my head. I was like : I can’t believe it, why didn’t I think of that ? (laugh) So I have to give him credit, because he came up with it. He just said to me that, and then I struggled. Because I came home and I was painting that window over and over again, and it looked so bad in the beginning — it just looked like a home magazine or something. It didn’t look like anything. So once I put the shadow, and I had the word “HERE” in really big, and then I made it smaller and smaller and then I was like : “Okay…”
Xavier Guilbert : The way the word is positioned, it’s slightly behind the curtain, so it’s inside…
Richard McGuire : Yes it’s inside the room, that’s exactly that.
Xavier Guilbert : So the story is going to happen “here”, but “here” being inside. Looking at the way you changed from the six-panel grid of the original version to this new version, I think it is the most drastic and the most significant change.
Richard McGuire : That’s right. I felt each medium has its own strength. The book — it was funny, because even with the book, I had… with the reinvention of it, I immediately thought about doing the interactive. So I was working on both simultaneously. But there was one moment where I thought I should shuffle the pages of all the books, so all the books would be completely unique. I was all excited, and I told the publisher, and I thought it was a nightmare — because they were like : “we have to do that by hand, for every book ?” And then I stopped and thought to myself : no no no, I’m not letting the book be — a book. A book has a beginning and an end, and I should be respectful of the book being what a book is. And then let the interactive version do what it does best, which is randomizing all the elements. You know, it was important, creating a rhythm for the book to be frozen, in a way, like frozen music. What’s exciting for me is : it is great, seeing the randomization of the interactive version, because it surprises even me, the things that come up inside there.
Xavier Guilbert : I think it’s fitting. I mean, when you read on an electronic device, everything happens in the same place, the same physical space of the screen. Looking at the book, you go through a series of strata, the pages, meaning you’re actually digging through time. For instance, like following the cat when it moves. That’s something that you didn’t have in the six-panel version.
Richard McGuire : That’s true.
Xavier Guilbert : Things are much more connected when you go through that. I remember there are two sequences where the room is entirely in the dark — obviously, people have left for something. This is very efficient : it’s not things being replaced on the same background. The succession of those dark pages give it more importance, the feeling that something happened.
Richard McGuire : I guess having a sustained moment, like there’s this series of background where there’s no other panels, it’s just suddenly empty space. I felt the book needed those kinds of rests, like musical rests, there. Also, in the interactive version, there are those little moments of animation too, because I love those GIFs animations, which also seems a fairly recent invention. You know, I think they were called “cinemagraphs” ? I don’t know if that’s ever going to catch on as an expression, but there is something very poignant about these things. It’s like someone talked to them about the reduction of cinema, or the expansion of photography. Somewhere in between, the idea that you have a little tiny moment makes it so special. And I think that’s more like memory, because I feel — whenever I try to recall anything, if we’re lucky, we just see like one little moment, a little fraction, and I think that those things feel like a memory, they really do. So I was trying to introduce them into the interactive version. When the moment happens it’s really special. Also, it’s timed, so it doesn’t happen every time, because then that would get boring, and it’s better : when it happens, it’s small, but it’s almost like : did I really see that ? It’s like when the wind comes to the window, and the cartoon moves… it’s so dramatic, you know ?
Xavier Guilbert : That makes me think of the kind of device you see in sci-fi movies, when they try and imagine what pictures will be in the future. You’ve got those little, animated 3D scenes that are looping onto themselves, very similar to what you’re describing. Snippets of moments caught in time, playing over and over again.
Richard McGuire : I have very strong memories as a child, and it would be like a summer and I’d be lying on a couch and the curtain would blow and would open and stay there for a while, before it would go down again. And as a child, I remember always loving that, so I had them animate that for the book. So we’re adding more, we’ve finished the first version, and we’re already working on the 2.0 version, and we’re adding more. Some of the things that I cut from the original book, I think I may insert just to keep changing it up. But everything will be timed, so you may watch it up a hundred times, and still get something out of it later. And there’s actually — I mean, this is a crazy idea — when I got back to New York I’m meeting with some people who do virtual reality stuff, because I thought : maybe I could… I don’t know if I want to rush into this too soon, but the idea of making a virtual reality of the room, where you could walk in and step through the panels and step into… It could be something worth investigating — or maybe that’s for 25 years in the future (laugh).
Xavier Guilbert : It’s interesting how you weave this corner of American History (with the original Natives, the Dutch settlers, the Sons of Liberty and Benjamin Franklin), with your own history. The book starts off in 1957 with a woman coming in the room and wondering what she came looking for, and it ends up with her saying “oh, this is it” and picking up a book. It kind of encapsulates the thing, and the fact that you yourself were born in 1957 makes it very personal.
Richard McGuire : It only occurred to me afterwards that it’s me speaking to myself and like : why am I going back to do a “Here” again ? oh, of course, it’s because of the book. That’s exactly me talking to myself. But it felt logical that it started the year of my birth, that just seemed like a logical thing to do. And the stories of the Native Americans, it is true. These archaeologists came to my house and they wanted to dig up my backyard, and my mother wouldn’t let them. I always had that fantasy of thinking of who is there. I mean, there was always something present, and then having that building across the street… In the book, I kind of pushed it off to the side, but in reality, it is directly across the street. My mother really loved that kind of — you know, she would take us to all these museums, and these historic sites. Because there’s a lot of that kind of stuff in that area. Because of the Revolution and everything. It is a remarkable thing. I mean, growing up I knew that that house had something to do with Benjamin Franklin, but I didn’t know the real details until I did all the research recently. It’s amazing. (a pause) I think if you take any place, you could probably create the same story, or at least an interesting story of strata, no matter where you are.
Xavier Guilbert : Coming back to what you were saying about “making the little things big, and the big things little” — the big things themselves don’t have to be that big anyway, since it’s sufficient to put “1775” as the date for a panel for everybody to understand that it’s during the War of Independence. Especially if you happen to mention Benjamin Franklin.
What comes from the book, is really life happening : people getting born, growing up, leaving, coming… and the echoes you introduce bring up the phantoms of things past as well.
Richard McGuire : I know. It’s amazing to me how some of the things happened so naturally. Like Benjamin Franklin, his son is William and he calls him Billy, and my brother’s name is Billy. And it was just a strange coincidence but true (laugh).
And also, in my research, I found out something — there was so much, so many great things that I found out in the research that I couldn’t get into the book. For instance, his son, who was the governor, was his bastard son. And then the bastard son had a bastard son, and when Benjamin Franklin went to England, to try and negotiate out of the Revolution War, he brought along his grandson with him. And the strange thing was — maybe I mention it in the book — when Benjamin Franklin was fifteen, he did pass through the town, and here he is coming back with his grandson who is also fifteen, visiting his son. It’s just like these echoes really did happen, I didn’t force anything. (laugh) You know, the world is stranger than we could even imagine, or even create.
Xavier Guilbert : Don’t you think that is also the way the human mind works ? Trying to make connections ?
Richard McGuire : Yes, it’s true. We’re always looking for connections.
Xavier Guilbert : It brings me back to what you were saying about the randomization of the digital version, that there were things that came up that you had never thought about. Then again, it’s making connections between different things, and suddenly seeing that they share something.
I think it’s interesting because it brings us back to comics, as they also work like that : making connections between two things. That’s where it resonates on a global scale.
Richard McGuire : That’s true. I think the human mind always tries to find patterns. Always. It’s just the way it is. But it’s interesting, because even comics is “co-mix”, of two things, language and visuals.
Xavier Guilbert : It works also with music, as when you put two notes together, they resonate in a certain way. Whatever the notes you choose, they resonate and bring out different colors.
Richard McGuire : Someone on the radio was talking about music and the defining things — you know, it’s also pattern making. It’s like every single culture, every music, it’s all just about pattern.
Xavier Guilbert : You said you didn’t feel you belonged that much into the comic tribe, but then again there’s a lot of comic artists who play music on the side, it’s really impressive how many there are.
Richard McGuire : I know, that’s true.
Xavier Guilbert : Comics and music might not be so different.
Richard McGuire : That’s one thing that both Art Spiegelman and Chris Ware have talked about. About it being… Chris has talked about as being architecture too. Especially in connection with Building Stories. But you know, in comics there’s always a rhythm of panels, there’s that space in between, which is the beat, and then you have to create that beat and decide how you’re going to work with that. So there is a connection, definitely.
Xavier Guilbert : Note that speaking of the book, you speak of the “architecture of the book”. You could have said “the structure of the book”, or “the design of the book”…
Richard McGuire : You know, I feel that I’ve came — when I was in school, I was studying sculpture, and that has maybe always stayed with me. When I design anything, I think of it as a total, three-dimensional thing. Like when I design my records, I was always interested in designing the label, and the frond end, back, making sure that everything is balanced. It’s like, you know ? Maybe fundamentally how I think, I don’t know.
Xavier Guilbert : Besides the actual creation process, do you still revisit HERE as a reader yourself ? Or is it now behind you, as you were talking about a therapeutic process ?
Richard McGuire : Whenever I look at the interactive version, I’m not — I haven’t exhausted that yet, and I’ve seen it many many many times. It’s still exciting to see new connections happen. I can’t believe it myself. It’s like, you know, when you play, let’s say, with a deck of cards. There’s only 52 cards, and it seems like there are infinite possibilities. There are hundreds of panels in this book, so there must be — I have never calculated how many panels and how many possibilities. But I’m constantly surprised by the connections. I just think that, I could keep adding to it. I’m not sure how far I can do that. And I don’t want it to be a life’s work. I’m glad I got this far, I’m glad I got those twenty-five years to finally get the book off my shoulders (laugh). The idea of the virtual reality thing opens up a whole new possibility that I’m excited about. But I do have other projects that I really want to do, now that I’ve got this done. I have some film projects that I would love to do, and I’ve been working on them off and on for years. There’s a script for a feature film. So, who knows ?
Xavier Guilbert : When you’re saying you finally have the book off your shoulders, what that something that was nagging at you ?
Richard McGuire : Yes, absolutely (laugh).
Xavier Guilbert : And not just from a purely contractual point of view…
Richard McGuire : Oh, I knew it had to be. I mean, the contractual thing, they never pressured me at all, ever, about finishing. It was definitely something that I really wanted to do, but that I struggled with. And I had so many doubts along the way. Because I doubted my strength as a story-writer, I doubted the idea of not having a protagonist and worrying about the narrative structure, whether you would feel anything at all, if you didn’t have a single person to concentrate on, and really know… I mean, why would you feel anything for this ? But everyone I showed it to, says they feel emotional about the book. I think it’s because of their own memories, maybe. Because it really does feel — l’ve had the pleasure of looking at an archive of somebody’s collection of family photos, and they all start to look alike, after a while. All these things, all these parties and holidays — I mean, that’s why I think people can relate so easily. I don’t know. I really struggled with this.
Xavier Guilbert : When you say you showed it to other people, how “complete” was it ? Were those early versions ?
Richard McGuire : I had a lot of friends whom I trusted come to my studio and give me their opinions about it. And it was very helpful, to have people to be honest with me and say, you know, “this is too slow here”. Those kinds of things are worth hearing. I mean, I would fight back, sometimes (laugh). And then ultimately be proven wrong — when you have different people telling you the same thing, you know something’s wrong.
Xavier Guilbert : You said you had the pages around your studio. When it finally got into a book form, did it surprise you ? Were you satisfied to see it work, or were there somethings that didn’t entirely live up to your expectations ? Because it’s definitely not the same way of looking at it.
Richard McGuire : That’s very true.
Xavier Guilbert : Did you discover it again ? Were you pleasantly surprised or reassured ?
Richard McGuire : Yes, I was pleasantly surprised. When you actually have a book that you can flip the pages, it is a totally different experience. In fact, I thought at one point, I was so used to seeing it, I thought it was too breezy. I thought you could read this book in five minutes and it wouldn’t be satisfying enough. Now I hear people saying : “I have to go back to it and make sure I got the full story”, because it takes multiple readings to really understand it. I was so familiar with it when I finished it, that after all this work I thought : oh my God, I didn’t go deep enough (laugh).
Xavier Guilbert : The art is — I wouldn’t say ‘minimalistic’, but for instance, the people are not represented in detail. Everything is somehow simplified, nearly abstract, that allows a better identification of the reader, who can project patterns of his/her own life. I feel that you’ve tried to somehow cut off anything that would be too distracting. How did you work on that ?
Richard McGuire : Oh, that’s a hard one to talk about, because I was constantly trying different things. And also, the real estate of the book is such a difficult thing to make sure that — you know, there’s only so much space. And to have something — especially if I want to have a continued story like the Kurdistan muse or something, when I know that I want to have a thread, it’s like : okay, I’m already using this many pages, and this is on, I can’t cover that up. That’s one funny thing in the interactive version, when in the book something is covered, and in the interactive version that panel is not there anymore. Sometimes it reveals stuff that you don’t see in the book, which is interesting. But I was constantly having that problem of stacking these things. And on the studio walls it’s all paper and I’m cutting it out and I had an assistant who was helping me with inDesign programming. We had to be thoughtful to be working on the book and the interactive version at the same time. It got complicated, with all these layers of information.
Stylistically, I didn’t want to do the book exactly the way I did the original, and I struggled there too. I was trying all these different things, like : should I do it all in watercolor ? or should I do it all in vector art ? And then, at a certain point, just collaging it all on my wall, I realized that somehow it had that cohesiveness that I wasn’t expecting. And I kinda liked the fact that there’s always different textures, because they have different moods. It’s almost like atmosphere conditions are changing, the weather… I don’t know ?
But the reduction of the characters which you’ve mentioned, I prefer things to be minimalist, always, with what I do. Be it music or any design. For me to go back and try to do it realistic — I knew I had this particular thing that had to be a realistic style, and based on photographs… so you know, it was difficult for me to go back and try and use those muscles again to get that to work. But it was the only way to tell the story, it had to look like this. It had to be…
Xavier Guilbert : It’s also a way to go from the personal, the very personal, since it’s your story, to the universal. People can project themselves into it, because it’s yours, but not so much that they can’t make it theirs. Making it a shared story, rather than your story.
Richard McGuire : That’s true. I even tried to do it with the Native Americans story. I wanted to make them feel real, and feel like — you know, they lived there 11,000 years before any invasion. But I felt I really wanted to show a little casual moment with some people, who were just living their lives in that space.
Xavier Guilbert : Did you have a set number of pages when you started off ?
Richard McGuire : I always had randomly just thought 300 was a good number. It was no particular — I mean, the signet use became a question too. Because it was — it finally boiled down to that. I suppose it could have been 500 pages, but I don’t know. It just seemed comfortable. Even the format : I had just found a book that felt nice in my hands, and I felt like that was the form. You know, something like a novel. I think that just the idea of books over time — I’m still very very positive about book culture. It will never be replaced. This is a beautiful thing — you know, it really works. And there’s a reason that we still have it, and I think that it’s the best interactive thing there is. And they last. There are all these mediums in our own lifetimes that we can’t use anymore — I have all sorts of CDs, storage things for computers that I will never be able to access again. My books are still good (laugh). We can open a book from the 1400s or something and it still works.
Xavier Guilbert : From a creative point of view, having the interactive version to be able to put in things that you decided not to include in the book, is that something that makes it different ?
Richard McGuire : I’m excited about both. I just think that everything has to be true to its own medium. And I like the fact that I can add animation to the interactive version. I love the fact, this possibility of a virtual reality version of it. But I love the book for it’s being a book, and I love the original comic strip too. The original comic strip actually had its advantages, even in the navigation, that the book doesn’t. The fact that you have multiple views, simultaneously, your eye can jump around and make these connections so much easier than in the book.
I was talking to a writer who’s telling me the same thing. He said that’s the advantage of this too, the simultaneousness. You can never get that in writing, it’s always : “meanwhile, bla bla bla bla…” It’s always a line, a straight line, and you can never get that simultaneous view. Even in film.
Xavier Guilbert : Did you consider at some point including the original in the book ? Or did that make no sense at all ?
Richard McGuire : I do quote it occasionally. I don’t know if you’ve noticed, a few lines do come up. “The more I clean, the more it gets dirty.” I quoted them for the people who do know the original, just for them. A kid says : “Who’s the chicken ?” in the original, and then I have a parrot say it — and it’s funny even in the translations how these things escape, like in the German version it says : “Who’s the coward ?” And I was, well that’s not exactly that, it’s the chicken that makes it funny, it’s not literally the coward… It’s funny how these things change.
Xavier Guilbert : So there’s no book project for the next 25 years at the moment ?
Richard McGuire : I do have a few projects that I started and put away. A few children’s books. But no comic that I’m going to jump into next. I don’t rule it out either — if I had an idea, I would certainly do it. I’m thrilled with the way the reaction is to this, and that may maybe encourage me to do more… but I always seem to, when I finish something, I always like to go to a completely different medium, and challenge myself again. Before I did the animated films, I had never done that before, and I was — you know, I went through the same pain of reinventing the wheel, over and over again, which I do every single time. And always in the middle of it, I say : why did I put myself through this ? (laugh) But I somehow pull through, and I think I need that. And I do it the same way with the music. I don’t feel like I’m a professional at anything I do. I just try to do the best I can with each medium. It feels sometimes that the music, I approach that as an amateur too, I think.
[Interview conducted in Angoulême on January 30, 2015]