Interviews

The Blue Dragon

Fred Jourdain / Martin Parrot

"I also needed to understand how to draw Pierre, the main character, so I cut my hair like him and took pictures. "

You told me you spent two years working on this project. How did it all start?

I think that people from Ex Machina (the company of Robert Lepage) saw my exhibition at L'Inox, at the time when the micro-brewery was in the Old Port. It was the first year of the Image Mill and the team often finished their night in this bar. In any case, I was among the artists who were approached for the project. I was flattered that it was proposed to me, but I had just finished Round Midnight and I had decided not to make comics for a moment, at least, not in the traditional sense of the term.

I was having more fun expressing myself through bigger pieces than through a series of small panels. I even suggested a few comic book artists to the people at Ex Machina but they called me back and insisted I attend the premier of the Le Dragon Bleu play in Montreal and meet Robert Lepage backstage so we could chat. I obviously accepted that offer.

It was a really beautiful play and I was particularly inspired by its opening scene, when Xiao-Ling's character wore a traditional Chinese mask and performed a Chinese ribbon dance.

I also really enjoyed the part when Pierre Lamontagne's character drew Chinese calligraphy on the floor of the stage with a giant paintbrush. That's when he recounted the legend of the Three Gorges. It's about how, in ancient times, when an unmarried woman became pregnant and couldn't take care of her newborn, she would put her baby in a basket and let it float down the Yangtze River. The legend states that the child's future had three possible outcomes, depending on which of the river's three gorges the basket floated down. The end of the play actually makes reference to that…

After the show, I had several images in mind and I discussed at length with Robert. I already had a good idea of ​​what I would do with all this, I wanted to do it my way, but especially in a way to serve the story better. Robert appreciated my vision on all that, he sought above all a meeting between artists. He insisted that I take the reins. I think he felt comfortable letting me experiment, that he knew I would do credit to his work. I left the TNM with a pair of shoes to put on!

How did you go about starting a project of that magnitude?

Rather than approaching adaptation through traditional comics, I offered him a hybrid form of graphic novel. In my opinion, this formula would allow us to better translate, in a new form, the minimalist settings, the very atmospheric soundscapes and the imposing dialogues between the three characters. I thought it would be more appropriate to accompany the text of large paintings, full-page images to capture the atmosphere, to create a mood. It would transform the way we would read it by slowing down the pace and leaving more room to portray, visually, the interiority of the characters.

I thought it was more à propos to use big illustrations and full page drawings to capture the play's feeling and create a mood. I believed doing this would slow down the pace at which people would read the book and that would give them more time to discover who the characters were on the inside. This approach allowed me to use the art of illustration to tell the story in the best possible way and to incorporate the texts and dialogue from the play word for word, which was Ex Machina's only constraint.

How did you go about starting a project of that magnitude?

Obviously, I had to do lots of storyboarding but I also practiced drawing. I had to fine-tune my technique in order to meet the aesthetic of the play which is a contemporary tale set in China. I spent an entire year researching the different drawing techniques I'd have to use and studying Chinese architecture. I ordered authentic costumes from the Maoist era and had friends wear to see how they fit.

I built scale models of the inside of the main character's home to have a better idea of the different angles I could draw. Robert also suggested a few books for me to read, including the biography of Tchang Tchong-Jen, a man with an incredible life story who was a friend of Hergé. All that work taught me a lot about China before, during and after Mao's rule and it was fascinating. I even met a master of Chinese calligraphy who showed me some of the basics of drawing Chinese characters. I spent the first year preparing for the project and the second year illustrating it.

The first year served me as a preparation, and the second, the execution of the boards and illustrations.

You bought a traditional Mao suit to learn how to draw that kind of outfit?

Yes, along with other garments. I was trying to learn as much as I could about what I was drawing and how to draw it. I had my girlfriend and other women wear some of the outfits I bought and I had them pose as the characters of Xiao-Ling and Claire.

I also needed to understand how to draw Pierre, the main character, so I cut my hair like him and took several pictures of myself in different poses using a tripod and a trigger. I wanted there to be a part of me in this character.

The reference made me save a little time on the poses, the folds of clothes, this kind of stuff ... and it allowed me to focus on the schematization of the faces. Moreover, the pose of Pierre with his bike in the illustration named Pudong, which served as cover page at the first edition of the book, is inspired by a photo of me in the Cartier-Brébeuf Park taken at the beginning of the project .

And the calligraphy, that was important to you?

It was important to tell the story. Pierre Lamontagne's character does lots of calligraphy and the story begins with a scene of him talking about calligraphy. I wanted to stay true to the play and give an homage to a certain Chinese artistic tradition. I managed to incorporate that into my technique. But before I began working on the project, I was already drawing a lot with Chinese inks so it all happened pretty naturally.

Some of the calligraphy I did in Le Dragon Bleu was drawn on rice paper with traditional brushes made with the hairs of the ears of cattle, like those Picasso received from Chan Daichien in the mid-50's. He used those brushes to draw his famous Don Quixote sketches. They are very particular but I ended up drawing some really neat stuff with them.

I also had seals specially carved by a Chinese artisan, named Chengwei, who is based in Chicago and with whom I was in contact for the entire project. I had him make a personalized signature seal for Pierre Lamontagne, another for Le Dragon Bleu- which was used in some limited editions of the book - and another for myself - which was used to illustrate the book's last page. I used these seals to give some credibility to Pierre Lamontagne's works. When everything was published, I sent a copy of the book to Chengwei and he sent me back a beautiful letter filled with golden calligraphy.

It's a technique you've used on other projects?

A little, yes, especially for some nature patterns, like leaves and bamboo. The leaves in my drawing Buffalo Will are drawn with this technique, same thing for The Divine Comedy. I added that to my vocabulary. I come back from time to time, depending on the subject to illustrate. It's now in my toolbox!

Besides this new drawing technique, has Le Dragon Bleu left its mark in any of your more recent work? Perhaps in your more ethereal illustrations?

Some of my illustrations were already very moody before The Blue Dragon, it's also one of the things that Robert had told me appreciated from my work before we collaborated. The project nevertheless allowed me to explore my approach to storytelling and to familiarize myself with a more advanced research method, something that I now see as a prerequisite for the execution of a drawing or painting. .

The constant need to document places and design as well as the clothing and the posture of my characters has given a lot of depth to the way I take on a project.

The "Dragon" has been celebrated by the public and critics. You have received several nominations and awards for this project, are you satisfied with the work you have delivered?

I am an eternal dissatisfied. Every time I flip through the comics, I remember much more the moments of creation and the constraint related to the realization that the successes that we had. There are drawings I love in this project, but drawing 200 color pages in one year, as well documented and prepared as one can be, is a frantic pace that is not mine.

I like to take the necessary time on each of the images I make. However, under the circumstances, I think it's done well ... But I know I could have done something better. At a certain point, you also have to be able to move on and agree to see this project for what it is: my first album. So in the end, yes, I am very satisfied.

PHOTO CREDITS

Anthony Jourdain, Catherine Côté, Fred Jourdain, Martin Poulin, Martin Côté

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Interviews

The Blue Dragon

Fred Jourdain / Martin Parrot

"I needed to understand how to draw the main character, Pierre, so I cut my hair to look like him and I took pictures of myself to use as a reference."

You told me you spent two years working on this project. How did it all start?

I think people from Robert Lepage's company, Ex Machina, saw my work around 2008, back when I had an exhibit going on at a pub in Quebec City's Old Port neigh-bourhood. They were busy working on a project in the area called 'Le Moulin à Imag-es' so they'd often end their nights there. In any case, I was one of many artists ap-proached to work on the project. I was really flattered they considered me for the job but, at the time, I had just finished a comic book called Round Midnight and I had decided I wouldn't work on any more strips, at least for a little while.

I was having more fun expressing myself through bigger pieces than through a series of small panels. I even suggested a few comic book artists to the people at Ex Machina but they called me back and insisted I attend the premier of the Le Dragon Bleu play in Montreal and meet Robert Lepage backstage so we could chat. I obviously accepted that offer.


It was a really beautiful play and I was particularly inspired by its opening scene, when Xiao-Ling's character wore a traditional Chinese mask and performed a Chinese ribbon dance.

I also really enjoyed the part when Pierre Lamontagne's character drew Chinese calligraphy on the floor of the stage with a giant paintbrush. That's when he recounted the legend of the Three Gorges. It's about how, in ancient times, when an unmarried woman became pregnant and couldn't take care of her newborn, she would put her baby in a basket and let it float down the Yangtze River. The legend states that the child's future had three possible outcomes, depending on which of the river's three gorges the basket floated down. The end of the play actually makes reference to that…

After show, After the show, I was already thinking about how I'd turn the play into images and I spoke about what I had in mind at great length with Robert. I had a pretty good idea how I wanted to draw the whole thing but I wanted to do it my way and, most importantly, in a way that best told the story. Robert told me he appreciated my vision and that, above all else, he wanted the final product to be something of a meeting ground between his storytelling and my artwork and he insisted I take the reins. I think he felt comfortable enough to let me experiment and he knew I would honour his creation.


How did you go about starting a project of that magnitude?

Instead of adapting the play to fit the traditional comic book format, I proposed a hybrid graphic novel approach. I felt that if we revamped the formula, this format would be better suited to convey the minimalist sets, the ethereal sounds and the strong dialogue between the three main characters. Moods . It would transform the way we would read it by slowing down the pace and leaving more room to portray, visually, the interiority of the characters.

I thought it was more à propos to use big illustrations and full page drawings to capture the play's feeling and create a mood. I believed doing this would slow down the pace at which people would read the book and that would give them more time to discover who the characters were on the inside. This approach allowed me to use the art of illustration to tell the story in the best possible way and to incorporate the texts and dialogue from the play word for word, which was Ex Machina's only constraint.


How did you go about starting a project of that magnitude?

Obviously, I had to do lots of storyboarding but I also practiced drawing. I had to fine-tune my technique in order to meet the aesthetic of the play which is a contemporary tale set in China. I spent an entire year researching the different drawing techniques I'd have to use and studying Chinese architecture. I ordered authentic costumes from the Maoist era and had friends wear to see how they fit.

I built scale models of the inside of the main character's home to have a better idea of the different angles I could draw. Robert also suggested a few books for me to read, including the biography of Tchang Tchong-Jen, a man with an incredible life story who was a friend of Hergé. All that work taught me a lot about China before, during and after Mao's rule and it was fascinating. I even met a master of Chinese calligraphy who showed me some of the basics of drawing Chinese characters. I spent the first year preparing for the project and the second year illustrating it.

The first year served me as a preparation, and the second, the execution of the boards and illustrations.


You bought a traditional Mao suit to learn how to draw that kind of outfit?

Yes, along with other garments. I was trying to learn as much as I could about what I was drawing and how to draw it. I had my girlfriend and other women wear some of the outfits I bought and I had them pose as the characters of Xiao-Ling and Claire.

But it went even further than that. I needed to understand how to draw the main character, Pierre, so I cut my hair like to look like him and I took pictures of myself posing as him using a tripod and a remote control. I wanted there to be a little piece of me in him. The images I took of myself and others posing allowed me draw the characters a little faster and helped with drawing things like the folds in their clothes, stuff like that.

For example, the way Pierre stands next to his bicycle in the Pudong illustration, which was used as the book's first cover page, it was inspired by a picture taken of me in a park in my neighbourhood. Using those images as models, that allowed me to concentrate on what their faces would look like.


And the calligraphy, that was important to you?

It was important to tell the story. Pierre Lamontagne's character does lots of calligraphy and the story begins with a scene of him talking about calligraphy. I wanted to stay true to the play and give an homage to a certain Chinese artistic tradition. I managed to incorporate that into my technique. But before I began working on the project, I was already drawing a lot with Chinese inks so it all happened pretty naturally.

Some of the calligraphy I did in The blue Dragonwas drawn on rice paper with traditional brushes made with the hairs of the ears of cattle, like those Picasso received from Chan Daichien in the mid-1950's. He used those brushes to draw his famous Don Quixote sketches. They are very particular but I ended up drawing some really neat stuff with them.

I also had seals specially carved by a Chinese artisan, named Chengwei, who is based in Chicago and with whom I was in contact for the entire project. I had him make a personalized signature seal for Pierre Lamontagne, another for The blue Dragon- which was used in some limited editions of the book - and another for myself - which was used to illustrate the book's last page. I used these seals to give some credibility to Pierre Lamontagne's works. When everything was published, I sent a copy of the book to Chengwei and he sent me back a beautiful letter filled with golden calligraphy.


It's a technique you've used on other projects?

A little, yes, especially for illustrations with certain nature textures, for example leaves or bamboo. The leaves in my Buffalo Will illustration were drawn with that technique, same thing for The Divine Comedy . I have it in my tool belt and I take it out from time to time, depending on what I'm drawing.


Besides this new drawing technique, has Le Dragon Bleu left its mark in any of your more recent work? Perhaps in your more ethereal illustrations?

Some of my illustrations were already pretty moody to begin with, even before moody before The blue Dragon In fact, that's one of the things Robert told me he liked about my work before we collaborated. However, the project did allow me to explore how I approach narration. It also pushed me do more extensive research, something that's now become part and parcel of every illustration or painting I do.

The constant need to document places and design as well as the clothing and the posture of my characters has given a lot of depth to the way I take on a project.

TheBlue Dragon was critically acclaimed and you received several nominations and prizes for your art. Are you satisfied with your work?

I'm the type of person who is perpetually dissatisfied with their work. Every time I flip through the pages of the 'Dragon', I start thinking about certain moments throughout the creative process and then I start thinking about the constraints I had to work with, not the success. There are illustrations in there that I love but drawingcolour 200 pages in one year, as well prepared as I was, made me realize that that's not the kind of project I want to work on a on a regular basis.


I like to take the time to draw every single one of my illustrations. However, under the circumstances, I think I did a good job. But I know I could have done a lot better. At a certain point, you have to move on and accept this project for what it is: my first book. With that in mind, I can say I'm quite satisfied.

I like to take the necessary time on each of the images I make. However, under the circumstances, I think it's done well ... But I know I could have done something better. At a certain point, you also have to be able to move on and agree to see this project for what it is: my first album. So in the end, yes, I am very satisfied.

PHOTO CREDITS

Anthony Jourdain, Catherine Côté, Fred Jourdain, Martin Poulin, Martin Côté

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Ó The contents of this publication may not be reproduced without the consent of the author