|TELLING PARABLES: MICHEL
by Daniel Robert
Michel Gagne is one of the more
unique working in independent comic books today. As an
animator he has worked on the feature animation
projects, The Land Before Time, All Dogs Go to
Heaven, and An American Tail for Don Bluth
then more recently The Iron Giant, Osmosis Jones,
and the Star Wars: Clones Wars animated short
films on Cartoon Network.
All of these projects
have made him such a well known figure in the animation
industry that he can pick and choose whatever project he
likes. Good thing for us than he allows himself the time
to work on his personal comic book projects. While heís
done four storybooks, mainstream comic fans know his
work from the back-ups which ran in Detective Comics
#776-#780. Given his style, yeah, it was
His most recent project is
Parables: An Anthology, his collection of first
four limited edition storybooks. All the tales within
the book are delightful and whimsical stories which will
entertain young and old alike.
What made you decide to do a book like
Michel Gagne: The size of my
audience has expanded quite a bit since I started
publishing and many of my fans were asking me to reprint
my first four sold out books. Thematically, I felt that
they would work well as a single unit so I decided to
repackage them as a collected edition. These stories are
close to my heart and Iím very happy to have them back
NRAMA: When did you realize that
you could write?
MG: Iím not sure
that I can [laugh]. At first, I was extremely
intimidated about doing my own writing but I didnít feel
like I had a choice. These early works were so personal;
I felt like I needed to control every aspect of the
creation. Do I consider myself a professional writer?
No, I donít. Iím a writer by default. I try to navigate
the best I can through the grammar, hoping that what I
write will work and make sense. I basically follow my
heart and hope for the best. In the end, I always enjoy
what I come up with and thatís my main criteria.
NRAMA: Could this book be for both
children and adults?
MG: I hope it will
find a readership among both adults and kids but I
certainly didnít target any specific audience when I
created the work. The stories in Parables were written
for myself and for whoever can relate to them. Some of
our distributors insist that I categorize my books
within a certain age category and I have a really hard
time with that. I hate to try fitting my art into a box.
Kandinsky said ďArt is freeĒ and thatís my motto as
NRAMA: Do you have children
MG: No I donít. I have two
stepkids but theyíre fully grown.
The style of Parables seems influenced by Tim
Burtonís childrenís books and movies.
I love and admire Tim Burtonís work so itís very
possible itís had an impact me. Still, Iíve been drawing
and creating art with my own individual style long
before I knew of Burtonís work - but I can see where you
would find similarities. Maybe thereís some kind of
collective consciousness that weíre both taping
NRAMA: How personal are these
MG: Very. The
first story in the book, ďThe Story of RexĒ is sort of a
metaphorical autobiography. The theme explored in ďThe
Great Shadow Migration,Ē another story reprinted in the
book, is something Iíve been obsessed with my whole
life: The beginning of time. In many ways, these stories
were a form of therapy I went through - dealing with my
questions, my fears, my obsessions, my nightmares, my
NRAMA: What did you draw this
MG: All the illustrations were done
in pen and ink with some brush work here and there.
NRAMA: Was it drug influenced at
MG: Why does everybody ask that? I
was signing at LA Wizard World Con a couple of weeks ago
and two people ask me that very same question. I know
itís hard to believe but I was quite sober when doing
the work in Parables. I guess my stuff is just
NRAMA: Er, moving along
- why release this yourself rather than through a
MG: Because Iím a control
freak. I love being able to decide how the book is
printed, how it is promoted and how long it stays in
print. This is my tenth self-published hardcover [also
available as a soft cover] and Iím starting to have the
publishing gig figured out by now. At this point, giving
one of my books away to a publisher would feel a bit
like putting one of my kids up for adoption. Still, Iíve
got a couple of projects that I might be doing for other
publishers later this year. Iíll see how that
NRAMA: Any plans to turn it into
cartoons or movies?
MG: None at this point
but you never know. Iím not closing the door on
NRAMA: In your experience, do
many animators have their own
MG: Yeah, a lot of them do, but
unfortunately, not many follow through. You see, when
you work on an animated feature or a TV show youíre a
cog in a big wheel. Itís hard to really have a voice.
Sure, itís great to make a contribution and, in many
ways, it can be very rewarding. But in the end, personal
expression has to give way to the collaborative effort.
I have a lot of personal work I want to create in my
lifetime and thatís why itís important for me to branch
out on my own.
NRAMA: Have you showed
this to anyone you work with?
MG: I always
share my work with my peers. I canít help it. I have
such a high level of enthusiasm for all the projects I
NRAMA: How did you get the
MG: I got an email
from Batman editor Matt Idelson around Christmas 2001.
He asked me if I would like to do a project for DC. I
told him Iíd like to do a 40-page Batman story. I asked
him to let me have complete control over the thing and
he agreed. Matt took a big gamble with me because I had
never done any superhero work before. What came out of
the experiment was probably one of the strangest Batman
story to see print. It was very controversial with the
fans and it seemed like a lot of people wanted my head
on a stick for doing something so outrageous. The fact
that the story ran in a very mainstream title such as
Detective Comics didnít help the matter.
NRAMA: What was that experience
MG: I loved doing the piece and
truly enjoyed the freedom I was given. If I can ever
make a deal with DC, I would love to publish all five
parts in a collected edition. Iíd do an additional 16
pages to wrap up the story properly, write an intro and
maybe put a little sketch gallery at the end. The story
might not have been a hit with the Batman crowd but my
fans loved it. I bought a hundred sets of all five
issues to sell on my site and they were gone in no time.
I constantly get asked when the collected edition is
NRAMA: Any big affinity for
MG: I grew up reading
superheroes and I have great affection for the silver
age of comics which I still collect. I love all the
Kirby and Ditko stuff. As far as the current stuff, I do
pick up 3 or 4 titles a month. Currently, Iím really
enjoying the Waid/Wieringo run on FF and
Amazing Spider-Man by Straczynski and Romita Jr.
NRAMA: You were at the Emerald City
Comicon this year Ė how was that for you?
MG: Last Februaryís Emerald City Comicon
was incredible. I had a constant line throughout the day
and we virtually sold out everything we had there. It
surpassed my expectations by quite a bit.
NRAMA: Always a plus for a creator at a
con. Talking about you more personally, where did you
MG: I grew up in a small town
called St-Fťlicien in Quťbec, Canada and moved to Quebec
City when I turned 12.
NRAMA: What was
your childhood like?
MG: I had a
difficult childhood. I was sick a lot and spent most of
my first nine years in the hospital. I had such an acute
asthma condition that the doctors didnít think Iíd live
past the age of 10. I had to deal with the divorce of my
parents which literally sent them both over the edge.
Another trauma growing up was the loss of my right eye
at the age of 12. Iím currently doing a graphic novel
called My Insane Childhood which will go into all
that and a lot more.
NRAMA: How did you
lose your eye?
MG: My brother and I were
at a friendís house playing with a BB gun. My brother
pointed the gun at me, thinking it was empty, and ďbamĒ,
I suddenly felt this thing going inside my head. When I
opened my eyes, my vision was blurry and I could see red
everywhere. I could feel liquid on my right cheek from
my eye draining. I was pretty much in a state of shock.
I was rushed to the hospital where I spent three hours
on the operation table, in critical condition. A dart -
which is much more deadly than a BB - had pierced my
right eye and lodged itself millimeters from my brain. I
was lucky to survive.
NRAMA: And yet Ė
youíre an artist. How did the loss of your eye affect
MG: The loss of an eye altered my
whole visual perception. I donít see depth anymore. I
think this is reflected in my art and has influenced how
I draw. Depth and perspective have made way to the
interplay of negative/positive shapes. I never
ďconstructĒ drawings. Instead, I arrange shapes and
lines in an instinctive manner to achieve the desired
NRAMA: Canít finish things up
without a touch on your day job - is 2D animation out in
MG: I hope not. I think that
2D animation is still at its infancy stage. There is so
much more to be done. Now, Iím not sure that 2D will
ever dominate the animation scene like it has in the
past but hopefully it will always have a piece of the
pie along side stop-motion and CGI. You know,
photography didnít kill painting, but it forced it to
re-invent itself. Iím hoping the same is true here.
Check out Michel Gagneís site at: http://www.gagneint.com/
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