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Michel Gagné: Q&A

Posted: Friday, January 9
By: Tim O'Shea
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Michel Gagné is a creator I first learned about through Spore, his back-up tale in DC’s Detective Comics in late 2002/early 2003. To say I was thrown by his work would be an understatement and I reviewed his work with this response in mind. Fortunately, rather than taking my misinformed criticism the wrong way, Gagné was savvy enough to make me aware of his prior work and his storytelling intent. Before long, I was fully immersed in Gagné’s work and viewing it with a newfound, informed appreciation. Gagné is a man of many talents—to give you an idea, here’s just parts of his bio: “In 1985, he began a highly successful career drawing characters and special effects for animated and live-action feature films. Gagné's work has appeared in films such as The Iron Giant, Osmosis Jones, the Star Wars: Clones Wars animated short films, The Land Before Time, All Dogs Go to Heaven, An American Tail, and numerous others. His 3 ½ minute independent short film, Prelude to Eden, is a favorite among animation students and teachers, and has played in festivals throughout the world. Michel was honored by the International Animated Film Society, ASIFA-Hollywood, with four Annie Award nominations. He continues to design and consult on major film projects…The creator made the jump to print in 1998 with his critically acclaimed first book, A Search for Meaning: The Story of Rex, and the birth of GAGNÉ International Press…Among his other creative endeavors, Michel has experimented in a variety of mediums including sculptures, paintings and mixed-medias. He lives peacefully with his wife and two dogs, in the Pacific Northwest.” As recently announced, he is soon to release an anthology collection of his first four storybooks in one volume, Parables, and was kind enough to speak with me about his work.

Tim O’Shea: This February marks the release of Parables, an anthology collecting your first four limited edition storybooks in one volume. In gathering the material for this anthology, were there any elements of the stories you tweaked? Why I ask is that you've often struck me as the kind of person who views the average perfectionist as being lazy and that they're not trying hard enough.

Michel Gagné: Every time you do a revised edition, there’s always a temptation to go back and improve things.

When I created these stories, a few years ago, I was in a different place emotionally, artistically and spiritually. As an artist and a person, you evolve. Your style and ideas change. Going back and altering previous works to fit your new criteria can be a very dangerous thing.

Back in 2002, after the first black and white edition of A Search for Meaning: The Story of Rex had sold out; I decided to reissue the book in a new format. First, I started coloring the illustrations, and from there it was a ripple effect – I changed the lettering, I changed the layouts – and what I ended up with was a book that had a completely different feel than the original. The first edition was mysterious, artsy while the second edition looked like a children’s book you’d pick up at Barnes and Nobles. Although the book got an excellent response from the fans, to me, some of the intangible spirituality of the original edition was lost.

That’s why the books reprinted in Parables are essentially the same as the original editions. The only changes I made, besides going from an 11” x 11” to a 9” x 9” format, were little fixes in the punctuation. Instead of messing with the original material, I put the emphasis on the packaging and the paper quality. I also added a pencil sketch gallery and wrote an introduction explaining how the original books came about.

TO: The average publisher doesn't express concern for their past consumers, but in announcing Parables, the following was said: “Although there have been several requests to reprint some of the individual volumes, it was not an option for Gagné. ‘We didn't feel it would be fair to the collectors who own those books’, he said. ‘We wanted to make sure that the original editions would remain unique. We thought that a compilation would be the perfect compromise: keep the collectors happy while introducing the material to a wider audience. These stories are very close to my heart and I'm delighted to bring them back in print.’” What has been the response from your collectors, have they been appreciative of your consideration?

MG: I’ve received several emails from fans that are very happy that I finally decided to compile these early works at an affordable price. A few collectors who own the original editions have written to me saying that they can’t wait to get the new collection as well. So I guess everyone’s happy!

TO: I have to ask, of the four stories from Parables, does one stick out in your mind as a favorite one?

MG: That’s a tough question. Each of the stories resonates with me on a different level. In a way, I look at these four books as the chapters of a single volume. That’s why this compilation made so much sense to me. They’re little philosophical tales about my life, my fears, my demons, my spiritual beliefs and my obsession with strange creatures and weird landscapes.

A Search For Meaning: The Story of Rex was written shortly after watching a videotape of a lecture by Deepak Chopra which had a profound impact on me. Listening to Chopra prompted me to embark on a spiritual quest and creating that book was very much a part of that. In a twist of fate, the “Chopra Center for Well-Being” in La Jolla, California was the first place to carry the book. That was really cool. Looking at the story now, I see a lot of myself in the little fox character. In many ways “The Story of Rex” is a metaphor of my own life.

The Mystery of He is a tale about acceptance and brotherhood. Bigotry and racism are fueled by ignorance and fear. This strange little story is sort of my parable about that. I’m glad it’s back in print because I think it has a good message. As with all my books, it’s filled with strange creatures including unicorns and multihorns.

The Great Shadow Migration is probably the most abstract book I’ve done so far in terms of story and art. It’s very graphic. It’s a yin and yang tale with monsters, creatures, and weird environments. It’s got a philosophical twist to it. The narrative plays on different levels. Visually, it’s probably my favorite of the four.

The fourth book featured in the collection is called The Bird, the Spider and the Octopus. It contains three short stories that deal with self-destructive behaviors. It’s very dark. One of the stories is about amputee fetishism. It’s a subject I read about in a magazine article and it totally traumatized me - so much so that I had to write about it. My father was an extremely self-destructive man and he inspired a lot of this book. I dedicated the original edition to his memory.

TO: What was the feedback from DC after Spore (the Detective Comics back-up tale) wrapped up?

MG: After Spore part 5 wrapped up, in Detective Comics #780, the feedback back from DC was pretty anticlimactic. I think that publishing something so artsy and weird in such a mainstream title might have backfired. I received an email from the assistant editor almost apologizing to me for the controversial fan reaction. He said he’d hoped this would not discourage me from doing more potential work for DC. That was the last I heard.

TO: Do you envision doing more work with DC down the road or do you prefer the freedom afforded by self-publishing?

MG: I’d be up for doing some “alternative universe” story, a Bizarro tale or something along those lines.

As far as freedom, well I can’t complain there. DC gave me absolute freedom to do anything I wanted. I created the pages from start to finish without interference. The first time the editor saw anything was when I sent him the files in Quark X-Press, along with a set of color proofs. Matt Idelson really took a chance with me on this one. I emailed him, after the whole thing was published, to thank him but he never responded. I’d love to hear from him.

The only thing I feel sad about is the fact that I don’t have the publishing rights. If I did, I’d add 16 more pages of narrative to wrap it up properly, I’d do a cover for it, write an introduction, add a sketch gallery, and package it as a hardcover. I think it would sell quite well.

TO: Back when we talked earlier this year at ORCA, you mentioned an un-named project, here's what you said: “I’m working on an 'adults only' graphic novel. It’s a very personal story, very edgy and definitely not for kids.” Where does that project stand at present?

MG: Oh Yeah, I’m really excited about this one. It’s called My Insane Childhood and it’s a black and white, 136-page autobiographical graphic novel. It deals with a lot of difficult subjects I was faced with growing up, including the loss of an eye at the age of twelve. It is very disturbing in many ways but imbued with a sense of optimism at the same time. Graphically, it will be very bold and surreal.

Working on the story has been emotionally draining because it’s such a personal piece. I’m planning for a December 2004 release although that could change. I don’t want to rush it.

TO: What can you tell folks about the upcoming ZED: Resurrection issue, slated to be released in June 2004?

MG: ZED #5 (Resurrection) picks up exactly where #4 left off. It’s been quite a while since the last issue was published and I’m glad to return to the adventures of my cute little guy. If you remember, ZED gets killed at the end of issue four. The first part of the new issue deals with him in the afterlife. God even makes an appearance! Of course ZED comes back to life and there’s a really good twist there. This issue will turn the whole series on its head. The ZED saga is planned for 8 issues.

Despite the good reviews, it’s been difficult getting a sizable audience for ZED. One of the big reasons is that I’m not very consistent as far as putting out the book on a regular schedule. ZED is a pet project of mine. I do it when the inspiration hits. I really admire people like Terry Moore, Jeff Smith, Erik Larsen etc. These guys are totally dedicated to their series and they keep putting out these books months after months. I couldn’t do that. I have so many areas of interest. I love doing ZED but I just can’t stick to a single project. I like variety. Many of my projects are years in the making. I like to let them gestate and ferment. I’m committed to do 8 issues of ZED but I’m not committed to any schedule. Fans of the series will just have to be very patient.

By the way, those who missed the first four issues can still get the TPB (ZED: Volume One). It’s available through Diamond on the STAR system. It can also be ordered from our site and from

TO: Are there any other projects you'd like to discuss, that I neglected to ask about?

MG: I’ve got a new hardcover book coming out in May called Freaky Flora: From A to Z. It’s sort of a sequel to my 2002 release Frenzied Fauna: From A to Z. This one deals with vegetation instead of animals. It’s pretty wacky!

As I told you in a previous interview, I formed a partnership with Sideshow to create sculptural collectibles of my designs. The first limited edition statue, which came out last July, was based on an illustration from my 2001 book, Insanely Twisted Rabbits. We were delighted by how successful it was and how quickly it sold out. This year we will continue to expand the line. The next statue (Scarab Rabbit) is scheduled to be released in April and it looks awesome. Mat Fals is the guy who sculpts my stuff and he is really capturing the essence of my illustrations. We’re planning a third release for July, just in time for San Diego Comic–Con.

That’s pretty much it. Nice talking to you Tim.

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