Every year, in the countdown to the Lakes International Comic Art Festival in October, we bring you a series of interviews with guests at the event. This “Festival Focus” for 2019 is with French graphic novelist Fabien Toulmé, a comic creator who Fabien started in publishing with some stories on the web and then in magazines.
Born in Orleans, after studying Civil Engineering, Fabien spent 10 years overseas before returning to France in 2009 to devote himself to Comics, with work published in magazines such as such as Psikopat. His first graphic novel, Ce n’est pas toi que j’attendais, was published in 2014 by Editions Delcourt, telling the story of the birth of his daughter, who has Down’s syndrome.
Since then, he has contributed to several anthologies and published three further graphic novels: Les Deux Vies de Baudouin and Venenum: La grande histoire du poison in 2017, and L’Odyssée d’Hakim in 2018.
What are you working on, comics-wise, right now, and when will it be published?
Fabien Toulme: At the moment I’m working on the final volume of L’Odyssée d’Hakim (Hakim’s Odyssey), in which I tell the true story of a Syrian refugee who has fled his country due to the troubles there. It’s a book based on Hakim’s experiences, as told to me during an 18 month period.
Which comic project you’ve worked on are you most proud of and where can people see it or buy it?
Fabien: Up until now I have worked on very few comics-based projects. Before Hakim’s Odyssey, I had worked on two others, the first Ce n’est pas toi que j’attendais (You’re Not What I was Expecting) and the second is called Les deux Vies de Baudoin (The Two Lives of Baudoin). It’s a bit like having children, it’s hard to favour one over the other, each has its own merits and its faults. The second book, The Two Lives of Baudoin, was not promoted as much as the first book which was very successful, and Hakim’s Odyssey now seems to take precedence and is perhaps the one I would pick.
How do you plan your day as a creator? (Do you plan your day?)
Fabien: I have a fairly conventional working timetable based around when I take my kids to school. I tend to focus in the morning on tasks that need me to concentrate – my brain works more efficiently in the mornings, so I’ll focus on writing, storyboards etc. In the afternoon, I focus more on drawing and colouring.
What’s the best thing about being a comics creator?
Fabien: I think the best thing is the freedom it gives you – in lots of different ways, for example, thematic freedom, that is, what story I want to tell, how I want to tell it. And, also, I can work anywhere – at home, outdoors, in a bar or a workshop. I can work when I want. I think these are the main advantages of being a comic artist/writer.
And the worst?
Fabien: The worst aspect has to be the financial situation! You’re reliant on book sales and although, worldwide, the number of book sales is increasing, of course there are more and more titles out there. The economic situation can be difficult.
What most distracts you from getting your work done?
Fabien: I have a tendency to let myself be distracted by what’s happening around me, whether that’s the internet – I’ll be looking for something and then click on a link to something else and end up on a social network site, for example.
Do you think it’s easier or harder for young comic creators to get published today?
Fabien: I think it’s probably easier to start out and get published, as I said earlier there’s an increase in the number of works published, but on the other hand it’s harder to maintain a stable career because you’re just one amongst thousands of writers trying to make it.
Have you ever been to the Lake District before and if so what did you think of it? If you haven’t, what are you expecting?
Fabien: I’ve never been to the Lake District. I love taking part in festivals in France – interacting with other authors and artists, with the public and all the participants, and even more so overseas. It will be interesting to see how things are in a country which is a little less developed in terms of the market for bande dessinée than France or Belgium.
Which one comic creator would you most like to meet, and why?
Fabien: I would have loved to have met the authors that inspired me when I was a kid but unfortunately they’re no longer around. I would pick Hergé, an author who I admired and who inspired me to become a comic artist, I have read and re-read his work over and over again.
How do Festivals and other comics events help creators most, do you think?
Fabien: I think that principally festivals allow you to meet people from the world of comics with whom you can collaborate on projects, for example writers can meet artists and vice versa, and you can meet editors. I tend to attend festivals with cultural rather than professional objectives.
What one piece of advice do you offer people looking to work in the comics industry?
Fabien: As I’m still in the early stages of my career as a writer I’m not sure if I have any useful advice, but I think to make it in comics, as in any art form, you need to have a real love for that art form. You have to be able to accept criticism of your work. It’s very hard to get your career off the ground so if you don’t have a real love for the art, it’s easy to be discouraged.
You must start your career based on a love for the art form and not for any other reason such as to be able to work from home, or from a desire to be famous. If you don’t have a passionate love for the art form, things could be difficult.
What’s your favourite comic right now and where can people get it?
Fabien: I have lots of favourites so it’s really hard to say – the last one I read that I really liked is Robinson, Pere et Fils (Robinson, Father and Son) by Didier Tronchet, published by Delcourt. I met Didier Tronchet at a festival in Lyon and he very kindly gave me the book.
It’s a kind of travelogue: Didier Tronchet goes on a journey with his son and it’s more than a story about their travels, it’s the story about the passage from childhood to adolescence and young adulthood of Tronchet’s son.
It really resonated with me because I have a child who is more or less the same age and I found it really touching and beautiful. It’s available in bookstores but I don’t know if it’s been translated into English, but for those who can read French I really do recommend it.
FABIEN TOULMÉ ONLINE
Questions by John Freeman. Special thanks to Carole Tait for translation and transcription wizardry!