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 Québec-based artist Francis Desharnais, who started publishing comics back in 2008.
In the past eleven years, Francis has worked on eleven books, both as writer and illustrator.
Art Wars, his only book available in English, tells the story of aliens abducting all of Earth’s artistes in order to wage war with poetry, contemporary dance, installations, and so on.
His latest book, Little Russia, is set in a cooperative village in the north of Quebec, during the mid 20th century. It will be released by Pow Pow Press in late 2019. It’s already won numerous awards, including the Prix des libraires du Québec, the highest recognition possible for a book in Québec.
Francis is also the author of Burquette – a popular comic strip which has been adapted as an animated series by the National Film Board of Canada, since its initial publication in 2008.
What are you working on, comics-wise, right now, and when will it be published?
Francis Desharnais: At the moment, I’m working for a monthly magazine about science. I create one comic page per month. They expect silly stuff from me, so, I don’t need to be serious or try to educate.
I’ve also started on a comic story about the Space Race, which took place in the 1950s and the 60s between the United States and the USSR. It won’t be serious. I already made the panels, I am now waiting for the script from Alexandre Fontaine Rousseau.
It will be a book like Art Wars, where there is very few panels who are copy and paste, the dialogues making the story evolve.
Which comic project you’ve worked on are you most proud of and where can people see it or buy it?
Francis: I love all my books. Each one is very different. But I must admit, I have a particular affection for La Petite Russie (Little Russia), which is the story of my grandparents who were lumberjacks and farmers. I will soon translate it in English, it will be available on the powpowpress.com website, probably for the spring 2020. I hope to have a sample ready for the Lakes Festival.
How do you plan your day as a creator? (Do you plan your day?)
Francis: I have so many different kinds of work, commissioned and personal, so it’s is hard to have any regular planning. Therefore, I split my time between my apartment and my studio. When I need to concentrate and write scripts or find ideas, I stay home, which is quieter than the studio, which I share with seven other persons. When I need to execute the ideas, I go to the studio.
What’s the best thing about being a comics creator?
Francis: I like the idea of being in charge of everything, or almost everything. I worked in the animation and advertising industry, and, frankly, cinema is such a heavy medium, with a lot of people having a word in your work, that it kills any spontaneity. Making comics allows me to tell any story I want, without having too many people involved in the process.
And the worst?
Francis: When you are young, you are drawing exclusively for fun. Each time you take up your pen, it’s a great moment far from your daily problems. When you write and draw for a living, you lose that sense of “escape from reality”. The challenge is to always remember that it is a great work, that can bring so much joy to the reader and the creator.
What most distracts you from getting your work done?
Francis: The Internet, a sunny day, everyday life… and sometimes, when you take on too Many commissioned jobs, it slows you for working on your personal stuff.
Do you think it’s easier or harder for young comic creators to get published today?
Francis: Hmm… it’s hard to tell, because on one hand, the possibilities for a creator to self-publish his work has never been so easy. In Quebec, the fanzine and self-published scene is very dynamic. Some comic artists who used to work for established publisher choose to sell their comics only by themselves. You need to have a strong business sense for that.
On the other hand, there is a wide variety of publishers, who make comics for young people, adult, graphic novels, etc. If your work is good enough, there is certainly a way to be published.
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?
Francis: It will be my first appearance! I’m very excited about it.
Which one comic creator would you most like to meet, and why?
Francis: One of my favourite French artists is Daniel Goossens. He’s one of the funniest comic creator I know. I hope I’ll have the opportunity to talk to him, some time.
How do Festivals and other comics events help creators most, do you think?
Francis: It is a great way to meet people making the same work as you do. It is a good opportunity to compare the way people work, in different countries and in different conditions. For me, it will also be a good way to see if there is some interest in my translated work.
What one piece of advice do you offer people looking to work in the comics industry?
Francis: Hmm… Sometimes, the only certainty I have is that if I stop making this, there is a 100% chance that nothing comes from it. Trying to not expect anything is also good, so you are always surprised by every good happening to you. I am not very good with advice…
What’s your favourite comic right now and where can people get it?
Francis: In Quebec, we are enjoying such a great time over the last 15 years. The comic scene is exploding and doesn’t seem to stop being interesting. I try to read everything that comes out. Not everything is translate, unfortunately. At the Lakes Festival, apart from me, Julie Rocheleau is also attending, who has such a stunning drawing and an efficient way of telling stories, no one should miss it.