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NEWSARAMA : Powered by vBulletin version 2.3.0 NEWSARAMA > FEATURES > TELLING PARABLES: MICHEL GAGNE
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MattBrady
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TELLING PARABLES: MICHEL GAGNE

by Daniel Robert Epstein

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 controversial.

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.

Newsarama: What made you decide to do a book like this?

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 in print.

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 well.

NRAMA: Do you have children yourself?

MG: No I donít. I have two stepkids but theyíre fully grown.

NRAMA: The style of Parables seems influenced by Tim Burtonís childrenís books and movies.

MG: 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 into.

NRAMA: How personal are these stories?

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 hopes etc.

NRAMA: What did you draw this with?

MG: All the illustrations were done in pen and ink with some brush work here and there.

NRAMA: Was it drug influenced at all?

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 naturally weird.

NRAMA: Er, moving along - why release this yourself rather than through a publisher?

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 goes.

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 anything.

NRAMA: In your experience, do many animators have their own projects?

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 work on.

NRAMA: How did you get the Batman gig?

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 like?

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 coming out.

NRAMA: Any big affinity for superheroes?

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 grow up?

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 that?

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 effect.

NRAMA: Canít finish things up without a touch on your day job - is 2D animation out in Hollywood?

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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