Frederik Peeters has received five nominations in the Best Book category at Angoulême (the so-called “Cannes of comics”) and in 2013 won the Best Series prize for the first two volumes of Aâma. He lives in Geneva, Switzerland.
Frederik was kind enough to answer a few of my questions about Aâma, artists and authors who have influenced him, the very personal graphic novel called Blue Pills that launched his career, and more!
Andrea Johnson: Congratulations on the recent publication of your newest graphic novel Aâma: The Invisible Throng. This is the second volume in the Aâma series, a futuristic science fiction story with high-tech body augmentations, a robot monkey, and a mysterious biorobotic experiment called “AAMA”. What else can you tell us about this story, and where it is going?
Frederik Peeters: I can’t tell you where the story is going like this, in an interview – otherwise there’s no point in spending years creating books. All I can tell you is that I had two main directions in mind when doing it: first, try to think about the relationship humanity has with the technology it’s creating, and second, the love story between a father and his daughter. All this wrapped within a big adventure story full of strange, intimate poetry.
FP: I guess I’ve answered this above. I might add that I wanted to experience a long and exotic journey through my inner landscapes by traveling far away in space and time.
AJ: Were there any particular challenges you came across in the creation of Aâma?
FP: First, the size of the original drawings. The pages are huge (A2). I wanted to try something similar in style to Paul Gillon and Jean-Claude Forest’s Les Naufragés du Temps. It took time to find my marks. Then, I needed to avoid getting lost in the many flash-backs-in-flash-backs, to stay clear and efficient in the storyboard. And finally, the colors: they needed to be a little bit artificial and flashy, because they depict a world where nature is partly plastic and electronic and where the virtual dimensions become organic. So I needed to create this confusion without drowning in complete bad taste. But the biggest challenge, I guess, was to avoid getting totally lost in the mix of fiction and autobiography.
AJ: Aâma is pure science fiction, whereas your previous graphic novels have primarily dealt with very contemporary issues (although Lupus was very SFnal). What led you to want to create a science fictional story? Is it something you would do again?
FP: I wanted to rediscover the amazing sensations I felt while working on Lupus, which I totally improvised from scratch at that time. But Lupus was an ironic vision of the genre if you will, a kind of exercice-de-style. This time, I wanted to do something frontal and sincere, but to keep on working partly in improvisation. So I made a slight plan, created the character’s background, did a lot of research, and jumped off the cliff. To me, the combination of SF and improv is perfect: it allows me to dive deep into myself, experience profound visions, use my dreams, family stories etc… I prefer the “travel” SF, the one that takes you to exotic and frightening places, the one that uses disturbing symbols to provoke new sensations – and improvisation couples perfectly with all this. Moebius once said the SF was the perfect way to draw outside the inner landscapes of the characters.
FP: In comics, Hergé, Moebius, Crumb, Urasawa, Blutch, Forest, Otomo, Tezuka, Blanquet, Ruppert and Mulot, Anders Nilsen, the Hernandez bothers – the list can be never-ending… In literature, the 19th-century French and Russian classics, John Fante, Bukowski, Murakami, the Greek philosophers, Daniel Arasse (who is an amazing art historian), Nietzsche, Bradbury, Selby Jr., the Strugatsky brothers, Stanislaw Lem, Arabic poetry, whatever… And, of course, a lot of film directors: Lubitsch, Wilder, Truffaut, Kubrick, Kurosawa, Satyajit Ray, Murnau… And hundreds of painters, from the Chauvet caves to Ernest Pignon-Ernest, passing by Leonardo Da Vinci, Caravaggio, Rembrandt, Manet, Giotto, Sisley, Turner and the Chinese miniatures… Is that enough?
AJ: You took the European Graphic Novel scene by storm in 2001 with Blue Pills, the story of how you met your wife. A story made even more extraordinary because your wife has HIV, and if the two of you were going to have a life together, you would have to come to terms with that. Can you tell us a little about the process of the creation of Blue Pills? How did your wife feel about being the subject of a book?
FP: At that time, my work was unknown, and Blue Pills wasn’t even supposed to be a book when I started it, it was more like a personal experiment, with no scenario and no pencil before inking. And I chose what was closest to me at that time because it’s difficult to improvise on, let’s say, the Italian renaissance. So I tried to draw and tell my life. And my publisher friend and I decided to make a book out of it only when the experiment was completed. But you know, even if it had an unexpected success, we’re still talking about a comic book, so nobody in the media really cares, you’re nor exposed at all, so it doesn’t change anything in real life. Nobody stops us in the street. They’re just drawn characters. And, of course, all our friends and family were already aware of the situation.
AJ: We interview a lot of authors here at SF Signal, but rarely do I get the opportunity to speak with a graphic novelist, an artist. Some authors outline their story first, some just start typing. But I view graphic novels as multi-layered and complicated, with the opportunity to be expressive through words and artwork, along with the requirement of being visually pleasing. So, what are your creation methods? do you just start drawing and see where it goes? Create a storyboard or outline first? How do you decide how the story will unfold on the page?
FP: You already have the answer, I hope. It’s like writing directly onto the page, but in comics language. My brain naturally works with text and images at the same time. You can learn more about my creative process here: www.projet-aama.blogspot.com. It’s in French, but there are a lot of images. It’s like a “making-of” that explains how the process works.
AJ: What are you working on next?
FP: Go here: www.frederikpeeters.tumblr.com. You’ll find some research for a book written by Loo Hui Phang, a weird, creepy, gay-friendly western, and for a book written by French SF novelist Serge Lehman, a contemporary fairytale.
AJ: Thanks so much, Frederik!