Academic journal article European Comic Art

Between Writing and Image: A Scriptwriter's Way of Working1

Academic journal article European Comic Art

Between Writing and Image: A Scriptwriter's Way of Working1

Article excerpt

Abstract

This article concerns the way in which a comics scriptwriter works collaboratively with different artists. It traces the development of a working method with François Schuiten, the artist of the Cités obscures ['Cities of the Fantastic'] series, and the extension of the series itself beyond the two-dimensional page into other formats. The constant exchange between artist and scripwriter is stressed: each is involved in the conception of both the plotline and the visual aspects of the work. Hergé is cited as an example of an artist whose ease in conjuring images out of words and ideas from images may be termed 'graphic thinking'. It is noted, however, that the tendency of publishing houses to favour scriptwriters who predetermine the course of the album limits such inventiveness. The open-endedness that, in ideal conditions, characterises the work of the comics scriptwriter, and the thoroughgoing nature of the collaboration, is compared with the more rigid, and limited, role assigned to a film scriptwriter. A more flexible and creative process is not impossible to achieve in cinema, but it is concluded that this is rare, and that it is the comics medium that affords the greater degree of freedom and independence.

The series of albums called Les Cités obscures ['Cities of the Fantastic'] is first and foremost the fruit of a long friendship. François Schuiten and I have known each other since we were twelve-year-old pupils at the same school in Brussels. We were in the same class for three years. He never stopped drawing; I loved to write. It was not long before we set up a little magazine where we undertook just about everything, including the arduous task of producing copies with nothing but carbon paper and stencils. This endeavour bore a close resemblance to the kind of collaboration that we have subsequently developed: François took care of the images, I was responsible for the texts, and we did everything else jointly. At other times, we would both paint, under the watchful and demanding eye of his father, an architect by profession and an artist by vocation. Then I left Brussels for Paris, and we lost sight of each other for a few years. When we got back in touch, at the end of the 1970s, each of us had got closer to accomplishing our childhood ambitions. I had had two short novels published. François was one of the most active members of the 'Neuvième Rêve' ['Ninth Dream'] group, which was doing its best to shake up the rather sleepy Belgian comics scene; several of his stories had been published in the monthly magazine Métal hurlant ['Heavy Metal'].

It rapidly became obvious to both of us that we wanted to create a story together. But it was less obvious what story this could be. It was not clear how François's penchant for science-fictional images and his passion for architecture could be reconciled with my literary tastes and my love for Hergé's work. Our first album, Les Murailles de Samaris ['The Great Walls of Samaris'],2 very much represents a search for common ground between two people from different imaginative worlds. It was in this album that we developed our working relationship, by feeling our way and gradually finding things out. The mixture of a narrative that was mainly written as a 'voiceover' and images that were sometimes bordering on the illustrative enabled us to fine-tune our method and to get two still quite disjointed elements to work together. In the same way that François had worked out one successful mode of collaboration with his brother Luc, and then another with Claude Renard, he had to establish a quite different one with me, given that my background was in literature more than graphic art. And I had to take on board the practical demands of the comics medium, and the particularities of François's style.

We never created Les Cités obscures. I mean that there was no moment when we took the decision to embark on a series of that name. After Les Murailles de Samaris, we wanted to produce another album, set in the same imaginative universe, even if it did not feature the same city or the same character, or even the same graphic technique: this was La Fièvre d'Urbicande ['Fever in Urbicande']. …

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