MICHEL RABAGLIATI interviewed by Planet of the Books

Michel Rabagliati Interview

Planet of the Books    |    Planet of the Books Staff    |    April 28, 2008

Michel Rabagliati is the Quebecois cartoonist behind the recent release Paul Goes Fishing. The fourth installment of his Paul series shows Paul on a trip with his wife to a campground outside of Montreal. Here Paul encounters memories of his childhood, comical exchanges with manly men in the woods, and one of the very real and unexpected traumas of life.

Michel Rabagliati's work is amazing not only for its great humor and enjoyable storytelling, but for the sensitivity and humanity of his characters. Recently Michel spoke with us about his creative process, his character Paul and the importance of masculinity in his stories.

BH: Paul Goes Fishing is subtle and emotionally complex, do you find that you produce the story before you begin drawing or does the story and drawing evolve together?

MR: Nothing is improvised in my work. I have the idea of the story in my head for several years. Finally, when the idea is well-matured, I write a synopsis. Everything is planned before even a single line is traced.

BH: A lot of the French comics that influenced you, might be unfamiliar to English-speaking audiences. How influential are English language comics for you?

MR: I was not subject to any influence from American SuperHeros as a child. No one, almost no one in french speaking Quebec read comics with American Superheros during the 60's. We were totally submerged in Franco-Belgian comics: Tintin, Spirou, Lucky Luke, etc. The first english language comics, I read were made by Canadians: Chester Brown, Seth, Joe Matt. Later, I was charmed by the work of Charles Burns, Dan Clowes, Crumb. But, I was already thirty by that point. Above all, I must say, that the pages of Chester Brown were the most interesting and intriguing to me. I love his tone and its honesty. His drawings are made in a frank style without artifice. He doesn't work to make beauty, but to show truth. He's also an excellent storyteller.

BH: Do you work mostly alone or do you share your early drafts with others, including them in the development of the books?

MR: The only person who knows completely how I work and what I do, is my wife Caroline. I have her read everything I do from start to finish. She's an excellent reader and brutal critic! She tells me honestly what she thinks of my pages without holding back. I have total confidence that her advice and counsel will always be accurate and constructive. Plus, she's a professional copy editor and so the text passes through her magnifying glass and is greatly improved by her care. She is my only collaborator, but she is worth more than ten collaborators.

BH: Throughout the book Paul reflects a lot on his own failures and inadequacies, while also seeing the beauty in the people around him. The only lingering sad thought of this book, is my feeling that Paul sees the beauty in everyone but himself. I'm left to wonder if Paul sees the beauty in himself?

MR: I think I give this attitude to Paul to emphasize the other characters. It's true that for me the other characters are more important than Paul, himself. I think that Paul is a little like the reader. He is a little male and a little female at the same time. Neither old, nor young. Everyone probably can identify with him. A little like Tintin.

Now that I'm 47 and an adult who has confidence in myself, I am not afraid to laugh at my weaknesses or my mistakes. They amuse me enormously and really don't cause me any pain. I know that I will never be a hero and it's the same for Paul. He will never be a hero either. We are just two very ordinary men, just faces in the crowd. We will die very ordinary deaths someday. This is the truth of life. It isn't what happens on television, but it is what happens in our homes and backyards. It's important to me that people feel that my work shows real life.

BH: How many of the experiences that Paul has are taken from your own life directly?

MR: It depends on the story. But in order for me to feel motivated, at least 85% of the story must be true. I add fictional parts only to make the story more fluid or to amplify the emotion.

BH: There are a lot of scenes in Paul Goes Fishing where Paul is teased or displays qualities that don't fit into traditional American concepts of masculinity (I recognize this question may simply reflect a cultural difference here). I'm thinking about his initial interaction with the two fishermen when he arrives at the lake, his memory of his father, and a few other scenes. And yet it doesn't seem to weigh that heavily on Paul that he isn't fitting these traditional roles. Most, if not all, men struggle with masculinity at some point. How important is masculinity to you, both traditional and nontraditional forms?

MR: It's comical. It's probably because my father never made me play hockey or baseball, like most of my friends' fathers. My father was the same as me, an artist, and never watched a single hockey game on television. For a Quebecois, this is very abnormal and suspect! As a result, I gravitated towards the things that I naturally liked: the bike, comics, the guitar and girls. As a child, I sought the company of girls who I generally found (and still find) more interesting to have conversations with than boys. It could be that this shows through in Paul's personality, his feminine side. This is why he's never very comfortable in the company of hunters and fishers. And that's why the story takes place with Paul's fishing trip, so I can amuse myself with his feminine side. I found that I really savored these scenes and they were funny to draw!

BH: Do you get many chances to interact with your fans?

MR: It happens mostly at book events. Here in Quebec, there are a lot of literary events each year. I meet many of my readers at these events, many of whom are women who usually are afraid of comics, but are in fact attracted to Paul's character because of his feminine side, as well as the non-violent focus on human relationships in each of the stories.

BH: Are there any projects or developments that you'd like to share with our audience?

MR: I'm working at the moment on another book that should come out in English at the end of 2009. The action occurs near the town of Quebec and this time Lucie (Paul's wife) and her sisters are the focus of the story. The story looks at the death of a loved person as it unfolds day by day. It's something very simple that happens in every family, all the time.

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