SCBWI Bologna 2008 Author-Illustrator Interview: Marc Boutavant

Marc Boutavant is a French graphic artist, illustrator, and children’s book writer. He is the co-creator (with Emmanuel Guibert) of the ARIOL comic book series. Boutavant was interviewed in January 2008 by Anita Loughrey, as one of the speakers at the SCBWI Bologna Conference 2008 (scheduled for March 29 and March 30 in Bologna, Italy). Note: more on Marc and Emmanuel.

Are you a writer as well as an illustrator and, if so, which comes first the images or the words?

MB: I find it easier to express myself through drawings than through words, so I think of myself as an illustrator.

Do you have favorite medium you work in? If so, did the medium choose you or did you choose it? Can you elaborate?

MB: My favorite medium for the last eight years has been the computer. I used to spend nights on acrylic works, and then I discovered the graphic tablet. Freedom! It introduced me to an easier way of drawing and use of color masses, printed-color control–and no archive and no old drawings to take from here to here…a great discovery.

I can also that add it made me improve–because since my eyes aren’t watching my hand doing the drawing, it creates a distance between me and the work-in-progress, so I can be a bit less indulgent…

What are you currently working on?

MB: Ariol as usual, a sequel to Le Tout du Monde de Mouk, and an album with the publishing house Sarbacane.

If you were to illustrate yourself, what would you look like? (Please feel free to draw yourself — animal, plant, or mineral!)

MB: In the morning I’d be that:

At night that:

What is the hardest thing about being an author-illustrator for you?

MB: I love illustrating. It’s what I do to express myself. I reveal my thoughts on paper (screen). The hard thing is that illustrating keeps me from using a different part of my brain. But I’m working on it, trying to do both!

Did you always want to be an illustrator?

MB: Yes! But I didn’t know such a thing existed! I grew up in a little village, “devouring” comics, but I thought they came from…nowhere!

When I was eight years old, a teacher asked us what we wanted to be when we grew up. I did a comic on a single page, showing me growing, drawing, and moving to Paris.

After that, I didn’t think about comics again until Emmanuel asked me to work on ARIOL. I had to consider it for a while because, for some reason, working on comic books was the last thing I wanted to do! But I wanted to work with Emmanuel, so I said, “Yes.” And here I am, in Paris, drawing ARIOL and writing and illustrating children’s books!

What were your other career choices, if any?

MB: Doctor, or something with biology.

Do you have a favorite children’s book that you wish you had written and/or illustrated?

MB: My favorite book is Lettres de L’écureuil à La Fourmi by Toons Telegen. I would have loved to have created it, but I’m just as happy being able to look at the book. It remains a major reference for me, with its simple, yet powerful writing that produces such complicated feelings.

What does your workspace look like?

MB: A desk, mess on it, in a studio with six other people; their presence is important.

What’s on your wall over your desk or drawing table?

MB: Letters waiting for postage stamps. Kids’ drawings (not my kids). Kids’ pictures (my kids). There’s a mirror effect between the computer screen and the wooden desk.

How has your childhood influenced your illustrations and writing?

MB: The wallpaper of my childhood room did influence my style and themes, I guess.

What was your favorite book as a child or adolescent?

MB: As a child I loved this one:

Trois Tours de Renard, illustrated by Beuville.

After that, I loved: Barney Google and Snuffy Smith in Le journal de Mickey and Eagle Eye from Leo Baxendale. During adolescence, I was more into superheroes and other things.

Do you work with the television, radio, or stereo on? In cafés, nursing a half-cup of lukewarm tea, or in isolation?

MB: I switch between radio–silence–mp3–kids–silence.

If you could be a character from one of your illustrations, who would you like to be and why?

MB: This one or another similar one–they are breaks and breaths in my images, corresponding with a real need to breathe.

Is it difficult to illustrate somebody else’s writing? Has it ever caused any problems?

MB: It’s fine. It’s like a gymnastic exercise to keep the muscles primed for what I love to do. What’s scary is that these gymnastics will not get easier with age.

How did you become an illustrator?

MB: After trying to do different things, I eventually became an illustrator. It was when I found myself as an illustrator that I got excited about illustrating.

Could you talk us through the process of how, after you are presented with a book a publisher would like you to illustrate, you generate your ideas for illustrating that book?

I think I try to take inspiration from any and everywhere, but more often in the life of my children, or in the street, or on Google…an image, a mix of feeling+idea+color+view angle, that’s the keystone for all the developing images.

Do you have to go through a different process to produce a comic book? If so, would you describe the differences?

The only comic book I do is ARIOL. Emmanuel gives me the words, and I draw life around the words. I follow Emmanuel’s lead through the panels.

The difference between drawing for ARIOL and illustrating a non-comic is that the pleasure comes at the end; when ARIOL is finished, it’s great to look at it and to have done it.

For non-comic book illustration, the pleasure is the process, the illustrating itself, because it calls on my own inspiration and for me to put it on paper (screen!).

Are there any illustrators whose work you particularly like or influenced you?

Anouk Ricard, Kitty Crother also, Lara Harwood…Annabel Wright, Maira Kalman, Axel Schaeffer–there are so many! My influences and inspiration come from many places–people, photographs, nature books, contemporary art…

Cynsational Notes

Anita Loughrey writes teacher resources and children’s non-fiction. Her books have been published by A&C Black, Hopscotch and Brilliant Publications. She also writes regular features for Writers’ Forum in the U.K. about authors and the writing industry. She recently interviewed all 31 speakers for 2008’s Bologna Conference.

The SCBWI Bologna 2008 interview series is brought to you by the SCBWI Bologna Biennial Conference in conjunction with Cynsations.

To register for the SCBWI Bologna Biennial Conference 2008, please visit and click on SCBWI@Bologna. Queries?