Monday, September 24, 2018

Interview with French Comics Writer Regis Hautiere

September has a good month for comics. We have STGCC and AFCC, and then IAF last weekend (and if you were in Jakarta, there was Popcon Asia). To end it off, the Alliance Francaise (AF) has brought in the writer of La guerre des Lulus, Regis Hautiere. To me, it’s important we get more comic writers in to share with us their craft. We have many visiting comic artists in the past for workshops and some masterclasses, but we need more writers, editors and others from the comics industry to grow the ecosystem.

To side track: this year’s SWF will see more comic writers coming in – Mariko Tamaki and Margaret Stohl. I will be writing more about them soon. And if you are interested in the industry, check this out:

But I digress.

So who is Regis?

Régis Hautière is a French comic book writer with an impressively eclectic bibliography; he has published many award-winning books. In early 2013, he teamed up with illustrator Hardoc to create the comic series, La guerre des Lulus.

It’s about this four orphans who took to the streets and the forests to survive during WWI. You can learn more about this series here: (hope you understand French)

In any case, I will be moderating a dialogue between him and Cheah Sinann (The Bicycle - published by Epigram Books in 2014 and translated to French by La Boite à Bulles in 2017) as I’ll get them to talk about writing comics set in the two world wars of the 20th Century. Many might have forgotten that 2018 marks the centennial of the end of WWI. Many books and events have been written and organized to commemorate the Great War that failed to end all wars. But history books can only tell us so much. Comic books offer new ways of looking at WWI and WWII and the ravages of war. In the case of Regis and Sinann, they have chosen to portray German and Japanese soldiers in a non-stereotypical way, which might be controversial for the older folks who still remembered the atrocities of the Japanese army in the case of the Japanese Occupation in Singapore and Malaya.

Details of the events are here:

It’s held at the AF.

Date: Saturday 29 September 2018
Time: 5.45pm
Place: la médiathèque
In English | Free entrance (but do RSVP in the link above to secure your seats)

Thanks to AF (Anne-Garance and Catherine and many others) for bringing Regis in and organizing this event. Here’s a short interview with Regis and kudos to Cheryl Heng for translating. She is also the translator for the event.

Regis is obviously interested in geopolitics and the flow of capital in our present world order. It is a pity many of his books have not been translated to English. We hope it is a situation that will change soon.

How did you become a writer?

I've always loved to write. Since the age of ten, I would tell the stories I imagined through writing. However it was only later in life, when I was in my thirties, that I embarked upon writing as a professional occupation. I initially attempted writing a novel but I realized quickly that I did not have enough self-discipline to see myself through such long-term solo projects. This is the reason why I redirected myself to work as a scenario-writer for comic strips as teaming with an illustrator spurs me and gives me the moral obligation to focus on accomplishing the storyboarding. If not, the illustrator will not be able to proceed with his illustrations. I set up my earlier projects in collaboration with a group of illustrator friends who were all amateurs like myself. The great sense of achievement we gleaned from conceiving these projects convinced me that I had found my vocation. However it took four or five years before I clinched my first professional contracts and the appearance of my first books that I began to make a living out of my art.

What other series have you written?

I've written the scenarios for approximately sixty works. Some are part of a series like "La Guerre des Lulus", "Les Spectaculaires Aquablue", "Les Trois Grognards", "Heros du Peuple" ... and others are singular works told in one or two parts like "Abelard de Briques et de Sang", "Perico", "Un Homme de Joie".

What is the premise of La guerre des Lulus?

The main inspiration behind "La Guerre des Lulus" series was my daughter. I wanted to create a story where the protagonists were children, as well as my relocation to Picardie. Picardie is a French region that was greatly affected by World War I (1914-1918). Picardie was divided into two during the entire duration of the war, one portion occupied by the German troops and the other by the French and English troops. The massive scale bombardment of the region ravaged its landscape and transformed it into military cemeteries, war memorials, old trenches and mine fields or large expanses of vacant land devoid of trees. Traversing through the Picardie region, and trying to comprehend the 'raison-d'etre' of its contemporary landscape, I felt an immense urge to talk about the war which had long-term consequences in deeply transforming its landscape.

2018 is 100 years of the end of the Great War. What are your thoughts? Are we on the verge of another world war? (USA-North Korea)

Well... I hope not. And I don't think so. It is unlikely. The actions of Trump and Kim Jong-Un bring to mind two monkeys, each trying to outdo the other in proving who is the alpha-male, targeting at swaying their respective public opinion in their favour. It is in neither one's favour to spark off a war. For Kim, it would merely subject his country to massive bombardment that it is incapable of reciprocating. For Trump, it would simply trigger a major diplomatic crisis with China which has become the principal economic partner and financial backing to the US. The economies between US and China are so intricately interdependent that such a diplomatic crisis will rapidly deteriorate and lead to a financial crisis. Which is most certainly something Trump would want to avoid. Let's not forget that before becoming president, he was a businessman.

Or will the next war be trade wars (USA-China) or cyber warfare (Russia)?

This is highly probable. In fact these two wars are already taking place but they surpass the Nationalistic framework/ agenda. The capital of large multi-national companies (MNCs) is derived from multi-national investors whose interests overlap. Their profitable gains are rarely driven by Nationalistic reasons. The companies will not hesitate to uproot themselves, social seating, factories and capital to a foreign country if this proves more cost-effective. They have become so wealthy and powerful that they are in position to dictate and influence the conduct of the directors welding great power.

What's next? Will there be a sequel to La guerre des Lulus? What is the final fate of Lucien, Lucas, Luigi and Ludwig?

There will be two "Sequels".

The first is neither a prequel nor sequel, it is just a recount of how the 'Lulus' lived when they were in Germany between the Spring of 1916 and Summer of 1917. This will be told in two parts. The first part is already out in France.

The second is in chronological order following part 5. The story starts on 11 November 1918 and it allows us to find out what become of the post-war 'Lulus' and how they succeeded in reuniting. It will be written in five parts, each, being told through the eyes of each 'Lulu'. The First is told by Lucien followed by Luigi, then Luce, Lucas and finally Ludwig.

I notice most other characters are 'L' too. Luce and the villain, Leandre. Is that intentional?

Yes, it was deliberate. For 'Luce" the name starts with a 'LU" to hint at her integration with the "LULU" gang. The 'L' of Leandre was to lead one to think he could have joined the "LULU" gang but the second alphabet 'E' in his name to imply 'EXclude", hints that he is a traitor and will betray our LULU friends here.

What are some of the influences for your story? I am reminded of Au revoir les enfants and also the French comic series, Seuls (Alone).

There are many conscious and sub-conscious sources of inspirations. "Au Revoir les Enfants" and the series "Seuls" play a part of it. We can also cite " Lord of the Flies", "Peter Pan", "La Guerre des Boutons", "Les Disparus de Saint-Agil", the television series "Here Come the Double Deckers" or "Walking Dead".

What are you looking forward to in Singapore?

I look forward to discovering a part of the world that I am not at all familiar with. Travelling for me is a great source of inspiration as it allows me to better understand the world and it enriches my imagination. I often return home with new ideas, desires and of course, sometimes new stories.

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