May 1, 2017

 




Interview:
Travis Charest

By Jonas Vesterlund



 

Never let it be said that we’re stuck on one continent. Oh, no… you see, we have Slushers placed strategically all over the globe. Jonas Vesterlund is one such Slusher. Thanks to our man in Sweden, we can bring you the following interview with Travis Charest.

Travis Charest is a professional artist who has worked on the notable WildStorm favorite WildCATS (for many years) and WildC.A.T.s vs. X-Men. Now Travis is living in France and has, among other things, done an exhibition with Bryan Hitch and Gary Frank at a Paris art gallery.

Mr. Charest’s newest projects involve keywords: Metabaron, Humanoids, Dreamwalkers. Read on to find out what we mean.

[Note: This interview was originally published in February, 2001]

 

 

Which interest came first to you, the interest in comic books or an interest in drawing? Do you remember the first comic book you read?

According to my mom, I was drawing things like lions and dogs when I was a kid, but I was by no means a child prodigy. I don't think I showed any more ability than anyone else until junior high school when I began playing Dungeons & Dragons and started drawing my character sheets. At almost the same time I saw two things that left a strong impression on me.

First I found several issues of Heavy Metal in my uncle Paul's attic, a little mature for me at the time ( I think I must have been 12 or 13 at the time) and if I can recall the issues included Moebius, Corben, and this one story about this blue-skinned knight that blew my mind, or opened it if you prefer.

Also, I got my hands on two battered copies of Conan the Barbarian, with art by John Buscema, I can still remember this giant white troll or something grabbing Conan's leg as he was climbing a rope and seeing the words "Stygian dogs!" for the first time. It wasn't the first comic I ever read but it was the first one that flicked that little switch inside my head and got me excited about art for the first time.

When did you decide to make a career in the comic field? How did you go by getting into the comic scene? What did your family and friends think about that choice?

I was working in the warehouse of Bartle & Gibson Co. Plumbing and Heating and my co-worker (aptly named Art) showed me some comics he had purchased on his lunch break, among them were a few issues of Uncanny X-men, by Claremont and Lee, while Art was talking about Skinny Puppy and Severed Head I was lost. I was looking at a revelation, comic art had never seemed so perfect to me, the women were beautiful, and the men heroic, at that moment I don't know if I was thinking about a career in comics but I do know that I wanted to do what I was looking at, draw beautiful things.

I would get up in the morning, go to work, come home and draw, and THAT WAS ALL I WOULD DO, my girlfriend broke up with me and I think I gained 10 pounds but 2 weeks after I sent packages to Marvel and DC I received a phone call from Tom DeFalco ( who was very nice but didn't offer me any work at the time) and from Neal Pozner ( who was also very nice, and did offer me work) and that was that, my life changed forever. Actually it didn't change that much because my beginning page rate of 80.00/pg meant

I wasn't able to quit my warehouse job for almost a year.

My friends and family were excited for me as well as confused, I still don't know if my grandma really knows what I do. My sister, Brenda, who is a very talented painter, is my biggest fan, but still wants free copies.

What do people say when you tell them what you do for a living? If you were not working with comics what do you think you would do for a living?

Most people are interested when I tell them I'm an artist, but their eyes sort of glaze over when I mention that I'm a "comic book" artist. I don't have the slightest idea what I would do, and if there comes a time when I can't do this anymore, I'll probably have to go back to the warehouse ( if I can still lift that cast iron pipe that is).

The first time I encountered your work you were during your stint on "Wild C.a.t.s". What I found interesting was how your art many times had the feel of French/Belgian Graphic Novels, not that I can point towards something specific but sometimes it was the page layout, other times the line work and sometimes just a panel. Before you started working for Humanoids did you have an interest in European Graphic Novels? If so how did this interest come about and are there any specific titles or creators you have been inspired by?

As I mentioned before I had seen some European artists' work, but my contact with these books was sporadic and I didn't really have a chance to enjoy the work properly until I had been working for a few years and was more immersed in the world of art and other artists.

I've been an admirer of Moebius for years, and Gimenez has also had a considerable impact on my work, much like that day in the warehouse when I was struck by the beauty of Lee's work, I was also affected by the poetry and delicateness of Moebius' linework. And although my work is very different from his I often read and re-read my Mignola books because the work is so powerful and in its way, incredibly realistic.

Alan Moore has written most of the stuff you have done with the Wild C.a.t.s. How was it working with such a famous writer? I bet there are artists who would give there right had to get that opportunity.

Alan Moore is truly one of the most genuine people I have ever worked with, although I've never met him face to face, the few times we have spoken, he was kind, very funny, and completely open to any ideas I had about the book. I wish I had been able to be the only artist who was working on Wildcats at the time, because that would have been a collection I could truly be proud of, but I do consider myself fortunate to have worked with him at such an early time in my career.

You did a one-shot called X-Men/Wild C.a.t.s: The Golden Age that was just ink and gray scales. It sure looked great, how did you come up with that?

The Wildcats/X-men experiment! I had just started working on this book, and was truly excited by the story, it had Wolverine (I had never worked on the x-men in any fashion before and this was a big deal for me), WWII, which meant tanks, soldiers, and the ultimate bad guys, Nazis. I was determined to do something different from my previous work, I wanted it to look realistic, and moody at the same time.

The first few pages were all done in a heavily rendered fashion, all the shadows were parallel lines and it was taking forever. Finally, I think it was page 4 or 5, I was drawing this picture of Zealot climbing some stone steps and I knew this was going to be a real pain in the ass to render, I didn't want to use zipatone, because I don't like the way it prints, but I needed to have some subtle grays so I just took some of my rapiograph ink and watered it down to several different shades and tried the stuff on some scratch paper.

Miracle of miracles, it worked and in one night my work completely changed, no longer was I fenced in by the linework, the texture of things like skin and fabric became much easier to reproduce and the work went much faster.

Just one of those happy accidents that seem to happen sometimes in this profession.

When it was made official that you would no longer be the regular artist on "Wildcats" I heard many rumors on your new projects. None of them seemed to have been close to the truth and the Humanoids deal was a real surprise. How did this project come about?

I was at the San Diego comic convention, sitting in artist's alley, selling artwork and trying to speak coherently to people and this nice women introduced herself to me and gave me a Humanoids business card. I knew I was on thin ice with Wildcats and DC for that matter, so I seriously began considering making a change.

On our first meeting I received a version of the "Dreamshifters" script, and when I understood the conditions of the deal, namely the ability to fully paint the work myself, and the longer deadlines (not to mention the author I was working with) I pretty much decided what I was going to do. So on Feb. 29 I left Wildstorm after 6 truly wonderful and sometimes frustrating years and took on the daunting task of following in the footsteps of two of my artistic idols, Moebius, and Juan Gimenez.

The Graphic Novel you are currently working on is called "The Dreamshifters" and stars The Metabaron. Since both Juan Gimenez and Moebius have drawn this character you sure have some pretty big shoes to fill. Are you nervous? Any thoughts on this?

I can, without a doubt, say I have never been more nervous about a project than I am now. I have never painted a complete graphic novel before, and I've never been involved with a character with so much history, to be honest sometimes I wonder if I know what I'm doing. I think this book will do one of two things, be a huge success and be the best thing I've ever done, or I'll never finish it and slowly fade away into oblivion, but thankfully I've got Philippe, my editor, and although I haven't driven him into a berserker rage yet I think I can see the motivational dark side behind that smooth veneer.

What can you tell us about "The Dreamshifters"?

What can I say? Well, the book deals with the Metabaron character, who first appeared in the Incal years ago. Without giving too much away I think I can say that the basic story involves a mythical race of beings known as Dreamshifters and that a dark force has opened a sort of portal and entered the Metabaron's world, the story has elements of pure science fiction, horror, a heroic battle for freedom, and a murder mystery of sorts.

I'm sure my description does absolutely no justice to the actual story but I have no idea how much I'm allowed to divulge. What I can say is that the book is slated to be 52 pages, fully painted, and hopefully completed and available by fall of 2001.

Working on with American Superhero comics and switching to French Science Fiction seems like quite a big change. I am quite curious what are the differences and what are the similarities.

I guess the biggest difference for me is a different approach to things like violence and sexuality. Previously, any violence I depicted was slightly subdued by things like humour or simply by not showing it entirely, and sex, actual sex, not just sexy girls in tight clothing, was never even touched on.

Now I'm not saying that I want to have 52 pages of exploding heads and rivers of blood, but if you're going to actually kill someone than don't hide it or make jokes to lessen the impact, a lot of the history of the Metabarons deals with survival, and a strict code of honour, and these things are brutal, and I think it would be dishonest to censor these aspects of the characters.

The sex aspect just seems like a no-brainer, I'm not going to be doing anything pornographic, but people are sexual beings, I don't think I've ever been known as a cheesecake artist so I will deal with those parts of the story with respect and with a realistic approach. (no shower scenes or outrageous cup sizes for example) If there are any similarities I would say that it would be that by and large, no matter which side of the Atlantic they're from, all creative people want is to do the best job they can, and to try to reach people in some way.

Do you think a "dialog" between North American comics and European would be good? In the late 80's early 90's there were quite a big "monologue" between the US and Japan. Many Japanese influences in American comics... but no American stuff in Japanese manga. I personally have this theory on that Europe and the US should creatively try to exchange ideas etc on comics and in so, comics as a medium and art form would become much stronger both creatively and commercially.

(We have seen how British writers have taken American comics to new levels.) Do you have any thoughts on this?

I think any kind of communication between the two can only help both industries, French and U.S. The American industry seems to be shrinking steadily and no efforts to truly evolve are being made. Music has changed with the times, as well as cinema, but comics seem unable to shake the chains of the superhero.

I'm not saying that superheroes are bad, the Metabaron has many of the characteristics of an American superhero, he's invincible, a loner, but most comics I’m aware of in France are not like the Metabaron. American artists and writers are just as talented as the Europeans, but I don't see as much variety available to American readers.

Silly question here: Do you speak French? Are the scripts written in English or translated?

Actually I spoke only French until about the age of 6, however, my father, who was Irish, disapproved of us speaking French in the house and as a result, although my accent is not too shabby, I have basically lost the language. ( the scripts are translated into English by the way).

You are a quite young artist but you have worked with maybe two of the giants when it comes to comic writers, Alan Moore and Alexandro Jodorovsky. Any thoughts on that?

During the first discussion Jodorovsky and I had, he was actually providing sound effects and physically demonstrating the way a creature that appears in the book would look as it attacked the young Metabaron. Very rarely do you meet someone who has been doing this as long as Jodo who still has that same level of enthusiasum. I'm basically an unknown artist in Europe and he treated me as an equal partner in this project, he asked for my opinions and took my ideas seriously. I consider it a huge compliment that both of these gentlemen have decided to collaborate with me.

I read an old Swedish interview with Humanoids creator Georges Bess (who used to live here in Sweden by the way) and he talked about how Jodorovsky helps people develop and made Jean Giraud become Moebius and talked about his own development. Who are you going to transform into? :-)

I'll let you know a couple of years from now. Hopefully that person still has all his hair and has learned a few things.

When one tells a story in the comic book media what is the most important aspects?

That's a hard question for me to answer, as an artist, I have a natural tendency to focus on the visuals, but I think you need a solid story or the pictures are only interesting, not entertaining. If I had a gun to my head I would have to say words over pictures, unless it's Struzan, than it could be a laundry list for all I care.

You are quite famous for spending a lot of time with a page. Do you think that the European Graphic Novel format fits you better? How long does it take for you to do a page?

Okay, I get asked this a lot and I'll answer it this one last time, not because it makes me mad but because it's as embarrassing as hell. Depending on the piece of course, it can take me as long as three weeks, and sometimes longer. Now that doesn't mean I'm actually spending three weeks drawing, I often will spend hours doing nothing but staring at a blank page, I know a lot of artists do layouts and I should as well, but I find if I put a really stirring piece of music on I can see the page in my head quite clearly but the translation to my damned fingers sometime takes a little coaxing.

Also, in my own defense, I don't use photo reference and the board size I work on is roughly 2 1/2 times larger than regular comic pages, so give a guy a break, this painting stuff ain't easy! (by the way, that is the last time I will answer that question)

What type of materials do you work with? Any favorite type of pencils?

This seem to be a continually evolving thing, I'm using much more acrylics now than before, and I've almost stopped using the watercolour crayons that I worked with for so long. I've tried my hand at the airbrush and when I get the hang of it I'll use it often. For pencils, I like a little of everything, sometimes HB, 2H, or 4H and 2B, all depends. The French sensibility has required a little adjustment to the color scheme I'm used to, more earthy tones and not too many bright colors.

What are your plans for the future? Any characters you would like to take a shot at? It seems like quite many of the French based creators work with all kinds of stuff (film, computer games, books, poems etc) at the same time as they do comics. Will you try and do the same?

The Metabaron books will keep me pretty busy for about the next 4 or 5 years, after that, I have a few ideas, I don't imagine I'll ever try anything as ambitious as film direction, and I can guarantee I'm no poet, but I would like to write the next project I work on, mainly to see if I can. However, if the opportunity ever presents itself I would love to do a 250-page graphic novel depicting the first three Star Wars films and all the little stories that happened in-between the films. I should be about 125 years old when that hits store shelves.

One last question: You have been living in France for a few months now, what do you miss of North America the most?

I miss my bed, my DVD player, my car, and my friends.

 


Travis Charest Art Gallery
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