Paul Renaud grew up in the south of France looking up to the artists of American superhero comics, and now he’s following in their proverbial footsteps. Earlier this year, Renaud stepped in to illustrate and color Uncanny Avengers Annual #1, which was written as a tribute to Art Adams classic X-Men annuals – and was originally intended to be drawn by Adams himself. Writer Rick Remender reached out to Renaud when Adams had to drop out with a back injury, enlisting him in a project that in many ways he’d been preparing his whole life to do.
Although this one-shot was released earlier this year, Renaud is still best known primarily for his cover work – such as in the recent covers to Thor. While some artists, especially those who do painted-style work as Renaud do, work exclusively on covers, this French artist says he prefers doing comics pages as it allows him to tell stories. Newsarama talked to Renaud about his upcoming work with Marvel (he can’t say much), growing up an American comics fan (he says a lot!) and also his delight in Uncanny Avengers Annual #1 as a tribute to Art Adams.
Newsarama: Paul, what are you working on today?
Paul Renaud: Today I'm working on a cover for the Guardians Team-Up book. It's a 10 characters composition, which is always time consuming to do, but very fun too. I don't get tired of drawing those characters I grew up with!
Newsarama: Are there characters you "grew up with," as you say, that you haven't had a chance yet to draw professionally that you'd like to?
Renaud: There's always those characters that I drew just once. It's even more frustrating! I did one cover for the X-Men, and I wish I could draw these guys more. My favorite X-Men run was the one Paul Smith did, and I have a special fondness for that team. Cyclops, Rogue, Storm (mohawk!), Wolverine, Colossus, Kitty Pryde and Nightcrawler. For that same reason, I was a fan of Carol Danvers' who became Binary at the time. I'd love to get to draw her as Captain Marvel now.
And a character I never had a chance to draw professionally : Batman (the new Batgirl looks insanely cool as well).
But to be honest, I'd rather work on a character I don't like if I like the writer, than the other way around.
In that regard, I consider myself very lucky to get to work with Rick Remender, and on Uncanny Avengers and Captain America!
Nrama: Your last big project was drawing the Uncanny Avengers Annual #1 with Rick. You did the full art on that, including colors – how much work was that for you?
Renaud: I was afraid it might be too much work at first, because I had been sick for weeks just before starting on it. But it actually went very smoothly thanks to Tom Brevoort and Rick who showed me a lot of support. I'm not the fastest colorist out there because I do everything myself. I might have to work with a flatter in the future because I want to be able to move faster from project to project. But I delivered the book on time, and Rick and Tom told me they were very happy with my work. I'm very happy that Tom sees my coloring as an asset for the look of the book. That's the kind of support you want from an editor.
Nrama: Coloring your own work -- did that change the way you do the lineart, knowing you'd be coming back to finish it in colors?
Renaud: Yes, my cover art especially. The inking is essentially lines + black areas. There's very little rendering because I know I will create the volumes with color. All the heavy lifting is done when I jump to the coloring step. But when I do interior pages, for the Uncanny Avengers Annual #1 for example, I had to deliver the whole book in line art before going back and color it. I was so afraid that my editor would look at the line art and think it's was not good enough that I pushed the details just like I would have if someone else colored me....which I think is always possible. Someone can always decide you're too late, or you can break your hand. So you'd better not leave the pages "unfinished".
Nrama: What did you enjoy most about that book?
Renaud: Rick wrote it as a love letter to Arthur Adams who was supposed to draw it before he hurt his back. The story was clearly a modern take on these 80's X-Men Annuals that Arthur used to do with Chris Claremont. We used Mojo, and dropped in a few Longshot jokes. We aimed for a lighter tone, lots of epic battles with Marvel's "monster heroes". And we tried to do it in a grand way. I've always wanted to do an "Art Adams Annual" since I was a kid, and it was a blast to do it. I had that strange feeling that it was going to meet only with the old guard. The old time readers that loved that era as much as we did. Doing that in today's market is not the easiest way to sell a book. Today's reader would rather see the main plot of a series progress. But it seems the book did well with the younger readers as well. They responded to the silly humor...particularly to that Avengers/jocks VS X-Men/punk goths fanfic in the middle.
The book was a lot of fun. So many great character moments, so many stupid moments, so many characters I love...and the fact that I could do my own coloring was the cherry on the cake.
I also love that Art Adams got to draw the (awesome) cover for that book.
Nrama: Although you’re doing more interior work now, many people know you best for covers – and that’s something some artists do exclusively. With the level of time and detail you put into your work, what pushes you to do interiors and not just covers?
Renaud: Cover artist is the perfect job, but I feel more alive doing interior work. I love drawing sequential art, solving storytelling issues, and giving life to a group of characters in their environment. I do this job to tell stories. There's nothing like creating the illusion of movement, controlling the passing of time with just panel shapes and your composition skills.
That being said, I just finished a cover for Star Wars, and had all the fun in the world doing it.
Nrama: You’re born and raised in the south of France, but reportedly grew up reading American superhero comics. How’d you come across them, and what’s it like reading them when Europe is dominated by other varieties of comics?
Renaud: American comics were frowned upon by most bande dessinée lovers when I was a kid. It was seen as a poor quality product for dumb kids. People here would praise the old masters : Milt Caniff, Hal Foster, Alex Raymond or Will Eisner and Alex Toth...but the mainstream super-hero books were not worth looking at. Only a few professionals knew that things were changing, and were able to understand the true nature of those serials, and the amazing talent needed to provide them. Things began to change with the coming of the likes of Frank Miller, Alan Moore, Bill Sienkiewicz, Neil Gaiman, Grant Morrison. or Dave McKean..and more people realized there had been tremendous artists before that too. New French talents, like Claire Wendling, Olivier Vatine, Mathieu Lauffray and Denis Bajram were obviously massively influenced by American artists, and that too changed the way most people looked at them. Nowadays American comics have come out of their ghetto in a big way.
But yeah, for years it was like living in a small club where Barry Windsor-Smith, Kevin Nowlan and Michael Golden were as big names as Moebius or André Juillard would for most people here.
I didn't care much about that hierarchy. I knew what I liked. Obviously, writers and artists used their super-heroes as a vector to tell all kind of stories, and draw those huge amazing sagas. John Buscema wasn't a lesser artist because he drew these heroes. No one could touch him, especially when he inked himself. How blind have you got to be to ignore Neal Adams, Berni Wrightson or Mike Mignola because they draw Batman instead of Spirou or Tintin?! I felt bad for those who were too prejudiced against super-heroes to see that. To this day, I don't pay attention to the genre of a book. A good story is a good story. Same thing with the art.
Nrama: What are your next big projects?
Renaud: I'm just getting back to work after a long hiatus due to a family health issue.
I just got a few covers done, and I'm about to start working on a lead in to a Marvel big project for Tom Brevoort. There's not much I can say at this point, I'm afraid.
I'm also helping a huge local convention here called the Toulouse Game Show to gather a line-up of artists working for American comics.
Nrama: The Toulouse Game Show sounds exciting -- what do you see as the audience for that by and large in your part of France, and do you see American comics growing in sales in France?
Renaud: The American comics sales are definitely growing here. The super-hero stuff is more widely known because of the movies, but the indies too thanks to the Walking Dead’s success. There's a friendly war among French publishers to be the one to buy the new good independent series from Image, or I don't know who. I think that a lot of TV shows that are produced in the States (and maybe since Buffy The Vampire Slayer) have been channeling that comics vibe. Not only the super-hero shows. You can see how much these shows have been influenced by our medium. People here are now attracted by comics and they find their structure very familiar, and the themes talk to them like it never did decades before. I thinks the TV has formatted the expectations of a wider audience, and they feel more comfortable reading American comics because of all that stuff (themes, serial format, long run structure).
As far as the Toulouse Game Show is concerned, there's an increasing interest from people coming from different directions. Lots of manga fans are attracted by American comics; lots of gamers who are now familiar with all these icons. It's obvious we get new people interested in comics who are not really readers of anything else. They come from watching big TV shows, and they got a feeling they can find more of that stuff in American comics. Mostly young men and women. I don't see that many young kids.
And of course the media are coming to us because of the success of those movies. They want to cover that comics thing, like it's never existed before.
Nrama: Before I let you get back to work, let’s turn back to you. Down the road, what are the types of projects you’d like to be a part of someday?
Renaud: I'd love to balance my work with Marvel with creator-owned projects. Working with Marvel gives me the chance to play with all those wonderful toys, with top writers. I'd like to be able to do a full story arc on a series, even though it means giving up on the coloring.
But I'd love to do more creator-owned books too. There's a project I have with a big French writer I love, that will most likely work for both U.S. and European markets. Other than that, I'm not one to email and ask writers, but I'm always open for the right projects basically. The good thing with the market nowadays, is that all kind of stuff are possible. You're allowed to dream about sci-fi, historical epics, westerns...there's no limits.