French artist Bengal is already well known in Europe for his stories like Meka, Luminae and Naja, but U.S. audiences are just recently getting to know his fresh, imaginative style. Although he was part of the first Flight anthology in 2004, he just started working more regularly for Marvel and DC in the last couple years.
In July's Batgirl Annual #3, readers will get to see the artist's interior work as he draws the new Batgirl of Burnside again — after working on her with March's Batgirl: Endgame #1. In the Annual story, Bengal will portray Barbara meeting agents from the Grayson series — not only Spyral chief Helena Bertinelli, but DC has hinted that the heroine will encounter an unknown agent that would surprise her: Dick Grayson. (Ever since 2014's Forever Evil mini-series, Barbara has been under the impression that the former Robin is dead.)
DC has also shared with Newsarama that Batgirl Annual #3 will feature a star-studded line-up of previously unannounced artists, including David Lafuente, Ming Doyle and Mingjue Helen Chen.
Newsarama talked to the artist about his background, his style, and what it's been like to draw these characters for Batgirl Annual #3.
Newsarama: I know you've been working in Europe quite awhile, but what's your background as an artist? Were you trained, or did you develop your technique on your own?
Bengal: I pretty much learned from reading, watching, copying, and then reading again a lot of different Bande dessinée (French comic books), manga and comics since I was a kid.
I remember the first piece I did, it was a copy of a Saint Seiya picture on a toy box! I didn’t do any art school — nothing against them but I just never felt like it or had the opportunity. Many things, really, have influenced me and I’m just the product of this ongoing mix.
Nrama: It's interesting you say "ongoing." How has your style evolved more recently?
Bengal: The most recent event in my work is getting back to inking. I had given it up over a decade ago, for different reasons — style, efficiency, energy — but felt like my work could benefit from better detail work and more black zones to have my pages look less empty. I felt like I had been lazy with just pencils, so far. My inking is still not quite there, but I’m learning a lot! I’m happier with the pages (and covers) I’m doing recently. I feel like I progressed a bit; it’s a nice feeling!
Nrama: You're getting to draw the Burnside version of Batgirl. What do you think of the Batgirl costume and new visual approach to the character? And what did you want to do with that character in this story?
Bengal: The redesign and relaunch is pretty much what dragged me to the character. In all honesty, I wasn’t following too much what Batgirl was up to in the recent years. But when I stumbled upon the new costume, I immediately wondered who she was! Fresh, practical design, clearly a teenager heroine — I was interested!
I was then motivated to do a fan art of her and, well, luckily, I had the opportunity when I was asked by the Bat-team to do a variant cover with her.
Nrama: You're getting to draw Dick Grayson and Helena Bertinelli. How are you approaching their characters? What are you keeping in mind as you draw each of them?
Bengal: I had to be told a few things about those characters – again, I don’t get to buy or read many recent comics where I live, so I needed a few explanations to catch up. I mostly needed to know more about the Spyral organization, and, from there, it was easier to know what Grayson and Helena are all about.
On the other hand, once I knew they were in the story with our Babs, I really wanted to have them “on the same level” — not too serious, rather cool.
For example, there’s a scene where Helena keeps from Babs the identity of whoever is dropping so many enemies in the building where they are — I wanted Helena to look awkward about it, and not too cold or too serious.
Aside from that, physically speaking, I tried to make them look like they’re supposed to, with my style, as well as I could. I mostly tried to make Grayson as muscled and hot as possible, to make sure the issue appeals to the girls as well!
Nrama: OK, let's talk about the story overall. What were your thoughts about the way you approached this story for Batgirl Annual #3? What were you hoping to achieve visually?
Bengal: I mostly wanted to keep the same quality level as in the "Endgame" issue, but I tried to be faster too. The most, most important is to make 100% sure Batgirl looks right in every panel, for me. She conveys the story, the flow of narration, all along. She’s the one taking us to where her investigation leads her.
It is vital that what’s happening to her shows on her face, in her behavior and in her decisions. It all has to work together. That’s what I focused the most.
Next most important thing for me is to make 200 percent sure the storytelling is clear, just like I tried to do in Batgirl: Endgame #1. I try to make sure anyone could understand the issue even if we didn’t put in the bubbles and texts (but there are some this time, whew!).
Nrama: You work on the art from start to finish. Are there any techniques you use that you can point out? Do you use pencil and the computer?
Bengal: I’m in a nice "zone" at the moment. I sketch briefly the pages (or covers), for validation by the boss, then I do simple clean pencils, focusing on attitudes, faces, and then I move to inks. I’m really enjoying this phase because, since it’s recent for me, I was afraid of being terrible at it.?
Then I scan the pages, and I work the colors digitally in Photoshop CS6.
Nothing special about my technique at all!
Nrama: Anything else you want to share about working on this story for the Batgirl Annual?
Bengal: I mostly want to mention how proud I am to work with this team. I’ve been welcomed with open arms, by great fellow artists who didn’t really know me before, and they’ve been nice and supportive all the way. And they seem happy with the result! So, there’s nothing like getting the validation of people you admire, right?
I’m very thankful I’ve been given such an opportunity. I’m having a blast doing comics, more than I thought I would before getting the chance, and I feel there wouldn’t be too many characters I’d enjoy working on as much as Batgirl. Cute 'toon, lots of action, that’s all I need!