When you’re trying to save your father’s life, outrun a criminal empire run by your heinous ex-boyfriend, and becoming an impromptu smuggler, you better be buckled in and gun it as your life depends on it. Oh, wait, it does for Glory Owens, the pedal-to-metal hero of Rick Remender and Bengal’s Death Or Glory, debuting his week from Image Comics.
Bengal opened up to Newsarama about his influences for Glory’s looks, material that helped fuel the high-octane action that follows her through this adventure, as well as how he feels he’s bettered himself as an artist since his first series all the way back in 2001.
Newsarama: So, Bengal, you've been on the comic scene for several years and now you're teaming up with Rick Remender for Death or Glory, how did you two come together for this?
Bengal: Funny thing is, as it often happens, I already really liked Rick’s work for some time, and Rick liked mine too - but we weren’t aware of each other up until the point when people we knew in common talked to Rick about my intention to try to move to the U.S. comics industry. Just as it was about to happen, over four years ago if I’m not mistaken, Rick agreed to write a foreword for the American release (by Magnetic Press) of a series I did in France, called Naja. And around that time we got in touch and started talking about working together, instantly.
You’re just about to discover Death or Glory, but Rick and I have been preparing it for more than four years now!
Nrama: Being French, how would you in your own words describe the American comics market to the European one? Do you have a preference?
Bengal: Hmmm…well, I’m fairly sure the way I perceive the American comics market is the same everyone interested in comics, here, does too - as a reader, that is. It is, in comparison, and because of a very old tradition there, a very superhero-centered industry, obviously; the European market has been more varied overall, in genres. But that’s been changing a lot since some time now, and it’s a good thing! With more smaller publishers on the market, aiming at publishing new, different things, the range of diversity in genres also developed a lot in the US comics industry and there’s a massive variety of books now.
That might be a very European way of perceiving it though and I might be totally wrong – when I was a kid, we had just a few monthly magazines here in France importing the stories of only a handful of Marvel & DC’s superheroes, so I may be biased!
I won’t say I have a preference, I learned a lot from reading both, there are gems in both. But, yeah, I did move from one to the ther, so…
Nrama: So tell us about our protagonist Glory Owens here. What were some driving (horrible pun intended) forces behind her look, style, and expression?
Bengal: Trust me, most of her design comes from Rick! Glory went through a few attempts on my part, but Rick fed me with tons of references from movies and pictures. I did have a clear image in mind but I’m not from America, I never “met” Glory in person and I would have lacked the proper knowledge to anchor her in reality, without Rick. But it all came together, as I came to dive more and more into this part of the U.S.A., to learn most I could, to make sure it felt authentic.
Glory had to be real, concrete, or I would never have been able - or even willing - to tell her story. So we brought her to life eventually and then she just had to live by herself through my pencils!
Nrama: The cover to issue #3 is a direct homage to Steve McQueen's Bullitt. Were there any other action, car-centric films you drew inspiration from for marketing or even some of the aesthetics of this world?
Bengal: So far, cover #3 is the only direct, obvious homage to a classic car movie. I would love to do more but, we have to try to vary from an issue to the next!
But I’ve been of course influenced by other movies for my pages. Mostly for the car scenes but not only. People who watched Convoy might find a resemblance in Glory’s dad, for example. For the sheriff, I mixed several stereotypes of this kind of character that you’d find in action movies. And so on.
We wanted to give this “classic” vibe to Death or Glory, as if it could be one of those movies, you know?
And of course, for the car chase scenes, many influences helped me. The dynamism of the action itself comes from my reading too many manga, the most popular in this genre would be Sonoda’s Gunsmith Cats but I chose to firmly not reopen them so as to not end up at best mimicking the master, at worse feeling depressed from how good it is and giving up on my own pages. And for the filming of those scenes, it came naturally from watching movies such as Ronin, Baby Driver, Bullitt, and even Fast & Furious, why not!
Nrama: In the past you've done work for publishers across the board. How do you feel about jumping into the creator-owned world again?
Bengal: It’s interesting because it’s nothing like in France, so it is, in a way, a totally new experience. Sure, you do develop your own project, like it’s done with French publishers usually. But you are the boss of your book, here, you own it and you have the power to take it wherever you want. It’s a partnership, whereas in France you feel like you work for a boss and you’re manufacturing a product without much future past the publishing itself. It’s hard to explain. But it adds a lot of motivation and freedom - at least in my experience. Many authors prefer to work on their creation in France, I’m sure!
Nrama: You color yourself, too. What's your primary thought when you start putting color to your line work?
Bengal: My primary thought about color comes way before that actually. I basically draw like I do in anticipation of colors. That’s one of the reasons I’ve held back on going heavier on black inks: when I ink, I already think in terms of color masses and volumes, so I leave space for it. I just draw enough lines to be able to paint in them afterwards, almost.
I wish I could trust my inking more and rely less on colors, but it’s a fact: I’m not nearly as good a penciller as I am with colors, and I hope to get better, to be able to rely on my inks alone if needed, or in case I work with colorists at some point.
Nrama: Lastly, you've been in the game for so long, how do you feel like you've evolved since your days on Flight, up to now?
Bengal: Flight! Such a great memory!
Flight was actually an interesting point in time, in my progress. At the time I had paused working on comics because I didn’t feel strong enough for that job, so I was working in the video game concept design, in the early 2000’s. And when I was offered to participate in Flight, it was a good opportunity to see how I felt about doing pages again, and if I had made any progress, both in drawing and in storytelling.
It did participate in making me more confident, it felt great to be able to cook a short story from A to Z, all by myself.
And since then, well, I kept learning with every comic book I’ve worked on, both in France for over a decade, and on the U.S. market too nowadays. Like probably every author I know, I feel my previous work is so bad I don’t even know how it got published, I always enjoy doing the one I’m working on right now, and I hope to do much better in the next one – and I think this is what drives us all!