What is an artist to do when they hurt their drawing hand and can't work for months? Find a new way to express themself.
Writer/artist Elsa Charretier turned a real-life negative into a positive following such an injury by turning her time away from the drawing board into time at the computer, telling the story of her art. Scheduled to be released this February, Elsa Charretier Artbook delves into her artwor over the years, with Charretier providing commentary and insight into how it came to be.
She launched a Kickstarter to fund the book on Monday, and she surpassed her $10,000 goal in hours. As we write this, the Kickstarter has reached $41,027, with 19 days still to go. With that, the publishing of the book went from ''possible" to actually coming together - now with extra pages and even a supplemental book thanks to the stretch goals reached so far.
Newsarama talked with Charretier about the project, going inside the work, her hand injury, and the success Artbook has already head in just a week.
Newsarama: Elsa, by the time we set up this interview your Kickstarter has already surpassed its main goal. Doing these you're becoming a publisher, so what's it like to reach your goal so quickly?
Elsa Charretier: A huge relief! Everything that happens next is a plus, a chance to make an even better book, so obviously it spared me a lot of stress.
It also goes to show how incredibly supportive the comic-book community can be. When you take a chance like that, you’re exposing yourself to failure and that can be quite daunting. Knowing that readers will be there to catch me encourages me to try new and different things.
Nrama: So with goal achieved, it's not an "if" this book will happen but when and how. First off, what prompted you to do your own art/process book?
Charretier: Learning InDesign and designing mock-ups had been on my “List of things I’d like to learn but never get around to doing” for a few years.
Three months ago I hurt my drawing hand and had to time some time off, so instead of pacing around, I decided to make a little sketchbook. I was enjoying myself so much that the sketchbook turned into an artbook, and with each piece, I felt that not explaining the process was a missed opportunity. So I added some texts, which in turn sparked other ideas that needed their own picture, and so on… The book morphed into something much bigger than I had first planned, but I’m very excited by the result.
Nrama: I'm seeing from the description and samples you're heavily invested in the craftsmanship of this book, from the physicality of the paperstock and printing to the mock-up designs. What are you hoping to achieve with this book?
Charretier: The entrepreneurial aspect of our work has always attracted me. I like developing projects from beginning to end, and if the project allows for it, do as much as possible myself. Hence, the Kickstarter.
I wanted the artbook to go beyond a collection of drawings, and think of it as an extension of my visual identity. Naturally, everything from the mock-up, to the paper and packaging need to be coherent with the content. The democratization of design has increased people’s expectations, and I think that’s a wonderful thing. Creators can’t get away with stuffing half-baked rewards in a depressingly brown envelope anymore. It’s more work, but as someone who shares this interest for beautiful things, I wouldn’t do it any differently.
Nrama: This isn't just a collection of rare sketches, but you're also giving a detailed accounting of your process. For some artists it's hard to put into words how they work - how is it for you?
Charretier: It’s definitely not easy. So much of what we do is ingrained in us that we don’t always realize that the creative decisions we’re making where once learned and practiced over and over. In a sense, it’s a deconstruction. When I have to break down the process of a page, I try to put myself in the reader’s shoes. This scene is conveying this and this feeling or emotion. Is that supported by the storytelling? If so, what are the visual techniques employed? And if not, what could I have done better to support the story? This allows me to trace back my creative steps if you will.I think this is what people want more and more: the nitty-gritty of the process. The specifics. The many different ways in which you can apply the concepts.
Nrama: What are the creators you follow that you've enjoyed when they show their process?
Charretier: John Allison, Vanessa Del Rey, J. Bone, Bilquis Evely are some of the artists I try to draw inspiration from and understand how they go about their process.
Nrama: On your Kickstarter page you recounted the first comic page you ever drew, and this two-week crash course you gave yourself in doing comics. And it involved Charlie Adlard, giving you a helping hand to learn comics. How important was that for you?
Charretier: It made all the difference in the world.
Meeting Charlie was the incentive I needed to start drawing. Without him, I probably would have never picked up a pen. He literally saw the first pages I had ever drawn, and as you’ve seen, they weren’t good! But he was incredibly gracious, kind and encouraging. He made me feel I could do it, and that’s priceless when you’re starting out. He then proceeded on emailing with me over the next couple of years to help me improve… but that’s Charlie. I’m very lucky he shared his expertise with me.
Nrama: And do you keep in touch with Charlie?
Charretier: We do! We don’t email as much as we used to, but I try to go to shows he’s attending. It’s always great to catch up and thank him for humptieth time.
Nrama: Do you feel this book is you doing what Charlie did, but possibly to the next generation of artists?
Charretier: [Laughs] That would be incredibly presumptuous of me! I’m merely trying to lift the veil on what is usually a very solitary practice, a profession that a lot of readers are interested in learning more about.
Nrama: Do you mentor artists at all like Charlie did for you?
Charretier: I never have. Explaining my process and guiding another artist through theirs are two very different things and I don’t know that I feel ready for that. It’s a big responsibility.
I do like to teach and help others through the same hurdles I’ve been through, so I think this is something I’d love to do someday.
Nrama: In addition to this, you're also doing a commentary edition of your upcoming OGN November Vol. 1. It's the entire book, in B&W, with your own handwritten commentary. This is fascinating - how'd this come to you?
Charretier: It’s one of the many instances where working with someone else has proven decisive. Pierrick [Colinet] and I exchange a lot about what we’re doing and we come up with a lot of things together. I wanted to do something different for the November B&W edition but couldn’t quite figure out what and Pierrick came up with this brilliant idea. So I really can’t take credit for it! But I’ve had a lot of fun coming up with the tips and finding interesting ways to include them in the pages.
Nrama: And this will be exclusive to Kickstarter - not at any shows you'll be at, or online afterwards?
Charretier: The artbook will be, but not the November: Commentary Edition. People pledging on Kickstarter don’t always realize it, but thanks to them, a whole new avenue for putting projects out is available to artists. This is a game changer for us. And I wanted to do something to thank them for their early support.
Nrama: The Kickstarter page has an English version and a French version - any chance you would do a French version of this artbook or the November: Commentary Edition?
Charretier: I know that a lot of fellow French follow my work from the early days, so it was only fair they’d get translations of the texts. I have planned a beautiful little booklet to go along the book for french contributors.
Nrama: Your first major project was The Infinite Loop, funded - coincidentally - by Kickstarter. So this loop has brought you back full circle. How does that feel?
Charretier: It made me question why it has taken me so long to get back to it, honestly. I love crowdfunding, and I really don’t see it as a last-resort solution. As I want to take my career towards more independent work, I plan on relying a lot more on Kickstarter in the next few years. To tell you the truth, I’m already planning my next campaign. [Laughs]