Artist Mike Hawthorne has emerged as one of comics’ most versatile artists, and the announcement of his next project only cements his reputation. Fresh off a run on Dark Horse’s Conan: Road of Kings and assisting in the finale of Fear Agent, Hawthorne’s next project sees him going to the French comics market to do an adaptation of the French sci-fi novel Oms En Série by author Stefan Wul from French publisher Ankama.Oms En Série follows a diminutive human-like alien race called the Oms who are taken from their home planet and subjugated as pets by a highly advanced race called the Draags. One of the Oms, named Terr, breaks out of captivity and joins together with others of his race to change the balance of power between them and their captors.
Announced this past weekend at the Angoulême Festival, Hawthorne’s Oms En Série adaptation will be serialized in three 45 page volumes and scripted by comics writer JD Morvan. Currently the publisher has only announced this French language edition, but given the American interest in Hawthorne’s work and the growing number of bandes dessinées works being translated this work could be available sooner than you expect. Newsarama talked with Hawthorne more about this exciting new step in his career.
Newsarama: Mike, it’s a long way from the American comic industry to doing graphic novels for France. How’d you end up doing Oms En Série with the French publisher Ankama?Mike Hawthorne: I'd been flirting with the idea of working for a French publisher for years, to the point where I had pitched a book to a French publisher a few years back. The particular line of books I was pitching to was shuttered, and after that I got carried away with my work here, so I let the dream go for a bit. But I kept an eye on that goal and was always open to any opportunities there. My good friend, talented cartoonist, and American expatriate in France, Dan Christensen introduced me to French writer Jean David "JD" Morvan and we hit it off immediately. JD and I discussed working on a book together and he mentioned he was writing an adaptation of the Stefan Wul novel Oms en Série, which artist Olivier Vatine had gotten the rights to. I dug up the novel, watched the animated adaptation Fantastic Planet, and enjoyed both. It seemed like a perfect fit, so I jumped in.
Nrama: You’ve worked with every major company in American companies, and done everything from romance to westerns, sword & sorcery and straight-up super heroes. You’re coming off a twelve issue run on Conan as well as assisting with the finale of Fear Agent. What made you want to go outside and do European-style graphic novels?Hawthorne: I think comic artists the world over are aware of the amazing tradition of French bandes dessinées, and I'm no different. It always struck me that their approach to the art, and their openness to subject matter, was something I wanted to be a part of.
To me, talent has no borders. We're seeing so many amazing artists from overseas bringing their magic to U.S. comics. So I figured a little exchange was in order!
Nrama: What was it about Oms En Série’s story particular that made it interesting to you? It’s a classic in France, but was only recently translated into English.
Hawthorne: Two things. One, just how visual the novel was. The film has a great, weird visual sense, but to me the novel was less "psychedelic" and more solid. Wul's writing is visually rich, and realistic in how he describes everything. If I can read something and immediately "see" what the author is describing, to me that's great writing. That's what Wul's book did for me, and I'm excited to draw what I think he was describing.
The second thing I found intriguing was the allegorical nature of it. The idea of men as pets being kept in much the same way as we keep dogs is great ammunition for a comic.
Also, and this relates more to the film than the book I believe, I was curious about the connection to Czechoslovakian invasion by the U.S.S.R.. Oms en Série was published in 1957, so it predates the invasion, but Rene Laloux used Wul's story for his 1973 film Fantastic Planet to comment on the invasion. I enjoy that Animal Farm-like allegorical angle.
I like the idea of making this classic of French science fiction "new", using reference to both the novel and the film. It makes for a richer creative process for me.Nrama: Like you said, Oms en Série has been adapted once before – as the animated movie Fantastic Planet. are you drawing any artistic inspiration from that for what you’re doing in the comic?
Hawthorne: Yes, to a certain extent, as mentioned above. I'm also keeping Roland Topor's designs in mind while drawing the book. He had this wonderful way of making things so damned odd, and thus very "alien". It made for a really unique movie, visually.
But most of what they came up with is in the novel, down to the look of the Traags, the giant aliens that inhabit this planet. The giants with the flowing eyes, their aquatic origins, the world of the wild and domesticated Oms, all that is described in detail by Wul. In terms of inspiration the hierarchy is as follows; novel first, film second.
Nrama: Will you be traveling to Europe for this project for promotion?Hawthorne: I hope so, if I can swing it with my crazy schedule and home life. Ankama’s talked about bringing me over for Angouleme next year when the book’s out.
My wife's family is from Greece, so we spend summers there when we can. Hopefully I can plan for a trip there, and hop over to France to hang out with JD, Olivier, and the crew from Ankama!
But in the meantime I'll have to be there in spirit. Ankama just announced the book at the Angoulême comic festival this past weekend and some of my art was in their video demonstration. I haven’t heard the response yet, but I’m hoping the fans enjoy it!
Nrama: You mentioned that this project came about after you connected with writer JD Morvan, who made his name with French comics but did the 2008 one-shot Wolverine: Saudade for Marvel. How would you describe working with him compared to the American writers you’ve worked with in the past?Hawthorne: The language difference is the most obviously change for me, though I'm making an effort o brush up on my French. Luckily JD speaks English, and my friend Dan Christensen helps me by translating the scripts.
The biggest difference is perhaps the panel count. The French like very dense books, so each page is packed with tons of panels and artwork. I think the average for Oms is 7 to 9 panels per page, where as in America it might be 4 to 6. I've had to adapt to that, some times penciling pages larger than I would normally. I'm still inking them at the standard size, but it makes life easier if I don't have to squeeze 9 penciled panels onto a sheet of 11 X 17 inch paper!
Nrama: I know currently Ankama’s focused on its European release, but could you foresee them releasing an English-language edition down the road?
Hawthorne: It's something we all are keeping in the back of our minds, but there are no direct plans as of now. I'd like very much to help bring the book here, and see what fans think. Once we finish a volume I'll show it to some U.S. publishers and see if any of them are interested. I'm confident we can get an English version done up here.