Today we have an interview with the author of the graphic novel Titan, Francois Vigneault.
To find the spoiler free review of Titan please visit here to read about why you must pick up a copy for all of your overworked and underappreciated friends.
You can buy a copy or three through the affiliate link here: Titan (1)
Questions about Writing
Is writing your full time job? Do you also consider it a passion?
Francois Vigneault: I am lucky enough to be doing creative work full-time, but it’s not all writing. My working days are a big mix, ranging from writing my own graphic novels like TITAN and drawing comics by other authors to doing graphic design, translation, and much more. I do think writing (and drawing) my own work holds a special place in my heart, that is the creative space that I get to express myself most purely… But I do love collaborating with others!
Amanja: It’s so great you’ve managed to find so many ways to creatively express yourself!
What is your schedule for writing like? Do you make time for writing or do you squeeze writing in when a moment becomes free?
FV: I am definitely in the “squeeze it in when I can” school, mostly because I have to juggle lots of different creative work each week. Probably it would be better if I could have more time blocked out for writing. I do try to spend some time on it each week, regardless of how busy I am with other tasks.
How much planning goes into writing before you actually write a sentence? Or do you just let the words flow and do heavy editing later?
FV: I am much more on the improvisational side of the equation, I often am not 100% certain of all the ins and outs of a story even as I am drawing the final pages, I make alterations all the way through the process! For instance, (mildest of spoilers) I didn’t know that Phoebe was a fighter on the “mixing” circuit (or that “mixing” was even a thing in the world of TITAN) until well into the process of writing the book.
A: That’s very interesting! I think that’s also a plus of being able to illustrate for your own story, you have even more creative liberty.
How do you handle criticism or negative feedback on your writing?
FV: I don’t mind it at all, I think that it is almost always really interesting to hear a reader or critic’s distinct point of view on my work, especially if the feedback is thoughtful or constructive. I take it as a chance for me to learn and grow for my next book.
I read all my reviews (happily for me most of them are good… for now!), and I really appreciate everyone who takes the time to carefully read my work and comment on it… It is a privilege. The only thing I will say is a pet peeve of mine is that I have received a couple of “one-star” reviews where the reader says something like “I couldn’t download the book” or “Despite the beautiful artwork I didn’t finish the book, I think I was distracted.” I don’t know if these readers realize that their one-star drags down the book’s average rating, when they haven’t even read the book! It strikes me as a bit odd (micro-rant over).
A: I hate that! I go to reviews to try and determine what to read and it’s so unhelpful for everyone to leave reviews like that.
Do you have any tips and tricks for aspiring writers?
FV: One trick that helped me find my authorial voice was to mix and match influences, genres, and ideas from a wide range of inspirations… Like for instance I might take events that happened in my own life, add in an homage to a classic work I love, and set the whole story in a totally different genre. This mixing up of different threads can lead to really fruitful intersections of reality and art, and create something that is more than the sum of its parts.
Questions about Reading
Do you think it’s necessary for a good author to also be a prolific reader?
FV: While I do think it is very important to have read widely as a foundation to one’s authorial practice, I don’t 100% think you need to maintain a super high level of reading year-in, year-out. I know I go through phases where I am more or less inspired to seek out new books; sometimes I find myself re-reading old favorites, or perhaps just watching movies, or going on hikes or bike rides, etc. All those experiences can and do have as much of an impact on my writing as reading other authors does.
How do you find time to read?
FV: Lately I usually read in two ways: In the evenings before bed I read ebooks I have checked out from my local library, I can set the screen to white text on black so I can read in bed without bothering my partner too much, and I find that reading is the perfect way for me to disengage from my day-to-day and the news cycle (I long ago discovered that I need to not be clicking around on the web as I try to get to sleep!).
The other way I “read” is listening to audiobooks, which I can do when I am working on things, like drawing, where the “verbal” part of my brain isn’t necessarily engaged. Audiobooks are the way that I get through books the fastest, my evening reading of ebooks can get drawn out for months and even years at a time, depending on how engaging the subject is I can find myself dozing off after a page or two!
Does reading give you inspiration for writing? If so what books have inspired you?
FV: Absolutely. I think I get the most inspiration from authors that make me consider the world from a different philosophical framework, such as Ursula K. LeGuin, Italo Calvino, Jorge Luis Borges, and Tove Jannson. Oftentimes those authors aren’t necessarily doing work in the same genre as I am, but the way they connect with something with a bigger viewpoint of the world can really help me refine what I want to express in my own work.
Who’s an author that you think is criminally under-read?
FV: I just finished reading the first three volumes of “The Ogre Gods,” a series of French graphic novels from the author Hubert and the artist Bertrand Gatignol, which has really cemented in my mind what an utterly amazing author Hubert was (he tragically passed away quite young in 2020). I think Beauty (illustrated by Kerascoët) is perhaps my favorite graphic novel of the last decade, and “The Ogre Gods” is shaping up to be just as good.
Hubert’s works engage with folk tales, fables, and fantasy, mixing in a sustained engagement with sexuality, identity, violence, and social ills, but his work goes so far beyond the tired tropes of the “twisted fairy tale” to create stories that I think will stand for years… New timeless tales. It was a real tragedy for literature that he passed, but at least he created over 30 albums during his time on Earth, and I for one will be seeking them all out. Many of his works aren’t translated into English yet, but the above mentioned series, along with a few others are, and I really recommend that people check them out.
A: I’ll definitely be adding those to the list! Hopefully more get translated as well.
What’s a book from your childhood that holds a special place in your heart?
FV: One of my favorite books when I was a kid was Seabird by Holling C. Holling, it is a lavishly illustrated look at several generations of sailors spanning the end of the age of sail and coming into the 20th century. It mixed fact and fiction to tell a vast and immersive tale while also describing historical details in such an engaging manner… It made a huge impression on me. Years later I discovered other books by the author that tackle other subjects in a similar fashion, like Minn of the Mississippi, and he never disappoints. Incredible, immersive work.
A: That sounds like some advanced childhood reading!
Questions about Your Book
Do you see yourself as more of a Phoebe or a João?
FV: While both characters have aspects of my personality in them, I am definitely more of a João, I would say. Like him, I think I can sometimes be naive, believing too much in technocratic solutions or “common-sense” compromises to get out of thorny situations that might not have a clear path forward, perhaps to my detriment.
A: I definitely am more of a Phoebe. My supervisor has even called me “the mouth” of my department because I have to speak against anything I perceive as an injustice.
What work experience inspired you to write Titan?
FV: Haha, yes I loved that you reflected so much on your own experiences in the workplace in your review TITAN! I have been on both sides of the management/labor equation, so I certainly can see it from both points of view, and I think that comes across in the book. I’ve worked in quite a few different domains, from hauling around bales of hay at an animal feed shop and managing a paper store to working in a printshop and being a creative director. I think I have usually brought a lot of passion to my work, regardless of what I was doing, and that can sometimes lead to some friction if my ideas don’t line up exactly with my employer’s… But I also try to understand why their point of view is different from mine, and I almost always can.
A more salient point for me wasn’t any particular work experience I had, but a more broad critique of the capitalist system in general, the way that we are all participants in a massive structure that feels like it isn’t under our control. Like João in the story, I think there is a path forward where reforms and adjustments can make for a more equitable world… But that doesn’t mean I am not sympathetic to Cyrus and his revolutionary point of view, that the system is inherently corrupt and needs to be torn down and rebuilt from scratch.
A: I totally understand that friction that passion can cause. I’m not always great at playing the capitalism game. I think your critique is highly relatable all over the world.
The relationship between Joao and Phoebe finds common footing in their mutual love of music. Do you think that common interests are enough to bridge a divide between conflicting parties? Or is it simply a good place to start?
FV: That is a great way to put it. I chose that common bond of music because I have found that to be so true in my own life, I have so often had an initial moment of connection with someone based on sharing music, which after all isn’t even dependent on language to connect people from different cultures, backgrounds, and ideologies.
Now I don’t think I would ever say that such a simple thing as a common love for music or any other cultural element is enough to truly bridge people’s conflicts, which for the most part are based in real-world anxieties and fears. But I do think that first step to reconciliation is a sense of understanding that your enemy is also a human being, that you are all in this together, that the links binding us all together are infinitely vast when compared to the differences separating us. And if something as simple as enjoying some music together can start us on that path, let the band play on.
A: Elegantly put.
Is there any symbolic meaning to the Titans and Phoebe being physically larger than Joao and the Terrans? Or was it simply due to the gravity of Titan and an interesting visual for the graphic novel?
FV: All of the above! Within the universe of the story, there is the “actual” reason, which is that the Titans have been genetically engineered to live in the harsh, low-gravity conditions on the moon of Titan and elsewhere in the solar system. That plot point then gives me the chance to play with some of the visual elements of depicting a race of giants, but it also opens itself up to all sorts of metaphorically-rich readings about our own world. I won’t limit myself (or the readers) to any one particular interpretation, but I think there is plenty there to reflect on.
Questions about You/ Just for Fun
What is something mundane that doesn’t seem to bother most people but drives you absolutely insane?
FV: I find it very irritating when people in my building put non-recyclable items in the recycling, or recyclables in the garbage. 😡
What’s the best trip you’ve ever taken?
FV: One that was really special just because it was so different from anywhere else I had ever been was a trip a couple years ago to South Africa. The number and variety of animals (Elephants! Hyenas! Lions! Weaverbirds! Giraffes! Dassies!) was awe-inspiring to be honest.
A: That sounds incredible!
What’s your favorite present you’ve ever received?
FV: It is so curmudgeonly to say, but I am firmly anti-present. I would so much rather have a drink or meal or just spend time with a friend than receive a physical gift from them. I’ve been actively avoiding gifts for about 20 years now!
A: Oh wow! Well enjoy those meals!
If a stranger wanted to win you over, how would they start the conversation?
FV: Talk to me about a subject that they are passionate about.
What’s something you would scream at your younger self until you were sure they heard you?
FV: Write and draw more, and faster. Don’t give in to writer’s block or fear of failure. I can’t imagine how much better I would be at my craft if I had consistently been creating since my twenties.
A: Great advice! I could’ve used that too.
Where Can People Find You?
My website: francois-vigneault.com
Is there anything else you’d like to add?
FV: I’m good! Thanks Amanja, I had fun answering these questions, and thanks for your thoughtful reading of TITIAN!
A: And thank you! Everyone, go pick up Titan today!