JEAN-DAVID MORVAN: Dominique, what first inspired you to illustrate nonfiction comics? Was it Robert Capa’s story of the landings in particular?
DOMINIQUE BERTAIL: It was you who inspired me to illustrate nonfiction, with your enthusiasm in telling me this story. I lived in Caen for a long time, and my father lived in Normandy. This event is very significant in the Norman culture.
And you, where does this love of photography and Capa come from in particular?
MORVAN: I think my love of photography comes from firstly my interest in the power of images, and secondly history in a broader sense, which includes current affairs. Capa, that interest comes from Magnum, quite simply. One evening, I decided to try my luck and ask the agency (where I knew no one), if creating a comic about their photographers would interest them. Much to my surprise, the next day I had a response from Clément Saccomani. We met and set off from there. Dupuis (my French publisher) said okay and we wondered who to begin with.
Capa, the founding member, was the obvious choice, and the seventieth anniversary of the landings was approaching. You had to be crazy to write a comic in this amount of time, but even more so to illustrate it. But you did it! What were the biggest artistic challenges to make it happen?
BERTAIL: Above all the great urgency of the deadline...two months, I think. But this corresponded with the urgent nature of Capa’s photography, and this stopped me having the temptation to do a too rigorous historical reconstruction, and stay in the feeling of the moment, on Capa’s level.
I immersed myself in the drawing of Milton Caniff and Noel Sieckles to absorb their vivacity, efficiency and elegance. For the rest, I blindly followed your script, but I understand that there were some surprises left for you...
MORVAN: I started off using Capa’s slightly out-of-focus autobiography. But when I sent the first pages of the script to the ICP, which manages the rights and images of old Bob, they told me that what I was saying was false. I told them that this wasn’t possible, citing my source which seemed the most reliable. And then they told me that Capa had twisted the truth a bit. And I had to return to historical fact by working from several books, in particular that of Richard Wheylan. The finished comic combines information that had never been brought together in the same story. All thanks to Cynthia Young from the ICP, thanks to her.
Lastly, there was an event which I didn’t go to but you did, because you finished in time for the book to come out in France on June 6, 2014. How was it to rub shoulders with all the presidents, close to where you were born, and know that Hollande, Obama, Putin, the Queen of England etc. would receive a special edition of our book?
BERTAIL: It is amazing to see so many heads of state gathered under the same roof. The atmosphere was that of a bourgeois marriage, they were all used to meeting each other, like a group of cousins. Some people like it, others avoid people’s gaze for obscure state matters or personal preference but good-courtesy is required. Reading in between the lines you can see the diplomacy behind the scenes with a knowing or contemptible look, a small gesture of kindness or defiance. Like everywhere, the groups form around language: Merkel and Putin converse in Russian, the Queen and Obama speak English, Holland organizes the reception but feels a little lonely...The fact that France offers our book to every one of them filled me with pride, like a child would if he offered his first drawing to his uncle.
Out of curiosity, what's next?
MORVAN: A great book including the different perspectives of Raymond Depardon and Jacques de Loustal in Carthagena (Colombia) has just come out. Also on the way are: a comic about the imprisonment of Henri Cartier-Bresson during the Second World War, before his major exhibition at MOMA in 1947, one on Rumble in the jungle, the great match between Ali-Foreman and Kishasa in 1974, photographed by Abbas and with fairly advanced discussions with Steve McCurry, without forgetting an unpublished story on the dark side of Japan, with Bruce Gilden. Quite a program when you think about it.
Born in Reims, France, Jean-David Morvan has become a noted French comics writer known for his thoughtful and surprising takes on a variety of topics; Dominique Bertail, of Tours, France, takes his influences as a cartoonist from around the world, including Moebius, Juillard, and Otomo.