Interview: Renee French Pt. 3 (of 3)

Categories:  Interviews

Renee FrenchAs fans, we tend to develop perceptions of artists, based on their output, filing people away into neatly defined categories: the swaggering rockstar, the egotistical actor, the sociopath novelist—these would be little more than unfortunate stereotypes, were they not validated for us, on a regular basis.

Prior to interview Renee French, I hadn’t had any sort of interaction with the artist. I’ve been following her work for a few years now and had read a few online interviews in order to help prep, but I’d never spoken to her at a con or shaken her hand at a signing. But she’s the sort of artist who has such a well defined style and knack for mood that it becomes fairly easy to draw certain clearly-defined perceptions about her as a three-dimensional human being.

Surely the person who has so much invested so much in characters like Edison Steelhead, the severely deformed  young child with an adopted chimpanzee in a dress playing the role of his sister, isn’t the most well-adjust person around, right?

When we published the first-third of our interview with French, Newsaram countered with a link entitled, “Say it Ain’t So, Renee,” focusing primarily on the fact that the artist had declared her love for the new Punisher movie, by purchasing a matching t-shirt at the San Diego con. I added a lovingly cryptic message to the comments section, advising people to “just wait until part three.”

And now, here we are. Over the short life of this blog, we’ve done a lot of interviews with a lot of truly amazing artists, but rarely do they ever prove as fun as the home stretch of this interview with Renee French. The author of The Ticking is one of the most hilarious people I’ve spoken to for the sake of this blog.

And with that, I submit Part Three. Enjoy.

Do you think that most of what is marketed to children these days is too sterilized?

Defintely. No question. Right now, I’m out of kids’ books for a while, because I got really upset, when they made me change the name of the second book from The Wooly Man, which they thought was too scary, to My Best Sweet Potato. It was like turning it from something that I liked, into a Hallmark card, and that was just the title. The interior was left alone, but they said that they didn’t know how to market it, because it was “scary.”

The people who’ve seen this book swear that it’s just really cute. If you had it infront of you right now, you’d probably say, “what’s scary about this?” There are a few artist who’ve managed to push through that. I think maybe they had an editor that was sticking up for their strangeness, like Lane Smith and John Scieszka, the Stinky Cheese guys, have kept a little bit edgy. A few people have managed to push through it like that, but on the whole, it’s all just so vanilla and boring. Poor kids.

But if you look at the stuff that was that was targeted towards kids 50 or 100 years ago, it was downright horrifying.

I know! The world is not a sweet little place, and so the kids who are reading these books now, I just don’t think that they’re—kids love something that’s strange and maybe even a little scary. I did, when I was a kid. Maybe I’m weird, though…

Do you get any enjoyment out of the process of creating kids’ books?

I did, because I got to make big drawings. I got to get lost in these really big drawings, and that was fantastic. I loved the process of making them, but there a lot of, “make that character cuter” or “make that character look less crazy,” which I fine, I could change the drawings for that, but once I had the finished drawings, that’s when it really stunk. And then, of course, they just pulled the rug out from under me when they made me do the title change, and then I decided that I was just going to have to go away from this for a little while.

It’s interesting to hear you talk about how much you enjoy making those really big pictures, because Micrographica is kind of the exact opposite. You blew up tiny pictures for the book.

Yeah [laughs]. Micrographica is in response to—I usually work really small. All of my work is usually 100-percent.

That’s the opposite of what most artists do.

Yeah. Most artists draw larger and reduce it, because, if you’re using pen and ink especially, it looks a lot tighter, and you can get a lot of detail in that way. But I like seeing how it’s going to look. I don’t like to lose any information when it gets shrunk down. And I like drawing really small. I know I said that I liked drawing really big—

You just like drawing.

I like drawing all the time. But the Micrographica thing was in reponse to the fact that I get carried away with the detail in the drawing. I’ll give myself headaches, because I’m working on these tiny little drawings, scrunched up in a ball. So I decided to relax and force myself not to be able to fit too much noodling and details in, so I made tiny little drawings, about a centimeter square, because I figured I couldn’t fit too much detail in there. And it worked, because the drawings are really loose, when you look at them. And that story is really more about the writing then the drawings to me, the more I think about it. It’s sort of a buddy movie kind of thing.

You’re also potentially amplifying any mistake that you may make, though.

That’s true. I sort of screwed myself over in a way. It’s also really hard to draw that small and get an expression on an animal’s face.  And yeah, you’re right, if I slip up, I just throw the drawing away. But those are fun to do, and I intend to keep that going, eventually.

It’s a bit funny that you mention buddy movies too, because that sort of brings to mind the most mainstream, horrible film that you can imagine.

[Laughs] Well I really like Midnight Run, that movie with Charles Grodin and Robert DeNiro. It’s a really good movie. It’s a buddy movie, but it’s actually really funny. But I like a lot of really bad movies—I like really good movies, but I like really bad ones, too. There’s nothing wrong with the genre of buddy movies…

Yeah—it’s one of things that was a pure form, at some point, like 20 years ago, if you consider Midnight Cowboy a buddy movie…

Yeah, right, Midnight Cowboy, that was a good one! But yeah, you wouldn’t really call that a buddy movie.

Do you feel yourself drawing inspiration from low-art?

Um…I don’t know. Not that I know of, but it’s got to be in there, because I always have the television on when I’m drawing, because it’s background noise, and I’m usually watching a Lifetime channel movie. It’s usually one of those really schloky ones. There’s usually a Fabio character and there’s a really bad guy and a really strong woman, and they’re really bad.

Meredith Baxter Birney is probably in there, somewhere.

Yeah and Melissa Gilbert, and the woman who played the Bionic Woman…Lindsay Wagner. So I always have the television on, so it has to be in there, somewhere, but it’s not intentional.

We’ll put that to the readers to start pulling out of your work, from now on.

Yeah, please find Starsky and Hutch anywhere in there. Some of my friends are watching CHiPS now, and I haven’t given into that, yet, but I think I’ll probably start that soon.

Do you watch any of the ironic comedic remakes of things like Starsky and Hutch?

Ben Stiller? Yeah. I like those. I like Old School, those movies. I love the new Animal House movies. I like Adam Sandler movies, I have to say [laughs]. But I have to go by those myself. My husband won’t go with me.

–Brian Heater 

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