By the end of my conversation with Philippe Dupuy and Charles Berberian, the two cartoonists are on the sort of roll that requires little guidance from their interviewer, a fact that seemingly reflects both their decades of brilliant work in the field and the fact that they have worked so closely together, for so long. Speaking with them, one can easily imagine that they partake in this manner of conversation with one another on a regular basis, engaging in poignant analysis of their own work and the work of their much celebrated peers like David B. and Marjane Satrapi.
Whether or not that is indeed the case, it’s a pleasure sitting back and listening [(and hopefully read, as well) as they use the form as something of a launching pad for art in general, touching on the works of artists ranging from Matisse to Philip K. Dick.
Charles Berberian: I’ll probably read Haunted much more than any of our [co-authored] books. And I would really like to have an English copy of Haunted, because when Drawn & Quarterly published Get a Life and Maybe Later, I really enjoyed reading them, because it was like reading someone else’s book. That was probably the first time I was really excited about reading our own book.
But beyond just a translation, I imagine that reading something with a good deal of time between you and its writing, the piece probably means something fairly different to you than when you initially wrote it.
CB: Yeah. The only book we re-inked was Petit Peintre, a book that was first published in ’84, and it was quite an experience, because it was like talking to us, 20 years ago. It’s not really comfortable. It’s not a comfortable situation. We’re lucky though, that we can still be connected with the people we were, 20 years ago—we’re physically connected, because drawing is very physical. But it’s uncomfortable, because you really get a notion of time that that has faded away.
Philippe Dupuy: Yeah, but it’s okay for me when I read the our old work, because it’s still me—us. And I can discover something new, reading it, ten years after. I see the evolution, and I don’t want to do the same things again. I don’t want to do the same things now. I read Maybe Later again, in the period before I was writing Haunted. And when I decided to draw and write Haunted, I didn’t want to do an autobiographical book like that, with me on each page. But I’m in the book, anyway, and I know that the next time I do something personal or autobiographical, the idea is to not draw myself—talking about myself without representing me directly, but a friend told me that this is maturity, when you are doing that, when you’re talking about yourself, but not saying, “I, I, I.”
CB: I’m not sure about that, because first of all, I think that there are different ways of talking about ourselves, and that using “I” is a very courageous way to write and draw stories, but it has to be worth it. Especially when you’re implicating people from your entourage, like David B. is doing, when he’s doing Epileptic, or what Marjane [Satrapi] is doing when she’s drawing Persepolis.
PD: I think that in different work, when you say “I,” It’s just a different way to talk about things.
CB: The best books I’ve read were written with the “I.” Some were written by older people.
PD: When I said “maturity,” I was talking maybe just about mine. I suppose it’s not the same for other people.
CB: No, because I think—you like Picasso and Matisse very much, and when these guys are older, they’re drawing like they did when they were kids, but with the maturity of an old man, but their strength—what makes them really precious is that they’re old, but they still can connected with the kids they were, and this is part of the electricity, when you can connect with those two sides of one story. This is the electricity of what you can communicate. The fact that we’re using the “I” perspective.
I’m like Philippe, I don’t want to do this, all of the time, and the book that we’re publishing in May, there’s no way you can connect us to the characters, because there’s no Monsieur Jean there, but I tend to think that there’s somehow one of us in there. And the projection is something that’s very suitable, when you’re writing a story. You project yourself into a character, and as a reader, that’s what I do. I project myself into characters, and the implication, I think, is very important for the writer and the reader, and maybe some writers have used the “I” perspective, without any implication, and some have used science-fiction, say Philip K. Dick, with a lot of implication.
I realized, after reading an autobiography of Philip K. Dick, that one of my favorite books by him was about him in the late 60s. I think that when you’re writing and there is this implication and there is this certain way of dealing with things that you’re writing about that is very direct and the fact that you are or are not using “I,” that’s not very important. But when you’re using “I,” and you’re implicating people from your entourage, like your own family, it’s very difficult, demanding, and dangerous. You have to have a very important subject, otherwise you can use an mask, and there’s not problem with that.
David B. had problems with his family, after publishing Epileptic, and I asked him why he’d didn’t use another name. He said, “no, it wouldn’t have been the same. I had to implicate my family, otherwise the book wasn’t worth drawing.” So, I don’t know much about maturity. I’m probably the last guy who can talk about that, but as a reader, I’m sure about what I’m saying. As a writer, I don’t know.