In this final part of our discussion with the Burmese Chronicles author, we discuss the impact of having children, the importance of keeping a blog, and why Guy Delisle is “fascinated by kidnapping.”
Was having your own kids part of the catalyst for your entry into the world of children’s book?
Not really, because this is more the director liked what I was doing and said, “why don’t you do something like Aline et les autres, but for children?” I said, “I don’t think I can do that, because my language is not really for children.” I’ve tried to do a book—I was improvising a story for my son, because I had no book.
A bedtime story.
Yeah, yeah, and I was just making it up. So, after a while the material was getting better and better, and I tried to put it into a story, and I don’t know…I didn’t work…
When you say “language” is it the content or the level of difficulty?
The narration, the way I tell a story. I don’t think I’m fit for telling it for children, even if it might look like a children’s book. Louis au ski looks like a children’s book, but it’s really more for adults who want to read it to their children. It’s like my personal independent stuff, but it looks like a children’s comic.
You tried it, you felt like, on some level, it wasn’t as successful as you would have like. Would you try it again?
Maybe later. Once in a while I have an idea—a conceptual idea. And then I try it, like on a few pages, and then I look at it and say, “I don’t know,” and then I leave it on the side. And I read it back. For example, I want to do a story of someone else, who has been kidnapped in Chechnya. He was kidnapped for three months, and then he managed to escape—the door wasn’t closed and he succeeded in escaping. I really like that story, and I want to do a comic book about that. You were asking before if I was afraid that I would run out of stories if I stopped traveling, so that’s a story I’ve had since Shenzhen, basically. So I’m working on that now.
Do you know him?
Yeah, I’ve met him. He’s a nice guy, and we get along well.
And you spoke to him about the possibility of doing a comic based on his story?
Yeah, we met and I asked him a lot of questions. I did a draft of the 200 pages, and now he’s reading it and wants to have his comments. Before I did that, I did 10 pages of something much more classic in the drawing. It was color and it was for a bigger company that I used to work with, so I was a bit nervous. I did 10 pages—it looked okay. I don’t usually do a lot of color stuff. But it was too action—I need something with much more distance, something much more quiet. I realized that a few years after. I tried it, I didn’t feel so sure about it, and now I know why. So once in a while I do something like that.
Everything I’ve read by you has had a good deal of humor—would this be a serious piece? It sounds like it sort of has to be.
It has to be, yeah. I didn’t think so much about that. The first page he’s kidnapped, and then, at the end of the book, he’s escaping. But most of the book is inside. It’s full of little details—I like to work with small details. I just want to talk about how you survive. It’s three months of doing nothing. You don’t know when you’re going to go. So it’s serious. It’s much more serious than what I usually do. He’s in a situation where he’s just trying to escape. He’s imagining ways to escape. And then, at just one time, it was possible. He had to wait for like three hours before it got dark to choose. And that’s the whole thing that interested me.
We live in a free society. We’re so used to freedom. When you go to a country like North Korea, China—you’re stuck there. Just the way we think, we say, “that’s fucked up, you shouldn’t do that.” They’re not going to go through that process, because they’re not shaped for that. It’s just unimaginable for us. Freedom is so precious, we just don’t realize it.
He’s in a situation where he’s just a normal guy. He’s an administrator, not an action star. At some point, he’s going push the door, and what’s going to be outside? He was not beaten up, they were giving him food every day. But maybe after that they’re going to kick him in the ass. But he took the chance, and he had to cross the whole department. And he was in the kitchen, and something was cooking. I just thought it was amazing. I love that story. At four in the morning, he was in a Chechnyan village, not knowing how to get back.
Humor has been such an important aspect of your work. Are you afraid that be stripping it out, you might alienate some readers?
Most probably, yeah. But I might gain other ones that would be interested or fascinated by a story like that. And I don’t really think like that. I just think that it’s such a good story. I’ve been fascinated by kidnapping. I saw a report when I was younger, about a French industrial man who was kidnapped. They cut his finger off. He was a rich guy, and it was like four weeks and they finally got the guy. It was in the 70s. and he went through so much shit after, because his wife discovered that he had a penthouse, and was having a second life.
After being kidnapped.
Yeah. This all came out because they were looking through every detail possible. All of his life came out, and all of his employees were—he realized that everyone was nice because he was rich and powerful. He had a breakdown. After a while, he came back, and now he has a real life and friends. He was saying that he was almost thankful for the kidnapping. I was so fascinated with that. And then I met this guy, and I thought it was an interesting story.
You’ve been doing the Jerusalem stuff on your blog. Do you consider that a way of working shopping pieces for a future book?
Yeah, yeah. Exactly. I was taking notes like I do when I go away. And then, on top of that, I said that I was going to do a blog. Since I was away and I had time for myself, I decided just to work on sketches and writing, which is a comic book, but I was doing it separately, to see if I could do it and if would have fun doing it. at the beginning I was writing more, and at the end I was just doing sketches. I went back to me real love, which is drawing. But in the meantime, I was happy that I could write simply and efficiently. In the end, it was a really great experience. If I go back, I’m going to do a blog for sure.