Read Instead…in Print


 
A photo of a good book about cinema. No discursive, pretentious analyses, no verbose scrutiny. Because the idea is to invite you to read the book, not read about it here. But instead of using social media, I use my journal. Back to basics. Take it as a wish to break free of over-reliance on social media (even if it’s just for posting a photo of a good book) for presenting my work, cultural finds and interests. These are things to be enjoyed as stand-alone pieces in a more substantial and meaningful way than showing them in the black hole of Instagram thronged with an audience with a short attention span. This is also a look through my voluminous collection of books about film that I use as research in my adamant decision to rely less and less on the online and more on more on print materials.

Read instead…in print #12

“I was an alien there (in Hollywood). I loved solitude.” One of the most distinctive actors of the silent era, Louise Brooks, could write, too. Her book Lulu in Hollywood gathers her essays on Gish and Garbo, Bogart, Chaplin, W.C. Fields, G.W. Pabst, the one who cast her in Pandora’s Box and Diary of a Lost Girl, “essays striking in their evenhandedness and insight,” as Lotte H. Eisner writes in her afterward to the book.

I have read countless books and essays on classic Hollywood, but Louise Brooks’ writing about Hollywood and its stars is such a unique point of view that it’s made me realise how very few writers search for truth, observe and see with their own eyes. Although her writings draw from her own encounters and personal observations on cinema from her life in the movies, this is not a memoir book, because she didn’t care to write her memoirs. “In writing the history of a life I believe absolutely that the reader cannot understand the character and deeds of the subject unless he is given a basic understanding of that person’s sexual lives and hates and conflicts. It is the only way the reader can make sense out of innumerable apparently senseless actions.” And she didn’t want to get that personal. Here is someone who valued personal space. And she would stop writing altogether, too, because, as she wrote to Lotte once, “I shall write no more. Writing the truth for readers nourished on publicity rubbish is a useless exercise.” More prescient than ever.

 
 

MORE STORIES

Read instead…in print #11: Picture, by Lillian Ross

Travel is above all an inner journey: Interview with photographer Sophie Denux

Read instead…in print #1: Peter Weir Interviews

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May Newsletter: On Watching


 
 

Photos: Classiq Journal

 
 
I used to say that classic films should be made more available to audiences. Now I am inclined to take my words back. So many films are now available and so many people are so lost in streaming services that they get confused by choice. How can you choose? Just by watching one after another and hit stop if it bores you? Is that the way to build up film knowledge? I think not. Does it even matter? I don’t know. But it does for me. I still believe in culture. Maybe film history should be taught in schools. And the fact that film projects for children like CineKids exist gives me a little hope. Actually, it gives me sheer joy. It’s up to the ones who love cinema to keep passing on to future generations what the thrill and the love of a great film can be. We simply have to watch films together, to introduce children to films, bit by bit, exposing them to diverse films and to the world cinema. And once we do that, we may have faith that once they start taking the risk of going further and start choosing for themselves, they will remain curious.

But how about the younger generations who are no longer children though? I admit I am at a loss there. How to explain to them a movie like Fellini’s 8 1/2? What are they able to take from it? Regular moviegoers today are easily bored. They need entertainment. They don’t want to be challenged. They don’t want to be different. And that’s where their illiteracy really takes new heights. They want a film to be easy to understand, they are not interested in learning how to read a film, let alone read it in a wider context. And where can they learn from when the cinema has been taken over by blockbusters and the biggest streaming platform is Netflix, who, let’s be honest, works mainly of the principles of the more the merrier not the better?

Why isn’t The Criterion Channel available worldwide? Why will Martin Scorsese’s Film Foundation be reserved to a few privileged countries when it’s opening up a virtual movie theater beginning with this month? These organisations are created by people who know and love film, whose selection of movies makes sense and can be trusted. Why aren’t they offering wider access to culture and to the history of film? Mubi, on the other hand, does that, with a subscription, of course, and it does a marvelous job at it. But there should be more. And, most importantly, there should be more independent cinemas where good recent films should be shown and where retrospectives of older films should also take place. I still believe that cinemas are the best places to watch movies. People should be movie goers. That’s where the experience is the most impactful. And the ones who will take the effort to learn and understand a film will be more than just a few. I hope the word of mouth can once again ring out to fill the box office with the sound of impressions about the latest good film, or with the buzz of a classic gem that some of us dream of having watched on the big screen when it first came out, before or when we were only children, waiting for our curiosity to grow, not to fade as we continued to grow up and to discover movies.
 

 
Viewing

Just 6.5, 2019
Saeed Roustayi

A harsh, sobering depiction of the terrifying drug war in Iran and of the inability of a law system to deal with it. The reaches of its machination are so broad that it’s impossible not to resonate with you on some personal level, even remotely. It’s alert and bitter (the extraordinary performance of Payman Maadi – he made another great role in Asghar Farhadi’s A Separarion – contributes a great deal to that) and to say it’s full of action would be a misinterpretation, because the right word to use here is that it’s alive. That’s how it feels, in all its complexity and hopelessness and hellish reality.
 
 
Shakedown, 1950
Joseph Pevney

The main character in this genuine noir, Jack Early (Howard Duff), is a guy who will literally do anything to get what he wants. He is a young newspaper photographer, unscrupulous, who won’t stop at anything that will get him a selling photograph or that will get him all the way up the success ladder. He is a little cold around his heart. This is one of those neglected B noir films, with no big stars in them, with no constraint to fit into a genre, with no money to dictate a happy ending. From a time when they were just making movies.
 
 
Mona Lisa, 1986
Neil Jordan

A hard-edged neo-noir, one of the best of its kind. Bob Hoskins makes a great role, one of those you wish to see more often, complex and subtle at the same time. He is a chauffeur hired by the man he did seven years of prison for (Michael Caine) to drive around a high-class prostitute (Cathy Tyson). He is further thrown into a life of crime, a gritty, horrible London underworld that he has a hard time accepting it even exists, on the recurring title song of Nat King Cole, but he is by no means a one-sided character, no great character ever is. He could be any guy who has hit rough times, made a few mistakes, but still trying to do something good when he sees all the bad around him.
 
 

 
 
Reading

Walden, the Penguin Classics edition – they are timeless. Because Henry David Thoreau’s classic is the original book about abandoning our “lives of quiet desperation” and getting back to nature.
 
Archive interviews from the pages of Sight and Sound. Why the archive interviews? Because I really don’t care if a great film from the 1970s or 1940s doesn’t fit into the present day schools of thought. Reinterpreting a film for modern audiences is simply a nonsense, it misses what cinema is all about.
 
 
Listening

The Sarah Schill podcast. The episode with Elettra Wiedemann is the first one Sarah has done in English so far and one of my favourites. How did the model become a farmer? I find great inspiration in Elettra’s life journey, in her down-to-earthiness, authenticity, positive energy and her constant drive to remain curious and to evolve, as a person, as a mother, as part of a community and of this world we call our home. Sarah Schill asks the right questions and their conversation flows effortlessly through different aspects of life, motherhood, professional choices, family roots and fame.

Mott The Hoople, All the Young Dudes. Billy Idol is talking about them in his autobiography and I have been catching up.

Flogging Molly, Swagger. That sound!

The Editors. Every single album! Because three years after I first saw them in concert, they are touring again this summer and I hope I will see them on stage again. Here are the tour dates.
 
 
Making

Slow fashion is unfortunately a term that is starting to be used too generously. Few brands that claim to be part of this way of making fashion stand out for me. She’s Linen is at the forefront. They make clothes, exclusively of linen, beautiful clothes meant to ease into the wearer’s way of life. But She’s Linen is about more than clothes. It’s about life choices, simplicity, moderation, connection to nature, mindfulness. The future, not just the future of fashion, looks inspiring when I think of She’s Linen.
 
 
Exploring

The red clay court of Rome. I love the understated quality of the Rome tennis tournament (to be held between 8 and 17 May) and its superb location might even surpass Roland Garros.
 
 
The regulars: The interviews, newsletters and podcasts I turn to every week and/or every month because they are that good. Craig Mod’s all three newsletters: Roden, Ridgeline, and Huh. Wes Del Val’s book-ish interviews. Soundtracking, with Edith Bowman. Team Deakins, with Roger and James Deakins. Alicia Kennedy’s newsletter. The Racquet magazine newsletter. The Adventure Podcast: Terra Incognita. The print magazines Monocle and Sirene.
 


 

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Colour and Costume: Jane Fonda in The Morning After

Jane Fonda in ”The Morning After”, 1986 | American Filmworks. Lorimar Productions

 

The 1980s. The most underrated decade in terms of style and music and film is one of my favourites. The decade of power dressing but also the decade of the make-it-in-the-garage aesthetic. The decade that was less secure in taste but also the decade of unabashedly expressivity. The decade of excess but also the decade that didn’t try so much to force something that’s different into being the same. The decade of commercial greed and conspicuous wealth but also the decade of a riotous energy in the streets. It was the decade for everybody. A creative free-for-all. Everything was entirely possible and there were no constraints, no boundaries. There was a desire to express things independently and as freely as possible. As part of Generation X, I wouldn’t have it any other way.

The neo-noir films of the 1980s give me a particular thrill about the decade. There are the highly acclaimed, naturally, like Blade Runner, but I am equally drawn to the more under-the-radar ones like Against All Odds and Angel Heart, or To Live and Die in L.A. Sidney Lumet’s The Morning After falls into that same category. The only picture that Lumet shot in Hollywood was also one he didn’t shoot out of a major studio, but using a pickup crew of technicians. Alex Sternbergen (Jane Fonda), a washed-up actress, wakes up on Thanksgiving morning with a hangover in an apartment she doesn’t recognise and with no recollection of the previous night, and with a dead body in bed next to her. Unable to go to the police, because of a previous conviction, she tries to tie the pieces together, reluctantly turning to an ex-cop, Turner Kendall (Jeff Bridges), for help. Both Fonda and Bridges’ performances are truly great and the relationship forming between them looks very genuine, even though secrets and resentments are part of it. Broken people can mend other broken people.
 
 

Jane Fonda in ”The Morning After”, 1986 | American Filmworks. Lorimar Productions

 
“In The Morning After, we looked for expanses of high colour,” Sidney Lumet wrote in his book, Making Movies. “No colour was excluded, but we wanted one colour to dominate each scene. […] For the title sequence, I found a series of walls, yellow, red, brown, blue, and just had Fonda walking dejectedly past them. Buildings were deep blue, baby pink, any strong colour. Los Angeles can provide an endless supply of that kind of decor.” That, it does, and Sidney Lumet makes great use of it by placing Jane Fonda’s silhouette, dressed in black, in front of them, in one of the opening sequences. “Don’t the 80s now seem naïve and colourful compared to the cool, elegant decade the 90s tried so hard to be?,” Jürgen Müller remarks in his film comments on the 1980s. That’s one of the things I like about the films of the 80s. I also like the atmospheric, colourful density provided by L.A. in The Morning After, interspersed with sunlit vast open spaces. It’s part of the storytelling. Because form follows function. Sidney Lumet wanted to use primary colours because “living in Los Angeles was part of the debilitating influence on the character played by Jane Fonda. I wanted all colour exaggerated: reds redder, blues bluer. We used filters.”
 

Jane Fonda and Jeff Bridges in ”The Morning After”, 1986 | American Filmworks. Lorimar Productions

 
Los Angeles is known, and is known in movies, for its light and you really get that feeling when Jane Fonda steps out in the blinding light, shot from above, pinned on the canvas of a bright red building. She looks trapped in that strong, harsh, anti-glamour light. And she looks small passing by those endless colourful walls Sidney Lumet was mentioning. They look threatening and that’s the idea. “Blue or red may mean totally different things to you and me. But as long as my interpretation of a colour is persistent, eventually you’ll become aware (subconsciously, I hope) of how I’m using that colour and what I’m using it for.” The opening titles are neon blue.
 

Jane Fonda in ”The Morning After”, 1986 | American Filmworks. Lorimar Productions

 
Jane Fonda’s costumes are not however colourful excess (another trademark of the 80s), except for an emerald green trouser suit – beautifully paired with a silk white blouse and heels – which however does not belong to her but to her drag queen friend she has to turn to find something to wear when running from the police. It’s the only “outfit” she wears. Her wardrobe is built around tops and bottoms, a 1980s concept very much built on the idea of a man’s wardrobe: wrap skirts, sharp-shouldered, loose-fit jackets. Smart, free, outgoing, but subdued nonetheless. It’s 1980s alright, but it’s like a breath of fresh air in the overheated atmosphere of Los Angeles. I have always thought that Jane Fonda fit right in the 1980s, because of her modern elegance appeal, but most of all because of her attitude, independent and free thinking, and because she always had the authenticity of an actor completely in control of her art.
 

Jane Fonda in ”The Morning After”, 1986 | American Filmworks. Lorimar Productions

 
 

MORE STORIES

Renaissance woman and dance hall days in the alienated city:
The costumes of To Live and Die in L.A.

Dressed to fit the monochromatic look and distressed reality of a 1955 noir:
Mickey Rourke in Angel Heart

The individualistic minimalism of the 1980s: Kim Basinger in Nine 1/2 Weeks

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Read Instead…in Print


 
A photo of a good book about cinema. No discursive, pretentious analyses, no verbose scrutiny. Because the idea is to invite you to read the book, not read about it here. But instead of using social media, I use my journal. Back to basics. Take it as a wish to break free of over-reliance on social media (even if it’s just for posting a photo of a good book) for presenting my work, cultural finds and interests. These are things to be enjoyed as stand-alone pieces in a more substantial and meaningful way than showing them in the black hole of Instagram thronged with an audience with a short attention span. This is also a look through my voluminous collection of books about film that I use as research in my adamant decision to rely less and less on the online and more on more on print materials.

Read instead…in print #11

“Beautiful journalism”, John Huston said about Picture. No stylistic flourishing, no gratuitous metaphors, no speculation or gossip, just clarity and simplicity, a probing insight into filmmaking. Reading Picture, first published in 1952, has reminded me about what real journalism is about. Integrity. Objectivity. Responsibility. Power of observation. Respect for the privacy of your subjects.

Lillian Ross’ reporting of the making of John Huston’s The Red Badge of Courage is one of the most authentic and accurate documentations of how a movie is made, of how the big studio Hollywood mechanisms work and how an original, artistic film and a director’s uncompromising vision can be slashed into a whole different thing when the studio heads and producers step in and cut down by a third a film. The studio heads who think that you have to tell people what the movie is about because they can not think by themselves. The studio heads who disconsider any other kind of movie made outside Hollywood because they say those films want to harm the heart-warming, sentimental Hollywood motion-picture business. The producers who disturbingly admit that once the director is through, they can usually do whatever they want with a picture.

One of my favourite parts in the book were the John Huston passages. Every mention of his name has the capacity of revealing something from the character of this magnetic, bigger-than-life man, great director and talented artist, and to make the reader part of the moment. His wit, his humour, his ego, his search for simplicity and truth, his appetite for life and art. As Anjelica Huston says in the introduction to Ross’ book, “in the country recently, my husband, Robert Graham, and I were reading Picture aloud to each other. We were laughing and having a lot of fun when suddenly I realised that reading this book was like being in the same room with my father again.”

But what I believe Lillian Ross captured first and foremost, and so well and effortlessly, was that rare quality that John Huston had for looking at and making art with enthusiasm and curiosity but without intellectualisation. She was able to capture the essence of the artist, with his many facets, just by reporting the facts. That’s a rare quality, too.
 
 

MORE STORIES

Read instead…in print: Once Upon a Time in the West: Shooting a Masterpiece

The Lost Daughter: In conversation with costume designer Edward K. Gibbon

Read instead…in print: The Birds

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Leaving Space for the Reader’s Imagination: Interview with Marianne Dubuc

”Le lion et l’oiseau” (“The Lion and the Bird”). Marianne Dubuc

 
If we had the courage to trust our imagination, to leave things unexplained, to find our own answers, to accept the mystery of not knowing everything, to constantly look for something new in the most ordinary of things, to dream in the day time, we could hold on to that sense of curiosity that comes with childhood. Growing up narrows the stretch of our imagination. Children’s books are what can keep it alive. I feel I can never praise enough children’s books writers and illustrators. They are the keepers of our children’s imagination, and, if we are willing to allow it, if we haven’t forgotten to be children ourselves, of our own imagination as well. The books of Marianne Dubuc not only leave room for the readers’ imagination, they play with making the stories their own.

We have several of Marianne’s books in our home, but there is one I always come back to. Le lion et l’oiseau (The Lion and the Bird) is a story that comes alive through images. It is a moving, hopeful and truthful at the same time, story about friendship and family and about the fact that we may be forced to or faced with having to part with our friends or dear ones at some point in our lives. It is a powerful and meaningful tale not because it unwraps big truths about life itself, but because of its gentle manner – through the minimalist style of drawing and cheerful yet calming pencil work, through the scarcity of words, through the author’s psychological sensitivity – it addresses a delicate issue in anyone’s life, especially a child’s. Its genteel power allows children to stand up a little adversity. Its greatest beauty is that it says so much through images and even through the absence of images, allowing the reader not only to follow the characters so naturally but to follow their own thoughts, too, weaving in and out of the story.

Born in Quebec, Marianne Dubuc has developed her natural love of art and drawing since childhood and after studying Graphic Design, in 2006 she began her career in children’s literature and illustration. Her books have been translated into more than 30 languages and among her many awards, she is the recipient of the Governor General’s Award of Canada for Le lion et l’oiseau, in 2014, and for Le chemin de la montagne (Up The Mountain Path), in 2018, and the recipient of the TD Prize for Children’s Literature for L’autobus (The Bus), in 2015, and for Le chemin de la montagne. But beyond the international recognition of her work, the most important thing remains the connection she forms with the reader through her stories. Reading her books feels like she’s not just telling a story she has crafted, but that she’s constantly at play with the reader. Is there a greater joy for a young reader than hopping on the train of imagination and being a player in a game of words and pictures?

In our interview, Marianne and I talk about the underrated beauty of wordless picture books, how cultural differences impact books, her endless freedom of creativity as a child and why animals make for better characters than humans.
 

”Le lion et l’oiseau” (“The Lion and the Bird”). Marianne Dubuc

 

Your book, La mer (The Sea), is a wordless picture book that follows a cat and a winged fish on a long adventure. Are you usually reluctant in attaching words to your stories?

I wouldn’t say I am “reluctant”, but I do prefer to tell stories in images rather than with words. Wordless picture books are my favourite, although the only completely wordless book I ever wrote was La mer. In books like The Lion and the Bird (Le lion et l’oiseau), or Up the Moutain Path (Le chemin de la montagne), and my recent Bear and the Whisper of the Wind (Ours et le murmure du vent), you can see that I don’t explain everything, I leave a lot of space to the reader so they can interpret the story as they wish. This is something that is very important to me when I tell a story.
 
 
The Lion and the Bird is a favourite in our home. It has words, but not too many. I am particularly fond of this kind of picture books because it allows the readers’, and especially children’s, imagination enter the world in the book very freely. And I think that is a great approach to children’s books, because it gives children the chance to navigate their own feelings and emotions. Many times, those wordless pages are the most fascinating. Your book puts faith in the readers and I think this is the greatest gift for a child. Is that why you say it is important to you that the reader finds his own way in your storytelling?

I have always agreed with the idea that we should have faith in the children’s ability to understand a lot more than we adults might think. And I might add that adults sometimes lose the confidence to interpret art on their own. They wait for the artist (or some art expert) to explain what they should see/here/think/feel in front of a piece of art. In children’s books, adults will often be insecure when confronted with a worldless picture book (they are harder to sell, according to marketing experts). I like to challenge them and hope they discover that they, too, just like their 2-year-old, can use their imagination and create stories. It is something children do spontaneously (if given the space and time to do it), and as we grow up, sadly, we lose that.

In The Lion and the Bird, it all happened a bit by accident. As I wrote this story, I decided to try something new. (This being said, it was only my third book, so I didn’t have much experience anyway… I could add that I have always tried to experiment with format and storytelling with every book I have written). I wrote a summary of the story, and then drew the whole book from beginning to end. Once the illustrations were made, I added as little text as possible in order for the images to tell the story on their own, and for the words to sort of complete the sentences and guide the reader. I had NO idea how this would turn out. It was only when I got the printed book in my hands and read it for the first time that I realised something was happening. I discovered that by saying just a little bit, and giving the space to the reader to fill in the blanks, I wrote a book that could become very personal for everyone, in their own special way. Some migrants say they identified to Lion and Bird because they had to leave a place/family and didn’t know when they would go back. Some grandparents tell me about their grandchildren spending the summer vacations with them and how when fall comes they have to part again… They are all very different stories and although some have more dramatic and sad stories to fill in the blanks, I feel that each and everyone’s story is important and deserves to be allowed to exist.

The Lion and The Bird made me realise what not explaining everything could bring to storytelling, and I have used this in many of my books from then on. For the reasons explained above, but I also think it fits my personality. I really don’t like to be in a position where I tell people what to do. I prefer to help and see where it will lead them.

Other books, like Le chemin de la montagne and Ours et le murmure du vent also, have this unexplained, open to interpretation characteristic, but in their own way.
 

”Le lion et l’oiseau” (“The Lion and the Bird”). Marianne Dubuc

 

When we reach the complete blank pages in the book, my son and I always go: “Wow, so much snow!” Did that idea occur to you from the very beginning, as the story progressed?

As I said earlier, I wrote the whole book in images. I had to tell the story using the illustrations rather then words. I wanted to say that time went by with Bird and Lion being happy together throughout the winter, so I naturally put in blank pages to express time passing, and season changing. I didn’t see it as something special and was surprised by how people always mention these blank pages when talking about the book (although, now that I am out of the creation process and time has passed, I do understand why this is an odd thing that we don’t often see in books). I guess you have the UK version (Book Island)? Because in the US version (Enchanted Lion) there are no entirely blank pages, the publisher asked that we put a bit of the Lion’s house in their edition.
 
 
I mentioned the blank pages not because I found that surprising, quite the contrary, I found it very natural, but because of that very reason you mentioned, that you don’t see it often in books – and proof of that is the US edition of the book. I somehow likened the experience with those moments in Miyazaki’s films when nothing seems to happen but which give both the characters and viewers the respite to just be present, and register the time passing.

I am flattered that you would make a comparison with Miyazaki… His work is much loved in our household (smiles).
 

”Ours et le murmure du vent” (“The Bear and the Whisper of the Wind”). Marianne Dubuc

 

Even with The Bear and the Whisper of the Wind, I like to just follow the leaf and the whisper of the wind to walk me through the story as they guide the bear, leaving the words out. I love it. I love how your books make the reader pay attention to details visually.

Interesting… I had never read this book without the text. I just did. It works very well! Thank you so much for this! (smiles) You just gave me a little bit of self confidence (I have been struggling a lot with the pandemic and everything going on). Writing is hard at the moment, and you just showed me that what I tried to do with Ours et le murmure du vent works without words. A way of storytelling that I particularly love. So I guess the way I write my books makes sense, after all. (smiles) I might seem a bit cryptic, it is hard to explain. It is very interesting to discover a side of our own work we had not seen. We feel like we know our books so well, and you just showed me a part of the book I had not thought of.
 
 
 

”I think that the fact that I don’t explain everything
gives a lot of space to the reader. Leaving the reader the choice
is very important to me, especially when writing for children and
talking about delicate subjects.”

 
 
 
I am glad I did. Your drawing seems so effortless. I love your sense of body language, and now I go back to The Lion and the Bird, the incredibly subtle differences in the way you draw the lion, his posture (when he sits at the table, when he sleeps, when he sits in the armchair is different when he spends the winter with the bird than when he is alone). How much hand-drawing does your illustration style involve?

I do everything by hand. I might use the iPad to do sketches because it saves time as I build the book. But the actual illustrations are made with watercolour, coloured pencil and pencil. I did make a very few books (2) on the iPad, but really prefer doing it by hand. I like to have a paper original in the end, and I really love drawing and don’t have the same relation to computer images.
 
 
When did you know you wanted to write children’s books?

Drawing and images of all kinds have always been a passion of mine. Since I was a little girl my favourite hobby has been to draw and craft things. There even is a video of the 10-year-old me answering the question “What do you want to do when you grow up”. You can see it here. I remember not really knowing what to answer, being aware that I was only a child and couldn’t possibly know what I would do as an adult… I simply answered what I loved to do at the time (smiles).
 

”La mer” (“The Sea”). Marianne Dubuc

 

What was your favourite book as a child, the book that sparked your imagination or spoke to you more than any other?

There are many. My father gave me a huge edition of Les fables de La Fontaine with Gustave Dore’s wood engravings. I have always liked stories with animals, La Fontaine and Oedipe’s Fables being very present in my childhood (in a book, but also on television, in front of which I spent a lot of time). Later I loved Edward Gorey’s universe and drawings. I also remember reading Le prince de Motordu by Pef for the first time, and discovering the joy of playing with words. I don’t think it exists in English, because it would be complicated to translate, the concept of the book being that the author keeps changing words like a hat (“chapeau” in French) becoming a castle (“château” in French).

I also loved the illustrations of Gerda Muller (I still do) in her books at Père Castor, especially in Les bons amis. I also have fond memories of listening to Peter and The Wolf and turning the pages of the read along book. These two inspirations I discovered (and read over and over again) at my grandmother’s house.
 
 
So many great classics. I agree about Le prince de Motordu, it wouldn’t be the same in English. If only we could read every book in its original language. Your books have been translated in other languages. Does that affect in any way how you write a story?

Growing up in French I knew nothing of Dr Seuss. I am sure I would have loved his books as a child. When our kids were young, I tried translating his books “live” for them. It was a real nightmare, but did make for fun spontaneous, quirky sentences. (smiles) I am indeed very lucky to see my work translated in so many languages. People sometimes ask why it is so. I think that the fact that I don’t explain everything gives a lot of space to the reader, and that this can be applied in many cultures differently. Maybe this explains a bit…

At the beginning of my career, it didn’t affect me at all, because I didn’t think that my books would be translated. But my second book being the first to have been translated, I quickly learned all the different ways a book and its text can be perceived differently from one culture to the next. I have been lucky that my publishers left me a lot of freedom to do the books I wanted the way I wanted to, and didn’t pressure me to change things so it would sell better on the international market. So, although I was conscious of the particularity of some markets, I didn’t change the way I wrote my books.

I do learn with every knew book that in some countries they don’t understand a concept, don’t have a certain cultural reference (Little Red Riding Hood is an example), don’t like a certain type of animal, etc. One example is the blank pages in The Lion and the Bird, where the publisher mentioned that the US market wasn’t the same as Quebec’s or France’s. I also realised that, in English, most children’s books are written in the past tense. In French it is not so, we have both past and present depending on the book. For Le chemin de la montagne, the verb tense was really important to me in the way the story would be read. I will explain: Mrs Badger is very old in the book. The first sentence of the book is “Mrs Badger is very old…” In the story, as time passes, Mrs Badger at some point is not with Lulu, the little cat, anymore. I don’t say she has died, I just mention that she is tired and cannot join Lulu in his mountain hikes anymore. I wanted the readers, especially the young ones, to decide if they were ready to have Mrs Badger die, or if they would rather have her simply be too tired… Leaving the reader the choice is very important to me, especially when writing for children and talking about delicate subjects. I had never noticed this before, and never thought about how the verb tense could have an impact on the reader’s interpretation of the story.

There have been many other changes that I was asked to make in my books. Sometimes I agree if I think it respects my book’s original idea. Sometimes I refuse. I find it funny, interesting, and sometimes annoying. But I don’t change my stories because it is important to me to be honest about my work and do the books I would personally like as a child, or as a parent.
 
 
I think that honesty and integrity shows in your books. And I have to say that I love your choice of characters. I have always loved stories with animals. And I also find that children usually respond better to animal characters than human characters. Do animals make better characters than humans? How do you choose your characters for each story?

First, I really prefer to draw animals to humans. I find myself to be better at drawing a cat than a little girl. I also grew up in the 1980’s, in Quebec, where the children tv shows were almost all filled with animal characters (The Three Musketeers were dogs, Around the World in 80 Days were felines, to name a few… But I assure you that when I look back, it is very impressive to realise how A LOT of tv shows – and as I said before I watched a lot of tv! – had animal characters). I also loved La Fontaine and Oedipe’s fables. So I think that my imagination has been filled with these animal characters and that when I tell a story they naturally come to mind.

And, of course, it is useful to have animals instead of humans as characters. First, it is easier to have more readers identify with a cat than with a white skinned little girl. The freedom of interpretation that is so important to me can be helped with animal characters, since they give a broader answer to culture, gender identity, etc. Secondly, parents will sometimes be hesitant to buy a book with a girl character to their son. When the character is a cat, it is more gender/cultural fluid. Children usually don’t mind as much as adults, it is a social thing I guess, although our daughter always asked me to change the character’s name to a girl’s name because to her it was very important to identify… Our son didn’t mind at all… We are all different readers!

And as for the choice of the character, I do as you would… I try to see in my head what it would look like. And I draw, draw, draw until it appears in my sketchbook. I do draw the character early in the process so I know what he looks like, and it helps me tell the story.
 

”La mer” (“The Sea”). Marianne Dubuc

 

Do you have a work routine, do you constantly write ideas in a notebook and draw in your sketchbook?

Ha! I envy those artists I see on Instagram who have sketchbooks filled with doodles and drawings. The truth is, I don’t have time to draw, unless I am working on a book. My work routine is trying to find time and space to work on my books at the same time I take care of my children and the dishes and the laundry…

I do have notebooks in which I write my ideas, work on my stories, etc. I like to write everything that comes to mind in my notebooks, and see how a story will come to be. And the places I find it easier to concentrate and create are usually parks and the library. At home, there are too many distractions.

I do like to draw for fun with my two children and my husband. One thing we love to do is a collective drawing following each other’s ideas. Someone says “draw a duck”, and we all have to draw a duck on our sheet of paper. Then we pass the paper to the person next to us, and someone says “draw a banana”, and we all add a banana to the drawing. And so on until we find the drawings are full. This way we end up with 4 collective drawings. We laugh a lot and it is great for encouraging our creativity.
 
 
What is paramount that parents do to encourage their children’s creativity and to nurture their spontaneous and imaginative spirit for as long as possible?

I don’t think I have the answer to this question, I wouldn’t pose myself as an expert. But if I think about MY creativity and the way MY parents did foster my self confidence and imagination, I would say that they made sure to tell me every chance they got that I was soooo creative, original, etc. I knew if I showed a drawing to my mother, she would always praise me and tell me I was great. In a way, she convinced me throughout the years that I, indeed, was a creative person. I don’t know what psychologists would say about this, but it worked for me.

And, of course, showing and reading books and all kinds of creative things is important too.
 
 

”La mer” (“The Sea”). Marianne Dubuc

 
Other than the books and tv shows you have mentioned, what other source of inspiration has been important for your work?

Oh! I feel I put to much emphasis on the tv shows… haha! You have to keep in mind that in the 1980’s-90’s there weren’t as many tv shows for children as there are now. I couldn’t, the way children nowadays can do, spend 2 hours straight in front of the tv, there wasn’t enough in the programme.

One thing I LOVED, and have fond memories of, is when my mother would take me out at night to have supper or in an adult outing (being an only child I often spent my evenings with my parents and their friends, in restaurants or cafes), and we would walk in more touristic areas of the city, and we would come upon street artists (caricaturists, painters, etc.). I LOVED watching the images come to life. My mother jokes that she could leave me there for hours. I didn’t move an inch, I was so impressed.
 
 
I know what you are saying about the tv shows from the 80s and 90s. I grew up in the 80s, too, and the shows that were on tv were few, but so creative, and the kind that managed to tap into children’s universe I guess, not at all a bad influence or noisy information as tv has become in the meantime.

Hehe! I just thought I had mentioned tv a lot. But you are right, I do feel that the choices we had for tv shows when we were young were more interesting in general (I am sure there are great tv shows nowadays, too, there are just too many to figure it all out). One of my favourite shows was called Parcelle de soleil (Pieces of sun, I guess), where this artist, Claude Lafortune, would create stories with paper and scissors, cutting the cardboard as he told the story. I am not the only artist in Quebec to have been inspired by his tv show as a kid.

I also loved Paddington, the old version, which was also in paper. I think he is the reason I like orange marmelade (I actually try to like it because of Paddington!). It is really the visual style of the tv shows that was fascinating to me. I loved Colargol for the colours. I loved Le petit écho de la forêt, also in paper.
 

”Le chemin de la montagne” (“Up the Mountain Path”). Marianne Dubuc

 

Can you share a piece of advice from your early years that might be helpful to other writers, illustrators or creatives?

Hmmm… I always find this question a hard one. I don’t see myself as a wise advice giving person. But I guess one thing I could say I do, and might be a good way of doing this work is: do it with honesty and with your heart. It is very important to me that the 5-year-old Marianne would have loved the book I am making.
 
 
In this time and age, what do you wish people appreciated more?

In children’s books? I would say wordless picture books (smiles).
In life in general? This is too big a question to answer in these times of pandemic, climate change, Ukraine war, etc… I guess appreciate life’s little pleasures, because they can be taken away anytime.
 
 
Is there anything new you are working on at the moment, if you are at liberty to say?

I have been having a very hard time writing and creating books in the past two years because of the pandemic. I lack creative space, and I know I am not the only one. I have been working on a new book that will actually be a comic book. It is a new way of storytelling, and I like to explore it.
 
 
Oh, a comic book sounds interesting. Our son is discovering Tintin and he is fascinated.

Ah! The joys of Tintin. Our kids are more into mangas, they have read so many. (smiles)
 
 
Thank you, Marianne, for this wonderful talk and incursion into your universe.
 
 

Website: mariannedubuc.com | Instagram: @marianne_dubuc

 
 

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