Smash Pages Q&A: Elsa Charretier

The artist of ‘November’ and ‘Star Wars’ discusses her Kickstarter campaign for her new artbook.

Elsa Charretier seemed to come out nowhere a few years ago when the miniseries The Infinite Loop was released. Since then, she’s drawn Superfreaks, Bitch Planet, Bombshells, Star Wars, Starfire, Harley Quinn and the Unstoppable Wasp, along with co-writing a number of comics, and drawing covers for everything from Archie to Black Panther, Nancy Drew to Domino, Ms. Marvel to Sex Criminals.

Charretier has shown that she has a versatile style and sensibility that shows her equally at home whether telling all-ages adventure tales, adult stories, comedy or action.

Next month Image is publishing November, which she drew and co-created with writer Matt Fraction, but today Charretier has launched a Kickstarter for an artbook that collects a lot of her covers and commissions, and also details her process and provides some insight into the production of November. Just a few hours after launch, the project has already reached its funding goal.

To start, how did you first come to comics?

It’s a ridiculous story. Or a hopeful one. You decide. Six years ago I was a failed actress/waitress, desperate and about as cliché as you can get. My partner, Pierrick, wanted to write comic books, and we met Charlie Adlard at a signing. Pierrick gave Charlie a pitch he had written, saying he had an artist and would love some advice. Always-so-sweet Charlie said, “Let’s email,” but after a couple of months, no answer. Then, the answer came: “I’ll be in France in two weeks, let’s talk in person.” Fantastic, right? Well, no. Pierrick had kind of bluffed to be taken seriously. He had no artist, no pages to show, nothing. And in a spontaneous burst of inspiration-slash-panic that ended up changing both our lives, he asked: “Can you learn how to draw in two weeks?”

That’s how I started drawing. Told you. Ridiculous.

So what is Elsa Charretier: Volume 1?

This artbook is a collection of some of my best pieces commissioned by collectors, comic book covers and detailed process of my storytelling work from November and Star Wars: Dr. Aphra. It’s an in-depth look into my work and process, and I’m hoping this will be an opportunity to understand how I think a page and work as an artist. More generally speaking, the book and by extension the Kickstarter represent a new chapter in my career. I started out doing crowdfunding (with The Infinite Loop) and I’ve never seen it as a way to fund books that couldn’t get otherwise published. To me, it’s a legitimate way of putting out beautiful things and have a close, deep connection with fans. And that’s what I want to get back to.

When you started thinking about this book, what did you know that you wanted to include? What are the pieces in here that you especially love for one reason or another?

That’s an interesting question. Putting art on the internet is one thing, it’s very instantaneous, and very quickly forgotten. Choosing pieces for a book is a much stronger statement: at this point in my career, this is where I am, this is what I can and can’t do yet. Naturally, I choose the pieces I was the proudest of, but also those I felt help understand how I get from A to B.

I’m also putting out a November: Commentary edition, which is a black-and-white version of the first volume, with storytelling thoughts and tips handwritten straight on the pages. The idea emerged after scribbling pages and pages of notes for the November section of the artbook, and I felt it needed its own book. I devour TV shows and movies commentary tracks and am an avid buyer of black-and-white comic book editions. Mixing the two sounded interesting!

You have a lot of commissions and covers included in the book, but as you said, you also wanted to show a little about how you work. How has your process changed over time?

Well, for starters, there’s a lot less freaking out. I would get so anxious at the thought of having to draw a page. I put a huge amount of pressure on myself, and even had a sticky note with things to remember as I sketched – animation rules, like “no lazy lines,” “think shapes,” or “straight vs curve.” As a result, I spent a good portion of my day trying to relax. I’ve pretty much internalized the Post-it by now, so I’m much more relaxed. And with clarity of mind can come inspiration. I’m allowing myself the time to process a problem and come up with an inventive solution. Pinning down how an artist gets there is pretty hard, but that’s what I try to do in this artbook. I dig deep and retrace the steps from an editor’s pitch to a final colored piece – and I show all the terrible layouts I have to get out of my brain to “get there.”

Related to that, I saw you post on social media talking about how your thinking about art has changed more recently. That you’re constantly excited by your work, but also dissatisfied with it. I wonder if you could talk a little about that, because I do think that’s something that a lot of readers or fans don’t always quite get.

I think it’s both a blessing and a curse. I get very excited about starting a new piece or a new page, and that’s what gets me out of bed in the morning. I can’t wait to sit at my table and start figuring things out. There isn’t a right way to draw something. The decisions I make are mine alone and that’s exhilarating. I hate to be told what to do — you can imagine how well I did in an office job. With every piece I think, I hope, that it will finally look like I wish it did. And you know what? It never does! And somehow that”s fine. It’s good enough that I want to keep trying.

You have a new book coming out next month. For people who don’t know, can you say a little about what November is and the challenge of the book?

November is a series of graphic novels Matt Fraction and I have co-created. We tell the story of the lives of three women intersecting in a dark criminal underground, and Matt has written an extremely powerful piece of writing with this book. We embraced the uniqueness of this story and did everything we could to make our lives harder. The colors (Matt Hollingsworth), the hand-lettering (Kurt Ankeny), the design (Rian Hughes), everything has been carefully planned and thought out. I’ve had to figure out how to ink on paper, and how to translate the story’s mad paneling. November has been an incredible journey and I’m glad people finally get to read the first volume.

I saw that you injured your drawing hand recently. Are you okay?

I am better, thank you for asking. Hurting your hand is an artist’s worst fear. So instead of, well, sitting on my hands doing nothing, I decided to do a sketchbook. The sketchbook turned into an artbook that turned into a Kickstarter and here we are.

Just to end, what do people need to know about the campaign?

The November: Commentary edition is a Kickstarter exclusive to you want to make sure to grab that today! I’ve also put a lot of care into the other tiers, and if you’ve been wanting to buy some interior art pages or covers, now’s the time!

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