Nicolas André on making comics and working with No Brow
French illustrator Nicolas André was born in Reims, France and is best known for his screen-prints, comics, pop-up books and paintings.
André is author Beyond the Surface, one of No Brow’s best selling Leporellos, and the stunning screen-printed comic book “Pèlerinages”, published in France by Le Mégot.has also contributed to various international publications, including: XXI, Feuilleton, 24H01, Bayard Press, Alternatives Internationales and Nobrow 7. We asked Nicolas about how he got into comics, working with No Brow and how he goes about doing what he does best.
Tell us about how you got into illustration – What was your entry point into the industry?
I have always have been fond of drawing and the hand craft thing as a kid. I listed “ illustration and comics” as my passion when I was a teenager, and I started to study drawing, technique and theory in Belgium on an illustration course. I followed my illustration studies in Bruxelles, where i stayed in the ESA – St Luc institute for 3 years. Teachers leaded us to I develop our ‘author’ and ‘ creative spirit’ and we got thrown into exploring a lot of different fields, from self-publication, to painting, layouts, typography and screen printing. I also enjoyed meeting a lot of different people and the creative energy of the messy cosmopolitan Belgian capital.
During my last 3rd year, I spent 4 months at Cheltenham University, as an Erasmus exchange, where I pushed my editorial and book work and contacted a few English publishers. Then I enrolled at the Strasbourg Arts Décoratifs school, for an illustration Master.
I dedicated those two years to editorial and press work and to screenprint and comics, in order to create my own books, to be able to spread pictures and stories.
I landed an editorial work placement and visited festivals like Angoulême or Montreuil, and I organised several festivals and exhibitions, live drawing shows and fanzines with my collective. During this period I met a lot of creative people and art collectives that helped me to put a step in the professional picture world. The first commissions I had were editorials, typographic and layout jobs.
How did you develop and conceptualise your first graphic novel?
I’d made my first big graphic novel , “Pèlerinages” with Le Mégot back in January 2013. I met Matthieu Becker and Paul Zehren, Metz’s Megot boys, in Angoulême 2012. We directly had a friendly talk, and I liked their wild, creative and exigent way to publish books, and I supposed they liked my habit to think a book in its entire object – from the story, to colors,and threw binding choice. My “Donkey Toys press” was about silkscreen object book like pop-up, leporellos and comics and narrative zines. After that they proposed me to make a full new comic book, and we chose to deal with a 3 color screen-print format, 30 pages long with a special panel trick on the inside. I put a lot of sketchbook ideas, made on the road and in museums, and mixed them with narrative antics inspired by platform and format games. “Pèlerinages” is born France – drew in Rheims and print and built in Metz ( East of France) by Matthieu and Paul.
What do you enjoy most about working in the comic format? How does the working process vary to other illustration work?
I really like all the different narrative games and story tricks that the comic format allows.
We have already so many clues and knack to express feeling and atmosphere, that comic books seems to be one of the most powerful and free media to tell a story.
Compared to my illustration work where I try to have one strong idea per picture, comics give me the opportunity to play with movement and to express little ideas and a more dynamic graphic style. That’s why I often draw silent stories, to have a full graphic and narrative communion.
What do you think makes a strong, engaging and entertaining comic?
As a reader I think that a good comic should create a strong and engaging graphic universe, with a simple story that suggests the passing of time amongst drawing and narrative. In a comic book I especially look at the way the author invests himself in the whole book. For me it doesn’t have to be in full color, ultra stylized or an avant garde drawing printed as a luxury paper object. A crappy photocopying book or book made of matchboxes could be awesome if the medium is considered within the story.
You’ve published several graphic novels with No Brow, how did you start working with them? What do you like about No Brow as a publisher?
I met Sam and Alex from Nobrow in Angoulême 3 years ago, where I presented my screen print book and illustration fanzines. They invited my to make a picture in the collective issue “NOBROW #7-brave new world”. After that we kept in touch, and we saw each other in London, then we started to think about a leporello book. I drew the first draft of ‘Beyond The Surface’ in February 2013 and the book was finally published in June 2014. I quite like their way of making books; giving attention to the format, paper and general look. I really enjoyed the freedom they gave me, and the way I could work on the layout, typeface and bring the idea of a vertical leporello format together.
Can you give any advice for those looking to try making comics for the first time? What are the main components to creating good comic?
I would advice to put ideas on paper very fast, and not overthink it too much. I realised that most of the time, when I do make a comic, thinking about it, and the way it could look, confuses me, yet from the moment I start to draw, ideas come naturally.
Sticking to a main idea for the whole story is good – don’t try to split it into too many parts. I prefer a 10 page cheap fanzine with simple and good storytelling than a 100 page ‘ graphic novel ‘ that looses it’s way and never finishes. Always start with a small comic book, because if a small story works, a big one is half in the pocket.
Always start with a small comic book, because if a small story works, a big one is half in the pocket.
For the first big narrative sometimes you want to put all your brilliant ideas to make a massive and ultimate story, but its an easy way to get lost. Regularly showing your work to an external reader is of course an obvious fact, but still sound advice.