French cartoonist Boulet is known in comic book circles as one of the leading comic strip bloggers in the Francophone world.
He started his blog in French back in 2004 and its success prompted him to publish an English language version almost a year and a half ago.
Euronews caught up with Boulet (real name Gilles Roussel) at his exhibition/workshop in Lyon, France. For five days he welcomed comic book afficionados and sketched the memories of some of them whose names were chosen out of a hat. The resulting cartoons will be on show in the city’s Le Bocal until April 17.
He found time between scribbling to talk about his work.
Euronews: Your latest book, ‘Notes 5: Quelques minutes avant la fin du monde’ (‘Minutes before the end of the world’) is your blog material in book form. Why the change in format?
“The transfer to paper is a necessity. The blog made my name but it’s the albums from the blog that make me a living. Personally, I see a huge advantage in the transition: it allows new audiences to come to comic books. I have plenty of readers who have gone into comic book shops for the first time since ‘Notes’ came out.
Euronews: Why do you think that has been the case?
Boulet at work
“It’s not really the same kind of reader. I believe that comics, no matter what you might say, remain something of a ‘luxury’ item. To be interested enough to go into a book store and flick through comics isn’t really that mainstream. But on the internet, the viral side of things comes into play. On the blog, I think I’ve got a lot of computer technicians who are just bored at work or students skipping lessons. If one of them likes a sketch, he sends it to a friend, who in turn sends it to 12 friends, who send it on to 24 others. And you end up reaching a huge amount of people. And those readers aren’t necessarily book lovers.”
Euronews: You’ve taken part in the site Les autres gens which offers comic strips for a subscription cost. Does this formula work or are hard copies still the only way for a cartoonist to make a living?
“That’s the whole debate about digital comic strips. I liked the concept put forward by Thomas Cadène, the founder of ‘Les Autres Gens’. He wanted to try another format that would allow this type of comic strip to become viable. But a lot of readers find it scandalous to be asked to pay for comics online, even at just three euros a month. Psychologically it’s a big obstacle to get over. New platforms like tablets are getting a lot of attention in the industry. As it’s natural to buy applications for these platforms, maybe it would seem more normal to pay a subscription to read comics online.”
Euronews: You launched your blog in 2004. Since then the internet has taken on a much more social dimension. Have these changes transformed your way of working?
“Yes, of course! My blog has evolved from the start. In 2004, blogs were half way between a forum and a social network with a kind of ‘tell my life story’ aspect. Small communities of people, writers, graphic designers, photographers started to emerge through the blogs. Some friends of mine who were comic strip writers started blogging and I just followed. There was a very intimate side to it. Out of the 500 readers I had at the time, I think I had probably met about 150 of them in real life. But then as the numbers started to rise, I began to write more fiction.”
Euronews: For a few months now you’ve been using Twitter and facebook. Do these social networks enrich your relationship with your readers?
“It means I get lots of photos of kittens, yes! In fact Twitter feeds my curiosity. I use it to follow the news, to follow other professional cartoonists, doctors, lawyers. I don’t think Twitter changes much for me in terms of my readers. As for facebook, to begin with I used it as a sort of online diary. But I got bored with that and so I started to use it to post old work that had never been published. I also share photos taken by my readers who show my albums being taken all around France and the rest of the world. The relationship with the reader is much more playful. For me anyway.”
Euronews: Your two exhibitions at Le Bocal are interactive. Is that a blogger’s touch or a performer’s touch?
Boulet drew the memories of some of the visitors to the exhibition
“It’s a bit of both. Compared to the job of comic strip creator, I like the direct interaction with readers that the blog allows. It’s so much less suffocating than sitting alone working at home and not knowing whether what you’re doing is worth anything or how people are going to like it.
“For comic strip exhibitions the author and the exhibition organiser choose some sketches, hang them on the wall and then wait and see if they’re going to be sold. Personally that doesn’t really interest me. For the requests, I only have three minutes for each reader, just the time to draw something before they let the next person have their turn. It’s very frustrating for me and for them. They sometimes say they would rather have more time to talk even if it meant not having a sketch.
“So for the two exhibitions I wanted to relive the blog experience and make it possible to meet people. After the 2008 exhibition (at Le Bocal) we gave to each person the cartoon that they had inspired. This year we won’t give people the drawings and neither will we sell them, but the visitors here are still taking part because I am drawing their own personal memories. The people who are drawn out of the hat actively guide me through the sketch because I ask for details as I’m drawing. In the end, these sketches belong to everybody and not only to me.“