This May French comics creator Emilie Plateau is travelling to the annual Toronto Comic Arts Festival to promote her work together with Europe Comics. We used this opportunity to ask Emilie a few questions about her career so far and her breakthrough work – a graphic novel adaptation of Tania de Montaigne’s book Noire, la vie méconnue de Claudette Colvin (Colored: The Unsung Life of Claudette Colvin, Europe Comics).
How did you decide to become a cartoonist? And had you not chosen this career, what other profession would you have pursued?
From a very young age, I immersed myself in children’s literature and comics. At school, I loved drawing and telling stories. I attended visual arts and drawing workshops. I copied the comics that I read, I remade entire strips, and redrew the characters that I liked. It was natural for me to decide to go into comics. I studied Fine Arts in Montpellier. Comic books were not well received, as they weren’t considered to be art. I participated in several fanzine collectives outside of school, I also did an internship at an independent comic publishing house, known as 6 pieds sous terre. I had to learn how to balance my classes at school and my desire to become an writer. Had I not gotten into comics, I would have continued to do what I did at school: drawing installations, creating animations. I didn’t see myself following any path other than that of an artist. I have always valued practising my art in parallel to my work as a writer, I regularly create scenes using paper cuttings and I frequently participate in exhibitions.
What’s your biggest influence? Is there a person who inspired you, a role model in your work?
When I was a child, I read the classics: Tintin, Asterix. Then, as a teenager, I discovered other comic book authors, and female ones too! I devoured every comic created by Claire Bretécher and Annie Goetzinger. They were at the time, and remain, my role models. Later, I discovered independent publishers and realised that there were other types of comics as well. I also continued reading children’s books. My two greatest influences are Claire Bretécher and Sempé. I reread their comic books and other books all the time, they never fail to provide a sense of pleasure and awe.
Have you faced challenges as a female artist in an industry that is dominated by men?
At school where I completed my studies, as in the world of comics, in which I currently work, sexism was ever present. Sexism exists across professions. The world of comic books is no different, and as a woman you’re obliged to struggle a lot more.
Tell us a little about Colored? What’s the story behind the book? How did it come about?
Colored was a labour of love. Gilles Rochier, a cartoonist friend of mine, was first contacted by Tania de Montaigne. She told him she wanted to reboot her book as a comic book. Gilles suggested that I readColored: The Unsung Life of Claudette Colvin. Claudette Colvin’s story and the deep injustices she faced made a real impression on me. I also found that Tania’s writing style matched my way of drawing and writing a story: very sharp and powerful. At the time, I had published several autobiographical cartoons (Comme un Plateau and De l’autre côté à Montréal (6 pieds sous terre) and Moi non plus (Misma)) and it was a real challenge for me, not just to tell someone else’s story but also to adapt a story that had already been written. When we met, Tania gave me the freedom to adapt her book as I saw fit. I first did a lot of research. I watched movies, documentaries and hunted down photographs from that era as well as finding out more about the main characters of the story. I also walked around Montgomery using Google maps. I felt the need to immerse myself in that city and in that era. I then wrote the script, drew it and coloured it in. I showed my work to Tania as I progressed. Some passages in the book are very subtle. I needed to know if I had misinterpreted anything or if I had made a mistake in the timeline.
Header image: Colored: The Unsung Life of Claudette Colvin © Emilie Plateau / Dargaud