Willy Linthout Survives the Year of the Elephant (3/3)

- Part 3 -
And so we have reached the end of our conversation with Willy Linthout. After tackling the emotional resonance of the death of his son, the subsequent creation of a graphic novel about dealing with that event and selling his tale on the American market, we now chat about comics in general.

Broken Frontier: You're also a great comic collector of not only European comics but also graphic novels and American comics.
Willy Linthout: I prefer to be called a comic reader, I'm not a comic collector. I do have an attic full of comics but I have reached the point of over saturation. Every six months, I throw out about twenty boxes of comics. I don't keep it all for myself anymore, I would need another house for stockage if I wanted to do that. To me, it's all about the act of reading. I do have some stuff I don't get rid off like a complete run of Jack Cole Plastic Man comics; I'm a big fan of those. If I liked the Archive editions from DC Comics I would've bought that version too but I think the reprints are bad.

What do you think is the main difference in approach between European and American comics?
I find the latest offerings from DC Comics and Marvel to be very bad. They're milking the storylines for all they're worth. Death seems irrelevant and they're just playing with their readers, like Captain America for instance or Batman R.I.P. You need to have a complete checklist of different series to follow just one storyline, I don't find that very forthcoming. I guess I'll just have to buy the trade paperback then. Anyway, those are developments I really don't like.
On that level, I find European comics to be less aggressive. Another example: they also don't publish multiple covers for more sales. That's just too aggressive to me and gives me a plain bad feeling. On the other hand, a large part of the French comics scene is just boring. It doesn't interest me. I try new French stuff on a regular basis and I usually walk away disappointed, it's not often I find a pearl among the swine, so to speak. The volume of what's being published seems bigger in the States too, that's also why I buy more American than European comics.
Stuff I like from the comics field is Scalped from Jason Aaron, I love that series; Repo from Rob G, great stuff and a lot of what Grant Morrison does; he comes up with stuff that the Europeans don't even think about. Casanova is another sublime comic. The Americans seem to be a step ahead in that department. But I don't like the format of comics, those flimsy little books. In the long run, I think I will only buy trade paperbacks and graphic novels.

The big difference to me would be in the way they tell their stories. The American approach contains far more energy and action while European comics are much more static in their approach and layouts. I don't get the feeling they go all out. I miss a manic sort of energy during the reading process.
I also think that the approach to telling a story in comics should be a bit wacky. Repo has a bit of that. Comics should have a cartoon-like quality. The French comic industry takes itself way too seriously. They consider themselves big artists but once you adopt that attitude, it's the beginning of the end. I also think that they put a lot of those comics out in a hardback edition simply because they have that tradition. A lot of that material isn't worth the packaging though.

The format on the other hand is something I really like in the European industry. All those tiny comics with those great artists in the States ... I mean, Paul Pope still working on that small pulp format sometimes really gets my goat.
But what Paul Pope did was self publish all those big weird formats. It used to be a lot of reading material. I like that, Paul Pope is very good. I collected Sam Kieth for a while but I grew out of that phase. They're all interesting creators though. There are a lot of interesting artists in the States. In Europe, you have a lot of able artists, very pretty, but they don't interest me. They don't seem to have their own style or they adopt a current trend in their drawings, like Sfar or Blaine. It's always wrong to adopt your style of drawing to a trend. Like people who begin to draw in a manga-style, it's ridiculous. They don't have that cultural background, that's a very specific thing.

Putting your drawings in an American frame of reference, there seems to be a definite underground seventies feel to them. Do you draw inspiration from the other side of the ocean's creative output?
I don't know if I'm influenced by that stuff but Urbanus does resemble the Freak Brothers a bit. I did study a lot of artists, especially Sheldon [Gilbert Sheldon, creator/artist of the Freak Brothers] and Crumb but my one big weakness is Richard Corben. He is simply amazing. Corben, to me, is the absolute pinnacle of comic art. I even own a few original pages. Another top artist would be Jordi Bernet who did Torpedo. Those drawings, the atmosphere, is superb.

I would like to thank you very much for this interview, Willy. Best of luck with The Year of the Elephant and any future projects!

Here concludes our Willy Linthout interview. Broken Frontier would like to thank sodacomics.be for laying the foundation and Willy Linthout for his enthusiasm, energy and honesty.
(http://www.brokenfrontier.com 3 Juli 2008)