Going to Print: Weeding by Geneviève Lebleu

Sep 30, 2019 by

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Image credit: Chloë Baril-Chassé

Time for another deal announcement! We’re absolutely thrilled to announce that in the Fall of 2020, Conundrum Press will publish the debut graphic novel of celebrated Montreal artist Geneviève Lebleu.

Described as a cross between The X-Files and The Young and the Restless, Lebleu’s Weeding begins on a typical autumn afternoon, when a woman named Martha hosts a few guests at her suburban home. The day takes a sudden turn when an estranged friend turns up unexpectedly, followed by Martha’s sister, who shows up after years of radio silence. The guest list changes again when Martha mysteriously disappears–and her fate rests on the group’s ability to see past their own problems long enough to search for her.

A satirical portrayal of feminine archetypes in the social landscape of the 60’s, Weeding is inspired by soap operas that use unexplained disappearances and repetitive character reanimations to liven up otherwise uneventful plot lines. As a verb, “weeding” means “to remove an inferior or unwanted component of a group or collection.” In this upcoming graphic novel, Geneviève Lebleu takes this definition to the extreme with a fable about social exclusion in a world where women turn against one another.

 

4 Questions with Geneviève Lebleu

1. When you created Martha, Beth, and Maureen, you were exploring feminine archetypes against a 60’s backdrop. Which character was the hardest for you to tap into? Why?

Since Weeding is a twist on the soap opera genre, exploring the most common female archetypes kind of came naturally. I wrote the characters of Beth, Maureen and Martha based on some of the most common female archetypes in literature: the Bitch, the
Mother and the Sage. Beth was the Bitch, Martha the Mother and Maureen the Sage.

From that perspective, I would say that I feel much closer to Beth. I think she makes it evident that she is uncomfortable or doesn’t identify with the female stereotypes of her time, which is a position that resonates with me very strongly. She follows her own logic and set of values and doesn’t really care what other people think. It’s not that she is unkind or anything, but she will stand up for what’s best for her and her friends, even if it means experiencing disapproval.

Martha was quite easy to tap into since she reminds a lot of my own mother—she is selfless, gentle and caring. Martha’s character is influential and quickly becomes the martyr of the story. The mother is a stereotype that most people are familiar with, so it was easy to imagine what she would become.

Maureen is that chaotic evil presence that pops out of nowhere; we’re not quite sure what her motives are until much further in the book. She was the most difficult to write. I think it was because I wasn’t comfortable with what she represented. I find archetypes to be kind of sexist sometimes. I struggled to keep her character nuanced while also playing with generic dialogue and clichés. Maureen is kind of a classic fairy tale archetype: a charismatic, witchy woman who has a thirst for power and will bring down other women in order to gain it.

Later in the story, the nature of her behaviour and trauma are explained. I think that internalized misogyny and women being in competition is a reality that we all experience, but are uncomfortable talking about. We assume that women who act like this are pure evil when they are often trying to protect themselves. Not depicting Maureen as the evil bitch would have been hard since I’m working around a genre based on stereotypes. But I could at least explain the origin of her evil nature.

2. When you make a new comic, does drawing or writing come first? What’s your favourite part of the process?

It is much easier for me to draw without the anxiety of achieving some kind of result, that is why most of my stories are inspired by my sketchbook drawings. They are looser and I’m usually trying to have fun and experiment with different mediums. I often go back to my older sketchbooks if I have a creative block. It keeps me focused on my progress and reminds me of the recurrent themes in my work.

What I usually do is look through my sketchbook for a character that I find interesting, and ask myself about their personality, motives, and environment. Coming from a visual art background, the visuals definitely come first. I start the story from there and draw a few pages. I often don’t know what the conclusion will be, or even the denouement. This process allow me to work organically and intuitively, otherwise I feel trapped. I like having the liberty of changing the story at any moment.

The way I wrote Weeding was a bit different. At first, I had no intention of making a book out of it. Since I only started making comics two years ago, it was meant as an exercise to get better and faster. I would draw a page every day and post it on social media. At that point I had no idea what the characters would be. I only knew that the story was taking place in the suburbs and that there was a garden, haha.

3. Magic realism allows a certain amount of flexibility and freedom, but balancing realism with fantasy also comes with challenges. For you, what’s the toughest part?

Writing the story was definitely easier than drawing it. Weeding is a mix of two antagonistic genres: science-fiction and soap opera. I am not a writer so I don’t know if writing the story in a book format would be easier, but I can definitely say that visually, the transition between both genres is really hard to render smoothly. I had to draw my characters in a way that’s familiar and generic and reminiscent of a soap opera, but the denouement is fantastical and therefore stylistically opposed.

I think there is going to be an interesting switch in my drawing style later in the story and I am quite excited (but also stressed haha) to see what it’s going to look like. Also, my practice as a visual artist is very inspired by fantasy and science-fiction so that means I don’t usually draw humans, and certainly not in a realistic way! That was quite a challenge to me at first.

4. You describe Weeding as “The X-Files Meet The Young and the Restless,” and we think that’s pretty accurate. If, for one year, you could only watch The X-Files or Y&R, which one would you choose and why?

The X-Files for sure, even though I am quite attached to The Young and The Restless! I quite like the characters in The X-Files. Dana Scully, the main female protagonist, is also the most rational character whereas her partner, Fox Mulder, is the one who believes in the supernatural. I find this dynamic interesting because women are usually depicted as intuitive and prone to believing in the magical and esotericism.

Also, even if it is science fiction, it is still a drama with elements of romance (there is a sexual tension between Mulder and Scully) thrown into the mix, so I wouldn’t say it’s very far from working as a sitcom or a soap opera! I also have a taste for bad special effects. Sci-fi TV shows of the late 90’s and early 2000’s are the best because they are a mix between teenage rom-coms, drama and science-fiction. Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Charmed were my favourite TV shows as a teenager.

Watching Y&R is too much commitment since it’s an hour-long episode every day. And truth be told, there is very little going on most of the time. I think I am attached to the idea of it being a tradition passed down from my grandmother. I could watch all of Almodovar’s films though! He is one of my favourite filmmakers and I find that his movies have a telenovela quality that
did inspire me for my story as well.

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