The Toronto Comic Arts Festival (TCAF) is just a little more than two weeks away, and we can hardly wait. We’ll be debuting six fantastic new comics, including Weegee: Serial Photographer, the fictional story of a real-life crime photographer who built his career in New York’s Lower East Side, 80 years ago.
In this installment of “Under the Surface,” we talk with artist Max de Radigues, who co-created Weegee with artist Wauter Mannaert.
I was really attracted to him as a character. He really seemed to have two sides to him. In his picture, you can see how much he loves his neighborhood and the people living there, how much he cares for them. But at the same time, he’s using every trick he can to get what he wants out of them, and he shows the worst aspect of the Lower East Side at that time. He’s sweet and funny but at the same time mean and creepy. It really fascinated me. He’s the complete opposite of me and that’s also one of the reason I wanted to try to write about him.
Tell us about your research process. Where did you find most of your information?
I read tons about him. There are a lot of books about him, and he also wrote his own biography. It’s really funny to read about him when you know a lot about him, because you can see that he’s making stuff up or that he’s changing the story to his advantage. In all the books, you find the same anecdotes told in three very different ways. Weegee was building his character and legend and he knew what to say to make people react.
What was hard for me was that at one point, I knew too much. I wanted to talk about everything chronologically, and to be accurate about every fact. It got in the way of writing a good story. So I took some time off the project to let all the information digest and become vaguer, and even then, it still took me several drafts of the script to reach this final one. The story is now a fiction based on facts; most of the things are true but I took some liberties with it.
What was the most surprising thing you learned while you were researching?
It felt like for a period of his life, from the early thirties to the mid-forties, Weegee didn’t sleep at all! It feels like his life was his work, that he was everywhere, covering everything, promoting his work. It’s really impressive to see the energy, passion and confidence he had.
But after, for rest of his life, he did so much less, and his photography becomes goofy. Except for a few things in the movie industry, his career was a bit more than 10 years where he gave everything, and after he was just drained and wanted to enjoy life.
What was it like collaborating with Wauter Mannaert?
Wauter is great to work with. His drawing skills are amazing, he loves to look through documentation, and he’s a really hard worker. We always joke at the studio that he is a printing machine because he stays at his desk and does the work almost like a machine—but a machine with drawings so full of life. I like his mix of realistic and very cartoony drawings.
It was the first time I wrote a script for someone else. Usually I work alone and write with a lot of improv, which was impossible here.
Describe Weegee (the man) in five words or less.
You’ll be at the Toronto Comic Arts Festival in May! Which guest are YOU excited to meet, and why?
I saw that Jillian and Mariko Tamaki will be there. I really loved the last book they did together, This One Summer. It’s really rare for books to get close to the feeling of what it was to be a teenager. And they nailed it! I always recommend that book to everyone who doesn’t know what to read. It’s a masterpiece.
What are you working on next?
My next book in the US will be published by Fantagraphics and is called Bastard. It’ll be release for SPX. It’s pulp/noir/crime story about a kid and his mom on the run from the police and organised crime in the South West of the US.