Under the Surface with Andy Brown

Jan 29, 2018 by

Last summer, Conundrum Press proudly released BDQ: Essays and Interviews on Quebec Comics. A truly unique project, this anthology seeks to chronicle and celebrate the significant contributions that Quebecois artists have made to the world and culture of comics.

Meet editor (and Conundrum publisher) Andy Brown in this exclusive interview.

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Conundrum Press: BDQ aims to record the history and breadth of Quebec comics, in English. What, in particular, made you decide to tackle this project?

Andy Brown: I lived in Montreal for 20 years. The tradition of comics there as an art form, and the vibrant underground, were a revelation to me, having only ever read Tintin, Asterix, and Archie comics.

Over the years, I read a number of anthologies with articles and interviews about Quebec creators, but my French was not good enough to appreciate the content. So, in essence, this book is a selfish enterprise, I had those essays translated so I could read them, knowing I was not the only one who cared. I was one of the only people in a position to do something about it, so I did.

CP: You’ve talked about how the BDANG imprint was created to try and bring national and international awareness to French comics. How can you tell that you’re achieving that goal? What’s changed as result?

AB: Well see above. I wanted to read these comics so I embarked on an entire imprint to get it done. The success of the books comes from their availability throughout the English-speaking world. A number of the titles are among the bestsellers from Conundrum. They sell well to libraries and, in fact, a number of shops in the US order specifically from this imprint because they know they can’t get this work anywhere else.

Also, it is very meaningful to the artists themselves to be able to be read and appreciated in North America, essentially their broader home. They, as much as anyone, want to break out of the Quebec cultural ghetto. I remember first embarking on this imprint after publishing the English version of the Cyclopes anthology. We had a gallery show in Ottawa in connection with the launch. I rented a van and drove a bunch of the artists. One of them asked me, “Have you ever been to Canada before?” It broke my heart.

CP: Do you remember the first Quebecois comic you ever read? What was it?

AB: I remember when I became aware of the Quebec underground scene because it was on a very specific day. I wandered downtown to some club for a comic show called Komikazee, which I’d seen advertised on a poster. I met Helene Brousseau, who was behind a group table. She showed me boxes of minis and publications from a variety of artists. It turns out she worked at a bookstore called Fichtre so I started hanging out there too. But in those boxes were publications like Guillotine, Mr. Swiz, Valium’s giant self-published masterpieces, Mille Putois, Mac Tin Tac… There was some original art on the walls. When I saw the original pages of Richard Suicide’s My Life As a Foot, I was hooked! Many years later I published his book. At Fichtre, I was also exposed to the wealth of comics from France, especially the offerings from L’Association, which was just starting out as a reaction to the traditional “album” culture.

CP: Are any of the essays in BDQ particularly meaningful to you? Which ones and why?

AB: Well of course the one I wrote: “On the Comics of Fish Piss.” But I really like the interviews, especially Valium, and the one with Genvieve Castree was the last one she ever gave, as far as I know. I wish there could have been more… She is missed.

CP: Red Ketchup, one of the comic book series discussed in BDQ, is currently in development as a live action movie. Which scene are you most looking forward to seeing on the big screen?

AB: Well, I love Red Ketchup. James Bond meets Hunter S Thompson. So the whole thing will be a rolllercoaster ride!

CP: BDQ features a bunch of interviews with Quebecois artists, from Jimmy Beaulieu to Zviane. What was the most surprising thing you learned while editing these interviews?

AB: Each interview was interesting. One thing that surprised me was in Jimmy’s interview, about how bad he felt that he wasn’t doing enough. He was really torn with guilt. That he kept getting flack from artists even though he’s done more than anyone for the promotion of others! The article about L’ostie d’chat with Zvaine and Iris was interesting to me because this is a Quebec webcomic phenomenon I’d never heard of, but also because of the fact that there is not even a word for webcomics in French!

CP: Who should pick up a copy of BDQ and why?

AB: Anyone interested in the culture of comics. There is some stuff in there that is more academic and some that is more folksy. Something for everyone! Since the release, I’ve had two comments. One from a prominent American editor, saying it was an important book, and another from one of the French writers in the book who also praised it, saying that nothing like it exists in French!

CP: You live down the road from an excellent crepe restaurant. What’s your “usual”?

AB: Turkey Swiss Melt on buckwheat!

Want to stay down a little longer? Go Under the Surface with David Collier.

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