Interviewing Druillet, part II.

 

roughly translated from the excellent french website bdzoom.com
original interview conducted by Jean Depelley

 

After mentioning his youth in Spain, his readings & the development of his taste for cinema, Druillet told us about his beginnings in drawing & photography. Thanks to his friendship with Jean Boullet, founder of the first specialized comic bookshop in Paris, Le Kiosque, Druillet meets Eric Losfeld who publishes his first album «Le Mystère des Abîmes» (Mystery of the Abyss). But the costs are still prohibitive and the printing very limited... Druillet then looks for another medium : the weekly comics magazine Pilote.

Druillet in 1966, back to back with a young Sloane.

BDZoom : when you joined Pilote, did you already plan to draw comics that’d be both adult and popular ?

Druillet : yes... but it was after 68, I was involved in a lot of things at the time.

BDZoom : Where were you in 1968 ?

Druillet : I was at the Théâtre du Soleil, as a comedian, and I was already drawing parts of my «Elric the Necromancer» with Michel Demuth, I had begun it in 67, just after my album with Losfeld. I was very much involved with this, but I lacked both experience with the medium and the connections in the trade !

Cover of Pilote n°553 (1971), figuring the 1st travel of Lone Sloane.

At Pilote, I was received by Raymond Poïvet, the artist behind «Pionniers de l’Esperance» during a whole afternoon, something I’ll never forget ! I had already met René Goscinny and Jean-Michel Charlier in 1964. Goscinny — I’ve told this anecdote a thousand times — told me that I was doing some interesting stuff, but a little ahead of my time.

Goscinny would tell me he had a project that he hoped to materialize someday and where I would fit in my own way. I’m summing up thing — my memories are a bit blurry. In fact, this project of his was the more adult version of Pilote that was produced around 1970... in 1964 he already envisioned it, that was quite extraordinary.

Raymond Poïvet, artist of « Pionniers de l’Espérance » + René Goscinny, editor in chief at Pilote.

A page from Druillet’s « Elric », that would end in « Urm le fou » (Elric is in the right-hand corner, and would be later removed).

BDZoom : Back to 68, what were your political positions at the time ?

Druillet : Very simple. Well... you’re really interesting in this kind of thing ?

BDZoom : well, yes ! (laughs)

Druillet : Well ! It’s quite simple really… I’m not really part of all this 68-generation. My family was very conservative — leaning toward the far-right I guess. But I strayed from that path, I quickly understood the true human qualities were not found on this rightist wing. And yet I was raised in this climate, without any frame of references : my poor mother filled my head and she sounded like a french governmental radio during the Occupation. And then, when I was around 17-18, I had this overwhelming realization, at a thematic projection at the Cinémathèque, around propaganda documentaries... it was like a 14 tons veil being ripped off... I get it... Can you understand how it feels ? I had been lied to my entire childhood, taken for a fool with twisted conceptions...

 Je suis donc élevé dans ce bain. Je n’ai pas de références. Je n’ai aucune référence… J’avais le crâne bourré par ma pauvre mère, qui continuait à me parler comme dans les actualités sous l’occupation. Un jour à 17-18 ans, j’ai un déclenchement terrible lors d’une soirée thématique à la cinémathèque où l’on ne passe que des documentaires de propagande en expliquant ce que c’est. Tout d’un coup, j’ai comme un voile de quatorze tonnes qui se déchire.  Je comprends enfin… Tu ne te rends pas compte… On m’a pris pour un imbécile toute ma vie, toute mon enfance, OK ? On m’a menti…

A riot in « Garage à vélos » (the Bicycle Garage) + riots in paris during May 1968

Ariane Mnouchkine, director of Théâtre du Soleil.

And the French Republic lied to me as well, public school didn’t mention the Commune at the time, for reasons that became clear around 1968 [the Paris Commune was a revolutionary uprising that took place in Paris at the fall of the Second Empire, in 1871, installing a short-lived regime based on direct democracy]. Lies at home, lies from the Republic...

And when I was 19 years old, thanks to a couple of pals, I began to get into the Théâtre du Soleil. I worked around the place for two years, in various squats in the buildings : it was 1968 and I saw everybody working themselves into some kind of frenzy, I didn’t know what was happening ! Ariane Mnouchkine, the director of the Theatre du Soleil told me : « Well, you don’t have much of a political consciousness, do you ?» and I told her « Well, I kinda don’t — but what the fuck are you all doing here ? » and she told me, very kindly, « Philippe, you have to... grow up a little now ». But I didn’t get it, and I didn’t get involved. And two weeks into the General Strike and the riots, I realized I’m simply FED UP, as a human being and citizen to just stand there, watching pictures of it on the television and listening to the radio... while not having any opinion about it all... I began to have a doubt... and it all happened very simply. One afternoon at the end of May, I see a bunch of man with trashcan lids, baseball bats and helmets going down my street, on Faubourg St-Denis. And I told myself « Now this is curious », I told my wife Nicole « I’ll be back in a moment », I got into the street, and I did come back ... two days later ! I was caught up into the maelström, I saw hords of hysterical riot control cops beating up 15 years old unarmed teenagers, and I was arrested, got beaten up... the whole thing. And I was taken to a cell in Vincennes for seven hours, 250 persons locked in the same room... I told myself « How can a man like De Gaulle who saved France, can do this to teenagers today ?»

When I got out, I guess I had grown a political consciousness !

Cops from the « Garage à vélos » [“What the fuck just happened here ?”].

I came back to the Théâtre du Soleil and told Ariane « I think I get it now ! » [laughs] And I cast my vote on the left ever since !   But I don’t make revendications by throwing stones ! I was once caught up in the moving crowd in front of the riot-control cops charging... and furious people were hurling cobblestones across ! I did pick up a stone and then thought to myself « here I go » but I didn’t throw it because that’s not what I do. I never resorted to that. I was not either one of those Trotsky type intellectuals. I was a goofy teenager  who needed to build himself a view of the world he lived in... And in three days, it went pretty fast ! [laughs]. But I was not completly oblivious of this situation before 68, I won’t hide that — under this aging De Gaulle government we had a lot of trouble with censorship working with Fantastic & Fantasy Cinema. People that had an affinity for these kind of creations were deemed stupid. There was a kind of confinement and pressure was building up : it had to blow up.

Censorship in Barbarella (editions of 1964 & 1968).

A Druillet exhibition at the Kiosque (1965).

And yet I wouldn’t consider myself as political... But I saw society at work, and getting beaten up by the cops show me one of its means of action, after these two days this kind of told me where I stood.

BDZoom : Did you meet Jean Giraud & Jean-Pierre Dionnet at Pilote ?

Druillet :  I had met them before, Pilote was not the only magazine, at the time there was a creative agitation in the sphere of Bande Dessinée [BD : the name of the Comics art form in France & Belgium]. There were exhibitions, and all this little microcosm of people that would thus meet, talk...

a young Jean-Pierre Dionnet...

I was this crazy youngling who wanted to meet the Stars of BD, I was hanging out wherever I could. And this my advice to any teenager wanting to start in paiting, drawing, cinema : don’t stay home in front of the television... Even if you’re a nobody, get into those exhibitions and cocktails... Starting discussions, getting the occasion to tell an artist you admire his work, why you think he’s a genius : who can resist that ! [laughs]. And then I sneaked some of my drawings in ! Sometimes I was refused entrance, but then I got in anyway.  And that’s how I got friend with crew of Pilote even before working there. I began to work for Galaxie and Fiction & co. I was humbly and quite poorly doing my entrance in the little world of illustration... Jean-Pierre was already a collector, we used to meet at the comics exchanges and auctions, very quickly we became pals.

Some covers for Fiction & Galaxie. Druillet made some illustrations for a collection of books called Opta.

BDZoom : so before Métal Hurlant [Heavy Metal], you were in Pilote where youd did « Les Six Voyages de Lone Sloane »…

"Les 6 voyages de Lone Sloane" in Pilote.

Druillet : We started Métal in 74, I began working at Pilote in 69 — the 1st episod of the «six voyages», was started in October 69... and I only finished it in 71. Then the album comes in in 72...
 And then I got started on... you know... the rest.

Covers of Pilote n°562, 569 & 578, with« Les 6 voyages de Lone Sloae ».

Underground Comics (1970), published by Henri Filippini with Druillet, Moebius, Moliterni, Gigi, Got, Auclair, Lob & Loro !

BDZoom : And how were you doing financially ?

Druillet : I already drew my income from a variety of activities, at the time. I understood very early I would have to work different jobs at the same time, and I still do.  I had these pages in Pilote, my rights for the first albums, I sold my original artworks, and other tasks... Pilote was a good opportunity for me ! But still... I always spent more than what I earned ! That’s quite another problem [laughs]... it’s a philosophy and it’s part of life as an artist : sometimes I’d be okay, other months I’d have eaten up everything. Some artists are extremely well organized, and would never be caught in the red — But I was a Prince ! A Monarch of the Overdrawn ! [laughs] I would push it to Cosmical, Himalayanian heights !  Though I’m glad I’m through with this.

BDZoom : on one of the first issues of L’Écho des Savanes, there’s an ad annoucing Métal hurlant, to be published by the Edition du Fromage [«Cheese Publishing»] with Etienne Robal’s 1st Logo.

Druillet : it’s a complicated story... In the beginning you have L’Écho des Savanes : Gotlib, Brétécher and Mandryka decide to found their own magazine ! It’s a revolution, it’s the Beatles in BD ! Everyone was quite enthusiastic about the concept.

Gotlib, Brétécher, Mandryka + L’Écho des savanes n°6

2 pages by Druillet in L’Écho des Savanes n°13 (3rd trimester 1975).

In the original team, Gotlib and Brétecher just wanted to publish their comics without all the hassle ! But Nikita Mandryka’s aim is a bit different, he was one of the great dreamer of the modern press : he sees the need both to expand and to open up. To me he was then and there working out the concept of what would become Métal Hurlant. He found the concept, he even found the name ! He even envisioned 3 or 4 different magazines, including Le Zonard, about the banlieues.

The three other abandoned projects of Mandryka

3 pages by Druillet in L'Écho des Savanes n°15 de (4th trimester 1975).

a young Jean Giraud

And then... the first distributor of L’Écho des Savanes just banked out with all the treasury,  that’s how a journal collapses...  it happened to Métal Hurlant further on and in many redactions. It’s a big shebang, people and energies disperse, it all crumbles down.

Mandryka had already hired Dionnet to work on this
Métal to be. And when Nikita (Mandryka) had to leave, I told Jean-Pierre (Dionnet) that it would be a shame to abandon the project entirely, that we had to carry it on, the concept was almost complete. Moebius wasn’t so sure. But we insisted, we organized meeting at home, trying to find a better title than Métal for this magazine. But we couldn’t find any ! It just was the best possible title. And we did it, we launched it. And for the first two years, my name weighed more for the bank who invested in us because Moebius wasn’t known for his science-fiction work, while I already was. Jean (Giraud) was already famous for Blueberry and western. At this point, I still embodied the Science-Fiction / Fantastic credibility of the project, it’s part our history : we did carry on the unborn project of our friend Mandryka to make it, for the three of us, something personal.

Métal Hurlant n°2.

an ad for Métal Hurlan n°1

BDZoom : how did it go on the financial level ?

Druillet : in those days I don’t think it represented that much money... very quickly Jean-Pierre Dionnet took things in hand. If I remember correctly we played upon a very simple principle : you had 90 days to pay your printer... and we weren’t big enough to get into the NMPP [one of france biggest press distributor]. So we needed the kind of distributor who would advance us on the money, so that we would be able to pay the printer before the time limit. That, and several credits at the bank, under the name of Druillet — so the bank would accept the overdrawing ! And that’s how we rolled...

But problems arrived no later than after n°2 ! It’s a rare issue nowadays, you know why ?  Because our distributor of the time ripped us off, it wasn’t the one that dealt with L’écho des Savanes, but he did get away with our money.

Cover of Actuel n°53 ( launched in 75, at the same period as Métal Hurlant).

And so we were stuck in this miserable situation with 15-20 000 issues of n°2, printed, but locked in a hangar in Angoulême ! Yes... already Angoulême, funny isn’t it ? We had to rescue Métal lest it drowned ! Dionnet took over the financial side, so I don’t have the details... I wasn’t involved in that side of the story. But we didn’t build up a fanzine just like that, on our own : we had support, people were interested in what we wanted to do. So we went up and talked to the team that was doing Actuel [a counter-culture magazine that’d eventually translate and publish comics from Crumb and Shelton], to tell them this journal had a real value.

BDZoom : what was the organization inside the Humanoïdes Associés ? Bernard Farkas, the first accountant is rarely mentioned...

The famous landmark of the Humanos + The Team (Gir, Farkas, Druillet & Dionnet) doing their Abbey Road pose.

Druillet : listen to me, that man was a complete bullshitter. He told us he had contact within the entire distribution network of Nathan [a big publisher], but he had peanuts ! He was there at the very beginning because he thought there’d be money to be made, he asked for a car six months after the beginning of Métal ! And then he left, and did make a lot of money with the Rubik’s Cube thing. It has absolutely no relevance whatsoever... Petty quibles...

Bernard Farkas + The Rubik’s Cube

BDZoom : OK ! Let’s move on then. You were part of the redaction organization and wrote fantastic editorials !

Druillet’s edito in Métal n°2.

Druillet : at the beginning, I surely did ! But you know, we began to argue a lot very quickly... I don’t how to talk about this period... to sum it up in two minutes Jean-Pierre [Dionnet] was the sould of Métal. He was a chief-editor as perfectionist as Goscinny was at Pilote. But he had no notion of management and accountability ! And I disapproved of his terrible gestion — so I was put aside. And this is not me being paranoid, I had Moebius and Dionnet on my back. And then I lost my wife. In 77. The nightmare. That whole horrible period.

Sergio Macédo.

But you know what I’ve been saying for years : all those little stories, those personal mistakes and flaws from a time where we lacked the maturity, all this doesn’t matter any more. At all. What matters is that people loved Métal and that the Humanos entered their own legend. That’s something  worth the run... and I discussed it at lot with Jean-Pierre but if we had really been more efficient we could have been the Canal + of the Bande Dessiné... Really. [Canal + was France’s first private channel, at a time where all channels where governmental, it had a freshness and a brand new tone, and still plays a major role in the production of feature films]

France’s first private channel, Canal +  and its logo by  Étienne Robial.

BDZoom : and indeed, many artists including Dionnet and Etienne Robal worked at one point with Canal +.

Serge Clerc

Druillet : of course they did. You know, with the Humanos, at one point we frightened even the very big actors in BD publishing like Dupuis, Casterman, Dargaud. And I still have the feeling we were immature and spoilt what could have been a very powerful tool... but we weren’t carved for that stuff... So that’s that !

And so, in a way, all that Métal period was also the worse period of my life, on the personal level, on a creative level. And now it’s all forgotten, quarrels are buried. Dionnet and me are best pals again, I love him and I respect him. We owe him that extraordinary diversity of Métal, this is  his master-work, no-one else’s.

BDZoom : did you bring any artist within Métal Hurlant ?

Frank Margerin, Yves Chaland & Jano

Druillet : I think I introduced some people to the crew... I don’t recall exactly, I think I brought Sergio Macédo to Métal. But really, that was Jean-Pierre’s gift. Serge Clerc’s arrival, that was him. He had this curious, opened mind, this spirit : he discovered Frank Margerin, Chaland, Tramber and Jano.

Métal Hurlant n°33bis, Special Lovecraft.

BDZoom : He had the editorial ideas ? Even for the special issues ?

Druillet : Yes, yes... But in the beginning I had a really deep involvement. And you can feel that history, those clashes in the number themselves. For the first ten issues, I’m head over heels into the project, I write editorials, articles, I conduct interviews... and as the situation evolves, I withdraw. If you follow my history in Métal you understand that little by little Druillet’s share reduces and Moebius’ importance grows and grows. In the end I’m totally diluted.

[BDOubliée has a very complete list of Druillet’s published material in Métal]

BDZoom : but still, you were deeply involved in the Special Lovecraft issue [# 33bis, sept. 78] .

"Urm le fou"

Druillet : Well yes... we were 2-3 persons motivated by that theme, with Jean-Pierre, I’ve forgotten a bit.

BDZoom : it was at this occasion that Métal published those famous pages from the « Necronomicon ». Can you tell us a little more about those drawings ?

Druillet : well, there are several steps in the story of those pages. First I wanted to put them in Urm le Fou, before the preparation of the Special Lovecraft issue. You know I did these when I was 16 or 17 ! I was raving mad about comics and art... well I know BD is an art but I mean Painting exhibs ! And in the 60s, during an exhibition of Salvador Dali I saw an edition of Flaubert’s “Temptation of Saint Anthony” completely illustrated by Dali !

[Dali thought it was Flaubert's materpiece, with its incredible portrayal of the saint’s fantasmagorical visions & temptations in the desert ]

Film poster for The Name of the Rose

Next to the normal edition, Dali had made a huge format, 90cm large and one meter high, with a bronze cover ! The exhibition showed all the illustrations... I was fascinated by this hermit... it reminded me of The Name of the Rose, with its manuscripts and calligraphies. And I discovered Lovecraft around the same time. I then thought of Diderot and d’Alembert’s Encyclopedia from the Enlightenment [in 35 volumes, it was a unique sum of shareable knowledge of the XVIIIth century] and told myself : “I have to do the Necronomicon version of what Diderot and D’Alembert did with the Encyclopedia, complete with sections on Demonology, extra-terrestrial cosmology, Botany, Astrology, Mineralogy... everything !”. I wanted to calligraphy the all thing with a quill, a 800 pages project, on indestructible rice paper ! And so I got started — in 1963-64 — and I did... around 15 or 16 pages !

BDZoom : that much ? But only 11 got published in Métal.

The special Lovecraft issue of the prestigious « Cahier de L’Herne » + the "Morning of the Magicians” by Pauwels & Bergier.

Druillet : well some where published in the Lovecraft issue of the « Cahier de L’Herne » spécial Lovecraft, published in 67 and re-published in 69. Some amateurs contacted me. I made several gifts — 2 or 3 pages, one for Jacques Bergier (co-author of The Morning of Magiciens and one the people who introduced Lovecraft to french readers) — the rest I sold. Losfeld bought one from me. I only kept one page, not even calligraphied. Now the rest is locked up in collector’s vault. They didn’t surface since.

Pages from Druillet’s Necronomicon

BDZoom : these pages have acquired an identity of their own inide the Cthulhu Mythos, they are published in many country among other illustrations, did it get out of your hands ?

Druillet : Yes... you can find them in American or Italian comics or compilations... They are even referenced as true pages of the “Original Necronomicon” of Lovecraft ! And my signature disappears along the way, that makes me very proud :  I melted into the Canon. Now if someone printed and sold posters for profit, I’d certainly sue him. You know Cthulhu himself regulates the copyright on those... so try your luck ! [laughs].

« La Cité sans nom» [The Nameless City] (1961).

But I am flattered still... because it’s something special to do a work that escapes your own hand. I even remember some credits at the end of a low-budget horror movie... and those pages served as the background for the rolling credits, I wasn’t mentioned but they looked like truly exhumed exhibits... and that’s what’s truly fantastic.

Other Pages from the Necronomicon

BDZoom : they really look very old... with those Shoggoths dirty stains !

Druillet :  that’s a true piss mark from one of my pekingnese ! [laughs] I left my drawing portfolio on the ground of my home at Gare du Nord and they had generously pissed on it ! [laughs]. That’s the true story of the Blot.

End of the 2nd Part

 

[it's interesting to compare's Druillet's account of the Métal years to Serge Clerc's recent comics which is centered on Dionnet's role — Norkhat]
.

 

(original interview

by Jean DEPELLEY at BDZoom,

pictures curated by Gilles Ratier)