A Whole New World of Creativity: Elsa Charretier on ‘The Infinite Loop,’ A Sci-Fi Story About Women In Love [Interview]
IDW‘s new book The Infinite Loop, out in April, came from the minds of two French comic creators, writer Pierrick Colinet and artist Elsa Charretier. Colinet and Charretier crowdfunded the first three issues of their comic in Europe, but had their eye on releasing the book in the US due to its adaptability to the American comics market. A sci-fi story about time travel and women in love, The Infinite Loop has a catchy hook, but is even better in execution. It’s a book that is a clear collaboration between creators who passionately love the story and are working to execute it in the best way possible.
A few months ago, we spoke with Charretier for our ongoing column Hire This Woman. Now that this woman has, in fact, been hired, we sat down with her again to talk about The Infinite Loop in more detail, including the process and inspiration behind the comic.
ComicsAlliance: I want to start at the beginning: how did Infinite Loop happen? How did you and Pierrick meet and decide to collaborate on this project?
Elsa Charretier: Pierrick and I knew each other a long time, and we already did two books together.
We felt like doing a monthly comic book project for the American market. That was our goal from the beginning. European comics is very different and it didn’t really suit us.
At the very beginning, The Infinite Loop was called Where Are We Now?, like David Bowie’s song. We did the first five pages to submit to editors, but I had just switched to a more cartoony style, and I think I wasn’t ready yet. The book didn’t find a publisher and we left it for a while. So we worked on other projects, but still felt the need to do this story. I had already fallen in love with the characters Pierrick had created, and we wanted to do it badly.
This time, we decided to do it by ourselves, and see if we could create a community around the book and the LBGT themes the story delves into. Crowdfunding felt perfect!
CA: What is it that appeals to you about the American market versus the European market?
EC: In Europe, comic books don’t come out monthly, but straight as hardcovers. They are, most of the time, between 48 and 90 pages, and the format is bigger. You don’t really have the series aspect that American comic books have. You do your pages, the book comes out, and then the readers will have to wait a year, sometimes a lot more before getting the next run. It’s a much slower rhythm, and Pierrick and I like the craziness of having to produce a book every month.
And the both of us were raised with American pop culture!
CA: But you did crowdfund in Europe and got a lot of support, right?
EC: We did yes, because there are lots of US comic book fans in Europe. Well, not a lot, but they are really active and great followers. And they are surprisingly excited about having French artists working in the US. So, they did support us, a lot more than we could have imagined, to say the least.
The first goal was $6,000, and we got over $15,000.
CA: So obviously you wanted to get this book published in the US from the start – how did you find a publisher?
EC: Well, what we wanted was to actually create the book, publish it ourselves, and just be able to tell this story no matter the medium. This subject is really important to us, and we just had to do it! And if we were to find a publisher along the way, we’d prefer it to be an American one.
Lots of different things led us to IDW. First of all, after you wrote the Hire This Woman column about my work, Sarah Gaydos, who’s an editor at IDW, contacted me. She seemed interested in the project, and wanted to know more. As you can imagine, Pierrick and I were thrilled!
NYCC was just a month away, and luckily, we had decided to get a table there to meet editors, and hopefully get a few contacts. So, Sarah and I decided to meet there. I gave her a copy of the ashcan we had with us, and a few days later, Chris Ryall (who is IDW’s Editor-in-Chief) emailed us, saying they read it and loved it.
So basically, it was a combination of fantastic people helping us: you, Sarah, Chris, and all the backers on the project. Which is great, because that’s what we wanted! Join a creative team, and be able to bring our story, our characters, to a whole new world of readers. And IDW is perfect for that. They were actually our first choice. From the moment we started out, even way before The Infinite Loop was on our minds, the IDW team has always proven to be really generous, always eager to help. And let’s face it, they have all the amazing licensed titles!
CA: Are you publishing exactly the same three issues you’d crowdfunded or will the IDW Infinite Loop story be longer?
EC: The whole story is six issues long, but it seemed pretty unreasonable for a first crowdfunding campaign to fund them all at once. The production costs would have been a lot higher and would have made the goal much harder to reach. We decided we’d launch the project for three issues, and depending on the success, we’d do another campaign right after to publish the last three. But now that IDW is in with us, we won’t need to. Which is good, because it will allow us a lot more time to actually create. Crowdfunding is extremely time-consuming!
CA: You mentioned when we spoke for Hire This Woman that you really wanted to push your art further with the Infinite Loop project. I assume not needing to crowdfund gives you more time to experiment. In what ways did you want to push yourself? And now that you’re well into the project, how do you feel about the work you’ve done?
EC: I wish I had more time to experiment! I did what lots of artists do when they have less crazy deadlines, I took more work…
My goal when we started The Infinite Loop was first, to do my own storyboards. Pierrick used to do them because I had zero sense of storytelling. And I knew it prevented me to go “deeper” and imprint my own mark on the art. So along the way I learned, and it was great to have him there, to correct me, explain when something wasn’t right. In that sense, I feel like I’ve improved. It opened a whole new world of creativity, and it even helps us as a team. My ideas give him ideas, which gives me ideas, and so forth…
Now that I’m about to start issue #4, I want to keep learning about storytelling, about composition, about guiding the eye through the page, and fluidity. My next goal is to try to start triggering emotions just with the panel breakdown.
Also, I’m fascinated by body language, and how characters express emotions just with their hand, or the way their head is tilted. I tried to apply it in the first 3 issues, but I know I still have a long way ahead of me! All these goals, these things I want to learn, that’s what motivates me into working every day.
CA: One of the things that stood out to me as I read issue #1 was that in many places where the abstract visuals could have become hard to understand, the storytelling remained clear. It makes the book that much more enjoyable. In that way, your collaboration was very successful. Since he also worked on the storyboards, is Pierrick also an artist?
EC: Thank you ! That was one of the big challenges on this issue. Lots of things to say and to show and lots of time traveling, so I’m really glad you found it clear.
Pierrick used to direct short movies, and he has a great sense of image. He knows how to tell a story which made my job a lot easier.
CA: Do you feel like you’re a stronger artist now than when you began the project?
EC: Oh, definitely. Beyond the technical aspects we just mentioned, I’m a lot less nervous. I used to be ridiculously anxious when working. I’d look at the clock every 15 minutes and realize I was late, I’d obsess over tiny details and loss my ability to focus… The whole drawing process was enjoyable, but not as much as it is today. I’m much more relaxed. It may not seem that important, but when you do this every single day, during countless hours, it does matter!
Also, now I really feel I’m telling a story when I work, and not just drawing lines.
CA: Do you think this helps your ability to show how characters express emotions?
EC: Yes, sure. Good storytelling allows you to help the reader see what you tried to say, so that’s one important point.
And of course, with practice comes subtlety. I try to make the characters really express themselves through all of their body. I used to act, when I was younger, and translating emotions was a part of my daily life. How to really understand what a character is really feeling — which in good scripts, can be different than what the character is saying — and how to translate it. And to go deeper than just plain, simple emotions.
For example, your character is angry. So you could just draw a woman yelling at her husband. But why is she angry? Is she angry/sad because he forgot their anniversary? Is she angry/disappointed because he forgot to stop by the grocery store when he said he would? Is she angry/passionate because he somehow betrayed her but she’s too much in love to leave him? And so on… Obviously, she will express differently all these mixed feelings, and I find fascinating that our job is to translate that into a drawing. I don’t know if I achieve it, but I do try!
CA: You also made the characters’ clothes feel both modern and timeless; I love the accent of the main character’s boots in particular. Do you study anything in particular to help you with both the emotional responses you mention above and the design of the characters?
EC: Teddy, one of the two main characters, is named after the Teddy Girls, which were a 1950’s rebel young subculture in Britain. They were dressed as boys and that fit perfectly was we wanted for her. We wanted a character that would go beyond genders. For our Teddy, I kept the idea of short pants, low boots, no bra (which has a feminist symbol), and a shirt. As for her hair, I had in mind these women in historic movies (as in The Girl with the Pearl Earring), who hide their gorgeous hair under veils. I wanted her beauty to be kind of contained. And of course, the bun is a direct reference to Hitchcock’s Vertigo.
As for Ano, our second character, she is ethereal. Her clothes have to always move with her, slowly, and graciously. The light dress, slightly see-through felt perfect for her.
CA: Do you consider this book to be a feminist book?
CA: What are the particularly feminist elements you and Pierrick included?
EC: Teddy, and everything she represents is feminist. She is independent, strong, she made her own choices and built her career by herself. She is in charge of her own sexuality and is very confident about it.
She also has the ability to fight for her beliefs.
There are lots of other elements that make this book feminist, but I’m afraid I can’t tell more without spoiling!
CA: Now, one thing you have been pretty open about is that it’s a love story between two women. What can you tell us about the relationship between Teddy and Ano?
EC: Teddy comes from a future where love, hatred and all these primitive feelings are just here to disrupt society. She puts reason above all else. And Ano is specifically the small grain of sand that disturbs her perfect logic and quiet world. Ano personifies innocence, she constantly “oscillates” between a sweet reserve, and bold sexuality. She is sometimes really straightforward because, being a girl born from a time paradox accident, she has no filter.
So when the two girls meet, Teddy must reevaluate her values, and decide whether to suppress her, as she would have with any other kind of anomaly, or let Ano “get to her.”
CA: You talked about it a little earlier, but how do you approach the two women to make them distinct since they are so different? Is it in the shapes or the colors or something else entirely?
EC: Teddy is curvy, but she moves in a more masculine way than Ano. She has that bold sexiness than some strong women have. She’s average height, red hair, and strong on her feet. Not muscular, but very strong.
Ano looks a lot like Nabokov’s Lolita, in her personality. Physically, she’s a petite Japanese woman, with purple long hair, and purple eyes. She’s a lot smaller and thinner than Teddy, with smaller breasts.
I used the same color palette for the two characters, so I think their differences mainly lie in their body language and the shapes of their respective bodies.
CA: I’m curious if Pierrick had conceived of how all the time travel would look and if that was something he laid out for you or if the visuals were your call? Since it’s such a huge part of the storytelling.
EC: Regarding the meaning and the symbolism of the eras Teddy travels through, as well as the panel descriptions, it was all laid out. Likewise about the linearity or non-linearity of the story. But when it comes to the purely visual aspect of it, he gave me carte blanche. It felt important to him that all the pages — time-travel scenes and regular scenes — had the same identity and didn’t “betray” my way of telling the story.
CA: Do you normally work in the same area?
EC: yes, we work next to each other, on the same studio. That way we can spy one each other!
CA: Do you generally collaborate throughout the day? Do you show him in-progress pages, or does he show you sections of upcoming scripts?
EC: We used to show each other our respective works throughout the day, but I’m not sure it was a good idea. I now ask to read [the] issue when it’s finished. I feel it’s easier to see what works really well, and what doesn’t work as well when you put yourself in the reader’s shoes. Same thing for the pages. I show him all the storyboards at once, and I’ll eventually show him process of pages when I want his opinion on something, or when I feel like adding or changing something. He prefers to see the whole page completed, at the end of the day.
The Infinite Loop #1 debuts in April from IDW.