Striping the Tiger

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For Richard Isanove, Origin was a breakthrough moment in his career. For Olivier Coipel, it was House of M. With both of those books being as high-profile as you can find at the House of Ideas, or mainstream comics as a whole even, can it be that for the third Frenchman pencilling a reinvented, third-tier character from the pages of Daredevil makes him a fixture in the Marvel Universe?

Only time will tell, but Phil Briones himself feels that just being given the chance of working on White Tiger is his lucky break. Oh, and the presence of best-selling fantasy novelist Tamora Pierce will make sure a few thousand pair of eyes extra will be exposed to his work this side of the Atlantic.

BF spoke to Briones about his influences, his passion for comics, and of course, White Tiger.

BROKEN FRONTIER: You are the latest French artist to cross the ocean and work for the House of Ideas, following Richard Isanove and Olivier Coipel. How did you land the job of pencilling White Tiger? Did the fact that you went to the same art school as Olivier help in any way?

PHIL BRIONES: Actually, I know both Olivier Coipel and Richard Isanove. Our paths crossed several times during the Comic book festival of Angoulême in France. Olivier and I went to the same art school. When he left France to start working for Dreamworks, I started at Disney (Studios). But in reality we barely know each other. For instance, he was not really instrumental in my involvement with the White Tiger project.

At the time, I was working on my latest project, an issue of the comic series La Geste des Chevaliers Dragons, but the series was delayed because I was constantly waiting for the script. Since I had some time, I decided to use it for myself and I drew a whole portfolio showcasing Marvel characters. The idea was to create about 15 different pages of art with the X-Men, the Avengers, Spider-Man, the FF, Hulk, and so on. I also added a few pages of my latest stuff for the French market and I gave the whole thing to Olivier Jalabert, who’s become both my agent and close confident. He is the reason why this whole adventure came to fruition.

Without him and his contacts at Marvel, things wouldn’t have been so efficient. He showed my portfolio to Joe Quesada, and then the whole thing started…

BF: Were you familiar with the work of Tamora Pierce before being paired with her on White Tiger?

PB: Not really, though her name was familiar to me. I knew she was a writer.

BF: The White Tiger was revamped during Brian Michael Bendis and Alex Maleev’s already historic Daredevil run and she now goes by the name of Angela Del Toro. Will we see a lot of the edgy, ‘street’ stuff that made Daredevil tick again spill over into the miniseries?

PB: Ruwan (Jayatilleke – ed.), my editor, asked me to emphasize the realism, hyper-realism even, of my drawing technique in order to match the spirit of the miniseries—dark and gritty, like the Daredevil book. I need to rethink the way I actually draw while still keeping my very own graphic identity. It’s a little challenging for me, but very interesting. I know this will help me build my experience. Since I hate to stay put and do nothing, I am in Heaven!

BF: You’ve grown up reading a lot of Marvel Comics. Which stories in particular do you cherish the most?

PB: The “Dark Phoenix saga” and the whole Claremont/Byrne run on Uncanny X-Men. They have been instrumental in my decision to draw as many super-heroes as I could as a child. There was also "Batman vs. Hulk" with Jose Garcia-Lopez on pencils, and “God Loves Man Kills” by Claremont and Anderson, it’s simply magnificent! More recently, I also really liked “Avengers: Forever”; “Hulk: Transfer of Power”; “The Ultimates: Super-human and Homeland Security”; “Captain America: Winter Soldier”, etc. There are so many good books out there.

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BF: Does the fact that you fell in love with Marvel’s characters as a kid mean that your style caters more to an American audience than it does to a European one?

PB: I think my style is adaptable for both continents. Of course, I feel closer to the American standards, as those were the standards that I used to do my first comic pages in. But I am also influenced by the European comics; I integrated some of the European codes in my work to make it more accessible to people who do not read (many) comics. Now, I finally have the opportunity to explore this world even further with Marvel and to finally go wild, try new things, stuff I would never be able to try in France, like splash-pages.

Because I have been reading a lot of comics since I was a child, working for Marvel has always been both a dream and an ultimate goal for me. I have a feeling that everything that I have ever done in my professional life revolves around that goal. This is a very important turning-point both personally and career-wise. I hope I will be up for the task at hand. I plan on working very hard to achieve that goal.

BF: About your style, who do you credit for being your artistic influences?

PB: Looking at 25 years of reading comics, I must confess I have been and still am influenced by many artists. Just to name a few in the most logical and chronological order, I would say: John Byrne, Paul Smith, John Romita Jr, Mark Silvestri, Arthur Adams, Alan Davis, Jim Lee and Chris Bachalo. And Scott Williams and Tim Townsend for the inkers.

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BF: Since you’ve now worked with both American and French publishers and writers, how would you describe the main differences in approach when it comes to storytelling?

PB: I have a feeling that [American] comic book creators take more time to build on the intrigue, to look after the characters, their life, their background, their motivations. In France, the number of panels per page is much higher and that has a significant influence on the way the story is being told. The rythm of publication is also a major factor that differentiates French comics from American comics. You do not write a monthly book like an annual and vice versa.

The conclusion [of a story] is obviously way different as well. In France, it is very unlikely that a story will conclude on an action sequence. The management of suspense and cliff-hangers is very different. The last page of a French comic should bring enough answers and elements about the story so the reader can actually wait another year without completely loosing his mind… American comics more or less have a monthly schedule, so it’s easier to entertain the audience and keep them interested in the story because they only have a month to wait for the next issue, and for me that is the true meaning of a comic book series. The monthly schedule is vital to keep the reader’s interest going.

BF: Why do you think it is that the American market is filled with superheroes while the European features a wide variety of genres, but is practically devoid of superhero material? Is there a radical difference in readership that you’ve experienced firsthand?

PB: All of that is mainly because of a cultural difference, I think. Americans are very good at creating new standards, new concepts. You are working on a much larger scale, internationally even. In France, the work of a comic creator is often self-centred, almost intimate and often stays very “private”. But there are similarities in those two different approaches: passion, the need to entertain, to make yourself available to the audience—the wider, the better.

BF: How popular are US comics in France anyway? They do not sell the same amount of copies as European comics—and the French bandes dessinées (BD) in particular—but I’m sure there is a devoted fanbase out there...

PB: Yes, it’s very true, people read more French comics than American comics, but funny enough, everybody knows Spider-Man, Hulk, the FF or the X-Men or Daredevil, even people who do not read comics at all! It’s also true that the recent film adaptations have been helping to strengthen the popularity of the characters. Not so long ago, the only way to find an American comic book was to look for it in Newsstands. Today, that has changed. [American] Comics can be found in book and comic book stores, very much like French comics.

BF: Down the line, once you’re done with the six issues of White Tiger, which Marvel characters would you love to take a shot at?

PB: I would like to be able to draw any one of them! But to be perfectly honest, I would really love to be involved with the X-Men, the Avengers or the Fantastic Four. I am also very interested in the Ultimate books, they are very engaging and innovative. A few episodes of Spider-Man or Iron Man would be great too. But all in due time, first I want to finish my book!

White Tiger goes on sale this Wednesday, November 15.

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