How a poilu came into my life... in a spectacular way

Translator Canan Marasligil blogs about the magic of creating and translating comics, her involvement in the Spectacular Translation Machine and the workshop possibilities that comics and graphic novels present. 

Poilu. I really enjoy hearing the word. Poilu literally means 'hairy' and is an informal term for a WWI infantryman. According to Wikipedia (our great source of knowledge) the term came into popular usage in France during the era of Napoleon Bonaparte and his massive citizen armies. The word carries the sense of the infantryman's typically rustic, agricultural background as beards and bushy moustaches were often worn.

I am a translator: I care deeply about words and their meanings in different languages. So when Sarah Ardizzone, the fantastic translator of Barroux's graphic novel,  asked me to be part of a Spectacular Translation Machine, I jumped in the air and said “YES!". When she told me about Line of Fire, which was still known my its French title On Les Aura! at the time, it triggered my curiosity even more. As a literary translator totally immersed in comics through various projects - from writing, curating exhibitions to translating, I  immediately loved Barroux’s illustration of this WWI soldier. This poilu was literally brought back to life through Barroux’s drawings, and now I was asked to help children and adults to bring it back to life again in another language, inside a spectacular translation machine. My enthusiasm was at its peak.

Throughout a weekend at the Southbank Centre I gave two different workshops: one aimed at children and one at adults. I have to say, when you work with comics and graphic novels, everyone can become children, and I say this in the most magical sense. Magical because when you are allowed to dive deeply into your imagination, you can make magic happen. That’s what happened inside the Spectacular Translation Machine. I did not use very different techniques with both groups and, in this case, children needed less explanation about comics than the adults. One of the kids was even writing and drawing comics and told me he dreamed about becoming a comic artist (my message to the boy: if you and your parents read this, don't give up on your dream/let him become a comic artist). In both workshops we explored the relationship between images and text, and we looked at comics in general: how they are read, how they are made…and how they can be translated.

We started looking at Barroux’s technique: the colours, the use of charcoal-like pencil and how he depicts the soldier, in a cartoonish way. So I told both groups about Scott McCloud who, in his book Understanding Comics (1993) discusses the power of iconic depictions available through cartoons. According to McCloud, the abstraction involved in the cartoon enables the audience to project their identity more readily and thus amplify involvement. "TheCartoon is a vacuum into which our identity and awareness are pulled, an empty shell that we inhabit which enables us to travel into another realm. We don't just observe the cartoon, we become it!” (1993:36). Comic artists utilise this power for different effects. By contrasting realistic backgrounds against a cartoonish character, an artist can position the reader inside the impactful surroundings with ease. Although not directly related to the textual component of comics, understanding stylistic choices and their underlying cultural connotations with regard to cartooning can be beneficial for the translator. In the case of our poilu, Barroux’s choice to draw in a cartoonish way helped us all to connect even more with the character. In a sense, we could all feel like a poilu.

So understanding the way the medium works greatly helps with the task of translating. This is why, during the workshops, I asked the participants (children and adults alike) to draw a sentence I read them, and to write a sentence based on Barroux's drawings. The results were, again, magic, because they were full of imagination, and it showed how different our understanding and perspectives of an image can be and how differently we visualise things in our head. Try this exercise at home and compare results; draw 'a woman is sitting in her living room and suddenly, a bird comes through the window'. You can look at this scene from so many different perspectives... I won't tell you which ones so as not to spoil your fun. 

As I said, my personal experience with comics is not limited to reading and translating but also includes curating, writing for comics, writing about comics and developing activities off the page, such as these workshops and others where I have used comics as an essential medium for creative expression. This close involvement with the medium allows me to be well-connected to the comics world and its creators, and this familiarity in turn makes me love the medium even more. And that one  of the main reasons why I plan to bring the Spectacular Translation Machine and hopefully also Barroux’s work into other places, starting with my native Turkey.

If you haven’t read Line of Fire yet, well... what are you waiting for? And in the meantime, grab a pen and paper, and start the magic!

Canan Marasligil

Canan Marasligil is a a writer, literary translator, editor & screenwriter based in Amsterdam. She works internationally, mostly in English, French and Turkish, and also in Dutch and Spanish. Visit her website here.

 

Line of Fire's Best Kept Secrets

In the second blog from Line of Fire's translator, Sarah Ardizzone, we learn about the secrets of the diary revealed to Sarah through the process of translation. From the publishing decisions taken over the title of the book, to a change in the French army's uniform, to Barroux's artistic techniques; and Barroux's long kept secret about how he transcribed the original diary...

 

Uniform or Camouflage?

Did you know that French soldiers wore bright red trousers and a blue jacket for the first year of the First World War? These bright colours dated from Napoleonic times. They also made the soldiers an easy target. The Germans simply had to aim twenty centimetres above the splash of red that was visible, and they could be sure of hitting their target in a critical place. So the French army uniform was switched to blue-grey in 1915.

 

The Butcher’s Pencil

The illustrations for Line of Fire look as if they’re drawn in charcoal. In fact, Barroux’s line drawings are made using the thick greasy pencils supplied to him by his local butcher! Usually, the butcher tucks one of these pencils behind his ear, when he’s not using it to scribble the price of the meat on its wrapping paper. The pencils contain a thick triangular-shaped lead, which is extremely soft. If 6H is the hardest pencil lead available, and HB – or medium hard/soft – is the average pencil lead used in schools, then Barroux’s lead is the equivalent of 6B, which is the softest kind of lead produced.

 

Varnishing the Truth

Because Barroux’s pencil lead is so soft, it is also smudgy. So Barroux uses wood varnish to “set” or fix his pictures. This, in turn, results in the yellow-ish sheen on the illustrations, which gives them an older or period glow. Fitting, for a diary that is seeing the light of day again a hundred years after it was penned.

 

Monochrome

The yellow aged-effect produced by the wood varnish is a helpful hint of colour, since Barroux deliberately chose to work in black and white for this book. He thinks colour is very difficult to get exactly right, and was worried about making the illustrations for the diary look too “crude” in a colour version. Also, his main focus was the challenge of producing approximately 200 illustrations. By contrast, when he’s working on an original children’s book (such as Mr Leon’s Paris), Barroux would usually produce twelve to fifteen “spreads” (or double pages).

 

Deciphering Handwriting From the Past

The soldier’s handwriting, in the diary found by Barroux, is very old-fashioned and the words are tightly packed together. With its curling, slanted letters it is perfectly formed, but it is not the kind of handwriting we are used to reading nowadays. Barroux had to get the handwritten diary typed up for him, before he was able to read it properly. You might expect the person who typed up the diaries to be a historian and a handwriting expert. In fact, it’s Barroux’s own mum! She is from a generation that feels more comfortable deciphering old-fashioned handwriting. But she is also a retired librarian, so she brought her expertise to bear as well.

 

 Title Trouble

The title of the original French edition is: On Les Aura! Carnet de Guerre D’un Poilu (which roughly translates as: We’ll Get ‘Em! War Diary of an Ordinary French Soldier). The phrase “On Les Aura!” used to be chalked on departing train carriages filled with soldiers setting off for war, by the encouraging crowds waving them off from the platform. In the late summer of 1914, the French, like the British, were convinced that the war would all be over by Christmas. So, a hundred years later, On Les Aura! still resonates for a French readership.

But it doesn’t chime in the same way for an Anglophone readership. Particularly given negative associations that we might have after The Sun newspaper splashed a not dissimilar phrase – the headline “Gotcha!” – across its front page on 4th May 1982. This followed the controversial torpedoing of the Argentine battleship the General Belgrano by the British Navy, during the Falklands War. The resulting loss of Argentine life accounted for just over half of the total Argentine losses sustained in the Falklands conflict.)

So, when we were thinking about how the title might work in English, we already knew that “On Les Aura” was a tricky phrase. Also, that the characterful word “poilu” would be impossible to translate, given that we could hardly use the English equivalent (“Tommy”) in the title of a French soldier’s diary.

That’s why Phoenix Yard Books publisher, Emma Langley, thought it might be a good idea to look to the words of the diary itself to inspire us for the title. And we landed on our soldier’s final diary entry: Sometimes I’m sorry I didn’t stay in the line of fire.  

 

 Truth is Stranger than Fiction

When Barroux first began working on turning the diary into an illustrated book, he was tempted to re-write diary entries – to “improve” the quality of writing, and even to change elements of the narrative to make it read more dramatically. But he soon realised that this would be a betrayal of the diary, and that it would be missing the point. What is extraordinary in this humble, detailed account of one soldier’s reality during the first weeks of the First World War is that the small, seemingly trivial stuff – in which boredom and restlessness play a key part – is allowed to play out against the epic backdrop of world history in the making.

And of course there is the mystery of the ending – why does our soldier stop writing his journal entries? Why does he carry on writing out French chansons or popular songs for over a year after the diary stops?

The first editor to whom Barroux showed his work-in-progress also suggested that he re-write much of the narrative, and give it a “happy” ending. Barroux felt that this wasn’t the editor for him!  

 

 Hurray for Collage

It was only by chance that Barroux came across the diary, inside a cardboard box tied up with a shoelace. When he walked past an apartment clearance in the Bastille district of Paris, back in winter 2009, the first thing he noticed was the collection of old magazines from the 1960’s being tipped into the skip. This was what attracted him to the dusty mounds of someone else’s belongings: he thought he’d be able to cut out images from the magazines to use for a vintage collage-effect in some of his illustration work. It was only after making a pile of these magazines that he noticed the cardboard box. In the end, he walked away with the diary and forgot all about the magazines. You can see an example of how Barroux likes to use collage on page 18, and again on page 34-35 – in the latter example, he cuts out copies of the soldier’s handwritten French songs, from the back of the journal.

 

 

Translating Line of Fire

A guest blog by none other than the translator of Line of Fire, Sarah Ardizzone, on the experience of translating a 100-year-old diary, in graphic novel format.

Translating On Les Aura! Carnet de Guerre d'un Poilu was a humbling, scary and multi-layered process.

Humbling, because it felt a tall order for me – a British woman, with no direct experience of war, and whose knowledge of military terms was rudimentary before researching this book – to do justice to the words of an anonymous soldier. Our Frenchman’s name has long since vanished from the cover of his war diary, due to the ink fading over the course of a century while the brown cover of the journal stained darker. But his words live on, written painstakingly in their sepia copperplate, without a single spelling mistake. It has been my privilege to pick up the pen – or keyboard – and keep those words alive for an English-speaking readership, in an era he could never have guessed at.

And so it was that I found myself translating the words of someone I would never meet (my translating process usually benefits from the relationships and correspondences I have with my living authors). Someone about whom, despite the intimate act of my reading his private diary, I could only ever know comparatively little. As I began my translation in August 2013, I was conscious that it was ninety-nine years, almost to the day, since our “poilu” had put his life on the line, departing from Paris to fight for his country. (The word “poilu” literally means “shaggy” or “hairy”, because the ordinary French WW1 soldiers didn't shave: it is an equivalent term to the English “Tommy”.) Now, a hundred years after his first journal entry, Line of Fire has been published and English-speaking readers can discover his ordinary depiction of the extraordinary: his unique, everyday experience of what it meant to be a French foot soldier in the opening months of the ‘Great War’.

Scary, because as a translator I worry that I may somehow take away from the original: failing to capture the voice in its entirety, to conjure the man fairly, to evoke his acts of bravery and solidarity accurately, to tease out all the resonance of his telling details, the authentic echo in his humdrum search for a bottle of wine, or somewhere to lay his head. And I know that if I am wide of the mark, this man has no recourse against me. But then I remind myself that so much stands to be gained from rather than lost in translation. And that I have an astonishing collaborator on this project, an artist who is very much alive: Barroux.

Multi-layered, because Barroux's illustrations add brilliantly to the dusty words, found by the artist himself in a cardboard box “among smiles turned yellow with time”. Barroux’s thick pencil line drawings, sometimes spliced with collage, are subtle enough never to impose, always prompting us to guess at the life of our “poilu”. They offer us a glimpse both of an everyman figure and an historical individual. My challenge is to complement this process and, in doing so, serve two masters: the writer, long since vanished, and the illustrator who has brought that writer back to life. Of course, I must translate the words, but – and this is less obvious – my own words must also respond to the pictures.  There is, if you like, a three-way conversation happening here, across two different time zones.

Luckily, I have been in this situation before, albeit in a very different context. A few years’ back, I translated a graphic novel version of Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s classic text The Little Prince. Joann Sfar, the radically inspiring artist responsible for this version (you may be familiar with his work from The Rabbi’s Cat), showed great respect for the original writing: keeping the words he used verbatim (exactly as Saint-Exupéry had written them), while abridging the whole book to roughly half the length. So I was dealing with a radically “shrunk” set of words, alongside pictures that daringly – iconoclastically – re-imagined the world of the little prince. The words I was translating belonged to Saint-Exupéry; but the world they inhabited was born out of Sfar’s visionary derring-do.

I was fascinating by having to look in two directions at once: left (to the text and the past), and right (to the pictures and the future). Once I’d produced a manuscript, I went through a detailed line-by-line edit with my editor. Next, came the surprising bit. I joined forces with the designer. While I stared at his screen – considering words not just for their meaning but as visual entities in their own right, in other words how they looked in the space – the designer dropped words into speech bubbles and took them out again, with a click of his Wacom tablet. If a speech bubble wasn’t quite working, he might adjust the font to suit the space better, or make sure there was enough ‘air’ (or gap around the edge); meanwhile, I suggested alternative vocabulary as I responded to the visual stimuli. We both knew when we’d hit on the right choice: cartoon language that read and sounded and looked like fresh poetic speech. For me, considering words in terms of the way they looked (as much as for their sound and meaning) was a revelation.

So, in the case of The Little Prince, the “register” or tone I was seeking to strike became a graphic question – literally. The same is true of Line of Fire.

Take the distinctive noses that Barroux gives his characters. These look more like masks than actual noses, and yet there is something clumsily, endearingly human about them. Barroux has told me that the aesthetic of the noses was a product of his rough sketches, where the noses were correct in their proportions, but deliberately token instead of realistic. Barroux expected to change the noses. As he worked up his sketches into final pictures for the book, however, he found himself retaining the abstract shape, which almost makes them look as if they’ve been strapped onto the faces. Partly, because there is an undeniable mystery and power to these nose-masks. And partly because he was reminded that the scale and volume of facial injuries incurred in the First World War led to the first wave of reconstructive surgery, which has today become known as plastic or cosmetic surgery. In its early days, the solutions were comparatively crude – sometimes little more than a piece of leather strapped over a hole; and the “surgeon” was more of a sculptor, as you can see in this video of Red Cross workers treating the war-injured in Paris in 1918: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8epVBKiMmns

Survivors of facial injuries were known as the “gueules cassés” (the men with ‘broken faces), which was an affectionate and respectful term, not a pejorative one.

Personally, I think the noses represent an artistic masterstroke by Barroux: they are true to the times he is depicting; they afford his figures an everyman or universal status; and they are his signature as a contemporary artist. He has set the bar very high indeed for the translation to jump over!

Still on the subject of tone and register, there is a profound difference between translating The Little Prince and Line of Fire. Which is that our “poilu” never intended his words to be read by anyone, let alone complete strangers, and certainly not YOU, the general reading public, across the Channel, a century into the future. What does this mean for my translation? Well, I must be sensitive to the fact that this kind of writing is not trying to show off, or be LOUD – these are someone’s quiet thoughts, written as a means of recording what is happening to him in extraordinary and frightening circumstances. I found it surprising how much such a deceptively “plain style” text changed radically with each re-drafting. I was fascinated by the way in which an anonymous but coherent voice gradually emerged in the process of translation - rather like the developing process in photography.

Next, I needed think about the kind of readership we were aiming to reach, since the author had no intentions of his own on that front. I was also aware that Phoenix Yard Books is mainly a children’s publisher, but that with Line of Fire we were aiming both for a young and a grown up readership – so I needed to choose my words with that in mind. Our intention was to publish war diaries that speak to our times and to new readers, as opposed to serving up a facsimile in translation.

So, while resisting the urge to “improve” the text, there were rare instances where I, or my editor, wanted to tidy it up a little in order to make it read more smoothly for our English readership, or in relation to Barroux’s illustrations (yes, we’re back to how the words look in the space!) For instance, the entry for Friday 21st August 2014 reads: By the side of the road, a pair of modest crosses marks the spot where two soldiers died. In the French, our poilu wrote “two” both times – whereas I’m lightly ‘touching up’ here, by introducing the synonym of “a pair”. Similarly, a very small amount of extra punctuation was introduced.

For the record, our soldier seems to have been reasonably well educated, and he writes in plain-style correct French. While he is an ordinary soldier keeping a diary, as opposed to an officer or someone with “literary” aspirations, issues of dialect and vernacular don’t particularly apply. His preferred tense is the emphatic dramatic present. His recurrent use of “nous voilà” (here we are) conveys a sense of him penning his diary almost in the heat of action. I tried to strike a balance between using reasonably “correct” or formal language, written out in full (which is largely how the diary is expressed), and occasional contractions, to reflect the actual diary “tone” and to avoid the words sounding over-stilted in English.

Reading out loud is often the true test of a translation – are there any false notes? This is particularly relevant here, both for a young readership, and since we might loosely describe this book as an oral history. In this spirit, I conducted some oral research. I sat for many hours with my father, himself a keen French and German speaker, and the last reluctant intake of compulsory National Service in Britain (he served in post-war Germany in the 1950’s). Together, we worked through the text and talked about what equivalent English military terms might be. Not necessarily the official terms recorded in military and history books, but the lay, spoken version of those terms amongst enlisted men.

As I tried to strike the right tone for Line of Fire – period-specific "chipper", but no silly rip-off of Blackadder in the trenches – I realised that the challenges I faced weren’t dissimilar to those I tackle when trying to recreate youth slang from the tough streets of the Paris suburbs in my translations of the young French/Algerian novelist Faïza Guène (where I must avoid serving up an Ali G hybrid).

You could argue that my anxiety about how to make our “poilu” leap fresh from the page, in the English version, is something that underpins every translation. Whether working on fiction or an illustrated verbatim account, whether translating someone with whom I share plenty in common or else whose life experiences are worlds apart from mine, I must make the imaginative leap that allows me to bring their words alive in English. The next leap of imagination is your own. After the translator, comes the reader.

Sarah Ardizzone, February 2014

 

 

Barroux's visit to St Marylebone School

As a school librarian and author, I’m already convinced of the value and importance of books for young people. Equally, I’m constantly on the lookout for evidence that will help persuade those who are yet to reach this conclusion. I’m therefore delighted to have the opportunity to talk about Line of Fire by the French illustrator Barroux and English translator Sarah Ardizzone.

It’s a fantastic book from both an aesthetic and an educational perspective. The concise prose of the original, unknown diarist combines with Barroux’s stark yet somehow rich and subtle illustrations to make a story of compelling human interest. Line of Fire emphasises not only the horrors of war but also its small joys and, perhaps most significantly, its periods of crushing monotony. The focus on small but telling privations and yearnings – untreated blisters; the longing for a glass of wine; the drudgery of route marches – brings home the realities of conflict left out by big picture histories. This is a book that is both intensely personal and enormously resonant for readers of all ages.

On 14th February, Barroux, along with his English publisher Emma Langley, visited St Marylebone School in central London, where I manage the library service. This visit turned out to be probably the most inspiring author / illustrator event the school has ever hosted.

Barroux at Marylebone School.jpg

Over the course of two sessions, each lasting almost an hour, close to 300 students from Years 8 and 9 were enthralled by both the story told by the unknown soldier whose words are the ultimate inspiration behind Line of Fire and the story of creating the book itself.

Barroux, with input from Emma, provided vivid insights (including live drawing) into the process of translating written words into illustrations and his own distinct ‘eye’ and artistic skill. Students were also introduced to a new perspective on the First World War, which could only enrich their understanding of the conflict.

Both the book and the visit are powerful illustrations of the power of stories to educate as well as entertain, and demonstrate the value of authors and illustrators coming into schools to engage directly with their audience. More than 50 students have expressed interest in buying their own copy of the book. Teachers commented that the events were “truly inspirational”, “fascinating” and “incredibly useful”. “It’s given me so many good ideas,” said one.

Next time someone asks me to justify my belief in the inspirational and educative power of books, I’ll just hand them a copy of Line of Fire*and invite them to talk to our students. 

Dr Graham Gardner
Director of Independent Learning & Library Resources Manager
The St Marylebone School, London

Barroux's first UK Interview!

Discovering the diary of an unknown First World War soldier in the street sounds like a plot from a novel yet that it exactly what happened to French illustrator Barroux. Intrigued, Book Events for Children asked Barroux more about this chance discovery and how it led to the publication of Line of Fire. Read his first UK interview below.

You found the diary of a ‘poilu’ (a French infantryman) in a street in Paris. Can you tell us a bit more about how this fabulous find came about and how you got the idea of adapting the diary into a graphic novel?

“I’ll walk, it’s not far… I go at a steady pace from Bastille to République…” Are the opening words of the graphic novel...

It was a beautiful winter’s day – freezing cold but not a cloud in the sky. I came across two men in blue overalls clearly emptying out of the contents of a basement in a big, old house onto the pavement. Amongst old furniture, mouldy books and old magazines, a cardboard box caught my eye.  I picked it up and shook it. Inside, there was a notebook and a medal (Cross of War). I opened the notebook and read these lines: “3 August 1914 , Today we’re off. Mobilisation has been declared, and it’s time to go, leaving behind wife, children and family…”

It was with great emotion that I slipped the diary and the Cross of War into my bag with the feeling of having saved a piece of history from destruction. It was only later, in the quiet of my own studio, I realised that the diary traced the first two months of the First World War, day by day.  It was then that the idea of illustrating the diary began to form in my mind. But it then took two more years of iconographic research (what the military uniforms and military equipment looked like, what the landscapes in this part of France looked like, etc), copying and cutting parts of the diary to impose on top on my drawings in the pastiche effect, planning and sketching out the graphic novel page-by-page, and then final illustrations, before the book was born.

 

What were your main concerns and challenges in adapting the diary?

Respecting the memory of this man – making my own powerful images, but images that were hopefully faithful to this man’s story. If you are a storyteller like me, you are always seeking and finding stories (that’s why I looked in the rubbish, and why I always tell students to keep their eyes and ears open at all times, and always keep a notebook to hand). So, perhaps it would have been tempting to let my imagination run away and deviate from the story in the diary. So I had to remember that there already was a great story, this man’s own true story, and I needed to be faithful to his story. That’s why I kept the text of the original diary, word by word, down to the last comma.

 

What strikes you most forcibly about the soldier’s diary?

The diary highlights an aspect of ‘The Great War’ that is perhaps less known, less polished and ‘processed’ if you like. This text, uncensored by the military, government or history textbooks, is a trip back in time. What was most powerful for me was the feeling of illustrating not the events and battles, but the whole story of a man as a human being: his doubts, his fears, his pain, but also his moments of joy.

 

Was the First World War a period of history that particularly interested you?

No, not really. I really didn’t know that much about the war either. But I had my thread, the text. When you start to pull at a thread you can’t stop. Now, I’m obsessed.  I spent hours and hours in the library, researching and gathering every type of document I could find.

 

Through your appearances at literary festivals and bookshops promoting Line of Fire, how much interest is there among today’s children in the events of World War One?

After I took the diary home I tried to show my kids. I have three teenagers and they were like, “Ew, Dad, no, that’s disgusting, you found it in the trash… we don’t want to see touch that!” So, no, they weren’t very interested. I don’t blame them. I can’t talk because I didn’t really have any interest before I found the diary, before I’d heard about the war first hand.

I’m happy to say there has been a lot of interest in Line of Fire at events and workshops, from children, young people and adults. I think it’s about finding that thread and presenting history in a way that captures their imagination – like this one man’s story captured my imagination. I think it makes a big difference that Line of Fire is a personal account of war rather than a school textbook.

 

We understand that the book has been adapted into a popular theatre performance in France, with you recreating the drawings onstage whilst accompanied by a musician. How did the publication of the book lead to this venture?

Yes, my good friend Julien plays the electric guitar and together we decided to develop the ‘spectacle’.  I alternate between reading the soldier’s diary and re-drawing pictures. The pictures are projected against a giant illuminated screen, either in underground venues such as the Caverne du Dragon (a museum in France) or outside in Jardine d’Alice (my garden attached to the studio I used to share with other artists) when the sun goes down.

I think what makes the spectacle work so well is the combination of reading, music and drawing and the way these different forms of performance come together to tell one story. The spectacle has become very popular and we keep being asked to do more shows. We’re doing a tour of India with the spectacle in March and we’ll be performing the spectacle in English for the first time in the UK in June.

 

Can you tell us a bit about the artistic technique specifically used for this graphic novel?

I worked in lead pencil, on watercolour paper (Arches 300gsm).  Once a sketch was outlined, the pencil lines were strengthened and painted with a varnish that had been tinted or dyed with a light oak colour.

I chose to work in black and white only right from the very beginning of the project. I thought the black and white images, whilst modern in their style, maintained the historicity of it all. On the other hand, I chose to place the text below the images because this seemed like a very modern way of bringing it all together; in a sense the layout became the centre thread to the book that takes you through the action, the story, the war.

 

So how would you describe your first graphic novel experience and will you be repeating it, do you think?

It was a big challenge but a lot of fun visualising and illustrating a 100-year-old story. A new door opened in my career as an illustrator and I’m already working on a new graphic novel…

 

Tell us a bit about your general experience and approach to illustrating books for children.

Hmm… that’s hard.  Hard because there are many books and many stories that are all different; and hard because with so many books and so many stories it can be hard for one illustrator to find their distinctive place, commercially speaking. For me personally, for every book I work on, I experience the text, I assemble ideas, I test ideas; I doubt very much that when I find the ‘right way’ I then repeat it in another book. For each book, I try to find the right framing, the right technique, the image best suited to the story without necessarily sticking to the information given in the author’s text. It’s important to look at an author’s text from some objective distance and remember than your role as the illustrator, in a good picturebook, is not to recreate the text in images but to tell your own part of the story that is not told in the author’s text.

 

What are your plans for the near future? Can we look forward to the publication of more of your children’s books?

I have a lot of plans. I’m working on children’s books for publishers in France, New York and London, and another graphic novel. I’m working on a new ‘How to Draw’ series for Phoenix Yard Books and I’ll be spending a lot of time in 2014 doing events for Line of Fire, and Julien and I will be touring a lot with the Line of Fire musical.

 

Finally, and you probably get asked this a lot, have you ever imagined that someone, like a relative of the soldier, will discover Line of Fire and recognize the diary and the identity of the soldier?

Yes, of course. The jottings in the songbook that were found with the diary continue until about 1917. What happened?  I guess he survived. I guess he lived in Paris. I really hope so. I feel like I’ve spent a lot of time with this man – I’ve got to know him very well even though I don’t even know his name. Who was he really? His family? His job? The rest of his life? For now, the diary keeps its mystery. I’m ok with that.

Welcome to the Line of Fire website! (And a word from the Publisher...)

Welcome to the Line of Fire website! (And a word from the Publisher...)

Welcome to the Line of Fire website and the Line of Fire blog! We’re almost ready; waiting for the off, as our soldier might say.

We’ve created a designated website for the Line of Fire Project because we are passionate about books reaching readers. We wanted to build a 'one-stop-shop' for everyone with an interest in any and every aspect of this extraordinary book, with a particular focus on the teaching resources and translation resources for UK secondary teachers and students.

Here, we'll be blogging about Line of Fire school and public events, Barroux’s famous illustration workshops and translation events, plus lots of other fun things to do with this book and WWI. We'll also be inviting guest blogs from those involved in all aspects of the creation and publication of Line of Fire and, more importantly, readers, teachers, students, librarians and booksellers. (If you fancy writing a blog for us – in English or French – please do get in touch!)

Read More