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Drawn to NW6

Illustrator Stéphane Oiry tells Dan Carrier how his time in Kilburn has informed his new graphic novel

23 May, 2019 — By Dan Carrier

North London as seen in the pages of Maggy Garrisson

FOR French comics illustrator Stéphane Oiry, the story started long before the opening pages of Maggy Garrisson, a new graphic novel set in Kilburn.

Back in 1991, Stéphane was living in and around NW6 – and it is this time he has drawn on, with the help of author and publisher Lewis Trondheim, to create a noir-ish north London tale.

We meet Maggy as she has been out of work for months. Then she is offered a job with the heavy-drinking, cantankerous gumshoe Anthony Wight. With no experience, Maggy has to live on her wits – and she has plenty – as she tumbles into a murky underworld of bent cops, crooked businessmen and career criminals. On top of this, she wouldn’t mind meeting a nice bloke to hang out with – while making sure she has enough coins in her pocket to pay for the next pint.

Beautifully drawn, with pictures that capture Kilburn, Brondesbury and West Hampstead so well, it’s a wonderfully seedy page-turner.

“I lived in Kilburn for over a year-and-a-half, around 1990-1992,” recalls Stéphane, who now lives in Paris.

“I chose that neighbourhood because I was able to find a place to live easily and it wasn’t too expensive. I liked the area. It was working class and heavily impacted by unemployment, but still lively.

“Maggy was born out of this desire to represent London as I knew it and remember it. It’s important for me to be able to bring to life these places that I know so well and where I’ve lived or stayed for a while.

“That was why I suggested to Lewis that we base the story in London. I’d also suggested to him the idea of creating more of a detective story. He was a bit hesitant at the beginning, but ultimately came up with the winning recipe: an unemployed single woman with a penchant for dark humour.”

And British Realism provided further inspiration.

“It was important for Lewis that the character be realistic, far from the stereotypes about women that comics frequently convey,” adds Stéphane. “In developing Maggy, we had in mind a number of movie heroines, for example from Mike Leigh and Ken Loach.”

The pair, who published Maggy’s tale as a series in France in 2014 before it was put together as a single volume this year, have been working together since 2000.

In France, graphic storytelling has always flourished – partly because many writers and artists run publishing houses, giving them greater artistic and editorial control – and that means they are prepared to take risks to get their work out there.

“These initiatives allowed for a freedom of tone and style and led to the development of unique kinds of stories, such that one could speak of an author-based approach in general, as was the case with French cinema in the 1960s,” adds Lewis.

Working on a graphic novel marries the techniques of a film director with those of a novelist. Lewis begins by sending Stéphane a script broken down frame by frame.

“I send each page to Lewis once it’s been inked in,” says Stéphane.

“I don’t send him a storyboard, we’ve come to trust each other enough. I don’t sketch out my pages ahead of time. I go one by one, and always have. I’m too eager to see the result. I think I’d get bored sketching an entire volume, or even just a complete scene, before starting to ink.”

The pair cite Tintin creator Hergé and the celebrated Jacques Tardi as influences.

“Tardi places an emphasis on urban landscapes,” says Stéphane, a point that comes over in Maggy Garrisson as the streets of Kilburn come alive.

“Tardi’s landscapes are characters themselves, not just scenery, and play an important role in his narration. I love bringing to life the city and its streets, just like he did. On a side note, Maggy inherited her signature coat from Tardi’s character Nestor Buma.”

And the great US comic illustrators, whose popularity swept through France in the 1970s, were important for the pair.

“I’ve been influenced as well by independent North American authors like Crumb, Daniel Clowes and Julie Doucet.

“Jaime Hernandez’s series Love and Rockets holds a special place in my heart,” says Stéphane. “I consider this series to be an absolute masterpiece. Jaime has created a number of female characters who are touching and convincing. Our Maggy Garrisson also owes a lot to the Maggy of Jaime Hernandez.”

Maggy Garrisson. By Lewis Trondheim and Stéphane Oiry. Self Made Hero, £14.99

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