[In this first of what will hopefully be a recurring series of Editors Notes posts, Kim Thompson interviews himself (in a format he's dubbed "AutoChat") on the subject of Fantagraphics' first Franco-Belgian kids' comic release, coming to a comics shop near you later in November. – Ed.]
This is your first Blanquet book. Why pick this one?
Honestly, it kind of dropped in my lap out of nowhere. I read it, I liked it, and I thought "Why not?" I've long wanted do publish a Blanquet book - we've published short stories of his in Zero Zero and Blab!...
This one is kind of outside his usual mode, though. I mean... a kids' comic? This is a guy known for body horror that makes David Cronenberg look like Walt Disney.
There's elements of that even in Toys in the Basement, but yes, that's true. What's even weirder is that the other long-form Blanquet book that's been translated into English is another more-or-less all-ages story, in Dungeon Monstres Vol. 2: The Dark Lord. The thing is, most of Blanquet's more Blanquet-y work in France has been published in these odd formats, little boutique presentations, none of which I think would really survive very well in the American book market. But actually that might end soon. I've been in contact with Blanquet's main French publisher, Cornélius, and they're talking about doing a sizeable omnibus collection that would collect some of those smaller books and other material and basically create a nice big sampler of Blanquet — something I could sell to Barnes & Noble. I told him I'm in!
Toys in the Basement is also apparently the first in a "line" of sorts...?
Yeah, my all-ages Franco-Belgian comics series. Again, I sort of backed into it. I'd decided to publish Blanquet's book, and then I was offered David B.'s Le roi rose, which we're publishing at The Littlest Pirate King, and then I figured, why not make an official series of it? Geometrically speaking, if you've got two points, you've got a line. So I asked Jacob Covey to come up with some overarching design, I wrote a little historical essay putting the whole Franco-Belgian kids' comics thing in perspective which we'll run in the back of each, and I've started buying up other material for it.
Will it be contemporary like these two, classic, or...?
The next two will be classic 1960s work, Tillieux and Macherot, but I plan to hop around and pick and choose from the entire last 50 years. I've always loved the Franco-Belgian kids comics: I grew up with them, and even though this may color my feelings somewhat, I firmly believe that was, and is, one of the true pinnacles of comics, absolutely on a par with Carl Barks or Walt Kelly.
Wouldn't the two Trondheim McConey books you did have fit into this line?
Sure, although the series veered into a bit more of adult sensibility in the later volumes. I might yet go back and do a few more of those, as a matter of fact.
Aside from Tintin and Asterix, and a few things from First Second, there really isn't that much being published in the U.S.
In some ways it's a tough genre to sell. It killed Catalan Comics back in the 1980s when they tried to expand their adult European graphic novels into a kids' line, Comcat, and if you remember Fantasy Flight, which published among other things a Franquin Spirou book which I translated, that was a noble disaster. But the material is so great; maybe the American readership is finally ready for it. NBM, who has dabbled in it themselves from time to time, is re-launching The Smurfs, for instance. The movie looks like it'll be an abomination, but if it gets people reading those classic albums again, that's good. (The Smurf King is one of the ten greatest European comics albums ever, seriously.) There's actually an outfit in the United Kingdom called Cinebook that's been doing a lot of work in the genre, including at least three stone classics, Lucky Luke, Blake and Mortimer, and Valerian, and a lot of solid other work like Iznogoud, Yoko Tsuno, and Boule et Bill (which they've re-dubbed Billy and Buddy, apparently in inadvertent tribute to Herman Melville). Those books do sell in the U.S., you can buy them through Last Gasp or on Amazon.com — they're nicely done, and really inexpensive, too. Seriously, any fan owes it to him- or herself to pick up a Lucky Luke and a Blake and Mortimer.
Aren't these AutoChats supposed to be promoting your books?
Well, yeah. I get carried away with the Team Comics spirit sometimes. Anyway, Toys in the Basement is a huge amount of fun, like everything Blanquet touches it's spectacularly drawn, it's one of the few books we've put out that's both totally kid safe and thoroughly entertaining for adults... I had a blast working on it. Buy it.