Today I am delighted to welcome both Fanny Britt and Isabelle Arsenault, author and illustrator of the wonderful Jane, the Fox & Me, which I reviewed last week. They both agreed to share their side of the story behind this incredibly unusual and uplifitng graphic novel.
Fanny Britt’s story:
First came the call. Frédéric Gauthier, editor extraordinaire at Montreal’s La Pastèque publishing house, was asking me if I wanted to write a book. I was intimidated and excited, but I was also uncharacteristically calm. Because I already knew. I already knew that beautiful offers like this one are not to be missed – and I also knew which story I would tell. Hélène’s story, in many ways, is my story. It is the story of a childhood fractured by loneliness and self-hatred and longing for conformity while simultaneously fighting conformity. It is the story of a mother bone-tired, of a daughter filled to the brim with dreams and disillusion, and of friends turned into tormentors. It is also a tribute to Jane Eyre, the headstrong, intense, modest, feminist, driven and fragile literary heroine who cradled my adolescence and still brings me comfort to this day, reminding me that coming into one’s own doesn’t have to involve diets or « makeovers ». It is, above all, a plea for patience, and hope, and courage, for true friendship, when it finally arises, gives meaning to the whole painful and exhilarating journey. Hélène’s story is a story of humble hardships and quiet salvation, put into multi-layered, soulful images by the wonderful Isabelle Arsenault. I could not have wished for a better rendition of it. That it is now translated (with great skill by Susan Ouriou and Christelle Morelli) and published in the UK is the cherry on top of this anglophile’s cake. Somewhere, 10-year-old me is most definitely smiling through her caramel-laden teeth.
Isabelle Arsenault’s story:
Jane, the Fox & Me is a really special book to me. With this project, my main objective was to get out of the traditional children’s book format, which I explored for the past couple of years. I wanted to experiment and follow my instinct for this text and I had total freedom from both the author Fanny Britt and my publisher in order to do so. I chose a graphic approach that allowed me to illustrate one sentence in many images, instead of what I was used to with the standard children’s book, which is to condense a few paragraphs into one spread.
After reading the text several times to immerse myself into it, I started visualizing the way I would bring it to life. I decided to use two different visual approaches to represent each narrative level featured in the story.
I chose a very gloomy look to represent scenes from the “real” life of Hélène. I worked with dry media, using pencils, grey tones of colour crayons and eraser effects. This look helped to express the sadness and cruelty of Hélène’s reality.
When Hélène escapes through her reading of Jane Eyre, I decided to use a more colourful approach, giving a dreamlike effect to these pages. I also used wet media such as watercolour, gouache and ink to emphasize the contrast between these two worlds – one being suffocating the other one offering some sort of hope.
When in the story, Hélène meets the fox, this is where the two worlds start mixing up very subtly based on the inner feelings of Hélène. That magic moment, where she nearly touches that fox, is where she first finds hope. Suddenly, someone is interested in her, coming to her with those lovely eyes. By the end of the book, she makes a good friend, spring arrives, school is out and her world starts colouring up in a promising way.
I enjoyed playing with visuals to support or even narrate this story. I was very much inspired by one quote the main character mentioned in the story. Talking about her worst bully, she said, “Even with my creeping vine of an imagination, I’m always taken off guard by the insults she invents.” This was the starting point of all the organic shapes that are present throughout the book. I saw Hélène’s imagination as the way to escape, to grow up, to reach for the light.”
Thank you so much Fanny and Isabelle.
Photographs: © Julie Perreault (for Fanny Britt) and © Martine Boisvert (for Isabelle Aresenault)