Magnetic Press boasts a catalog that carries a production quality that stands heads and shoulders above many in the industry. Counted among those titles is the five collected books into one volume (248 pages) that compose NAJA, written by the international dynamic duo of JD Morvan (Sillage, Zaya) and illustrated by Bengal (Meka, Luminae). This beautifully crafted work, bristling with dynamic energy made its American debut at this summer’s SDCC and made fans stateside take notice and ask the question “who are JD Morvan and Bengal?” Both took time out from their creative works to talk with CCN about NAJA, genres, elements of great storytelling, and more. Learn why Magnetic Press, NAJA, JD Morvan and Bengal will be something that American audiences find themselves drawn to.
Mark Turner: Naja made its debut at SDCC this year. Did you both have a chance to attend?
JD Morvan : No, I had no chance of coming this year. Really, I’ve never been there. But this year, I will be at NYCC. And next year to San Diego, I hope. In fact, I regret not having seen the launch of Magnetic Press, and also not having spent time with my friend, Kim Jung Gi. But I’ll see them soon.
Bengal: I couldn’t make it either sadly but I will do everything to be there next year. We’ll have all our books translated and released by then and I will have worked some for US publishers in the meantime. All the more reason to go!
MT: What made Bengal the ideal artist to work on Naja?
JDM: Everything, really, because this story was deliberately written for him. I wouldn’t have made it for nobody else. It is his drawing that made me write this story, in this way.
Bengal: We indeed worked on this one together. The idea of the story came to JD after he saw one of my illustrations, even though it was not MEANT to be developed (or even remotely related to any assassin story). JD also knew I possess and breed snakes in real life. He really provided me with a story perfectly tailored for me!
MT: Bengal, what was it about JD Morvan’s script for Naja that inspired you to bring your visual sensibilities to it?
Bengal: More or less what I stated. I knew I had the opportunity to try to get more illustrative in the pages, work more with a sense of economy & dynamism as I wanted to try to do back then. Because it was written specifically to allow me to do so.
MT: Naja has been well received in the European market, as it connected with the BD community; what about this story do you think will resonate with American readers? What differences do you perceive between the two markets?
JDM: Has it? I still do not know. This story is a little different from what is usually made in France. Not just in the story itself, but also in the tackled issues. It is rather hard in tone, while keeping an appropriate distance through Bengal’s drawings; it is what makes it unique. I already knew that the French readers would be surprised, but I do not know that there will be American fans. The good point is that I did not send Naja (the character) to the USA, so nobody will be shocked by what she does not like about your home (or about you).
Bengal: Both markets work so totally differently that I wouldn’t even have been able to know HOW to make a European production like Naja fit into a comic format. I’m just happy to see it is now a reality! I hope American readers will be able to perceive our heroin’s nature and evolution, just like our French readers did, simply. It’s all that matters at the end of the day. If they don’t like the character, the whole story is pointless, no matter where it’s published.
MT: Bengal, what informed your decisions for the look of Naja? How do you work (digital, traditional pencils, etc)?
Bengal: Since the story was inspired from an old illustration, I kept the character visually close to the girl that triggered JD’s idea. I always, always draw on paper (I was not inking at the time, it’s just mechanical pencil) then I scan pages and colorize digitally. Painter 7 was the soft used for the series. I ink my pages and work with Photoshop CS6 nowadays though. I change my habits as I keep learning.
MT: The visual vein of Manga influence can be seen in the art of the book, does this translate over to the written elements of the story as well?
JDM: I’ll let Bengal answer, but we have the same influences, so I knew in advance almost what he was going to make. But there are always surprises, and that’s always pleasant.
Bengal: Yeah, JD and I really have the same global culture. Not necessarily the same approach, thank god, that’s what allows for a strong emulation when we work together. But I think we never really disagreed on anything we produced together. It’s a nice feeling. Manga is my strongest influence. Since there was Japanese anime on TV when I was a kid (it started with Grendizer & Captain Harlock when I was quite young *haha*) until right now, I’ve been a massive fan and consumer of Manga…of Japanese culture in general, I must say. This definitely influences my style. But, more than that, it strongly influences my storytelling choices. Although I’m not doing actual Manga pages, I really try to give a sense of action and energy you find only in Japanese comics. I feel like I’m light years from reaching that goal still, but I don’t regret anything, Naja was an amazing opportunity for me to learn & experiment and I’m proud of it.
MT: Did the two of you find that since you both have a background with writing that it made communicating how the story should be approached visually easier to convey between the both of you?
JDM: Naja arose from our previous collaborations. Pulled from what seemed to be successful and what must be improved. Ultimately, we worked more on our “defects” that on our strengths. And in that way, we really enjoyed working hard. But in Naja, the most important matter really was to surprise even ourselves with the story.
Bengal: Pretty much exactly that. I learned a lot.
MT: JD, where did this story come from? What made you decide to take the character convention of the assassin and explore a fresh approach to the classic characterizations of the profession? Would you say that characters that populate Naja are patchworks of individuals that you’ve actually come in contact with, are more archetypes with character flourishes, or are an amalgam of imagination, reality and research?
JDM: Once again, everything comes from Bengal. Naja came out of an illustration he had made a few years before that I loved. She was completely there in the physical appearance of that character. I felt her just like that. I do not know where she comes from, but what interested me was to try to understand how a person could live without knowing pain.
The basis for the story arrived during an SMS exchange between us while I drove between Brussels and Reims. That act was not being careful, I know, but our characters are not careful either. All the characters in Naja are concepts that I tried to bring to life before. A killer who kills for good, a killer who hopes only for death, etc. The principle was to play on the paradoxes every time, and to reconcile them.
MT: In terms of genre, what types of stories would both of you say you are traditionally most drawn to? What is it about that particular genre that you find so appealing?
JDM: I like writing all kinds of genres and to play with the aforementioned genres. It is what pleases me most in my job: decode a genre and re-broadcast it with the same basic items that please the reader, while blowing it up from the inside.
Bengal: I would work in about any kind of setting, I believe. I read stories in any imaginable universe, I am definitely better at some things and weak at others, but that wouldn’t necessarily make me give up. Just so long as I’m motivated by the subject. The theme needs to be the right one – then, if it’s a samurai or a cyborg going through it, I’ll probably be happy no matter what. Now, I do prefer some genres (to draw, not to read), and I feel I’m really going to make my pages shine when I tackle a real, solid SF project – I have one I’m writing since years… and one day, it will happen. I’m so ready for it, you wouldn’t believe!
MT: Great storytelling is great storytelling, no matter where you go in the world, but what challenges do you feel you might face in reaching an American audience?
JDM: For a long time, American comics were either underground or super-heroes. But, since a few years, thanks to a generation of new authors who influenced the publishers, there are more and more comics of all kinds. Yet, it is what we have been doing for a long time in France. Naja is rather mature for the public French “mainstream”. I think that comics have become from now on a little more serious. I thus think that we are ready enough to join.
Bengal: I couldn’t have said it better. The comics market evolved a lot, and I believe that’s why more interactions are happening in terms of adaptation; comics to BD, and BD to comics.
MT: JD, you’ve written for Marvel Comics. What was that experience like? Would you consider writing for any of the big publishers again?
JDM: “Wolverine: Saudade” was rather simple to write. We made it for Panini, which had an agreement with Marvel, who allowed us the right to do things that amazed some American authors (such as Jim Lee or Lee Bermejo) in Angoulême. This was because they did not have the right to be so direct in the representation of the violence and the blood, for example. Altogether, the story I invented remained perfectly the same. I had no “censorship”. On the other hand, I wrote Spiderman for Bengal, which lies finished in a drawer regrettably because I found that after the numerous alterations, the story did not interest me anymore. Having said that, I am very willing and shall be very ready to reattempt the experience with Marvel or DC.
MT: What is next for the two of you, any dream projects in the pipeline? Anything capturing your imagination or inspiring you creatively currently?
JDM: Ah, there are beautiful things in sight, in France, in Japan, or in the USA. We have, currently, a project waiting with a French publisher that we would like to see to the finish. I created for example a partnership with a publisher and the agency Magnum Photo, and I hope that this series will be published in the USA very soon.
Bengal: At the moment, I’ve been lucky enough to start working for both Marvel and DC Comics doing cover jobs and I have a few pages in progress. I also signed to do a new short series with French publisher Delcourt with a new writer. The goal is to give myself different opportunities and to keep learning the most I can, as well as to work on really different universes to keep myself entertained. In the meantime, as mentioned before, I’ll give myself a couple more years to develop the best I can my own personal little SF project.
MT: You both have worked together as well on the series MEKA ( both books have been collected and printed in English for the first time through Magnetic Press). Would you say that a precedent has been set and you can see your effective team up occurring again in the future?
JDM: FOR SURE !!!!!!
Bengal: Well D’UH! *laugh*
NAJA is currently available from Magnetic Press
NAJA is TM and © JD Morvan and Bengal 2014
This article is © 2014 Mark C. Turner. All rights reserved.