Cool Cat Cartoonist: An Interview with Gisele Lagace
Gisele Lagace is the creator of Cool Cat Studio and Penny & Aggie. On both webcomics, she currently shares the reins with T Campbell who scripts while Lagace handles the artwork. Lagace and Campbell recently announced the return of Cool Cat Studio, a webcomic I really liked during its initial year 2000-2001 run. And Lagace also recently quit her day job to do comics full-time. It seemed like a great time to find out more about Gisele Lagace so I caught up with her recently via email to talk about comics.
Can you tell us a little about yourself. Where you were born; where are you now?
I was born in New-Brunswick, Canada. When I was 2, my parents and I moved to Schefferville, Quebec and stayed there until I was 9. We moved back to New-Brunswick and I finished my high school there. Drawing was a way of keeping myself occupied as I had no brothers or sisters.
I met my longtime companion at the age of 15. After high school, we moved to Montreal to pursue a career in music. I did that for 5 years and then decided to switch gears and concentrate on my cartooning (which I had left behind for years.) I studied graphic design in Ottawa, Ontario and then settled there once I got work after college. I now live just across the Ottawa River in Gatineau, Quebec.
I remember something about your music career from the Cool Cat Studio website back then. What did you do during those five years and do you still harbor any musical ambitions?
I was a bass player in an all-girl band that I formed. I wrote most of the music while the singer wrote the lyrics. The music was in French and we were able to get the attention of a record label and put out one album. We had some radio rotation for 4 singles and one video that ran on Musique Plus (French equivalent to MTV here in Quebec.) I still to this day receive some royalties from that time but very little; we weren't a huge success or anything.
As for harboring musical ambitions today, not really. My companion and I still have a music room with guitars and recording gear. We'd like to write some songs for Penny & Aggie one day. We'll see :)
How long have you been making comics?
Your first webcomic was Cool Cat Studio which you wrote and drew. Now you're bringing it back. Can you tell us a little about what the initial experience was the first time with Cool Cat Studio and why you've decided to bring it back to the web in 2007?
Drawing and writing CCS was a lot of fun at first. When I discovered webcomics in early 2000, I said to myself "I can do this," so I did. It wasn't really planned. I just drew a strip, posted it and within a couple of hours I was emailed by a bunch of cartoonists that found me via referral trackers (I had linked to a few webcomics I liked at the time and was checking the links to see if they worked.) I believe it was Chris Jackson, Scott Kurtz and Greg Dean that were the first to take notice; then Keenspot. My problem then was that they started to link to me but I only had one strip done. I had my work cut out for me and I improvised from there with each new update.
After a year of writing & drawing CCS on my own, I accepted an offer by T Campbell to help me in the writing department. Little did he know that when he joined, I was already getting pretty tired of doing CCS. I liked to draw but the pressure of keeping this up and working a full time job was too much for me to handle at the time. I eventually just quit one day and the strip went on hiatus for 5 years.
Penny and Aggie started 2 years after CCS went on hiatus. I really needed that break.
We're now bringing back CCS as we don't like to leave unfinished business. T Campbell had a conclusion story brewing for a while and we figured when the time is right, we'll do it. Now's that time as I just recently quit my day job to focus solely on cartooning. The conclusion story is 80+ strips and is going to be a wild ride.
I 'm not sure which year now but you won the Kim Yale Award for Best New Talent from the Friends of Lulu. When did you win that award, what work was going on when you won it and what was that like?
It was in 2002. I won it for my work on Cool Cat Studio in 2001. It was nice to win it but the sad part was that I couldn't make it to the San Diego Comicon to accept the award. Darren Bleuel (creator of Nukees) accepted it for me and mailed it to me.
I imagine that getting CCS on Keenspot and then winning recognition from Friends of Lulu was great positive feedback at the time. Although perhaps a mixed blessing in light of the pressures you say you felt at keeping up a daily webcomic? What was the full time job that you were working on back then?
Couldn't have said it better. It was both nice and a lot of pressure at the same time. My day job was as a graphic designer. I just recently quit that same job. I was there for 10 years. I was part of the furniture ;)
The comic you're probably best known for right now is Penny & Aggie which you draw and T Campbell scripts. Can you tell us how the partnership with Campbell works and how much do you put into the story and words and how much does Campbell give you input into the artwork?
I came up with the name and the main cast and told T are you with me on this? He said "sure!" We bounce ideas to each other but I don't control his writing and he doesn't control my art. I can certainly suggest something and so can he as we trust each other a lot. The readers also play a part in the direction of the strip. We get lots of feedback from them and it helps us know what works and what doesn't.
Does that mean you consider yourself the creator of Penny & Aggie or are you really a co-creator with Campbell? How are you handling ownership of the comic?
I created the name and the character designs of the original 7 cast members but after that, their whole world and all the characters that live in Belleville are as much T as they are me. It's a 50/50 creation. I usually get a bit more in regards to revenue simply because it takes me much longer to draw the strips than it does T to write them. He can work on various projects as I can't as much. However, if a film was ever made on P&A, we'd split 50/50.
I've noticed in reading P&A that you often go to a visual pun (examples like this one, or this one, or even this one) or just work in sort of a very literal visual style. I'm interested in how that came about as part of the P&A "style".
Those are found in T's scripts. He likes that kind of stuff and I enjoy drawing it.
How specific is T in terms of the visual of each strip or even each panel? Does he write out specific details of an image or does he leave a lot of it to you to come up with how to represent things?
He rarely gets specific unless it's important to the story. The most important part for him (and me) is that I get the emotions right; the rest I can play with. Most of the time I put in more than what he thought I would, which sometimes drives him crazy, as he tries to simplify things for me so it doesn't take me forever to draw a strip.
There's a little sequence of strips in P&A where it steps outside the story to explain how all of the characters really do look different. Were you really getting comments that characters looked confusingly similar?
Yes we did. We have a large cast. Over 30 characters. It's not always easy to make them completely different. Especially with the style that I had, which is kind of an Archie/manga cross.
It's interesting that you describe the look of P&A as a manga take on Archie. I hadn't thought about it before, but now that you mention it the lightbulb went on for me immediately. It's a very friendly and familar style in a lot of ways although I have noticed more realistic takes on the characters in the latter part of the archives. Is that something we'll see more of?
Our readers really look at every little detail. It's important to them, so I try and please them in that department. Plus, I've gotten more self-conscious with regard to anatomy and perspective. I'm always trying to improve while still trying to keep the readers happy.
How do you go about designing a character, particularly one that you and Campbell plan to use regularly in the comic?
I designed the main characters when I came up with the name of the strip. The original cast had about 7 people but then T started using stand-in background characters and made them talk in future strips. Here's where the character designs problem started to appear. We didn't really know that these stand-in characters would become more important later on, so there wasn't much thought put into them. I slowly refined them as I went along and that's one of the reasons the strip is getting more detail oriented. When a character is planned, I just read the initial script and inspire myself from it. My design will then influence the writing.
Who are your influences in comics and in art generally?
I was a fan of Uderzo, Dan DeCarlo and Jim Davis as a kid. DeCarlo's influence is still pretty obvious. Other than that, I like the works of George Perez, J Scott Campbell, Tony Daniel, Lynn Johnston, Rumiko Takahashi, Ai Yazawa, and more recently Eun Ah Park, Choi Kyung-Ah and Wann.
Are you reading any webcomics these days? Who do you like right now?
I don't really read webcomics simply because I don't read on the screen anymore. I used to at the time but now that I work completely digitally, I like to take my eyes away from a computer screen once in a while. Plus I don't have that much time to read. The two reads that I do make time for every month is for my ShojoBeat (manga anthology from Viz) and Betty & Veronica Digest subscriptions. It's no wonder I'm an Archie/manga cross ;)
What are your plans for Gisele Lagace? What do you hope to accomplish in the near future and even further down the road?
I've accomplished my first goal, which was to quit my day job and concentrate on my cartooning full-time. What's next is to keep this initial goal going, finish CCS properly, get more people into P&A and work on other comics-related projects.