Comic Artist Spotlight: Maïwenn

We have a real treat for you underground comic lovers today! An interview with one of the most talented comic artists we’ve ever had the pleasure to talk with. Their artwork is amazing. Their comic series Plumes is a beautifully drawn, carefully water painted, and a well written adventure that you should start reading right now! In the meantime, let’s take some time to get to know the artist themselves…

Maïlis, aka Maïwenn, is a 35 year old French artist living near Montpellier – a beautiful city in South France near the Mediterranean sea. It’s only natural that such a fantastic venue would be the tinder for the lovely fire that is Maïwenn’s work. They are a self taught-artist that originally studied environmental protection and nature awareness. They are also the embodiment of the classic “starving artist” in that they have struggled for recognition and financial support for their work, yet they continue to deliver page after page each week to her adoring fans. I hope that through this interview we will get to know them better and help spread recognition for their wonderful work.

Plumes Artwork. Chapter 1: Home Sweet Home. Picture of a bird perched atop a straw hut.
The perfect combination of raw talent and high quality art tools are just two of Maïwenn’s secrets!

An Interview with Maïwenn: A Comic Artist Extraordinaire.

TAC: How long have you been an artist? Is it something new, or have you done it since you were young?

Maïwenn: Like most kids I’ve more or less always been drawing, and, like most teenagers I doodled A LOT in my notebooks. I went to an art club when I was in primary and middle school. Since then I have forgotten most of what I learned there, but it completely uninhibited me toward the fear of “Traditional art”, which helped me a great deal later when I tried to find my way on my own.

I went to University and studied environmental protection and nature awareness. It was then that I realized how bad I was at communicating and interacting with people in general. So, I naturally thought about combining my love for nature and art by learning alone – focusing on naturalistic illustration after I finished my studies.

Comic making was kept as a hobby at that time, I switched my activities later.

Concretely I can say I’ve been really investing myself in art since 2006 and I became a professional artist in 2008. This means it’s been 13-15 years that I have been really focusing solely on my art. But I still feel like I have everything to learn and not enough time to experiment all medias while maintaining a balanced lifestyle.

TAC: What inspired you to be a comic artist? What makes you still do it to this day?

My father has always been passionate by franco-belgian comics, collecting originals, signed ex-libris, figurines, and so on. I grew up surrounded by comic books, then later I discovered mangas. The presence of comic books and illustrations has always been very natural part of my life.

But I think that the main reason I draw comics is because I’m completely addicted to story-telling. Since I was a kid I’ve always created stories for myself, spending all the most boring hours of my life with a blank stare, far far away in my mind, in my own universes. I’m always happiest when I’m making up stories in my mind, writing novel-like stories, or co-writing huge sagas with friends by roleplaying.

However, creating is one thing, and sharing is another. Comics (especially webcomics) are a very unique life experience! I lost count of how many times I saw my inspiration fed by my friends, or by my public’s reactions. When the excitement filling your heart is contagious and it grows into a common emulation, it’s exhilarating! There is nothing more precious than receiving comments of complete strangers who say that I made them smile or laugh. ♥

TAC: What is your current project? What were some/all of the major projects you worked on leading up to your current project?

Maïwenn: I’m currently working on my project Plumes. The story is about little spirits I named Plumes (Feather in French), protecting the birds of their birth. The main character is bound to a Hoopoe bird. Back from his migration, he goes on quest with his fellows, but friendship is not their only priority. Mother nature has no respite for those who forget you have to eat or be eaten. It’s an adventure and slice of life story about friendship, kindness, self-confidence, loneliness, tolerance, solidarity, mourning, and love in a global language we can all understand.

The comic is close to a franco-belgian format (I guess?) in which can probably be felt the influence of manga’s dynamic, and my love for nature of course. It’s also entirely coloured with watercolor, so it’s a very long and tedious work.

I already published two webcomics online. One was approximately 500 pages and one was 120 pages, both close to manga format and in black and white. They were on Smackjeeves and disappeared off of internet with the closure of the platform. I’d like to post again Be-twin, my biggest and very first webcomic, because even though it was very clumsy, it’s been well received and even years later there is still some people asking me where they can read it again.

TAC: Do you have any other comic artists that you look up to and admire? Why do they inspire you?

Maïwenn: Oh, this is a very hard question, there are dozens and I can’t list them all!

I would say that I basically admire all artists running a webcomic (or an artistic carrier), and even more those doing it aside of a daily job, because I know how much it costs in terms of personal investment.

If I should name only one artist, I guess it would be Wendy Pini.

Along with her Husband, Greg, their comic Elfquest was the very first comic – other that franco-belgian comics – I got in my hands and it had a HUUUGE influence on me. I was 14 and it struck me right in the heart. The story, the art, everything was so different from what I knew! I started drawing comic characters after I fell in love with Elfquest and I think its influence can still be felt in my art.

TAC: What are your future plans for your comics? Do you have any big ideas in the works? (Comicons, merch, books, cartoons, etc).

Maïwenn: I plan to launch a Kickstarter to print “Plumes” as a paper comic book. It’s going to be a three books series – 200 to 300 pages each. I stopped doing comicons when I began working on Plumes because people have never been very interested in my goodies, only in books. Conventions are taking a hell of a lot of time to prepare for, and even more money. I just can’t afford to go in a comicon without any new publication to help me to recoup all the costs involved (book printing, goodies making, hotel, transport, etc).

I also hope that someday, the infatuation for Plumes will rise enough for me to open my Patreon again and finally make a living of it. I updated thrice a week my patreon and no more less than 8 community platforms for 4 full years but it never took off. The project is still too young to have its public and I was just exhausting myself, spending a third of my weeks trying to stay up-to-date with an endlessly greedy communication world.

I’ll miss comicons until then, when you spend your whole year working alone at home, it’s so heartwarming to meet all of my friends, readers, and fellow artists in real life rather than on the web.

TAC: How long does it take you to draw a single strip/page? What are the general steps in your process?

Maïwenn: It can vary a lot depending of the complexity of the page (backgrounds, number of characters and birds appearing, etc…) and the complexity of the colouring. A whole page usually takes me about 30 hours.

Here is my process :

– I wrote my script as a novel, because I love writing and it helps me develop the internal thoughts of my characters as well as the atmosphere I want for my scene. Then I mentally cut it in what I estimate will fill a page and I highlight it in different blocks of colors.

– Following this cutting, I draw my storyboard in a A4 sketchbook dedicated to it, 4 pages by sheet so each storyboarded page is A6 size.

– I scan my storyboard (regularly I adjust the layout on computer), I enlarge it to the A3 format in which I draw my pages and then digitally sketch over it. I try to keep my line clean but still a bit sketchy and with details to complete, so I don’t get bored or lose too much spontaneity when I redraw the final line.

– Then I turn my whole sketch yellow and print it on a A3 watercolor paper sheet.

– Back on traditional media, I redraw everything over the yellow line with a pencil.

– I paint with watercolor. If there is very atmospheric scene (like a night scene or a sunset with purple shades for example), I first paint all my atmospheric washes, lights and shades, with acrylic inks. Unlike watercolor, acrylic inks have very bright colors and doesn’t wash away when painted over, so it helps a lot making very dramatic atmospheres.

– I ink with a thin brush with acrylic inks I mix myself, some sepia for warm atmospheres and Payne’s grey for cold ones. I add little touches of light with gouache and correct the small outbreaks with a white gelpen.

– I scan my page in two or three pieces that I have to put back together afterward because yes, I have a A3 printer, but not a A3 scanner (which are waaaay more expensive when we quality is needed). Then I add my speech bubbles (in two languages) and onomatopeias digitally, so I can change my mind on dialogues and adjust their position to get a balanced page very freely.

– The last step it to cut the whole page to compose a phone-friendly layout for webtoon, and to prepare the updates on the 5 platforms (all with different formats) on which I post the comic, which also takes quite some time.

The CG sketch usually takes about 8 hours, the paper one is more about 3 hours, the painting takes about 12 hours, the inking about 4 hours, the cleaning and lettering about 2 hours, and the cutting for webtoon format about 1h30. So in the end, we are around or above 30 hours taken for each page. Aside of that I devote time slots to draw my storyboard chapter by chapter (about 45 min by page), and correct or rewrite scripts and dialogues.

TAC: What tools do you use to create your strips? (pencil, ruler, paper type, brands, software, etc).

Maïwenn: I use an orange colored pencil then a mechanical pencil with red leads to sketch my storyboard on a A4 sketchbook.

I draw my CG sketch with photoshop, using a Huion drawing tablet with screen.

I draw my final line on a A3 watercolor paper (300g/m²) with a H pencil (HB tends to wash away a bit too much graphite and sometimes makes ugly stains).

The acrylic inks I use are Liquitex inks and my watercolor are « schmincke Horadam » (extra-fine watercolor with thicker and brighter colors that the « Winsor & Newton » watercolors I had in the past).

I can only paint with Isabey, n°6620 Kolinsky marten brushes. They’re awfully expensive but I’ve never been able to feel comfortable with synthetic brushes for watercolor. And I usually kill one brush everyone 4 pages, if not more.

I use cheaper quintuple zero synthetic brush for inking though (5/0 Da vinci nova synthetics), which is a good thing because acrylic is a brush killer!

I use a white gelpen (Uniball signo) and Linel extra fine gouache for corrections and light, but study gouache could do the job, it’s just that I have good quality painting for naturalistic illustrations.

TAC: What advice would you give to young, up-and-coming comic artists just starting out? What would you say to yourself if you could go back in time?

Maïwenn: Oh! I have plenty!

First of all, begin small! There is nothing that kills motivation more than beginning a project and never finishing it. It leaves a burdening feeling of shame and failure which never helps one to move forward. My very first comics were about 20 pages of wordless stories, published in collaborative fanzines. But then I messed up by beginning a project waaaaay bigger than I could chew and learned the lesson for good.

Also, do it for yourself. Be in love with your characters, your story, and be your very first fan.

Be realistic as well. There is nothing more daunting than when comics take HOURS to be done and is read in 5 seconds at best. What you can write in a few hours as a novelist will take weeks, months, if not years to be drawn as a comic. I remember having written the script of my first webcomic on a few evenings during ski holidays. It took me 3 years and almost 500 pages to draw less than 10 hours of writing…

And now it’s so hard to get visibility on internet that no matter how good your story is, you can never be sure it’ll get the attention it deserves and your efforts might never be rewarded as you wish it would. Just be sure to know that before you begin the adventure, and consider drawing your comic as a treat for yourself first.

Never redraw the first pages of your comic! What is done is done! If you enter this game, you’ll never go anywhere, because there is always things to improve, always! Making comic is telling stories. Whatever the quality of the art, if the story is good then it will find its public. But the show must go on!

And most importantly, be kind to yourself.

Self depreciation and impostor complex is the worst and most common affliction amongst artists. I too fight with it every day. Yes, what you do is not perfect, and you know what? Even in fifty years it still won’t be, because the more you progress, the more you SEE and demand more of yourself. Yes, there always will be people criticizing. We are billions and you can’t satisfy them all. It’s okay, just let go and try to be happy doing what you do.

It’s also what will help you improve, because there’s nothing better to progress than drawing, drawing, and drawing again. As long as you never stops, you’ll find the benefits somehow. You don’t have to prove anything, you should be loved for who you are and not what you do.

Thank you so much for the interview, Maïwenn! Learning about you and your process has been truly inspiring for us here at TAC, and we can’t wait to see more!

If you enjoyed this article and would like to see more of Maïwenn’s work, you can check them out on DeviantArt here. Thanks for reading!

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