Michel Gagné is a visual storyteller with a cultural reach and creative appeal that very few of his contemporaries enjoy. I first became aware of him through his Spore story for DC Comics in 2003. I have an immense amount of respect for the depth and variety of mediums that Gagné explores to tell his tales. No matter what realm of pop culture you may favor, it is likely you have been exposed to his work in some way in the past several years.
Tim: It’s been a few years since we last did an interview. When we last spoke, a majority of your printed work was self-published. So I was surprised to see in more recent years that you have been participating in the Flight anthologies. What drew you to allowing your new Rex installments in Flight, rather than published by you?
Michel: I have a tremendous amount of respect for editor, Kazu Kibuishi and his vision in putting together the Flight anthology. When he asked me to be a part of it, I couldn’t refuse.
To date, the experience of being involved with Flight has been nothing but positive. All the artists involved are so talented and encouraging. I look at their work and I get inspired and hopefully they get inspired looking at my work too. We all feed off each other’s creative energy.
Since I started with Flight, a few publishers have voiced their interest in publishing the graphic novel of the completed story (the final chapter will run in Flight 7) so I’ll probably let somebody else publish that as well. To tell you the truth, I’m probably going to work more and more with publishers in the future. I enjoy self-publishing but it’s very time consuming and time is something I don’t have enough of already.
Tim: How much has your participation in Flight broadened your audience?
Michel: Flight has now become the bestselling comic anthology in America so Rex gets a heck of a lot more exposure then if I was publishing it myself. A lot of people are discovering my work through Flight which is awesome.
Tim: In that same vein, how many new doors of creative offers opened in the wake of your highly regarded and high profile work on Ratatouille?
Michel: Everything I do gets me some exposure in one way or another. Hopefully, I proved to Pixar that I could integrate my own brand of hand drawn animation in one of their movie. I’d hope to do that with The Incredibles but it didn’t pan out. I’m glad we were successful with Ratatouille. I’d love to do more work with Pixar if we find the right fit.
I’ve been very fortunate in the animation industry to work for and meet the right people. I always give my very best on every assignment and I am devoted to creating work that’s original and interesting. The word always gets around and every year, I receive offers to do the type of animation I consider really fun. I’m doing six shots right now for the upcoming Horton Hears a Who movie that are just totally the kind of animation I love to do.
Tim: Music has always been a major influence and/or role in your creative pursuits. How did your recent collaboration with the Victoria Philharmonic Choir go, and will you be collaborating with them again?
Michel: I was very proud of the work I did for the project although; the actual show for me was a bit of a mixed bag. In one hand, the musical performance was astounding, but the shadow puppet part was under-rehearsed and not to the level I would have liked it to be. Every one did the best they could but the resources were lacking. The problem when you work for the “arts” is that the budgets are very limited and most of the people involved work on a voluntary basis. To get things to look the way I had them in my head, we would have needed about 10 times the budget and 10 times the time.
As far as working with them again… Yes, I’d be totally open to it. Perhaps we can keep perfecting The Spectre’s Bride and make it really shine.
Tim: Did your upcoming 2009 work with the Vancouver International Jazz Festival result from your work with the choir?
Michel: Actually, I’ve been working on getting things going with the Jazz Festival for over a year. That’s way before I was approached by the Victoria Philharmonic. I’ve got a lot of stuff planned with them including some truly ground breaking animation projects. One of these projects is already completed and will have its premiere at the Festival in 2009. We’re talking about premiering the film by projecting it on the side of a skyscraper in downtown Vancouver! I can’t talk too much about all this because we’re still raising the funds to achieve everything I have in mind but I can honestly say that it’s going to be one of the coolest things of my career.
Tim: Am I correct in thinking that ZED is produced on an annual basis, and if so, when do you expect to finish the next installment?
Michel: I love doing ZED but it’s pretty tough fitting him in my schedule. ZED is for all intent and purpose, a hobby. I do it for fun. I’ve already started issue 9 and it’s coming along nicely. I’m planning on having it done for the summer of 2008. Then, issue 10 will be release the following year, and that will be a wrap. The complete ZED series will be 10 issues.
Tim: When was the first time you found out folks were getting tattoos made based on your work? Were you surprised by this development–of your insane character designs is there one that sticks out as one you hope you never see come to life in a tattoo?
Michel: I started seeing people with my artwork tattooed at conventions. At first, it took me a bit by surprise. One time, I walked into a store in Seattle and the girl at the cash register had one of my drawings tattooed on her arm. I didn’t expect that! Another time, I got an email from a guy who tattooed most of his upper body with my artwork. He didn’t want me to put his picture on my website though.
If people like my art and want to put it one their skin, that fine by me; any of it.
Tim: What can you tell folks about the potential for a new film project in 2008 and/or the video game you currently are developing?
Michel: The video game is called “Insanely Twisted Shadow Planet” and I’ve teamed up with an amazing crew to produce it. I’m designing the visuals and doing a lot of the animation myself. We haven’t signed with a publisher yet, but we should have a deal ironed out early in 2008. You can watch the trailer at http://www.insanelytwistedshadowplanet.com.
Starting in mid-January, I’m going to be production designing an animated movie produced by Gary Kurtz (Star Wars, Dark Crystal). I was contacted by the writer, Sabina Spencer, about a year ago and since then, the first phase of financing has come through which will allow me to begin the design work. I really like the story and I see a lot of potential there. A friend of mine, animator Richard Bazley (The Iron Giant), is also involved. All four of us, Gary, Sabina, Richard and myself, hung out in London for three days to brainstorm about the project and we’re all very excited. I really can’t say much more at this point except that the film is a perfect match for my design sensibilities.