Creator Interview with Georges Bess
Georges Bess established himself as a premiere visionary and stylistic chameleon at the height of the European comics renaissance during the ‘70s and ‘80s. While his illustrative talent and fluidity couldn’t be denied, the direction he would take on a project was often unpredictable, an improvisational instinct that set him apart from his peers. Today, Georges has brought that immense talent to two classic horror stories, adapting Bram Stoker’s DRACULA and Mary Shelley’s FRANKENSTEIN into two bold and powerful graphic novels that retell these seminal tales through lush and unparalleled illustration. Earlier this week, we had the chance to sit down and ask creator Georges Bess a few questions about his experience as an artist and adapting these two horror classics!
(Please note, the interview below is translated from French with minor edits for clarity and grammar)
Magnetic Press: How did you get interested in drawing? What made you realize this could be a full-time career?
Georges: It goes back to my early childhood. As far as I can remember I always drew, but I never thought it could be a job! To be honest, I was even far from imagining that one could earn a living by drawing! When I found myself in Sweden at 23, not speaking the language, I wondered what to do… I knew how to draw and drawing is a universal language. So I went to introduce myself to editors and I was taken on, first for a few assignments, a few replacements.
Magnetic Press: You’ve been described as a “stylistic chameleon.” How did you learn this versatility?
Georges: As other designers had to be replaced, I had to blend in with their style, which is what trained me in this versatility that you recognize in me. I studied them meticulously. I had a taste for them. Then, when I was entrusted with stories of The Phantom by Lee Falk to illustrate, (I drew almost 50 stories of The Phantom), for fun and to “challenge” myself, I made a story in the style of one draftsman after another in a different style, thus refining my apprenticeship.
Magnetic: How do you find the style you think best fits a story?
Georges: For me, the choice of a style for a story is done in an intuitive way. Style is like a language, and one would not imagine writing a joke book with an academic language; in the same way, some styles are obviously more suited to comedic stories, while others are less so.
Magnetic: Why did you choose to adapt these classic horror books? Do you have a connection with the material in some way?
Georges: As far as Dracula is concerned, it’s because my publisher had attended some exhibitions of my large-scale drawings (from 1 square meter to 8 square meters) that I had made for art galleries (nothing at all like comics) to be exhibited in galleries, fairs, and art centers. He had the idea of suggesting that I do Dracula, because these drawings concealed the aspects of what we call “Gothic,” with skulls, bones, flowers, etc. And then the black and white too, which contributes to the atmosphere.
These large drawings were also presented in the United States, at the Philippe Labaune gallery in New York (https://www.philippelabaune.com/show/philippe-labaune-gallery-georges-bess-tale-of-unrealism).
When my editor asked me to do this adaptation, it turns out that I couldn’t find my way around with a “traditional screenwriter.” I wanted a really good story, and this was the opportunity. Naturally, once Dracula was adapted, Frankenstein was a no-brainer. Especially since I have a special connection with these two works — I literally devoured them one after the other when I was 13 years old. These are almost my first books as a young reader, and they left me with remarkable, extraordinary memories. I remember really intense hours while reading them.
Magnetic: Why did you choose the black-and-white gothic/art-deco style for Dracula and Frankenstein?
Georges: The “art deco” touch we owe to my wife, who is also an artist who collaborates on a lot of my projects. We work as a team and I love it! She is the one who has been making the covers for the books that I have produced for a few years. She creates them from my drawings. For the “art deco style,” the goal was to give a look that was both elegant and a little outdated, which took a step aside from what was expected in the context of this kind of story.
Magnetic: Did you find any particular part of these stories challenging to work on? If so, why?
Georges: I can’t really say that there were passages more difficult than others. To make a graphic novel is to solve a mountain of problems, one after the other, but all these difficulties are compensated by the pleasure that the work provides me.
For Dracula, I went to England, and a friend who lives in London introduced me to the English 19th century, its literature, its architecture… He took me to eat in the pubs frequented by Bram Stoker, in the neighborhoods where he lived. He made me visit an incredible cemetery, the “Highgate Cemetery.” All of that nourished me a lot. This is also like making a comic! So each creation is a challenge; however, one of the “tricks” I have found to solve all these difficulties is to trust myself and let myself be carried away… This is what made me prefer certain scenes to others… I imagine it is intuition.
Magnetic: In Dracula, you included the first chapter that was initially left out. Why did you wish to include that alternate chapter?
Georges: “Dracula’s guest” is a gift to readers, a way to prolong the pleasure. Nowhere does it say this would be an alternate first chapter, as far as I’m concerned. I see it more as a failed attempt. All creators know it well, we rarely get where we want to go on the first try, we try, we correct, we redo, etc.
Magnetic: Who or what would you describe as your artistic influences?
Georges: My artistic influences are everywhere and are constant: everything feeds me. Everything is good for learning. I am very eclectic. An artist gives me a lesson in framing, another in freedom, etc. In France we have an expression: “tout fait ventre” — “everything can be eaten!”
Magnetic: What comics or types of books do you like to read when you have time?
Georges: My readings are like my tastes: eclectic. Poetry, novels, science fiction, adventure, travelogues, history, etc. It must be said that I am reaching a rather canonical age — I have had time to venture into all types of reading!
Magnetic: What are you working on now?
Georges: I am currently finishing the adaptation of another emblematic work by the greatest French writer, Victor Hugo: Notre Dame de Paris. Suffice it to say that at the moment, I live in the Middle Ages surrounded by legendary characters! I really take the full measure of Hugo’s talent: funny, full of spirit, and delivers in this work a drama of striking modernity — the story of a very young girl who is full of beauty and grace who will know a disastrous destiny, victim of predators who want to possess her.
Magnetic: Is there a “dream project” you would like to make someday?
Georges: Every project is a dream and I still dream of a lot of projects. But I don’t want to reveal too much. The dream really would be to be able to continue doing this job that I still love for a very long time!
Thank you for taking some time to talk about your experience as an illustrator and your work on Dracula and Frankenstein! Be sure to check out the Backerkit to back these beautiful premium editions!