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Lilli Carré‘s The Lagoon made my list for the best books of 2008. I’m a sucker for any book that has a haunting creature nonchalantly taking a drag on a cigarette. Quirky clicks with me, what can I say. So I was pleased when she agreed to a brief email interview. Be sure to visit the Fantagraphics site for a link to a series of Flickr photos and a video showing some of the book’s pages. The opening line to Fantagraphics overview of the book says it all: “A family is seduced by a mysterious creature’s siren song that can be heard emanating from the lagoon after dark in talented young cartoonist Lilli Carré’s first long-form work, and how each member reacts to the song in The Lagoon is the crux of the story.” Thanks to Fantagraphics’ Eric Reynolds for arranging this interview and to Carré for her time.
Tim O’Shea: I’m always curious what goes into a name–a few years back when Chris Arrant interviewed you, the project was called Songs from a Lagoon. But the book was ultimately called The Lagoon. Did the original name hit you as too close to Creature from the Black Lagoon (one of the book’s inspirations) or what caused the name change?
Lilli Carré: Songs From a Lagoon was just sort of a working title, but I liked the simplicity of simply calling it “The Lagoon”, so that’s what I went with– Songs From a Lagoon just seemed like a weird mouthful.
O’Shea: Not every review of a book is positive, as a creator I’m sure you are used to the variety of reactions (good/bad), but what was your reaction to Tom Spurgeon’s review, in which he questions if it is a graphic novel in the first place?
Carré: Yeah, I’d agree with that. If I had to categorize The Lagoon, I guess I’d call it a short story with breathing room, or something. I think it’s got the narrative content of a short story for sure. A good portion of the book I spent really enjoying drawing that nighttime space, pitting all the sounds against each other and trying to create a certain moody space for this odd little family to inhabit, so a large portion of it is ambient, it’s what I wanted to experiment with for this story.
O’Shea: In this recent PW interview with you conducted by Kate Fitzsimons you noted that The Lagoon is: “the only comic I’ve made where I’ve thrown large chunks out and switched things around and had editing play a big part of the making process”. Can you talk about some of what was originally in or some of the aspects that you switched around.
Carré: I started this story when I was 21 and finished it three years later, so I worked on it really sporadically and changed my mind about certain things in the story over that long period of time. There were a lot of breaks of when I would work a lot on the story and then not be able to for months, and then work on it a bunch again. I would change my mind about certain visual or narrative things that I had already drawn into it. There were some pages that I didn’t think worked very well, so those got chopped out. I also had a longer and rather morbid part which was the bedtime story that the dad is telling to his daughter, but that veered off too much into it’s own thing and derailed the main “narrative”, so I came up with a new story for him to tell, which is the 2 page wordless one that’s in the book. That was the biggest chunk that was edited, but yeah, other than that it was just bits and pieces taken out or changed.
O’Shea: Can you talk about what kind of editorial guidance Gary Groth provided you with on the book?
Carré: I just submitted the story to Fantagraphics once it was completed, so there wasn’t editorial back and forth with them about altering any of the substance of the book, other than working with them on the book design.
O’Shea: In terms of the art in this book, how did you go about making the pages that were almost all black and how challenging was it to do those pages. Some stories use white space for dramatic effect–would you say you do the opposite here–using black space for its effect?
Carré: When I started the story I had just started experimenting with nibs and brushes, and it was actually really pleasurable to draw dark water and sky and the spaces under beds, etc. It was a way of drawing a space and conveying a feeling that I hadn’t ever tried before, so I got really into it, and used a lot of ink.
O’Shea: The characters in your stories have distinctive noses, what makes you approach noses in such a manner?
Carré: It’s not really a conscious thing anymore, the triangle nose thing… I just draw it automatically without thinking that it probably stands out as odd-looking. I started drawing noses like that after rotoscoping someone’s pointy nose just as an odd style choice for that animation, but then it stuck, I’m not entirely sure why.
O’Shea: Do you listen to music when you are working? Given the power of music in this story, can you think of certain music or musicians that influenced this story?
Carré: Nothing that particularly influenced this story. I do generally listen to music and radio and books-on-tape while drawing, though. Especially the latter two, because I like getting wound up by a story or discussion, it makes time actually seem to move forward while I work, and I’m less inclined to look at the clock or eat more cereal or wander around aimlessly.
O’Shea: Given your work in animation, would you ever consider adapting the Lagoon for animation?
Carré: Though it would kind of lend itself to that in some ways, I don’t think I’d redo something that I’ve already made into a story in another form; I get too excited about getting to work on something new.