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Naked Drawings, Love for Manga & a State of Decay: A Conversation with Aimée de Jongh, Author of The Return of the Honey Buzzard

The Return of the Honey Buzzard may be Aimée de Jongh‘s first graphic novel, but she’s already making her presence felt. Originally published back in 2014 in the Netherlands, The Return of the Honey Buzzard was translated into an English edition by SelfMadeHero last year, and has also been released in French, Spanish and Serbian editions. The graphic novel has also been adapted into a film.

Aimee herself won the Prix Saint-Michel award for the comic and continues to work on new projects. We managed to grab a few moments with her to discuss The Return of the Honey Buzzard, a comic who’s premise of bookshop owner Simon facing financial hardship gives way to a sublime story of how emotional fallout can haunt our past.

A Place To Hang Your Cape: The Return of the Honey Buzzard is a very precise, intimate story of raw, emotional spillage – why did you want to write it?

Aimée de Jongh: Well, initially I wanted to make a graphic novel based on Golding’s novel Lord Of The Flies. Unfortunately, my Dutch publisher couldn’t get a hold of the particular rights that we needed to do so. In the meantime, I decided to write my own story, using elements that I liked in Lord Of The Flies. Elements like the unpredictable behaviour of kids, changing personalities, choices about life and death… After a process of 6 months, the final script was finished. Fun fact: I still named my two main characters Simon and Ralph, as an ode to Golding’s book.

AP2HYC: Simon is presented as being mentally fragile. He experiences flashbacks and illusions throughout the comic to suicides and death. What was it like to write this character, where might the inspiration for him come from?

Aimée: I’m not sure if there was any direct inspiration for his character. In the end, someone’s personality is based on the reaction he or she has on certain events. So, I just tried to imagine the way that this man would respond to the things he’s going through. I’m also convinced it would’ve been less interesting to have a main character that could absorb all of this easily… Decay is so much more interesting to draw…

AP2HYC: Much of The Return of the Honey Buzzard’s more emotional moments occur in wordless sequences – how did you find that balance between showing the story and telling the story?

Aimée: I’m a big fan of manga, as you could probably tell. One thing I love about the Japanese way of storytelling, also in films, is that they tend to use as little words as possible. This was a big difference compared to the Belgian and French comic books I grew up with. In those, text balloons often filled 2/3 of the space in a panel. Sometimes even more, which is absolutely ridiculous, in my opinion. I’m convinced that if you’re a good artist, you wouldn’t even need any text at all. You’d be able to put all the storytelling in a single drawing. By not using a lot of text, I also silently hope that the reader will spend more time looking at the actual drawings, which I spent most of my time on.

AP2HYC: Why did you want to illustrate the book in black-and-white?

My favourite graphic novels are actually black and white. I love the work of Craig Thompson, Will Eisner, Katsuhiro Otomo…. These artists made it clear to me that you don’t actually need colour to set a mood. But it’s scary. Drawings are quite “naked” without any colour. You’ll see every single line, you can’t hide your mistakes with colours. That’s a challenge for any artist, and I wanted to see if I could pull it off. I also think the graphics work specifically well with the dark mood of the book. Colours wouldn’t have made it any better.

AP2HYC: This is your first graphic novel, what’s the experience been like?

Aimée: The process was a lot of fun. I usually do illustrations and comics for newspapers and magazines. That means I’d actually be doing whatever it is they want me to draw. With this book, I could do whatever I wanted, and every choice I made was my own. That freedom was amazing and I miss it whenever I do commercial work again. As for the reception of the book: this was probably the most incredible thing of the whole process. The reviews were all so positive, I didn’t expect that at all. And within two weeks, a Dutch movie director sent me an email, saying he wanted to make a movie adaptation of the book. I thought it wasn’t a really serious request, but it was. One year later, the movie was finished. It premiered this year in March. I still can’t believe it happened; it was a crazy experience. And it’s an honour that my story was an inspiration to a completely new artistic product.

AP2HYC: Who or what inspired you to be a comic writer/artist?

When I was a kid, I read mostly Belgian comics. I remember me and my sister had a subscription to the Belgian comic magazine Spirou, when I was about 10 years old. The comics in that magazine were very funny and clever (they still are, by the way!). The comics I loved most were Spirou et Fantasio, Soda, Tamara… I started drawing those characters myself, and I told my parents that my ultimate dream was to work for that magazine when I grew up. Last year, for the first time, I made a 6-page comic that appeared in the magazine. It was obviously a very special moment for me! I’m sure 8-year old me would’ve been very proud.

AP2HYC: What future projects might you have in store?

I’m finishing my next graphic novel as we speak, written by the Belgian writer Zidrou. It will be published by Dargaud in Dutch and French in June, 2018. During the Angoulême festival in January, we’ll also try to sell the book to international publishers, so hopefully an English publication will follow. After that, I’ll probably work on a new independent comic book.

AP2HYC: What would you say has been the most rewarding thing for you about creating The Return of the Honey Buzzard?

Aimée: My publisher SelfMadeHero invited me to join their table at various festivals around the world to sign the book. We went to TCAF in Toronto, SPX in Washington, Thought Bubble, LICAF. I had never visited any of these festivals and it blew me away. Every festival was better than the last one. I met talented people like Tillie Walden, Sophie Goldstein, Nate Powell, Emil Ferris. Those creators inspired me to keep growing, and make better comics. I’m thankful that this book, which I made on my own in my attic, eventually led to making so many friends in the comic book industry. That’s definitely more rewarding than anything else!

Are you a fan of Aimée’s work? Let us know in the comments section below or send us a Tweet!

About the author

Fred McNamara