City of Luck
Macau is the scene for your first comic book, “Macao – La Cité du Dragon”, launched in France in French, at the beginning of this year. When did you visit the city for the first time and how would you describe your connection with it?
I have been coming to Hong Kong and Macau very often since 2006. As a screenwriter, I've always been a huge fan of Hong Kong action cinema, especially Johnnie To and Andrew Lau, and South-Korean directors like Na Hong-Jin or Park Chan Wook. For Macao, I wanted to write a story that could have been a script for these directors I admire. I read a lot on the subject of triads and gambling, also. I like crime films when the stories and characters talk about the world we live in, our ambivalences, our weaknesses and our dark sides.
When did you realise you wanted to put Macau's story in a book?
I am not a gambler, but I spent several sleepless nights mingling, going from one casino to another, from downtown to Cotai, witnessing the ballet of minibuses full of casino personnel changing shift and excited players everywhere, the gigantic halls, the incredible buildings and all the things you can see and do there.
I also chose Macau because I was interested in addressing the notion of luck that is prevalent in Chinese culture. I wanted to contrast two characters with a very different vision of their lives: the first one, Leon, the journalist, who has the impression that he is the sole master of his destiny, and the second one, Kwan Tao, the triad boss who is convinced that he has always been carried by sheer luck to accomplish his life. These characters embody the conflict between predestination and free will. This conflict will continue to develop until the end of the story; it is the throughline that intersects their stories and pushes each one of them to their destiny.
Casinos, triads and extravagance. Why these themes?
I had an idea of what the casinos of Macau might look like, but the reality struck me, with these gigantic buildings open 24/7, permanently bathed by an artificial light, an air conditioning which absorbs without problem the millions of cigarettes smoked around gaming tables. This light imitates the sunlight to perfection and completely disorients us after a while. The gambler does not know if it’s day or night, and has access to everything he might seek, legal or not, at any time, if he knows where to look.
With enough money, one could live there in full autarky. It gave me the starting point of the scenario: a luxurious and unreal place where the protagonist should live permanently, shut up and cut off from the rest of the world, but where he would have access to everything he could desire.
It is an image of capitalism pushed to its extreme, where everything can be bought and sold in a flamboyant setting, creating a very positive image. These are no longer the back room casinos, but the mainstream entertainment. But business is business. VIP rooms for example, which filter access to drugs and prostitution, away from the general public.
Your are a screenwriter and this was your first comic book. How was the transition from screenwriting to comic books? How would you compare both working processes?
Dialogues and the speed of action are the big differences, everything must go much faster in comics, in the European format of 52 pages in particular, it is also necessary not to count on the play of the actor but to make sure that through dialogues or the setting up of the story, all the important details can be understood. I also like the possibility that comics give to take the time to stop in front of a beautiful still image on which the eye can linger, and also to play on mirrored situations at different moments of the comic strip. Comics is said to be the art of ellipsis, and there are many ways to move from one frame to another and to let the reader make the connection between the two.
Who are Philippe Thirault, Federico Nardo, and Aretha Battistutta?
I've been lucky to work with my co-author, Philippe Thirault, who has been great to accompany me in the writing process. I wanted a very cinematic drawing. Federico’s stroke is at once realistic, romantic and with the magnitude that manages to show the excessiveness of the casino universe. Then Aretha worked as a colorist, and did a terrific job. I wanted a contrast of cold colors and warm colors throughout the pages of the album, to represent the opposition between the world outside the casino and the casino's inner world, between night and day, real and fake.
Do you intend to bring it to Macau and promote it here? Do you want to translate it to Chinese?
Our publisher and I would like it to be accessible and translated for the Chinese readers, it would be a great recognition, but again, it is still too early to know, there are many factors that come into play. I would be thrilled to be able to bring it to Macau and promote it here.
When did the East enter your life?
I left France on what I thought would a sabbatical year in 2006, I travelled in Eastern Europe, Russia, Mongolia, China, South East Asia. After a few months I decided to extend my stay and found myself settling and living in China for four years. The country fascinated me by its size and variety and I was drawn to it. I lived in Inner Mongolia for almost two years and then in Shanghai for another couple of years. I worked as a French and English teacher in Inner Mongolia and then as a translator for a French company and as a journalist for a local French newspaper in Shanghai. Since I came back to France, I go back as often as I can to China. I have travelled all over the country and I keep on learning Mandarin and taking an interest in Chinese culture and all its angles.
What struck me the most in my time in China was the Chinese people, their ability to make things possible, to give the other a chance to show its value, to work, to set up a business. That is something that reminds me what could have been the US in early 20th century, a great country ready to embark on all sorts of adventures.
How do you view the impact of comic books on children in the present, compared to previous generations?
Despite the development of digital culture, people still love to read, there is a plethora of ways to read now from books to computer, smartphones, etc. It’s just that books are just a part of something bigger. The need for good stories through reading books but also watching movies, tv series or playing video games, series is in my opinion, getting stronger and stronger.