I first met Connor Willumsen at MoCCA in 2009. He was a goodlooking youngster with skill to burn. I instantly loathed him and envied his youth, his ease with people, and his abilities most of all. He can draw you a picture that'll make your head spin. At first I wanted to eat his brains, believing it would grant me his knowledge but I quickly calmed down and resorted instead to picking those same brains.
Connor's linework is clean, crisp and confident, like a nice, cold Coors Light (which, btw, I'm currently enjoying). I met Connor at MoCCA, didn't think about him for a year and then met him again this summer when I demanded that he give me this giant doughtnut he had. He gave me half and that was payola enough for me to want to run his comics in Vice.
More seriously, he is one of those guys who's so talented that he gets scooped up by a storyboard company, ad firm, or foreign publisher and then American comic aficionerdos don't discover him for decades. I am letting you in on the ground floor of Connor Willumsen. You're welcome.
I met you at MoCCA last year and loved your lines. Your main guy is Moebius right?
Moebius was my medicine man when I drew the comic I gave you that year. Now our relationship is smoky and distant, though I still love him. The other day I read that he turned 72. He's very good.
Moebius draws really fast. What's your pace like? Do you think it's good to work fast?
I work fast and admire the skill in others. It serves the compulsion to compete with monumental cartoonists, and I have this idea that I'll be less unhappy to die with a large body of work. While I was absorbing Moebius and the ligne claire guys I decided to more or less abandon the pencil and the idea of "working out the form" and focus only on contour. Technical pens and nibs are delicate and difficult to be expressive with. You've got to have intense focus to get the line right the first time. You can't cheat with this process, unless you trace from a photo to save time, in which case why bother and who cares? The idea of line-confidence evolved to the point where I now tend to only use a smudgy pencil with no under-drawing. Essentially, I decided that a cheap 4B pencil on printer paper is the opposite of photoshop. I'm paranoid that Photoshop is ruining my eyeballs.
Who are the ligne claire guys? Peers of Moebius?
The ligne claire guys are those who ran with the aesthetic that Hergé developed on Tin Tin. It's a primarily European trend that eventually branched off and mutated with a million other adventure cartoonists like Taiyō Matsumoto or Geof Darrow. It's a popular look with the contemporary big-name alt cartoonists, but I don't think the influence is directly European for them. Open up any Heavy Metal magazine and you'll find a dozen ligne claire guys, but only a handful have the touch. The ones I was absorbing were Moebius and Daniel Torres, and Hergé to a smaller degree. Torres made a great picture book for children called TOM. Tom is a gigantic dinosaur that drives a floating island. He befriends a little boy and makes it big in a superficial manhattan art scene, blah blah. Torres has this great trick for making buildings look enormous by disregarding the standard rules of perspective drawing, which is a tricky feat with clean lines. Eisner did this too.
I've met you twice. I met you at MoCCA last year and this year. What's happened to you in between those times?
I moved to Montreal for no special reason. I tried transcendental meditation in the horrible Fort Worth airport and it went pretty well, but after that it never worked and I scrapped the whole deal. Token mental episodes. I began construction on my puppet show.
Tell me about the puppet show if that's a real thing.
I'm not sure what to tell you about it. The whole concept is vague. I know it's not a conventional puppet show with a cardboard box and characters that slide onto your hand. I don't know how I would display it, or who would view it. I've started making the stuff and it has no scale limit. It was as if a tiny woman inside of my stomach told me to start building these things, so I did. It's exciting.
Do you have photos of this puppet show?
No, I don't want to jinx it. If I end up documenting it I can send something your way, but I guess that depends on what form it will take. I don't want it to be another clever thing on a numb design blog or YouTube, you know? The ambition is meager and probably stupid.
I asked you to do a comic for Vice because you gave me half of a doughnut. Do you feel like this is wrong?
It sounds sleazy when you word it like that. This was no average doughnut. I feel if there is anything wrong with a comic-gig/doughnut transaction, this universe sucks bad. You asked me for the pastry though, so the answer is your onus. Was it right?
I liked the doughnut and I like your comics, so two good things came out of my bad action. Are you a good person?
I blindly assume I'm a good person, but when I think "good" it's with the definition that the dictionary provides, like, "the attic needed a good cleaning," or "the scampi was very good." I'm glad you liked the doughnut anyway. Your action was not a bad one, it saved me the trouble of being a good person. Jesus, what does this question mean?
What are you doing for money? Illustration?
I don't seem to have the knack for editorial illustration that the people with money seem to look for, but I've been relatively lucky so far. Every once in a while I'll get a larger comic-related job that will hold me for a while. I illustrated a 115 page French comic for Casterman last year. I did some work for a big superhero movie in production now. And for every job like that, there are three where I'll be jerked around or left hanging with my time wasted and no money to show for it. I had a sour and depressing deal with one of the big two publishers recently. I'm learning to know a sucky job/person when I see one. Other than that, the few illustration jobs or comic covers or anthology gigs pay nearly nothing, and most of the time I have the nagging fear of failure and poverty, which is a wonderful motivation. I'm a little worried because nobody will hire me for a normal job either.
What was the superhero movie?
I'm not sure if the contract they made me sign allows me to tell you, so I won't.
What was the comic you did for Casterman? They're a big fucking deal.
The book is called Les âmes sèches or The Dry Souls in English. It's written by Antoine Ozanam. It's of the H.P Lovecraft variety. Casterman was a great company to work for. I was treated well and the writers are flexible, which is a stark contrast to my general experience of the American comic industry. I avoid work for hire jobs if I don't need them because it's hard for me to get excited about illustrating comics without any rein, but the Casterman folks had their act together. I don't know when it's coming out.
No one will hire me for a normal job either. I think maybe I got serious about drawing because I knew I was too shitty to get hired for regular person employment.
I figure that's common with artists. Social outcasts, anxiety, agoraphobia, etc. I have absolutely no idea what I would do if it wasn't this stuff. The reason I can't work in a normal office is not because I think it's beneath me, it's because I am completely and absolutely mentally incapable of completing the simple tasks that most people handle with ease. One could make a fairly rational argument that being a productive and inventive artist is a mental disorder that constantly expands. I got serious about drawing because it was number four on my childhood follow-your-dreams list, and I was a failure at the first three.