Just when you thought that nobody could create something new in comics, NBM Publishing presents Metronome, the debut graphic novel by Véronique Tanaka (with an Introduction by Bone’s Jeff Smith). Metronome is a wordless, erotically charged visual poem, a very human and elegantly structured tale of a doomed relationship, and a gorgeous art book/graphic novel from a mysterious new artist. You can see preview art at www.nbmpub.com/metronome/metroprev1.html and the animated Metronome at www.nbmpub.com/metronome/index.html.
The following interview with Véronique Tanaka was conducted by Nicola Peruzzi and Antonio Solinas for the Italian comic website De: Code at Italy’s Lucca Comics Festival. All the parties concerned have generously allowed the interview to be more widely disseminated because they’d like more people to be aware of Véronique and her work. Metronome is due out this spring.
Metronome by Veronique Tanaka
DE: CODE: Hi, Véronique. Could you please introduce yourself to the Italian readers?
TANAKA: My mother is French and my father is Japanese. I was born in Kyoto in 1977. My work is with contemporary art, mainly installations and events but I also paint. This is my real life.
DE: CODE: Could you tell us something about your career as a conceptual artist?
TANAKA: Some of my work is what is called conceptual art. I have exhibitions. I live in Brazil a lot. I call myself Véronique Tanaka for my printed work.
DE: CODE: How did you first get involved with comics?
TANAKA: Metronome is my first comic album. I grew up reading French and Japanese comics but only now have done a comic because I have this strong idea and design in my mind.
DE: CODE: Metronome is coming out in March. Could you please give us a short summary of Metronome?
TANAKA: It is sixty-four square pages, sixteen panels each page, four panels each line and is in 4/4 time, like music. And music is a theme. The man in the story is a composer. The individual panels often make designs over the whole page. The book is about one instant and about memories evoked in that instant. It begins where it ends and could be read again after, like a loop. It is a visual poem but there is a strong story under the surface.
DE: CODE: When did you conceive Metronome?
TANAKA: About eight years ago, after reading a short story, “La Plage,” by Alain Robbe-Grillet. It is an existentialist piece of writing. It is no story.
Some children walk along a beach. They leave footprints in the sand. Seagulls fly off when they get near, fly about and land in front of them. A church bell is tolling in the distance. That’s it. They walk, waves come in, the birds fly off, the bell rings. Each thing repeats. It is as if the moment is going on forever.
It is frozen in time and also taken out of time to exist in its own space. But the atmosphere is fantastic. It made me start to think of a story that could be told in repeated images. Images that at first seem random but all gain significance as the pages turn.
DE: CODE: Metronome is all about exploring the relationship between rhythm and storytelling. What are the reasons behind such a choice?
TANAKA: Yes, the images, the panels are like beats in music. I had this idea first, and thought of the composer afterwards. It gives a reason to why use the rhythm. My story is not existential. It has a well-constructed plot. It is the story of a relationship based on sex and nothing else. And so it is doomed.
DE: CODE: Bryan Talbot is acting like an agent / sponsor for your work. How did you two met?
TANAKA: Two years ago I went to the comic festival in Angoulême. I go to it when I can. It is a great thing. Bryan Talbot was signing albums at the tables of his publisher. I have read the French edition of his L’Histoire d’un Vilain Rat (The Tale of One Bad Rat) a while ago and I love it. I love the ligne claire [clear line] style and the storytelling. I talked to him, and we went for a drink together after. I know nothing of the comic industry, and he agreed to help me find a publisher after I showed him copies of the pages I had completed.
I don’t want to be involved in the comic business. Later, after I finish the book, I posted it to him on CD. He had several copies printed and sent them to some publishers and Terry Nantier of NBM publisher accepted it.
DE: CODE: Your graphic style blends manga, French and even American influences. Is that correct? How did you develop your style?
TANAKA: I have not read many American comics. Only some by Robert Crumb and Art Spiegelman. My style came all out of working on computer. I did all the book in Photoshop. I draw using the pad and then copy and change drawings with the stylus. I build up a library of images that I can adapt and change.
DE: CODE: Metronome explores themes like love, personal relationships and sexuality. What were your inspirations?
TANAKA: “La Plage” began the idea, as I say. The story is not autobiographical. It is of the imagination. The two characters — the composer and the woman — came from mixing different people I have known. I know a woman friend who has had this violence from her husband. And she left him.
DE: CODE: On Shadowgallery.co.uk, there’s a 17-minute flash animation of Metronome that works very well because it’s hypnotizing, mesmerizing, and sometimes even disturbing. What’s the reason behind the choice of the multimedia animation?
TANAKA: This was the idea of Bryan Talbot. He said that the comic would also work as an animation at one panel each second. He had the book on CD and so animated it. Cornwell Internet were kind to host the animation for me.
DE: CODE: There are no pictures of you on the net, and this seems to be a precise choice. Can you elaborate, especially in an era in which image seems to count more than substance?
TANAKA: I have another life as a fine artist. I am from a different world. So I like to be anonymous in the comics world. I am quite shy anyway and don’t like my picture taken.
DE: CODE: Do you still read comics? Is there anything in particular you like?
TANAKA: I love Bone. I meet Jeff Smith and his wife, Vijaya in Angoulême. He was kind and wrote the introduction to Metronome. Right now I like Exit Wounds and The Rabbi’s Cat.
DE: CODE: What are your current projects?
TANAKA: My next comic will be called, I think at the moment, Véronique Erotique, after some prints I made a few years ago. It will recount a piece of conceptual art I did last year in Paris in summer. I walked around the centre of Paris dressed in a full burqa and veil, but underneath I was wearing nothing but a corset and black stockings and high heels. It was a very strange sensation to feel, and that was the reason I did it. It was exciting to be completely hidden but sexual underneath. I went to the Louvre and sat down before a painting. This act was inspired by an old illustration by Moebius, who I love.
DE: CODE: The very last question. Could you please name the three comics that everybody must have on their shelves?
TANAKA: I think The Tale of One Bad Rat, Tintin — I grew up with Tintin — and I think three has to be Akira because it made such a big impression on me when I was young.
Metronome by Veronique Tanaka