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Book links roundup: Oprah’s book club is back, Amazon granted “electronic gifting” patent, and more

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Robert Lepage’s creative alchemy

This feature by Sarah Greene appeared in the November 2011 issue of Q&Q.

Robert Lepage’s impressive artistic career spans theatre, film, and opera, and includes stints as designer and director for Cirque du Soleil and a Peter Gabriel world tour. The prolific Quebec actor, writer, and director has now added graphic novelist to his list of achievements. The Blue Dragon, first published in French earlier this year by Quebec’s Éditions Alto, appears this month from House of Anansi Press.

Adapted from the play of the same name, the book reunites co-writers Lepage and Marie Michaud, both of whom performed in the original 2008 production. The idea for the graphic novel, first suggested by Lepage’s sister and assistant Lynda Beaulieu, seemed natural given the influence on the play of Hergé’s The Blue Lotus, about TinTin’s adventures in Shanghai; the use of Chinese calligraphy, video, and comic panel-like squares in the set design; and the fact that the central character, Pierre Lamontagne, is a graphic artist and calligrapher.

“We thought a graphic novel would be more faithful, do more justice to the piece,” says Lepage. “We saw it as an opportunity to extend the themes of The Blue Dragon.”

A follow-up to the mid-1980s production The Dragons’ Trilogy, the story is set in modern-­day China and revolves around three characters in a love triangle: Lamontagne, a middle-aged Quebecois artist who lives in Shanghai and runs a contemporary art gallery; his ex-wife, a Montreal-based ­advertising executive hoping to adopt a baby; and Lamontagne’s younger Chinese lover. Just as there are three characters interacting in three languages (French, English, and Mandarin), there are three possible endings to the play and the book. Éditions Alto played on the number by printing a first run of 3,333 copies.

To adapt the highly visual play into print, Lepage and his production company, Ex Machina, imagined how they would present the story as a film. They auditioned a number of Quebecois artists for the project, eventually choosing Fred Jourdain, a young illustrator known for his portraits of rock stars and celebrities. Jourdain’s fluid, vivid illustrations of a rainy Shanghai are conveyed by mixing comic-book art with more painterly images. “He was very strong at expressing emotions on his characters’ faces,” says Lepage.

Anansi publisher Sarah MacLachlan fell in love with this combination of graphica and fine art. “I thought that was an extraordinary thing,” she says. The Blue Dragon is Anansi’s first graphic novel for the adult market (its children’s imprint, Groundwood Books, published the YA title Skim by Jillian and Mariko Tamaki in 2009). Canadian fiction editor Melanie Little met Éditions Alto president Antoine Tanguay last January, at the Canada Council for the Arts’ inaugural translation rights fair in Ottawa, and presented an offer within days.

The graphic novel has also had an effect on the theatrical version of The Blue Dragon, which will be remounted by Toronto’s Mirvish Productions in January. “Our work with Fred had a big influence on the piece,” Lepage says. “Both to make it stronger by simplifying some of the storylines, but also by complexifying some things that needed to be more [complex]. A lot of that came from some of the very rich, effervescent exchanges we had with Fred.”

Lepage says the adaptation was so successful it’s changed his approach to publishing: “Whatever play we come up with we should try to find a format – not necessarily another graphic novel – that is as faithful to our visual approach to the stage as it is [to] the written word.”

Éditions Alto and Ex Machina have continued their partnership, producing a limited-­run souvenir book for Lepage’s production of Stravinsky’s opera The Nightingale and Other Short Fables and collaborating on a nine-volume box set for his epic nine-hour opera Lipsynch.

“[Lepage] is a central cultural figure in Quebec right now,” says Tanguay. “Everything he does turns to gold.”

Illustrations by Fred Jourdain, courtesy of Anansi

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Slideshow: Toronto comics artists pay homage to Tintin

Roughly 70 comics artists and illustrators will participate in an art show this month that honours French Belgian comic book creator Hergé and his intrepid reporter. Toronto Draws Tintin, a “celebration of all things Tintin and his creator Hergé,” features original artistic interpretations of the series by artists such as Chester Brown, Joe Ollmann, Marta Chudolinska, and Britt Wilson.

The show opens Wednesday with the launch party for The Adventures of Hergé by authors José-Louis Bocquet and Jean-Luc Fromental, and illustrator Stanislas Barthélémy, published by Drawn & Quarterly.

Toronto’s Beguiling Books & Art has teamed up with Steamwhistle Brewery and the French consulate in Toronto to put on the show, which doubles as a fundraiser for the Comic Legends Legal Defense Fund. All 80 pieces will go up for bid in a silent auction on Nov. 27, closing night, with proceeds going to the fund.

The launch happens Wednesday from 7 to 10 p.m. at the Steamwhistle Gallery in Toronto. In the meantime, check out a sampling of the exhibit in our slideshow or visit

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“Might give teens violent ideas”: the TPL’s 2010 list of challenged books

Freedom to Read Week is a month away, but Toronto Public Library trustee Adam Chaleff-Freudenthaler got a jump on the festivities today by releasing, on his Twitter feed, the 2010 report from the TPL’s Materials Review Committee, which summarizes how the committee dealt with library-user complaints about books, DVDs, etc., over the past year. The nine-item list includes some not-so-surprising targets for complaints, including Tintin in the Congo, which is noted for depicting “Africans in [a] stereotypical fashion that is no longer acceptable,” and the movie Bruno, which one or more patrons found to contain “sexual content and visually explicit pictures not suitable for children or youth.”

There are some odd inclusions, though: The Waiting Dog, a 2003 picture book by Carolyn and Andrea Beck published by Kids Can Press, is said to contain “obscene content, language, and pictures.” (For the record, Q&Q’s review of The Waiting Dog says that “this book is inappropriate for squeamish kids and those afraid of dogs. On the other hand, if you’re on for some exuberant grotesquerie, it’s a very fine specimen of its kind.”)

The best complaint is the one directed at D.E. Athkins’ 2006 YA novel Swans in the Mist: not only does it contain “sadistic scenes,” it “might give teens violent ideas.” (Really, what doesn’t give teens violent ideas?)

While some of the materials were re-categorized (that volume of Tintin was moved to the adult graphic novel section), Chaleff-Freudenthaler notes in his tweet that only one of the nine books was actually removed: an error-ridden volume purporting to help would-be bean counters prepare for their Chartered Financial Analyst exams.


Daily book biz round-up: Doctorow slams iPad; Tintin in trouble again

Today’s book news:


Tintin, The Hobbit and Goosebumps: coming soon to a theatre near you: UPDATED

The imminent end of the Harry Potter film franchise – the final film, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part II is scheduled for release in 2011 – has Hollywood types scurrying to secure other family friendly literary properties to fill the looming void . Steven Spielberg is working on a film version of the popular Tintin books, and Peter Jackson Guillermo del Toro is directing an adaptation of Tolkien’s The Hobbit. Other YA fare currently on Hollywood’s radar include R.L. Stine’s Goosebumps series of ’tween horror stories and Rick Riordan’s Percy Jackson and the Olympians, according to an article in the Los Angeles Times.

The Times reports:

All the movie studios are hunting for existing properties with tested concepts — at least as books — that can be turned into films, though none exist on the scale of J.K. Rowling’s “Harry Potter,” with its more than 400 million copies in print and vast cultural footprint.

But the films must hit a sweet spot that is deceptively difficult to find: They can’t skew too young or too old. And the marketing must clearly tell parents what to expect, studio executives say.

That elusive crossover appeal is what the studios most crave according to Alan Horn of Warner Bros., also quoted in the Times article: “There’s an attraction to having global interest and appeal to as many quadrants as possible, male and female, young and old.”

Quillblog isn’t sure which is more distressing: the ongoing infantalization of our culture, or the fact that, as audiences, we’re now being slotted into “quadrants.”

There’s no word yet about an adaptation of One True Bear, which might make for an interesting property should Eli Roth ever decide to branch out into children’s movies.

UPDATE: Quillblog’s nerd-o-meter apparently failed with the above post. It has been pointed out that Guillermo del Toro is directing the film version of The Hobbit, and Peter Jackson is producing. Quillblog regrets the error.

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Bookninja has linked to an article (posted by Yahoo! News) about teachers in Maryland using Disney comics to inspire a love of reading, and, perhaps unsurprisingly, they’re decidedly skeptical about the whole idea.

Garsh, Mickey. Isn’t Disney so civic-minded and not clawing desperately at its few remaining untapped markets?

Bookninja goes on to imply that reading Disney comics will rot the young minds of schoolkids. Though we at Quillblog love the ’ninja people, today we must respectfully disagree with them. As any serious comics fan knows, Disney has always set an inordinately high bar with their comics for kids, most notably with their classic (and still running) Gladstone line. The original Carl Barks-penned Uncle Scrooge comics – with their globe-trotting Gunga Din-style adventure plots – are especially high-water marks, on a level with Herges’s Tintin series and Jeff Smith’s Bone. This Quillblogger recalls many a happy Sunday afternoon spent reading Uncle Scrooge, which probably taught me more about the pleasures of narrative than many of the middling YA novels my teachers tried to force down my throat.

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Eva Stachniak's Empress of the Night

Eva Stachniak poses with a copy of her book, Empress of the Night

Tea and snacks inspired by Eva Stachniak's Empress of the Night

Rimma Burashko with author Eva Stachniak

Eva Stachniak talks to the audience about the best and worst of Catherine the Great's favourites

Eva Stachniak smiles as she signs a copy of Empress of the Night for a fan

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