A Land Called Tarot is one of those rare titles that harkens back to a different kind of storytelling. It’s silent, with no words or captions, and instead the art speaks for itself. The story is both easy to follow and complex, and it’s this type of work that reminds us a picture is worth a thousand words. Out this week from Image Comics (and next week at bookstores), we spoke to the creator of this fantastic hardcover, Gael Bertrand.
AiPT!: What were your favorite comics growing up?
Gael Bertrand: When I was growing up in the 80’s, comic book as an art form was highly regarded in France (still is today) and I was always fascinated by its diversity.
I first started with the Belgian/French classics like Tintin, Asterix, Lucky Luke, and The Smurfs. Then American superhero books, especially Chris Claremont’s X-Men and The New Mutants. These opened the door to more mature books like Frank Miller’s Daredevil and Batman books.
Around that time I also started reading a lot of mangas. I was watching anime from the youngest age, but when Akira started being translated and published in France, everything went on a whole different level.
AiPT!: A Land Called Tarot is wordless and I’m wondering why that is? Challenge yourself to let the art convey the plot, or to let the reader drink in the full artwork?
Bertrand: I’m an artist first, so letting the artwork take center stage was one of my motivations. I always look up to guys like Frank Quitely, who has such a clear sense of space and action in his storytelling.
Also, I’ve always liked silent comics, I loved Caza and Moebius’s silent books as a kid because they forced me to interact with them, they provided a more immersive experience.
Finally, I wanted to make a book partially about mythology, and I was feeling at the time, that Joseph Campbell’s Hero Myth had been turned into a formula for Hollywood script writing and I didn’t want to tell a story following this same template.
Instead, I wanted to strip it down to the basic symbols and images of a fantasy world with no interference from text, and then try to let them interact and see what would come out of it.
AiPT!: What were your influences on this work? I got a distinct Dragon Warrior/ Final Fantasy vibe from this, as well as the many classic French comics with sword/sorcery – are you a gamer and did that lend itself to the look and feel?
Bertrand: I’ve been working for years as a concept artist in video games, and in many ways this book was an exercise in fantasy worldbuilding. But as far as the feel of this universe goes, I tried to convey the sense of adventure and mystery I enjoyed so much in books and animes like: Moebius’s Arzach, Hayao Miyazaki’s Nausicaa and Laputa, and Yoshitaka Amano and Mamoru Oshii’s Angel Egg.
AiPT!: Having been originally serialized in Island, did that give you more time to create A Land Called Tarot, or was it fully completed to start?
Bertrand: I wrote and drew the book as it was coming out in Island. Seeing the pages printed in the magazine first, allowed me to change and adjust things while putting the collected edition together. I moved things around and added a lot of pages which were never published before.
AiPT!: A follow-up to the last question, how does creating comics for an anthology differ from creating it as a whole to start?
Bertrand: I’m not sure I can really answer this question as my experience with both is rather limited. And also because this book was quite an experiment: I see the Land as being the main character of this story and, be it as a single issue or as a collection, the way we progress in the story is a lot like exploring an area/region/world. In that sense, maybe the proper comparison would be, a single issue is a day hike and the whole book is a camping trip over a few days.
AiPT!: I read the book, and I feel like I have a basic understanding of the plot, but without dialogue I do feel like I’m missing something – is that sense of discovery and mystery part of your goal?
Bertrand: Most definitely. This is what I found fascinating with the symbolic images of the Tarot cards and what I tried to convey. Their meaning is something a lot of people already agreed on, but the real fun, for me, comes from the endless combinations we can create with them. And also how each and everyone will interpret these combinations differently, creating new meaning, even more relevant to their own experience.
To quote David Bowie: “Imagination not as a fantasy, but as being out to find the affinities with something and have these affinities illuminate the subject.”
AiPT!: What’s your favorite method of procrastination?
Bertrand: I can spend hours checking out artists on Tumblr. I rationalize it by telling myself I’m looking for references and inspiration but most of the time it’s pure procrastination.