French artist Jérôme Alquié grew up with anime being aired in France, and these days it’s paying off. He’s working with Leiji Matsumoto on the comic Space Pirate Captain Harlock from ABLAZE Publishing, which is currently being published. And he is working on a Saint Seiya comic with Masami Kurumada. He spoke to Otaku USA about his fandom, getting to know Matsumoto, and what he aims to produce with his take on Captain Harlock.
You grew up with anime in the ’80s. How did you first discover anime, and what about them interested you?
I must have been about three years old when I started watching Japanese cartoons on TV. In France, they arrived in 1978 with the Robot Goldorak (UFO Robot Grendizer), of which all the kids were fans. Other space opera cartoons followed such as Ulysses 31, Edmond Hamilton’s Captain Future as well as Captain Harlock, which was called Captain Albator. They were very important to me because they were my heroes and playmates and the ones that made me want to start drawing.
Captain Harlock was highly successful in France. What attracted you to Space Pirate Captain Harlock in particular?
I (re)discovered [Captain Harlock] in the ’90s when I was a little older. I enjoyed the different layers of the show which can be addressed to children with the pirate elements that are still very impressive but also its other themes such as ecology, humanism, immortality… these kinds of things that you don’t see the same way when you’re seven years old or 20 years old.
I find Harlock particularly charismatic, romantic, embodied with a sense of self-sacrifice and honor and a lot of poetry, which are present in all of the works of its author Leiji Matsumoto. This character, I fell in love with him in 1994 [and] it has never left me.
Who are some of your biggest personal artistic influences?
Clearly the character designers of the animated series! In fact I learned to draw with them, trying to understand and redo what they were doing. So I think I should cite Shingo Araki first, as well as Kazuo Komatsubara of course. And add all the authors of the manga whose pages I devoured, such as Kurumada, [Akira] Toriyama, [Tsukasa] Hojo, [Tetsuo] Hara, and so many others. And certainly the discovery of [Katsuhiro] Otomo’s Akira. On the Franco-Belgian side, it was [Juan] Giménez with “the caste of meta barons” or Yslaire with the saga “sambre”. For comics, I unfortunately know a little less but now that my comics are published in the US, I will be able to catch up a little ^^!
How did you and Leiji Matsumoto work together on your Harlock comic?
It was a great collaboration. Everything I did passed into the hands of the master, whether from the scenario to the dialogue, or from the storyboard to the final boards. We were able to evolve certain things to be perfectly in line with his original work while respecting the new points that I wanted to explore.
He was very supportive, always full of kindness and encouragement. He is a great author, who has created so many things and who is very generous and open-minded. I love his work because it is in the continuity of his life, and I appreciate the man so much when I see how much he loves and talks about his work. I couldn’t have dreamed of a better collaboration. And our meeting was unforgettable!
How well do you know Matsumoto now? Are there any stories about your experiences working with him that you can share with us?
We exchanged a lot of messages regarding artistic choices. I saw him for the first time at the Japan Expo festival in Paris in 2019. But as the TV cameras were also there to film the meeting, I had to redo my introduction to him three times, while I really only wanted to say hello to him ^^!!
I thanked him very much for allowing me to work on this project, that it was an incredible honor and all the other things I had planned to say to him and he stopped me in my tracks, put his hand on his heart and said, “It was I who am honored to see you continue to bring my character to life, and for that I thank you!” It’s hard to express how moved I was!
When the project ended, the whole Japanese team showed me how happy they were with the result and a little sad that it was over. It touched me a lot!
How will your Harlock comic be similar and at the same time different from what Matsumoto has published?
It’s a question that completely sums up what I’ve been trying to produce: something faithful and different at the same time.
I believe that people who have discovered the anime or manga of Leiji Matsumoto will find all the ingredients, the characters, the dialogue, their adventures. Many fans have told me that they have found in these comics the hero of their childhood. It was clearly something that I strove for, so that the nostalgic thread works and that the fans feel a little youthful for a few moments … fidelity to the original work was very important to me and sensei Matsumoto shared this point of view.
And at the same time, I wanted to deal with different things, adding new characters that would change the dynamic, and especially allow enemies to become allies (oops, I spoil too much, there!). I wanted to emphasize the relationship between Harlock and Mayu his goddaughter, as I saw her with the eyes of the dad that I am today. I tried to talk about ecology with earth’s cooling (even if it is the opposite in reality), to highlight even more how the enemies, The Mazons, live in symbiosis with nature that they are a kind of metaphor for nature’s revenge on man who destroys the planet… all these things! And the difference also comes from the format, the drawing method, the coloring process.
You said it all in the question: I tried to do something personal and new, but with as much respect as possible for the original work. And I sincerely believe that this balance has been achieved with Space Pirate Captain Harlock.
What can you tell us about the Saint Seiya comic you are working on with Masami Kurumada?
That’s something else^^ !!! I see that you are well informed!!
I am a fan of this series. It’s definitely the anime I’ve seen the most times in my life. I watched every episode every day, every week, from my 14th to my 18th birthday ^^!
I am very proud and very happy to work in collaboration with sensei Kurumada on this project. Unfortunately, I can’t reveal much to you at the moment, except that I’m working on it.
New characters, new enemies, new adventures, but always with the heroes we liked on TV and then in manga. Seiya, Shiryu, Shun, Hyoga and Ikki will be back in 2022!
Are there are any comic, manga or anime series you are following presently or are a big fan of?
I didn’t know much about comics until a few years ago. And then by participating in festivals I had the opportunity to share my passion for drawing with many authors and artists. I discovered Star Wars comics of which I’m a very loyal reader! I’m also a big fan of the Batman character (there is a lot of similarity [to] Harlock with the cape and his dark side!).
On the manga side, I’m still [a fan of] my childhood cartoonists like Tsukasa Hojo (City Hunter and Angel Heart) today.
And finally on the anime side, obviously Attack on Titan that I share with my wife and children.
Can you please tell us about any of your other notable works and where Western and U.S. readers can find them?
Alas for me I am not known enough that my personal creations have crossed the Atlantic to arrive in your hands… Although, if you have children between 8 and 15 years old, you may be familiar with the series The Mythics which is published in the US. I am lucky to have participated in several albums of this super series teen.
I really like working on several projects at the same time, even if Harlock and Saint Seiya take me a lot of time and passion, it’s nice to do other things from time to time. I have the chance to do exhibitions in French and Belgian galleries, comics, illustrations for video games (Okinawa Rush, Battle Crush …), collectible cards (cross the ages), novels, concept arts of collectible statues … and classes for children.
Danica Davidson is the author of the bestselling Manga Art for Beginners with artist Melanie Westin, and its sequel, Manga Art for Intermediates, with professional Japanese mangaka Rena Saiya. Check out her other comics and books at www.danicadavidson.com.