Vehlmann’s first two readers, and those whose opinions hold the most weight, are the artist and the publisher. From the publisher, Vehlmann expects an editor’s support, which is usually provided by the directors of the relevant collections within the publishing house. Vehlmann and his various collaborators are always accountable to the publisher and to readers. This is as true of Seuls as it is of Spirou et Fantasio. As Yoann and Vehlmann did not create most of the characters of the latter series, it is particularly important to include a discussion with Dupuis, the publisher and copyright holder of the series. When the authors are granted permission to use the marsupilami, for example, as is the case for the 55 th installment of the series, this involves even more discussions with even more copyright holders in order to ensure that the spirit of this iconic character is respected.
The term “collaborator” here refers exclusively to co-authors (scriptwriters and/or artists) who are paid for their work and whose names appear on the graphic novel covers. Vehlmann’s oeuvre can be placed on a collaborative spectrum, and the figure below is my attempt to place all of his major works in comics so far on this spectrum (see Fig. 11.1).
The leftmost position represents the complete absence of collaboration and the rightmost position represents “extreme” collaboration. For instance, although he was not the sole author of Les Cinq Contents de Bagdad [The Five Storytellers of Baghdad] (2006), Vehlmann was in complete control of the story insofar as the artist, Duchazeau, had agreed to illustrate the script as it was. Thus, this graphic novel is placed quite far left on the spectrum. Green Manor (Bodart and Vehlmann 2010) is similar, since the artist did not request alterations to scripts but only illustrated those that he liked. On the other end of the spectrum is Jolies Tenebres [Beautiful Darkness] (2009), co-created with the team of authors known by the common pen name Kerascoet and nominated for an Eisner award in 2015. The original idea for this graphic novel came from Marie Pommepuy, one of the Kerascoet team, and Vehlmann compares his role in this collaboration to that of a midwife, as he put himself completely at the service of Pommepuy’s story.
Vehlmann places most of his major works in the center of the spectrum, albeit still with varying degrees of collaboration. The works on the left tend to be earlier works and the center and rightmost works tend to be more recent.2 This increasing tendency toward collaboration and dialogue are due to both circumstances and Vehlmann’s changing views. Vehlmann’s early short stories were all scripted without a specific artist in mind as this person was designated by the Spirou editorial team. In addition, Vehlmann was initially unwilling to discuss his scripts and expected artists to illustrate his scripts exactly how he had imagined them. The reason behind such a stance was a paradoxical mixture of pride, lack of confidence, and over-idealization of artists’ abilities. Collaborations such as the one with Bonhomme on Le Marquis d’Anaon [The Marquis of Anaon] (2002, 2008) forced Vehlmann to truly think about the driving force behind a character’s decisions. Although this was a rather painful exercise and Vehlmann felt, at the time, that the finished product was somewhat lacking due to the concessions that he had made, he now looks back on the experience as a positive one.
Fig. 11.1. The collaborative spectrum
Having grown more confident in his ability to find an alternative if the artist requests changes, Vehlmann now values dialogue and considers that since he chooses to work with a specific artist for his or her drawing style and abilities, it is important to give the artwork the space it requires. Thus, while having very strict control over the script for Green Manor enabled him to maintain a lot of precision in the dialogue and in the construction of the plot (which is important for a noir series like Green Manor),
Vehlmann now laments the fact that the tight control he had over Les Cinq Contents de Bagdad [The Five Storytellers of Baghdad] (2006) constrained Duchazeau’s artwork. Moreover, he believes that a happy artist will work well, which is important as it is the artist who spends the most time on the graphic novel. This is not to say that he accepts any request indiscriminately but rather that he takes it into consideration, defends what he considers to be important to the story, and changes what he believes can be improved, as his priority is no longer to keep his original idea intact but rather to create the best graphic novel he can create with a given artist.