We spoke to writer Rémi Guerin and artist Guillaume Lapeyre about the story they are weaving in City Hall (our review here) as well as steampunk in France.
City Hall is a marvelous and imaginative combination of history, fiction and steampunk. What inspired you to start this story together?
Rémi: As surprising as it may seem, but it’s an English building, set in the very heart of London, that forms the base of this story: the actual London City Hall. I confess that I am fascinated by the incredible architecture that borders the River Thames and it was after seeing a report that the idea took root and sometime later the story itself.
Aside from that I dream of going there and offering volume 1 of City Hall to the mayor of London right there in that building!
So I wanted to create my very own league of extraordinary gentlemen, but with real, historical characters, the first being Jules Verne. From there onward the story continued taking form.
Why did you choose a manga style format of publication in greyscale?
Guillaume: Once we completed our previous series, Explorers aux éditions Soleil, we needed to present new projects to the editors. We had prepared several stores, all different from one another. One of those was City Hall.
I had discovered graphic novels along with manga and I succeeded in convincing Rémi into doing City Hall as a manga project. All the other stories were executed as classic graphic novels in color.
Ankama, the publisher of City Hall, immediately showed interest where the others though that the manga format wouldn’t be economically viable. So we had the extraordinary opportunity to have people behind us that were willing to accept this enormous risk. Starting from the very first day we worked as hard as we could so they wouldn’t regret having confidence in us!
Two of your main characters are Jules Verne and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. Which story by each of them is your personal favorite and why?
Rémi: Now that’s an excellent question! My favorite story by the hand of Jules Verne would be Around the World in Eighty days, because that has has all the absolute elements of adventure. It’s based on a crazy and foolish bet, which is at the same time a stroke of genius and visionary of what will become the future.
It’s more complex when talking about Arthur Conan Doyle as I am a huge fan of Sherlock Holmes. There are so many new stories as well as original ones, so it’s hard to choose. But if I had to choose one that particularly pleased me because it reflects the character and his way of operating well then I would say “Five Orange Pips”.
If you could have one thing from City Hall come to exist in real life, which would it be?
Guillaume: Buying a ticket of the Indigo class for the Canon Train Company for a crossing from the UK to France! You’ll see what I mean if you read volume 4. (Smiles)
Rémi: Going to a show by Houdini in London, a dream that will sadly never become real, much to my great regret!
France has a very rich steampunk culture, with many very public elements to it such as Les Machines de L’île in Nantes to name but one. Which one is your personal favorite and why?
Guillaume: We were actually able to visit Les Machines de L’île, as we were in Nantes for a convention and that was fabulous. We even decided to include it in the end of volume 3! I would have loved staying a little longer and discovering the city of Jules Verne a little more.
Rémi: I agree with Guillaume, Nantes was a fabulous experience, which was sadly far too short. We did adore it and I do think that at the moment that is my best steampunk experience in France to date. Aside from the City Hall stand, of course. (Winks)
A lot of your characters are historical figures or references to popular culture characters. If you had to choose just one persona from City Hall that you love the most yourself, who would it be and why?
Guillaume: From the side of the good guys, I’d say Arthur Conan Doyle. If the series continues doing well, we can eventually continue the story in which case Rémi has forseen an absolutely genious evolution of the character. To the point where he will become one of the great heroes of the series. I already loved him from the start of the adventure, but knowing what could happen to him, I love him even more!
As for the villains: I really love Lovecraft a lot, because he has an unpredictable streak. He loves to write and to use his papercuts and it visibly gives him pleasure to wreak destruction in his wake. It’s a troubled and fascinating character, who will become a permanent part of the cast starting volume 5.
Rémi: That’s a really hard question as the impression I have is that they’re all my children because, after all, I did choose them and had them pass the casting so to speak. But I’ll try to come up with an answer…
From the first cycle I’d say Jules Verne, especially knowing what will happen to him and the way it he will face the events. And it was the first character on my list.
From the second I’d say Harry Houdini, who will take on a fabulous dimension and I promise you you’re not suspecting what will happen to him!
For Comic Con Paris, you collaborated with Steam Rocket on a City Hall display. How did you come to work with this group?
Rémi: It was our editor who presented them to us and it turned out that they loved our work and we loved theirs. So it seemed logical we’d do something together.
If you could organize the ultimate City Hall event, which steampunk artists would you like to work with, what kind of event would it be?
Guillaume: A mechanical parade? No that’d be too fantastic. I think I dream a little too much…
Rémi: A reconstruction of the London City Hall during an universal exposition, like the one we discover in volume 3. But that’s an ultimate dream!
At what other events will we be able to see you or a City Hall set-up later this year and 2014?
Guillauime: I think we are set to have a City Hall stand at the Toulouse Game Show next month. In any case, several events are being planned for 2014!
The next installment was released late last month, along with some new merchandise of the series. Can you tell us as little more about these?
Rémi: Volume 4 was released October 24, as well as a boxed set of the first cycle grouping the three first volumes of the series, including a little bonus.
There’s also a notebook that was released with exclusive content in the form of texts and drawings and plenty of space to pen down your very own adventure.
Currently City Hall is only available in French. Are there any plans for translations in other languages?
Rémi: Yes, negotiations for translations in other Spanish, Italian and German with foreign editors are currently underway. And as I write this, the text of volume 1 should already have been translated in English.
As a closing note, do you have any words of wisdom for our readers? Especially those who are aspiring artists themselves?
Guillaume: For the designers: be curious about everything. Draw everything you love and everything you find a good subject. Draw more, more and even more, all the time.
Don’t be overconfident, but be confident enough to show your work to editors. Make sure to work regularly.
Be passionate of what you do, because once you work as a professional you risk spending many hours in front of your page, pencil in hand and ready to make your wildest dreams become reality! (Smiles)
Rémi: The same goes for scenario writers. Let anything you could possibly read, see or hear inspire you, be curious to the extreme and talk to people and ask them about their lives. Let them tell you stories, read as much as possible and keep an open mind toward all genres. You’ll find your own way afterward and it’ll be because of what you loved, what you didn’t really love, what surprised you and what you didn’t hear.
Be open and have no prejudice before discovering whatever it may be. Life is an adventure and writing is a way of sharing that.
And, especially, never be discouraged. Even if you’re unpublished write for others, be they your friends, your family or people you don’t know.
But in the first place: write for yourself.