Pénélope Bagieu, the Daring Cartoonist

Pénélope Bagieu, the Daring Cartoonist

She tried everything. Pénélope Bagieu is 34 but already about to release her third long story, Culottées. She portrayed 15 “different” women who braved the social pressure of their time to live the life they chose. This project came to Pénélope’s mind thanks to her passion for biographies and achieving it enabled her to free herself of a sort of monomaniac obsession. By telling these stories, the author, illustrator, director – the list is long – set herself a challenge: fitting in the small formats (3 to 6 pages for one character, no more) that was imposed by the Monde’s website blog for which these columns were made in the first place. It is a true exercise in style which has needed her to be synthetic – what she eventually succeeded in doing. Her writing is her hobby horse, and this precise cutting is a tempo to her rhythm. Piano piano, even if Pénélope works just in time: one portrait a week. Audacious, freed, funny and (often) moving, her drawings inspire us and encourage us to explore. It forces us to wonder. It is a successful beginning for the first collection. Culottées will have a next part in 2017, already available on Le Monde every Monday. It is a work on the content – but also on the form! – she does in her office in New York. She decided to move to this hyperactive city in 2015 to finish a nth book. This time, we are talking about her adventure. The novel she broadly and exclusively tells us isn’t going to stop soon. Yes, daring, that is what we said.

Salon New York Bureaux Pénélope Bagieu
Cuisine New York Bureaux Pénélope Bagieu
Cadres Bureaux New York Pénélope Bagieu
Salon Bureaux New York Pénélope Bagieu
Valisette Bureaux New York Pénélope Bagieu
Table Basse Bureaux New York Pénélope Bagieu

Pénélope, can you explain us how you got here, in New York?

Pénélope

Actually, it kind of started with a “why not?”. I can work from anywhere (as long as there is Wi-Fi), I had never left Paris before, and I had a comic book about to be published in the United States for the first time (Exquisite Corpse). So I thought it was the perfect opportunity to have a break abroad, even if it was short. We’ll see when I’m fed up!

What does this city represent to you?

Pénélope

My mother told me that, when I was a kid, before wanting to become an illustrator, I used to say I wanted to become “Queen of America” (how modest). So I guess it’s still a child dream (even though I am still not a queen).

Why did you choose this neighbourhood?

Pénélope

If I tell you how I discovered it, it will sound absurd: it was in an episode of the American “Kitchen Nightmares” with Gordon Ramsey. He went into a super-grungy pizzeria (where a customer had felt faint because of the dirtiness). Well anyway, as usual, they filmed a bit the neighbourhood around, and I remember having thought everything was very pretty: bricks, service stairs, awnings of all colours, nice cafés… And so, when I started looking at it more seriously, I also found out that Park Slope was ranked as the most pleasant neighbourhood where to live by the New Yorkers.

What does change when you go from France to the US as an artist?

Pénélope

I don’t know how it is for other people, but this “going outside of my comfort zone” has been very good for me. Of course, it is more difficult because the country is huge, because you have to start it all over again and because the work habits are different. But the “Can Do” myth is totally real: you can really start things on an impulse, people are ready to follow, to listen, and it doesn’t matter where you come from and who you are. It’s very stimulating.

Portrait Pénélope Bagieu Bureaux New York
Livres Bureaux Pénélope Bagieu
Tables Espace Collaboratif Bureaux Pénélope Bagieu
Tables Bureaux New York Pénélope Bagieu
Cadres Bureaux New York Pénélope Bagieu

Is this country one of your inspirations? What does actually inspire you?

Pénélope

The American comic books inspire me a lot: I love reading some. Jaime Hernandez’s work on the life of young American women, Alex Robinson’s vision of New York, and Roz Chast’s and Julia Wertz’s humour. It is true that once you live in this city, you have the “Friends” syndrome: this very natural feeling of obviousness, and of “I already know this place even though I’ve never been there”. New York is a familiar city, you already know it by heart when you arrive (however, not at all).

You are very committed. Will your next book be too?

Pénélope

I don’t know if I am “very committed”. I don’t do anything really brave, I am not on the Rainbow Warrior. But it is true that, in my books, I can’t help talking about anything else than the things that affect me, and it includes the things that outrage me. In my two “Culottées” books, I try to honour people I admire, from the small to the great History, but who are made invisible: women, from all times and backgrounds. Mermaids, cosmonauts, actresses and rappers. I hope it will inspire a lot of women.

What are your future projects?

Pénélope

I dream of a road trip in the South of the United States, to compare with Francis Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald’s one. I think it would be perfect for a long comic.

And your projects in your home?

Pénélope

The constraints for my flat were: I don’t want to bring anything from France (apart from twenty comics I take everywhere with me like cuddly toys), I don’t know for how long I’ll stay there, and I want to let everything there when I leave. So, a temporary deco is the perfect opportunity to allow yourself to be audacious (because you know you won’t have time to get tired of it), and to care less about quality. So I made myself a “Southern roads” decoration (what a coincidence) with old mirrors, great pictures of the desert and hangings made of dried flowers. I’ll probably throw everything on the pavement in a month or a year, so it is the moment or never to try things!

Did you decorate yourself?

Pénélope

Ah yes, people don’t decorate for me yet!

Where do you buy your furniture?

Pénélope

In the United States, I really have trouble finding the parallel track in which an equivalent of Habitat would exist. However, I found an entire galaxy of ugly rustic big pieces of furniture. So my method was half of Ikea (it is not the same catalogue!), a bit of Urban Outfitters, and a lot of Craiglist (some designers offer a selection of things they spotted) – because, yes, I had a lot of time to waste.

Portrait Pénélope Bagieu Bureau New York
Salle de Réunion Bureaux New York Pénélope Bagieu
Plantes Bureaux New York Pénélope Bagieu
Couloirs Bureaux New York Pénélope Bagieu

By the way, there are always pieces that follow us everywhere, in spite of the moves. Is that the case for you too?

Pénélope

My first sofa, that was too expensive for what I earned at that time, when I started to work. He was pretty uncomfortable, a lot too big, very fragile and doesn’t fit with a lot of things. But it is still my trophy, and nobody will chuck it away from my place. It is patiently waiting for me in a furniture storage unit in Paris. I could almost be buried with it if it was not that big.

Where do you like to be when you work?

Pénélope

In my (wonderful) shared studio in Brooklyn. Around the sofas (and the swing!) when I need silence and I want to stay focused (when I have to read and write), and around my office with my computer when I draw (and very loud music). I have an ergonomic armchair on which I am on my knees. Since I bought in years ago, my back and shoulders have never hurt me anymore. I recommend it!

What is your creation process?

Pénélope

I have an idea. I get completely overexcited and obsessional about it during a few days. I even get up at night to write details down! And then, once I have noted everything and that it’s settled for good, I start the long and quiet highway of drawing, for months or years, and I never go back.

What would you dream of having?

Pénélope

A garden! But that would look after itself.

What would you dream of doing in the United States?

Pénélope

I’d love to visit the large national parks of the West Coast. And then, even if I don’t dream of it, it starts to seem more and more necessary to most of my American dreams: having my driving licence (thing I don’t want since I am 18).

What are your favourite places in New York? Make us travel!

Pénélope

The Smile is a very beautiful restaurant set up in a recess like a bar of the Prohibition, where you can have a great dinner and where you can hear your friends. Trailer Park, a boutique of vintage deco near my place which sells only 50’s furniture and accessories, including small medicine bottles and very dated tourism objects. And finally, Desert Island, an Indie comic bookshop in Williamsburg, which really became an institution.

Livres Accumulation Bureaux New York Pénélope Bagieu
Miroir Bureaux New York Pénélope Bagieu
Poster Facebook Bureaux New York Pénélope Bagieu
Vue Bureaux New York Pénélope Bagieu
Livres Bureaux New York Pénélope Bagieu

Credits : Constance Genarri @thesocialitefamily

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