French illustrator Camille Potte is not a creative we have written about previously on It’s Nice That. Back in January we found her work and sent an e-mail to find out a little more about her free flowing monochrome comic book strips. She replied explaining that the drawings were actually part of a project uncompleted at that point, “based on an album made by the band Neutral Milk Hotel, whose leader Jeff Mangum, mysteriously disappeared after the success of their second release,” she explains.
We decided to hold it and wait for Camille to finish Dear Jeff Mangum an amalgamation of music and illustration telling “the story of teenager’s adventures while they wander at night in a weirdly fantastic suburb and discover love, disappointment and friendship”.
Tonight, (7 April 2017) an exhibition of Dear Jeff Mangum opens in Paris. To celebrate Camille has made us a mixtape of songs that inspired the book.
Why did you decide to base a zine on Neutral Milk Hotel?
When I was about 14, I would go to a friend from schools house and we would spend our afternoons listening to rock music. Well, actually, he would make me listen to the bands he discovered as I had shit taste at the time, like Avril Lavigne or hardcore things like that. This was how I started listening to Neutral Milk Hotel. I remember shaking my head so hard while listening to them that it would make me dizzy and drooling.
Then, two years ago I realised that I had never stopped listening to them even though I couldn’t fully understand what the lyrics were, especially on In the Aeroplane Over the Sea. It’s still not very clear, but by that time I had actually made up a whole story following the order of the songs, mixed with memories of my teenage years in my head. I decided to write it, and address it to Jeff Mangum as a way of thanking him. It’s actually exactly a fanzine. I intend to send him the book, so I’m currently looking for an address to ship it.
What do you like about the band?
I think it is a question of balance between several things. Between density and lightness, between a very deep dark sadness and a bright-full joy, between the fragility that emanates from Jeff Mangum’s character and the strength of his poetic work. I also love the musical saw.
What was your process?
The idea was that each song would have it’s own comic and each comic would fit into a poster, together all the comics would make a story understandable when you’ve seen them all. Mostly, the balance between the lyrics and the comic came pretty naturally, then I had to adjust, to use some songs to create narrative bridges. When the lyrics appear, they are kind of like an echo, out of time with the story but yet they create a common space with it. On some parts lyrics don’t appear at all, and on others they are brutally present.
When do you listen to Neutral Milk Hotel?
At the moment, now that the book is over, I don’t listen to them anymore as I had to play the songs over and over while I was drawing. The problem is not that I’m sick of it, but that I know the album so well that I can sing it from beginning until the end, including all the musical saw and bagpipe solos that drive me a little crazy when I put it on.
What other bands do you listen to?
I mostly go to garage punk music concerts. Otherwise, I have a monomaniac relation with music, as I listen to it when I’m drawing and I can’t stop every time a song ends so I listen to several albums of the same band in a loop. I’m currently in a Robert Wyatt in the morning and a Freddy Mercury in the afternoon phase.
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