Castles, coats of arms, and curious tales are Pia-Mélissa Laroche’s bread and butter. The Paris-based illustrator does, however, have an interesting take on bringing these tales to life. While the themes in her comics and zines seem to sit somewhere between Beauty and the Beast and Chaucer, her method of narration is a lot more fluid and non-verbal than such stories. Rather than, say, following a knight or woodcutter, step by step, through a storybook adventure, she plays with sequential images to meander around the edges of a narrative. “I like when the images leave enough room for everyone’s interpretation and when their reading is not unequivocal”, Pia-Mélissa tells It’s Nice That.
To achieve this effect, the illustrator draws stories as she goes along, “without prior structures,” she says. “The theme, the story, the colour, the layout and even the shape of the book will impose themselves as I progress.” Always on the hunt for new narration possibilities, Pia-Mélissa plays with a range of binding and printing techniques to enhance each new story.
One such wonderful example is a book she worked on titled Si ce n’est pas par le feu (If not by fire), a flammable graphic novel published by Cacahuète Editions. The book is miniature; the illustrator tells us that Cacahuète Editions only publish books that are small enough to fit into a peanut box, so they can be distributed in peanut dispensers around cafes and cultural spots in Paris. Loosely following the story of a city where nothing burns, the printing techniques on the work allude to the concept of setting things alight – although, Pia-Mélissa adds that the form actually had little to do with the story; it was initially conceived when the illustrator was experimenting with creating sculptural book covers.
As for some of the other stories Pia-Mélissa has bought to life in her work, she says a recent zine in four volumes is centred around an old absurd tale, “in an ageless time”. The titles and subject of each work in the series – Abattre les arbres (Cutting down trees), boucher les fontaines (blocking fountains), and renverser les pierres (tilting stones) – actually came from a sentence Pia-Mélissa heard an archaeologist speak over the radio once: “Cutting down trees, blocking fountains, tilting stones”. “It sounded like the title of a terrifying film with menacing protagonists,” she said. The series begins in typical fairytale fashion, following the story of a lumberjack. Another work is influenced by four ruined castles in Seine-et-Marne, drawing inspiration from the contrast of the “cold and elementary design” of old coats of arms of the Seine-et-Marne’s towns with the “noble and disused imagery of medieval castles”.
Intriguingly, Pia-Mélissa uses coats of arms in general as a metaphor for how she approaches stories. “They have a very precise meaning”, she says, “but taken out of context [they can be used] to tell all the stories we want.” Inspired by references as far-ranging as figurines in the Louvre, to films by Robert Bresson and Mario Bava, there are clearly specific stories behind each of Pia-Mélissa’s illustrations. Yet, it’s freeing to be able to take them out of context, and the illustrator prefers to leave room for the viewer’s imagination in each new work.
Pia-Mélissa Laroche: boucher les fontaines, (Copyright © Pia-Mélissa Laroche, 2021)
About the Author
Liz (she/they) joined It’s Nice That as news writer in December 2021. After graduating in Film from The University of Bristol, they worked freelance, writing for independent publications such as Little White Lies, INDIE magazine and design studio Evermade.