Yvan Guillo is not an illustrator who is about to be held back by traditional practices. One day while he was sampling the tonal background of vintage comics to create a more retro feel in his own panels, he accidentally selected an area with a character in it, and his crazy new mash-up technique was born. He has continued creating works using these techniques under the pseudonym Samplerman, posting them on a Tumblr of the same name to create an extensive series. Even better, he created the word “procrastinatic” to describe such an activity. Making up formats and adjectives? Who is this enigmatic creator?
The Samplerman comics have now grown into a huge archive of works which are more redolent of a strange Surrealist painting than of anything Marvel might have made. Intrigued by Samplerman’s curious practice and determined to find out more about the happy accident that led him to begin working on this unique collection of images, we sought out the comics artist for a chat. Read on!
Can you tell us a bit about who you are and what you do?
I am a French cartoonist, born in the early 70s and living in Brittany. I have been doing comics since my childhood, and more intensively (if not professionally) for more than 20 years. My pages are published in several fanzines – Gorgonzola, Que Suerte and Hopital Brut. I have also had my own collective Crachoir for many years. Most of my work is self-published, and I’ve made works as diverse as stories for children, or surrealist drawings in black ink or… Samplerman. For a living I’m also a graphic designer.
Your Samplerman comics are a crazy mash-up of loads of different comics. What made you decide to start working in this way?
It started accidentally. I colour my comics using Adobe Photoshop, and I was sampling backgrounds from old American comics to obtain a more organic (and retro) tonality in my own panels. I selected little monochrome squares around the characters, a wall or a sky. To be able to use them I had to make them bigger so I started to digitally duplicate and mirror them to make mosaics. I asked myself “what if instead of monochrome rectangles, I picked portions of a drawing in the panel?” I just discovered how to make kaleidoscopes. Something promising appeared out of this sort of “procrastinatic” activity.
"I don't really read the stories, but I love how they look: the cheap paper, the bright primary colours, the screen-tone, the drawings, the conventional representation of landscapes, the simplicity of the lines."Yvan Guillo
How do you go about making the Samplerman comics?
I’ve always downloaded tonnes of scans of American comics, from the golden age to the bronze age. I could scan the ones I have but I’ve done it only once or twice. I don’t really read the stories, but I love how they look: the cheap paper, the bright primary colours, the screen-tone, the drawings, the conventional representation of landscapes, the simplicity of the lines. I have to make a choice among this mountain of graphic elements. I pick what I like: face, hand, clothes, tree, car, text balloon etc. and start to (digitally) cut them out. At the same time I start to place the elements on one or several pages made of blank comic panels. Some elements are duplicated, rotated, arbitrarily cut in half, reduplicated and mirrored. It’s a mix of kaleidoscope and collage; I add, I move, I replace until I feel it’s done. At the end it has to remain visually surprising and dynamic.
Were you trying to take a step away from a linear narrative?
I’ve often been told that my comics are difficult to read. I believe I’ve proven that I can do fluid and understandable comics based on a logical story, but I have to admit I kind of like to make unintelligible abstract comics, without character, without script, as a sequence from a parallel universe with its own physical laws. I consider what I’ve done so far with Samplerman as an autopsy of old comics: by reorganising their components in a new way, it shows their inner energy in a new light. I still have not explored all the possibilities yet. But I have not given up on telling stories. I’m still interested in a more classical narration in comics.
"I consider what I've done so far with Samplerman as an autopsy of old comics: by reorganising their components in a new way, it shows their inner energy in a new light."Yvan Guillo
Are you hoping to publish them in a book some day?
I started working on this project more consistently after a publisher who saw my firsts attempts on Tumblr contacted me about making a book. A few months later, I sent him a prototype of a book. Unfortunately he didn’t like it enough. I’m not feeling a particular urge to make a book though. Some pages have been published by Le Dernier Cri and Kushkomiks in collectives. It will eventually be a book, or several books! Less and less people buy books so it has to be a great (and not too expensive) book and worth the buy.
How important is to you to make different kinds of work under different names?
Not so important. I could do everything under my real name or the same pseudonym. But it’s very important for me to explore and experiment without restriction. I’m not tied to any style, technique or anything. I do whatever my mood lets me do. I don’t care if I haven’t got an easy style to identify.