Perhaps it’s best if we say all of the above. Or even better, why not describe him as a unique artist with a vision equally delightful and intriguing to adults and children? That sounds about right.
I first noticed him a few years ago at Nostalgia & Comics when his comic series Zed came into the shop at the same time as a couple of his books. Because his work is so unusual and visually distinctive I’d definitely have picked his work up to look at it anyway, but this coincided with a time that I was looking for interesting and unusual books to show to my daughter Molly in the hope that she’d develop wide and varied reading tastes. So I took home two Gagne books for bedtime reading:
Both stories are absolutely delightful and Molly and I instantly fell in love with Gagne’s style.
Towers of Numar is a tale of endeavour and the ability to achieve fantastical things. One tiny creature, small and insignificant, will become the greatest inventor her world has ever seen. And her inventions unite not just her world, but lead to discreet physical connections to other worlds. A network of worlds builds up, getting bigger and bigger until we pull back, look anew and realise that it’s not a macroscopic viewpoint we’re observing, but a microscopic one and this wonderfully inventive scientist has just put together the fabled prime molecule, triggering changes of universal significance.
The Search For Meaning is the story of a little fox called Rex who decides one morning to go in search of “meaning”. Of course, he doesn’t find it, despite searching far and wide, through strange environs and meeting bizarre creatures along the way. But what he does realise, once the journey is over with is that Meaning isn’t a thing to be discovered, it’s something to experience and gain through just being alive and living that life to the full.
The beauty of Gagne’s work is that he holds an almost universal appeal. His simple stories and delightful, uncluttered and clean lines on the page draw in children and adults alike. But his stories can be read on several levels. Molly was entertained from an early age by the adventures of Rex going through all sorts of strange places and meeting bizarre creatures, just as she was enthralled by the inventiveness on show in Towers of Numar. But for me reading the books, the joy comes in the deeper meanings, the underlying delights of the twisted physics at play in Towers of Numar and the Psychology and self awareness in A Search For Meaning. All of his books have that same universal appeal, working on many different levels and rewarding the reader, whatever their age, time and time again.
Some of you may also know him for his 5 part, 40 page Batman serial Spore that featured as the backup material in Detective Comics #776 - 780. Possibly the strangest Batman tale you’ll ever have the pleasure of reading, wherein Batman is mutated by a planet threatening alien spore. It makes absolutely no apologies for being completely off the wall and managed to amaze, frustrate, fascinate and annoy an awful lot of people. I have to admit I missed it first time round, but thanks to Gagne’s incredibly generous habit of putting whole stories up on his website, you to can catch up with it like I have. It’s well worth it, just to see how innovative Gagne is in his use of one of DC’s core iconic heroes.
(Batman: Spore by Michel Gagne, - read the whole story on Michael’s site)
But, excepting his Batman work it’s rare to see his work in comic shops. It might have a universal all ages appeal but it’s almost impossible to characterise. Aside from Zed, his books aren’t really comics. His material, although appealing to children, isn’t exactly the stuff of your standard children’s picture book and the perceived, surface childish nature of the story and artwork will put many adult readers off. And this means that he’s never been a full time author, having to work in the animation industry out of financial necessity. Which is obviously a terrible shame.
The good news is that Gagne’s latest work, the Saga of Rex is being serialised in the pages of the excellent Graphic Novel anthology series Flight. And that should be more readily available for you to delight over.
Meanwhile, Molly and I will continue to settle down at bedtime and find great joy in his work.
Michel Gagne’s website is a veritable joy of free stuff, whether it’s art samples, previews or complete stories from his books - go visit and enjoy. But remember, after all those freebies, it would be nice to buy a book or two. Then again, after seeing how wonderful Gagne’s work is, I’ve no doubt you’ll be desperate to own it anyway.
(originally posted at FPI weblog here)