He is one of the most read writers in France. But that doesn't mean he's stepping up his sleeve. Geography professor at the University of Rouen, Michel Bussi, a 58-year-old Norman and author of later successful novels, has also had a great passion for comics since his earliest years.
The publication of Don't let go of my hand, a sumptuous comic book adaptation of one of her novels, follows those of Un avion sans elle (2021), Black water lilies (2019, sold 40,000 copies), or Mourir sur Seine ( 2018). With the benevolent complicity of screenwriter Fred Duval and designer Didier Cassegrain, Michel Bussi once again affirms his love for the 9th art. He talks about the close ties he maintains with this medium for Le Figaro.
LE FIGARO. - You've been enjoying comics for a long time. What did your adaptation work on Don't Let Go of My Hand consist of?
Michel Bussi. - For me, it's an approach that goes beyond the simple adaptation of a bestseller to comics. With my two accomplices Fred Duval and Didier Cassegrain, I realize that we carry out a real artistic work, a whole reflection which will lead us from one literary medium to another.
That's to say?
Well, actually, I started out writing comic book scripts before I got into novels. I think some of my writing, which is sometimes said to be cinematic, has more to do with comics than cinema. I write without realizing it using a lot of the art of ellipsis. My chapters are similar to certain cuttings of boards. I have fun with the reverse shot. In the breakdown of my paragraphs, I realize that I draw a lot of inspiration from comics to tell my stories. And also in terms of rhythm and narration...
How do you work with Fred Duval?
With screenwriter Fred Duval, we speak the same language. Even if he does 90% of the adaptation work, we discuss regularly together to improve the impact of the sequences. We try to give them the maximum of intensity, of emotion. We sometimes discuss a box, a look...
Inspector Christos Konstantinov is an atypical cop who assists the heroine in his own way. Did you have any idea how it would be graphically represented?
Yes, Didier Cassegrain gave him a Charles Bukowski physique, an imposing physique, the Hawaiian shirt, the beard, this charm and a certain beauty. That's what I like about comics. Fred and Didier made me proposals, as for a casting of cinema. Christos, in the novel, he is not so described. So, there, Didier Cassegrain had a lot of fun.
And the same thing happened for Aja. Didier likes to draw very beautiful women. Me, Aja, I didn't see her as particularly beautiful in the novel. So, we discussed together to refine the character, that she be beautiful without being a fashion plate. She has an intelligent, determined side. That's one of the great things about comics: being able to choose everything from facial features to clothes. With Christos, it's typical. I staged a colorful character. In comics, we were really able to embody it by graphically working on all the details of the character.
Were you surprised by the result?
After Black Water Lilies, I immediately had this intuition that I had to adapt Don't let go of my hand! Because it is in this novel that the plot evolves in grandiose landscapes. It's very different from Black Water Lilies, which we treated intimately. There, Don't let go of my hand has something of a road movie in the great outdoors. The plot is more linear, we go fast. The twists are regular. It reads in one go, like a run. Without forgetting the Reunion atmosphere, the graphic impact of tropical plants. In fact, what I like in comics is that you can extract yourself from very many descriptions. On the narrative level in the novel, a few paragraphs are necessary, for example to set the scene, to evoke the Plaine de Sables where a father and his daughter want to hide while enjoying a volcano... I have written a lot so that the readers perceive the heat, the desert, the immensity, and the sound of helicopters criss-crossing the sky. I described this western atmosphere... Whereas in comics, a drawing is enough. Didier Cassegrain sketches a huge panoramic, two small silhouettes exposed, and the readers have understood, here it is! That's what's beautiful about comics, a board can sum up two pages, and it's just as powerful.
When did your passion for comics start?
In childhood, of course. Beyond Tintin, Asterix and Lucky Luke, I remember that when I was little, I read a lot of magazines such as Pif Gadget, Okapi, Le Journal de Mickey or Picsou magazine. These reviews had very different universes. Afterwards, as soon as I entered 6th grade, I became interested in the albums that were available in the Bibliobus which passed every week not far from my home. There, I discovered La Rubrique-à-Brac by Gotlib, Blueberry by Charlier and Gir, Lone Sloane by Druillet, Les Frustrés by Brétecher, Philémon by Fred or Thorgal by Rosinski and Van Hamme. I devour all the comics of the 70s. I go to another dimension. From the top of my eleven or twelve years, it is for me a revelation. Everything is allowed. All of this is no doubt embellished by my own intellectual construction between the ages of twelve and eighteen, but I still have the impression that at that time audacious scripts, flashes of humor, science fiction graphics that will greatly inspire the cinema of those years.
How did this 1970s comic inspire you?
It's funny, you barely asked me the question... I think back to Franquin and his Idées noirs or to Comès, and his graphic novel Silence. These are two authors who marked my inspiration as a writer. And especially when I think back to Comès... You know, some of my books are very much rooted in the French countryside, using mixtures of fantasy and mystery. This probably comes from Comes. There were two distinct parts. On the one hand, the corrosive humor that we did not find elsewhere. And on the other side, there were scenarios, plots impossible in the cinema because it was too expensive.
You who are above all a man of writing, a man of the word, but you seem to be advocating comics...
Yes (Laughs). In fact, I see it. Let's say that for me, comics invented a lot of things, precisely because you had to make an effort to be concise, because an album tells a story in forty pages. This whole series of constraints has forced this narrative form to imagine original solutions in terms of plots. While in literature, even if the writing offered new leads, the plot was not essential. What I observe above all is that when it comes to dialogue, in comics, we are very close to the word. The masterpieces of comics are also masterpieces of the right word.
Tell me about the April 5 series, this young hero at the Renaissance, whose second volume has just been published...
It's an old idea that goes back at least thirty years. This time, it's a concept that I directly imagined for the comic. I stage a young man named "April 5", son of Leonardo da Vinci, who evolves in the heart of the Renaissance. I planned between five and seven episodes. And young April will be involved in the great royal plots of the moment. The series will travel to Italy, Spain, France, England, each time with a terrible imbroglio between Henry VIII and François 1er. At the time, everyone knew each other. Everyone promises to marry, and everyone foments against everyone. I also liked this idea that at the beginning of the Renaissance, two worlds rubbed shoulders. We still find the Middle Ages which has not evolved. And faced with this, another part of people, more enlightened, more humanistic, who has already understood that the world belongs to those who make great scientific or medical discoveries. I like this idea of plunging a kind of "Mac Gyver of the Renaissance" into the heart of this very contrasting world.
Why didn't you want to make a series of novels out of it?
Quite simply because I immediately imagined it as a sort of swashbuckling epic. A series in costume, a bit twirling, and to which I will add a XIII-like mechanism, the series of Vance and Van Hamme, since the main character is in search of his identity. It was for me a kind of dream to knit a historical story with intrigues at Windsor Castle, all accompanied by Fred Duval who is a historian, and the cartoonist Noë Monin. It is a semi-realistic series, rather youthful.
And cinema in all this?
I love the cinema. I even watch more movies than TV series. It's a big regret. I think I don't have the card, as they say. And then I find that the 7th art is a bit too snobbish. It's almost the antithesis of comics. French cinema in particular looks too much at the navel. It often oscillates between a psychological slice of life and a disguised documentary, without really taking the time to tell a story. Rarely do French films offer us innovative heroic characters. When he does, it's to invest in Asterix or The Three Musketeers... I'm pretty strict, I admit that. But I'm probably a little nostalgic for the popular French cinema of the 70s and 80s which knew how to tell stories, Oury, Verneuil, Boisset, etc. Comics have more modesty, humor and self-mockery...
Ne lâche pas ma main, by Fred Duval and Didier Cassegrain, based on the novel by Michel Bussi, 136 p., éditions Dupuis, €29.95.
Cinq Avril, volume 2, by Fred Duval, Michel Bussi and Noë Monin, 56 p., Dupuis editions, €12.95.