Director’s Commentary: the Cigar That Fell in Love With a Pipe
The Cigar That Fell in Love With a Pipe has to be one of the more intriguingly unusual new releases on the spring slate. Taking in a gift of the finest Cuban cigars, hand-rolled by Conchita Marquez, to the legendary Orson Welles, right on the eve of his latest film, The Lady From Shanghai (the convoluted Noir rightly famous for the incredible, surreal final hide-and-seek and shoot-out in a funfair hall of mirrors, still a remarkable bit of film visualisation decades on). As a delighted Orson puffs happily on one of these exceptionally fine cigars he dreams about Conchita’s life…
As I said, certainly a pretty unique and unusual story, and one several of us on the blog have been looking forward to reading (with SelfMadeHero publishing the English language edition this month). I’m very pleased to welcome the writer David Camus as our latest Director’s Commentary guest; David has kindly taken the time to tell us a bit about how this unusual work came into being and how he came to collaborate with the always excellent Nick Abadzis on the book. Thanks also to Nick for being kind enough to share some of his artwork here (including giving us a glimpse into the creation process with some sketches and thumbnail designs) for this Commentary and also to David’s friend Jeff Probst who was generous enough to translate David’s Commentary:
A Tale of Time and Friendship
The Cigar That Fell in Love With A Pipe is one of my oldest stories. Before actually writing it, I told the tale to a couple friends of mine, Cécile and Jean-Louis. It was back in 1994, if I remember correctly, and the three of us had just sat down at a restaurant. At the time, Jean-Louis was suffering from diabetes and had to take a shot of insulin before each meal–or maybe the shot was to measure his insulin level. Anyway, the point is he had to take a shot, and each time he took it Cécile was absolutely petrified.
So when Jean-Louis left us alone at the table for a few minutes, I started telling Cécile the first silly story that popped into my head to keep her mind off Jean-Louis. And the story I rattled off from start to finish was this one: The Cigar That Fell in Love With A Pipe (in French, L’Histoire du cigare amoureux d’une pipe). I was just as surprised and delighted as Cécile to hear it. Don’t ask me where it came from because I haven’t the slightest idea. All I can say is that I’m a huge fan of Orson Welles, who’s always been a source of inspiration for me (or at least since I first discovered him at the age of ten, and was convinced that I’d eventually end my days as he had: fat and smoking cigars).
I didn’t smoke cigars back then–not yet. But (yet another strange coincidence) it was this same Jean-Louis who introduced me to cigars sometime around the year 2000. I discovered that cigars are the exact opposite of cigarettes, which people usually smoke quickly and to relieve stress. On the contrary, cigars can only be smoked slowly and savored. For me, even now, a good cigar is something to be enjoyed with others, a way to celebrate a special occasion with friends (it shouldn’t come as a surprise then that this story is dedicated to my very dear friend Cécile, and that it took such a long time to finally get published).
But back to Cécile, and that night at the restaurant. After we left the restaurant, I went straight home and spent the whole night in front of my computer typing out the first draft. At about 6:30 the next morning, I set it on the doorstep in front of Cécile and Jean-Louis’s apartment, with a bag of croissants and ‘pains au chocolat’.
I’ve always been very fond of this story. Back then, it wasn’t a script for a comic book but a short story. I was convinced it would work better as a graphic novel. I must have been 23 or 24 at the time, and had already had quite a few of my texts and scenarios rejected. I mailed the story to a very prestigious editor in Paris, and a few weeks later, the miracle finally happened: they wanted my story! I received the phone call I’d been waiting for my whole life: a message on my answering machine from “Gallimard jeunesse”; they were interested in my short story. “Did I have any more to send them?”
Did I have any more? Well…no, not really. At least, not in the same genre. I immediately called the guy at Gallimard (actually it was a woman), and explained the situation. She wanted to publish my text in a collection of short stories–a collection of my short stories–if I had any more of the same variety? Unfortunately, the other short stories I sent her were not at all like “Cigar”, and my collection of short stories never got published. (I was convinced from the start that it wasn’t a short story but more of a graphic novel, and that it wouldn’t work without images. For the illustrations I’d thought of Baudoin–one of my favorite artists who Jean-Louis had first told me about.)
(a selection of sketched layouts by Nick)
The years went by. About fifteen years later, in 2009, I’d just finished a novel that I wasn’t happy with (it’s still festering somewhere in the backwaters of my computer). Nor was I happy with myself. Then I thought of something: The last novels that I’d written–the three books from my Book of the Cross series–had received quite a bit of praise from people in the picture industry: cartoonists, movie-makers, etc. For my next writing project, I decided to go back to my first love: scenarios. Not for a documentary or a movie this time, but for a graphic novel. I decided to jump headlong into this new style of writing, which I felt could embody everything that I was hoping to create in my work. And even more importantly, it would enable me to write my stories without having to rely on a novel format.
After writing a few comic book scenarios directly in English, I decided to adapt one of my most cherished stories, which I felt had real visual possibilities: The Cigar That Fell in Love With A Pipe. “This’ll be a piece of cake,” I thought. “Should only take a couple weeks.” Big mistake. The adaptation took me almost three months, and I don’t even know how many drafts I wrote. It was much more difficult than I thought. One of the biggest obstacles was all the different voices I had to create in the story–for the narrator, Orson Welles, Conchita, and all the others. I think one of the best things about the book is the way the voices are intricately intertwined to tell the tale–along with the different times periods in which it’s told. But this was also the most difficult part to write. I have to admit, though, that I was pretty happy with the result. I immediately sent it off to my agent, Anna Jarota, who quickly got back to me to say how much she loved the story. She was convinced we wouldn’t have much trouble finding an editor in France, even if we didn’t have an illustrator yet.
Luckily, this wasn’t the case (I know, I’m supposed to say: “Alas, this wasn’t the case”, but since it was this initial setback that allowed me to meet Nick, I prefer saying: “Luckily, this wasn’t the case.”). Anna, who couldn’t understand why no one wanted the story and was convinced that it was good enough to fight for, then did what great agents do (and believe me, she’s quite unique): she had it translated into English by my amazing friend Jeff Probst (probably the best French/English translator in the world today), and then sent it to an agent friend of hers in New York. “It’ll work in the U.S., just you wait and see,” she said to me knowingly (she also sent along one of my other scenarios–a fantasy thriller–but that’s a whole other story). Anna called me a few weeks later: “P.J. loved it! He’s going to send it to two of his cartoonists who he thinks might be interested!” One of the two was Craig Thompson, the author of a book that I knew (and loved) called Blankets, and which (yet another strange coincidence!) had always fascinated me because it reminded me so much of my friend Jeff, who was from Wisconsin! But Craig was working on Habibi at the time (this was back in 2010) and was too busy to work on my story (actually, I don’t know if he even read my scenario). As for Nick, I wasn’t familiar with his work. I knew that he’d received the Eisner award for Laïka, but that was all.
But what I do know, and I can remember it as if it were yesterday, was that on July 14, 2010 (our National Holiday here in France), I got an email from Nick. He loved my story! I was absolutely ecstatic. I couldn’t have been prouder or happier than I was at that instant–plus there were fireworks above the city, and I remember gazing at those luminous flowers exploding in the sky on that hot summer night. Nick and I would exchange tons of emails, talking about everything and nothing at all: comic books, the publishing world, all sorts of things from our personal lives. Nick is currently the person I’ve exchanged the most emails with, and he’s become like a big brother to me (sorry about that if you’re reading this, Nick, but it’s true!).
You’re probably thinking that this is the part where I say “The rest is history”, where I talk about how we found an editor in no time and how we (mostly Nick, actually) quickly got down to work and churned out our graphic novel. That’s hardly the case. It was a struggle, a great struggle actually. But I’d like to think that all the difficulties we encountered only made Nick and I stronger. (If there’s one thing I’ve learned, it’s that each setback in life actually prepares you for something better down the road. You just have to keep believing and keep clawing your way forward.)
And so now I can say “the rest is history”: you might be holding our work in your hands right now, or have already seen the book. Nick has reworked my scenario quite a bit–especially the layout–and has further developed some of the sequences. I have to say that he really brought Conchita to life, which is the most important thing of all. Thanks to him, the book truly exists. The characters have become real people.
Oh yeah, there’s one more thing I wanted to say before I go: When I first wrote this story—and did the adaptation—it was for Baudouin. It so happens that one day, while Nick and I were having an ongoing discussion about our favorite cartoonists, he said to me in an email:
“Baudoin is my favorite cartoonist.”
“Me too,” I could have replied. And maybe I very well did, although I don’t remember anymore. But one thing’s for sure: it turned out that, here again, I was very fortunate, because Baudoin never saw this story. Lucky me: if not, I might never have met Nick!
You can learn more about David’s work via his own website here, and Nick’s site is here, his Twitter is here, and there is also as a special Tumblr Nick created specially about The Cigar Who Fell in Love With a Pipe. The book is published in the UK by SelfMadeHero on May 15th; Nick and SMH will be at the Toronto Comic Art Festival (May 10th and 11th).