“I think of places as scenes for cryptic narratives, like in Theater.”

Marie Mohanna

ART  .  April 23rd, 2019

How and when did you become an illustrator?

When I finished my graphic design studies in Paris, two and half years ago, I chose to travel instead of doing an internship. I wanted to take a break and it felt like the right time. During my trip, I started to write and then to illustrate my first graphic novel, “Infiniment” (“Indefinitely”). For then on, I drew more and more, so I started thinking, and hoping, that it could be my job. It wasn’t easy at all because I did not study illustration but Graphic Design, I didn’t know how to start. But I found a publisher, which got more confident, plus I kept on practicing and experimenting… Then I’ve created an Instagram to share and to confront my work to the illustration community. I met a lot of fantastic people there. It also helped me develop my style and keep on going in that direction.

What do you do most of the time?

Most of the time, I work, listening to podcasts and Youtube videos. I don’t listen to a lot to music because It disturb me when I am producing. I’m a workaholic but I’m working on it. I mean, I love it and I’m always thinking about a new ideas, new palettes and stuff like that. When I’m not, I try to see my friends, as often as I can and I read also a lot. Graphic Novels, Manga, Novels. I like everything, I love to enter someone else’s universe.

Did you style change a lot through the years?

It changed a lot. When I started, I didn’t have preconceptions or rules. I didn’t have a trained eye, and no idea of what I wanted to become. There was so much to discover. I started to work in black and white because it was easier, I wasn’t very interested in details. But then, I started to use bright colors and never stopped since. My work got more realistic, more detailed and more finished. Now I think I’ve found my way of working and my style has become stable.

What emotions do you want to generate for the viewer?

I like mystery, bizarre and eerie things. In most of my works, there’s no one in the scene. I try to create an ambiance with the color palette, the elements and the composition. The whole thing creates a strange scenery where the viewer is free to imagine everything they want to in it. For me, suggesting is stronger than showing, and that’s how I try to work.

Do you have a special interest for architecture?

I love it, my father was a construction engineer and he gave me this passion. When I was very young, we went every week to a different place in Paris. There he would tell me stories about the buildings and the monuments. It was very inspiring.
But more than architecture, I think I like every kind of scene. When I draw architecture, it is not just for the lines, it is to convey a special feeling.

What kind of feeling?

It depends on the place… Most of the time, I think of places as scenes for cryptic narratives, like in Theater. I love stories which take place in one limited space only. For exemple, Phantom of the Opera, a novel written by Gaston Leroux is one of my favorite stories of all time. And I think it is because of the way he puts the Opera garnier in the center of the story. The place has its own role, it hides secrets, emphasizes tragic, it even kills…

Somehow your illustrations look vintage and trippy, with a little Japanese touch. What inspires you?

I was raised on 90’s cartoons and animes and I assume It is a big part of my inspiration. I watched anime and comics like Fist of the North Star (Marvel), Ranma 1/2, Sailor Moon…For the cartoon, I had VHS of the Silly Symphonies (Disney) and Merrie Melodies (Warner Bros) and, looking at it today, it’s still awesome. The colors are so bright, the stories are funny and it continues to inspire me a lot.

Japan has a very special place for me. I’ve always been fascinated by its culture, history and art. To the point that I’ve made my first and only solo trip in this country. It was a milestone, crazier and more beautiful than what I’ve expected. And it continues to inspire me a lot for my illustrations.

How long did you stay, what did you do there?

I stayed six weeks. I went to Tokyo, Kyoto, Osaka and more. I spent my days visiting and wondering around, and my nights working on my graphic novel. As I had just left school, I didn’t have a lot of money to travel so I had to find solutions. For example I stayed in a hostel in Kyoto for two weeks. I was working for them two hours a day, in exchange for free accommodation… plus I made friends for life.

Why did you choose to illustrate Le Bon Marché?

Le Bon Marché is known to be a very lively place, a Temple of fashion. I rarely go but each time I do, I feel so small. I read “Au Bonheur des Dames” by Zola when I was a child and it left a big mark. Whenever I go to this place, I really feel the energy Zola described. So I wanted to create an illustration that highlights on the magistral and intimidating architecture of that place. I didn’t use a lot of colors to keep the focus on the lines.

How do you proceed?

I take lots of pictures, it allows me to catch as much detail as possible, to focus, to resize as much as I want when I’ll be at home. That way I get all the necessary material to start the illustration. I’m so stressed about drawing live, I don’t know where to look, I am not the quiet environment I need to work peacefully. I sketch it for myself, to exercise, but I never use it for work. I always have a pre-vision, but it doesn’t look like anything, I’m not interested on doing something pretty or detailed at the beginning. If the layout works with scribble, it will works with drawing.

I wonder if you look as colorful as your posters?

Not at all. I only wear black…I tried to change it by buying some colorful clothes but it is a waste of time, I always let them on my wardrobe.

Can you tell us about your work for Palais de Tokyo?

Working for Palais de Tokyo was very challenging for me. The point of this illustration was to announce the great Festival “Do Disturb!”, a performance festival with lots of artists with some very strong and diversified universes and disciplines. During this festival, visitors are free to wonder around the Palais de Tokyo and anything can happen suddenly. So I had to create an illustration showing the plurality, creative abundance, mystery and surprising side of the festival. The format of the illustration was another tricky point: it was for Instagram and it was going to be cut into 27 pieces, fitting the Instagram feed. So I had to create different reading scales to create something that would be interesting as each of 27th single pieces but also as a whole. It was one of the best projects I worked on 4o féààs I had the chance to discover many wonderful artistic universes.

Are you planning on doing a 4th graphic novel?

I would love to. It demands a lot of time and I don’t have enough right now, but I have a new story in mind and I wish I could start to develop it before this summer.

Any comics to recommend?

So many ! But I do something thematic so here is my list if you are in the mood for thrills.
“La chenille” by Suehiro Maruo. A tragic, horrific and sublime story from one of my favorite novel by Edogawa Ranpo.
“Sukkwan Island” by Ugo Bienvenu is a comic from a David Vann’s novel. It is beautiful, the way he draws landscapes is remarquable and, of course, the story is mind blowing.
To finish, “Le voeux maudit”, by Kazuo Umezu. It is a series with bizarre and odd stories. Umezu has a very special style which is wonderful, innocent and scary at the same time. I just love it.

Marie Mohanna is an illustrator based in Paris. Here is her website and here her instagram.