Interview with Claude Marin
Claude Marin entered Le Journal de Mickey in the early '80s. He is considered as the best French Disney comic book artist and among the best Mickey Mouse-drawing artists in the world. Before retiring in 1997, he has been in charge among other things of the Disney Babies series and has drawn some of the most memorable Mickey stories produced in France. Little has been written about Claude to date. A huge gap needs to be filled. Hopefully, this interview is only the beginning.
Claude Marin: Two quotes of Walt Disney have really stricken me, because they speak to me as a cartoonist, perfectly:
"A comic strip character, or even an animated cartoon character, has a funny shape, funny attitudes and unusual ways of acting. Everything he does will look unreal as long as the reader does not identify to his reactions. It's his particular features of character as well as his natural human behavior that will force success to happen."
That's it. This sentence summarizes it all.
An other one now, this one for me:
"In fact, we only possess a single medium, always the same, the tip of a pencil. The value of the artists who use it does the rest."
It's very simple, but it summarizes our trade. And also the fact of being a comedian. They always say that cartoonists are observant. In fact, I think that they have a small clock in their head that all the time reproduces what they love.
D.G.: Can you tell me about your career before entering Disney ?
Of course. It had already lasted for a while, since I started drawing at 16. I was born in 1931. You see, it was long ago. I started drawing right away for Marijac. Marijac is a comic book artist who had created a magazine, at the time, just after the Liberation, that was called Coq Hardi. So right away I started working for this magazine drawing a comics series that was called Père Noël (Santa Claus) and that happened to be quite successful as it lasted for around 100 pages. It was already not bad at the time. Then some time elapsed and at some point I took refuge in an advertisement company, or rather a company that manufactured children clothes and that published a small catalog, the main character of which was called Bambino. In this catalog, among the children clothes I drew this small character that played among the models, to present in an agreeable way this catalog. Then I met Michel Greg. This started my Dargaud era. He was the editor of a magazine called Achille Talon Magazine and he offered me to create a series about a little monk. Astérix was extremely successful at that time. Of course we did not have in our minds to copy Astérix. But we wanted to introduce a little community and that would be a community of little monks. We were able to create two albums thanks to that.
Then, one day at Dargaud, I met Michel Mandry from the Journal de Mickey. Michel Mandry told me: "Say, we are looking for cartoonists, come and see me, if you wish, at my office." For me, who had already been a comic book artist, at the bottom of my heart, to work on Mickey that looked unbelievable. First and foremost, I was scared, scared of showing a Mickey that would not be on model. But Michel introduced me to people there who helped me. That accepted me. That saw, maybe that I had a few gifts. However, my Mickey, at the time, probably was not at all very good.
But René Guillaume, who was head of the Studio and Michel, of course, who was the editor in chief, gave me a few advises and all the documents that were needed. At that time I had already many Disney documents but I would never had dreamed to receive so many pictures and model sheets that those they gave me at that point.
When I arrived, they asked me: Who do you want to draw ? That was incredible ! They asked me that on the spot. So, as I was so presumptuous, I said: "Why not Mickey. It would be nice to have a go at Mickey." So they gave me Mickey. Which is unbelievable. To get the star right away, that's something.
Well, after that, the first series I drew were not great probably, but they sensed something was there and that I could improve. I improved myself, a little, after many series till the point when they let me do the Disney Babies.
S.D.: Before coming back to the Disney Babies, that started in 1986, tell us about how you were introduced to the world of Disney. How your passion grew.
I have already told that story many times. My parents took me to see Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs in 1938. Since I was born in 1931, I was not very old. I went very seldom to the cinema and there I saw a absolute jewel. I fell in love with Snow White madly, as you really can fall in love at that age. I would not leave the cinema. My parents had to force me out. I made a terrible scene because I wanted to see Snow White again. So, the only thing they could do was to offer me later on publications and drawings featuring Snow White. That's the story of my first meeting with Disney. It was born out of a mad love for a character of celluloid.
S.D: The Disney Babies, was this a concept that existed already before they offered it to you ?
Yes, absolutely. Those were characters that were to be used for children apparel. Theses characters were introduced to me as model sheets. But that was not enough when we decided to create a comics series. One had to create new model sheets in order for those characters to start living.
We tackled a lot of problems at the same time. Because we had to make those characters speak and you know, babies... wails are not really fascinating in balloons. So we decided to make them talk, but only among themselves, never speaking to adults. When then talked to adults, there could be a balloon but no one would understand them or there simply would not be a balloon to clearly put bounds around their territory.
So thanks to those detailed model sheets, we succeeded in creating characters, while respecting their personalities, of course. Donald would still be grousing, Mickey adventurous, Pete nasty. He is the terrible child of the nursery.
Goofy was more difficult to tackle, though, since graphically he is the contrary of a baby. When you look at a baby, what strikes you first is his forehead. Babies always have a large forehead, all the more so as they have few hair. And Goofy is exactly the contrary. He has huge jaws and a very small head. But we could not enlarge his skull without altering his head completely. Moreover it would have changed his personality. He would have seemed smarter. Goofy is the dumb guy of the gang. But he is a positive dumb guy.
Pluto was no problem. From a dog he became a dog cub.
We have already completed more than 380 pages and two albums, which is a nice success for a comics series.
I admit that I sometimes think that the Disney Babies are actually supporting the Journal de Mickey. Unfortunately, for other artists who are awaiting my job, they are not about to leave the Journal, well I think.
D.G.: Do you have a lot of creative freedom while doing this series ?
No, I don't. I suggested recently to introduce an additional character to create new gag opportunities. It would have been Pete sister, named Pat Hibulette (pun on Pete's French name Pat Hibulaire, which is also a pun). But, no, they refused. For a very simple reason that I understood, which is that the characters are owned by Disney and when an artist creates one, it's no longer really from Disney, even if the character really looks like an other one of the gang. They refused it for that reason, I think. Gags were done, it was a good gag opportunity, but we dropped that project.
There is one character that we used and later dropped, for he did not match the others, he was too different, too smart, too lucky, that's Gladstone. We used him in a few pages and we realized, without the input of our readership that he was not liked as much as the other members of the gang around him. Pete was nasty but likeable.
D.G.: Aren't there other characters you would have liked to add to the cast ?
There was one, who was accepted right away, that's Gus, who is a marvelous gag opportunity. Gus is a goose who eat all the time, and we considered him very soon as an amazing asset. He is not satisfied with a milk bottle, not even with a series of milk bottles. He needs a huge sandwich, the fantastic hamburger... We even did a gag in which all the babies had fallen asleep in front of TV and Gus had actually fallen asleep in front of the fridge.
S.D.: When other characters appear in the series, do they have to be linked in a way with Mickey already or can we imagine a Baby Winnie or others ?
Winnie is already part of the gang, but as a stuffed doll. I use him as part of the background. Because I do not imagine Winnie, who has his own universe, actually interacting with the Disney Babies universe. He can only appear as a doll, like Piglet, by the way.
But that's for my own pleasure. It's to create a mood for those Disney Babies who need a third dimension. But I do that mainly for myself and to enrich the universe. I take pleasure in introducing secondary characters in this series. It can go very far. I even allowed myself once to draw a frame in which there was the face of Walt Disney. As a drawing, only, caricatured. They did not see it, I think.
S.D.: Have the Disney Babies appeared in magazines abroad ?
Yes, I saw them in Japan, Germany and the Netherlands as well as in Italy. Maybe in the US, but I do not think so. I have mainly seen re-inked drawing. Those were the characters I had drawn but the line was not the same. They traced them. Maybe they did not have a way to photocopy them or maybe the artists could not copy them in a proper way. I also saw them on mustard jars. That's very nice. I have a complete collection of those jars (I have eaten the mustard !)
There are also some dolls. But not all of them are featured. Pete does not exist. But I think that those dolls could be improved. And to my taste, stuffed dolls do not really render Mickey in a proper way. I see him without the third dimension, harmonious, without those hair that modify the shape of the character. I am a little saddened, sometimes by what they do with the Disney Babies.
D.G.: Were there ever any projects of a big adventure featuring the Disney Babies, instead of the regular gag page ?
It's true that we had some projects of that sort. You know that each year I am lucky enough - well if I may say, for in fact it is a very hard work - to draw a Christmas story. It's my own little Christmas. We thought about doing a Christmas story with the Disney Babies. Unfortunately, the very fact that they are babies, that they walk on all four made it difficult to show them anywhere else than in the nursery. So, the story would have to take place in the nursery, since they can not be "exported" outside, apart from in a playground or on the beach. But not in the snow for example. Babies walking on all four in the snow, that would not do.
It would have to be an indoor story, a Christmas story with the toys that would come to life. Why not, I would like that. But it remains to be done. We still have not found a scenario, but I have the scriptwriter for it. That would be François Corteggiani, who does not work on the Disney Babies scenarios. It is indeed very nice for me to work with two scriptwriters of top quality.
S.D.: What is the creative process for a page of the Disney Babies ? Do you receive the script by Gégé/Belom fully completed or do you have some input beforehand ?
They have the model sheets, as I do: mine or the Americans. So they know the norms. From there they create a scenario, as the Disney artists do, which means a drawn scenario, in which the panels are already symbolized, with the balloons. They submit it to Jean-Luc Cochet who is in charge of comics at Le Journal de Mickey and they are accepted or rejected. I do not have any input at this level. I start acting when the scenario has already been accepted and that I receive it, simply.
I can add, maybe, that there are some scenarios that I enjoy more or less. I love night scenes. That's a small joke, of course. They are difficult to get into a Disney Babies script, but they are very easy to draw, not because you only do shapes, but because you can give some relief to the character, the colorist intervening by creating a color gradation on the face or the clothes to give them a rounder shape. That's why I like night scenes, but I do not know if the colorist would agree.
The colorist, by the way, is always the same. She is called Jacqueline Guénard and she has been working on the Disney Babies since the beginning. One says that she likes it all right.
D.G.: I would like to talk again about the period before the Disney Babies, about your start at Le Journal De Mickey. What was the mood, at the time ? Who were the most important people ?
The mood today is as good as at the time, but people have changed. I'm the only one who has stayed despite my age. People take care of comics artists. They view the characters in their own way, but they were kind enough not to point out my mistakes right away. They asked me little by little to change this or that for the characters to appear as more believable.
I had a bad habit which made me draw Mickey's ears as following his moves. You can do that, but not always. If Mickey is running, it is usual that the ears would stretch. It's something they do in animated cartoons and why not in comic books. But I used this trick all the time. For example he said something and the balloon would stretch his ears. That was too much. In a single page, his ears would stretch at least three or four times.
Now, I am much wiser. But sometimes you can not avoid it, for surprise, for example. They say that hair are raising on your head, but that is not true. Ask any comedian, when he is scared, his hair would not actually rise on his head. But if we have a character that has hair, then why not. In this case, we can stretch Mickey's ears.
The links I had, at the time, were friendship links. Because all the artists faced the same problems. And there were people like Michel (Mandry) who have seen so many drawings... He saw at the beginning that I was stammering, but he did not say anything, he gave me courage and that was marvelous. That's probably why I consider him a bit like my brother.
D.G.: Who is your favorite character among the Disney Babies ?
There is only one possible answer: It's Mickey. For, as when I started, I could not imagine the Disney universe without Mickey.
I was lucky enough to be able to draw all the characters. I enjoy Donald, but he is difficult to draw. Believe me, even his very small beak has a tendency, when you see his profile, to be too angular when it opens. So I always cheat and show him from a three-quarters angle. But that is the only problem he gives me.
Minnie and Daisy, I always have great pleasure with them. I always love to draw the female characters. I had a series, while working for Marijac, that I have not mentioned yet, that was called Mireille or Eva and those were female characters and I always loved young women characters because of their delicate personality, and the very slim lines you could use for a leg or an arm. And Minnie as well as Daisy have the femininity of real women. Of course, Minnie is not very different from Mickey, apart from the small bow she has in her hair and her eyelashes. But in her attitude, one can still feel the young woman. I presume that if one goes a bit further, we can notice it on her face and that creates the difference with Mickey.
Pluto is a real pleasure. He is not often acting because they always say: "animals close to babies, it's not really necessary." But I can assure you of one thing, I can swear it... Pluto does not have any flea. That has been proved.
S.D.: Your style is easy to recognize. I was looking at Le Journal de Mickey and I saw an article about fishes, when I focused on the illustrations and I said to myself right away: This is from Claude.
It pleases me but it also frightens me a bit.
S.D.: No, it still is very Disney. But there are some artists that one notices.
Yes, like Giorgio Cavazzano, Carl Barks, Gottfredson.
S.D.: But each time I see your drawings, even if they are not the Disney Babies, I recognize them and I appreciate them.
That is because you have a good taste. (laughs) But someone who would have bad taste and who would say: "This one I do not like him and I always see him and he is not really Disney." It could play against me. Therefore I would like my style not to be too much recognizable. I fight against that, but it's very difficult. If I were to succeed, I would probably loose part of the pleasure I enjoy while drawing.
S.D.: I think that precisely, when you said that some artists brought a lot, it's because each of them also influenced the drawings by his style. A comics by Carl Barks has a very noticeable quality in its style.
It's kind to compare me with Carl Barks (laughs). But it is true that one has difficulty to fuse in a world. It is not really feasible.
S.D.: Do you regret that you can not really express yourself as Claude Marin and to always have to hide behind this Disney image ?
Not at all. Of course I am hiding behind a signature, the one of Walt Disney, but I am mainly hiding behind the characters to whom I give life. I do not feel as if I were hiding. I use a style and characters that fit me completely. Unfortunately I can not suppress from my personality a particular style, a particular look, attitudes that help me create the characters. I can not avoid using them. I am completely at ease, sincerely, hiding behind this signature.
D.G.: Have you been drawing other characters for the Journal de Mickey, apart from the Disney Babies ?
Of course, for other publications, mainly. There is the Disney Club Vacances for example. I have drawn the characters of the TV series, I have drawn Winnie the Pooh too, for the magazine Winnie and all the current characters. For example Goof Troup, which I tackled. I had to draw a comics series based on it but I politely refused, for it was too rich for me to do. I mean that I am waiting till I will know more about the TV series before being convinced. There are new characters, personalities to define,... and I am awaiting more model sheets or even the one I will create before really tackling this series.
But I did many characters outside the Disney Babies cast. Even if in the nursery all the big shots are featured.
D.G.: Is there one that you particularly like drawing, outside of the Disney Babies ?
That's a tricky question, because I never had a single problem about that. I was never taken aback when someone would tell me: "You are going to draw this." Now, if they were to ask me for some precise things, I would fear to draw those, because it would be things that are so beautiful for me that as soon as you touch them they loose their correct shape. For example, if someone were to ask me: "Could you draw Snow White ?", I would spend a good while before accepting it. I would perhaps do it to please myself, for my own self only, but not for the drawing to be shown... oh no, never, she is too pretty. I would draw the dwarfs, yes. Oh, but where there are the dwarfs, Snow White should be, obviously !
D.G.: What are your dreams, your big projects, in terms of work ?
It would be to draw a Xmas story that would feature close to all of the Disney characters. In my latest story, we see a few characters that have nothing to do with the ongoing plot. For example, Goofy is with Ellsworth, the bird, and I include Mickey going to his party. By the way, they reproached me to have included Mickey in the series without making him go to the same party as Goofy, which would have destroyed the story. But Mickey has His family. He was probably having dinner with Minnie with his nephews and their parents. Say, by the way, do they have parents ?
So Mickey appears as a guest star in this story. It is of some use to me, for it makes the story richer, it gives depth to the Disney family who lives in the same village, who greet each other, and who like each other.
In a Xmas story, I would dream to have even more characters included. But not Snow White ! This is impossible. One would meet more people, but like that, as guest stars.
S.D.: After having drawn for so long the babies, is it not difficult to draw Mickey as an adult again ?
Yes, that's true. You have shapes in your fingers that you can only forget with great difficulties. But you see it, however, when you take some distance, that it does not work right. For the attitudes too. The attitudes of the babies are more restrictive, less broad. Mickey can have some surges that a baby would not quite have. Even if I allowed myself some freedom by drawing a Donald that would stretch a little, at times. But that was because action asked for it. I am very careful about it, when I go back to the adult Mickey, because it would be a disaster.
S.D.: More generally, do you think there might be a risk of confusion for the readers of the Journal de Mickey between Baby Mickey and Adult Mickey ?
I do not know about that. You see, I seldom have contact with the readers. For a child, I suppose it is easier, because he focuses a lot on the look of the character, that is to say his clothes.
What would be odd, and that I would like to try someday, would be to have Mickey looking at old photos when he was still a baby so that I could draw the Baby Mickey that we know on those photos, to create the transition and for the specialists like you to see that image, someday.
D.G.: Do you have any anecdotes to tell us about your career ?
I have one, but it is not really mine.
At the beginning, I was working with Pierre Nicolas who did Mickey through the Ages. He had told me that Walt once had entered his office by mistake. And he did not flinch. He simply said hello and had led him to the correct place. His attitude had seemed to me to be unbelievable. I have often interrogated him to see if he would change his version of things. I would have hidden below my desk. I would have pinched myself too, in fact.
D.G.: Have you ever visited the Studio, in Burbank ?
No, I have been twice to Florida but never to California and I know only photos of the Studio. I regret it. But on the other side I would be afraid to be disappointed, finding them different from how I know them on the photographs. I have been dreaming over those photos during my whole career, I have been dreaming over those artists seated in the grass with the Studios as a background and Walt in the foreground with his hands in his pockets. If I could really meet Them, including the Idol, then it would really be marvelous.
What is certain is that I would visit the archives, for there are beautiful things to see. I would have to be with someone really knowledgeable and who could show me the interesting things. I have the feeling that if I were left alone there, two or three years latter I would still be in the room, in a pitiful state, but I would not have left. There are so many things to see.
S.D.: Who are the comic book artists that you admire most ?
If I were to mention some of them and not the others... But, let's say that within Disney, the one I adored was Gottfredson. Iwerks too. But Gottfredson has done the first comic strips, it was fresh, this was the freshest Mickey, when he still had his red pants and ran after Minnie. That was adorable, simple and the stories were also very rich.
Then the comic artist evolved, his style too, following Mickey's changes in the animated cartoons. This evolution was completely satisfying. It was as if Gottfredson were seated close to the supervising animators, when he drew. I do not know if he worked at home or at the Studio but he was very close to the Studio's style.
Apart from Gottfredson, there is the father of Uncle $crooge. He had a very special gift for the delirious stories and he drew quite a strange Donald, far from the Donald of the Studio. He had a particular talent to use in a great way crazy characters that fit completely with Donald, who stayed clumsy but not unpleasant. Because Barks knew how to surround Donald with characters that made him nice. On the other hand, in the animated cartoons, there is always a point when Donald gets upset, when he shows his terrible temper.
Among the scriptwriters, I have mine, of course: Gégé, Bélom and Corteggiani.
Among the French artists, there is Uderzo who brought many things. He has a little bit the Disney style, at least I think so, a loose but firm line that makes the characters very likeable. This is a gift. It's the roundness of the line but also the personality. There are people who draw very well but who can not make their character stick because they do not control him as they should.
That's it, I have mentioned them all. I live a bit in a cocoon, I see so few people. I keep in touch with Disney's news, but the rest I do not know a lot about.
Oh ! But I had one criminal lapse of memory ! Because if their is one artist I admire, it's Giorgio Cavazzano who draws in such a way... ! Say, that's a little like Carl Barks, with a firmer line but also delirious. Wao ! His Donalds !
It's funny, his love for action will drive him more towards Donald than Mickey. He draws Mickey, very well by the way, but he is never as good as when he draws Donald. Oh yes, he is a big professional. And in addition... he likes me.
D.G.: Do you consider yourself as the spiritual son of one of these artists ?
Oh, no, I would not dare to. There are many artists I admire at Disney. There was one I loved particularly, who died very young, that's Fred Moore. I loved him because he animated a lot of the characters I loved. He created a drawing that smelled frenzy. The attitudes were always perfect and he exaggerated but it was always believable. And all the characters he drew were extremely likeable.
There were others, like Kimball. For me, Kimball, that's Jiminy Cricket, and the character is adorable. He drew him in such a way... I do not know if Kimball is a comedian, but he could be, without a doubt, he would have been a great star. Jiminy has some attitudes a way of acting that a comedian could use to transmit all the feelings he could emit. His way of animating Jiminy was sublime. And then, this small story between him and the Blue Fairy, always trying to seduce her. I thank Walt Disney to have allowed that. It makes the script so much richer.
D.G.: Who are your favorite characters ?
There is one who amazed me not so long ago, it's Roger Rabbit. He was really not banal. But my taste does not always go towards the stars. Apart from Mickey, of course, who is unreachable. I adore for example Mr. Toad, even if he is not very likeable in the movie. I regretted that the movie was so short. He could have been made the star of a saga or of other episodes. I know he was taken from a precise novel, but other things could have been done.
An other character I loved was in Song of the South, Brer Rabbit. You will tell me that I prefer rabbits and that might be true, because I also enjoy Thumper, in Bambi. Brer Rabbit is also a very rich character. He is cheeky and he already looked a little bit like Roger Rabbit, he is really very nice. In the same movie there was also this dumb bear that was marvelous. Those are the characters, secondary characters, that I love.
D.G.: Among the feature length animated films, apart from Snow White, what's your favorite ?
I'm hesitating because this is a monstrous question. My taste would bend towards Pinocchio. I loved the story and the colors were staggering. But the character that touched me most is Bambi, as I also love the colors, the backgrounds. That's a truly perfect movie. The music has an amazing depth. It's the most beautiful Disney movie that I know of, apart from Snow White. But Snow White was the first.
D.G.: What's your favorite comics story ?
Certainly one by Gottfredson. But which one ? Not the one where Mickey met Iga Beeva, because Mickey was exiting his universe when this character entered his and upset the small family. What I preferred was perhaps not a story but a gag. I would have to look in my documents the gag that includes the greatest number of Disney characters.
Because what I have not told you is that my greatest pleasure is when all the characters are together. When they form a family. Then I am really happy.
There is one "picture" where Mickey is standing in front of a desk, behind which you may assume is the interior of his home, where all the rooms are clean, calm and tidy, and where there is Minnie - oh but Mickey might still be single- and the nephews are playing in an other room and there would be photos of the Babies on the walls - his own photo drawn by me.
The ideal comic story would be a Gottfredson gag. Among the adventures, I enjoyed Mickey chez les Pirates. It's a story with a submarine and a bad guy who is keeping Mickey as a prisoner and which features Captain Doberman.
S.D., M.M. et D.G.: Thank you, Claude.
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