Swinging And Thieving With Tobin And Coover's Bandette

Bandette Volume 1: Presto!Paul Tobin and Colleen Coover revisit the stylish crime capers of the 1960s as they introduce the teenaged master thief of the streets of Paris in Bandette Volume 1: Presto! ($14.99, 978-1-61655-279-4), their new graphic novel from Dark Horse Comics.

The world's greatest thief is a costumed teen burglar in swinging Paris by the nome d'arte of Bandette! Gleefully plying her skills on either side of the law, Bandette is a thorn in the sides of both police inspector Belgique and the criminal underworld. But it's not all breaking hearts and purloining masterpieces when a rival thief discovers that an international criminal organization wants Bandette dead.

Initally only available as digital issues through ComiXology, Bandette has garned acclaim from many critics. The Onion AV Club called Bandette #1 "one of the strongest first issues of the year," and the series won an Eisner Award this year for Best Digital Comic. Presto! collects the first five issues of the Bandette comic.

Dark Horse provided an eight page preview of Bandette, which is available for download.

BookShelf spoke with writer Tobin (Spider-Man) and artist Coover (Banana Sunday - YALSA Great Graphic Novel for Teens 2007) about Bandette, creating a European-flavored comic, and the advantages of launching the series digitally.

BookShelf: What was the inspiration for Bandette? Why a teenaged Parisian cat burglar?

Paul Tobin: The general inspiration was, "Let's just have as much fun as we can." Too often I think creators fudge everything towards the "what's marketable" direction, which I won't say is always a failure, but it's rarely fulfilling creatively, or breaks any new ground. In specific, I'd say it's influenced by Nancy Drew mysteries, Modesty Blaise, classic "heist" films, 1960's spy movies like the Matt Helm movies (with the Golddiggers and the Dingaling Sisters) and of course Tintin and Diabolik, and the original Fantomas and the Torpedo. There are soft tributes to all of these works in Bandette, all wadded up in a ball of adventure.

Colleen Coover: Part of the genesis came from a sketch I had done months before, of a French Police Inspector named B.D. Belgique, who had an enormous nose and a cigarette hanging out of his mouth. We knew we wanted a young female lead character, but I was really excited about having this haggard schlub of a detective be a partner to her in some way. When Paul said he wanted to have the lead be a master thief, I did another sketch of an older, male cat burglar known only as Monsieur to act as either her mentor or her foil-- perhaps both!

I think of the three characters as a set of very specific types: B.D. is a cross between Peter Falk's Columbo and Herbert Lom's Chief Inspector Dreyfus from the Pink Panther movies. Monsieur is Cary Grant from To Catch A Thief but his looks are based more on Peter O'Toole in How To Steal A Million. Bandette is a perfect blend of Audrey Hepburn in Charade and Audrey Tautou in Amélie.

Bandette Page 1There's a very European feel to the art in Bandette. Were you thinking of European comics when you were developing the story, and were you aiming for that?

PT: It's something we were aware of. From my side, I was never aiming for any particular feel, other than I wanted adventure and whimsy to be a strong contributing factor to the story. Those are aspects that are French comics have a good grip on, so we ended up having a French feel by association.

CC: I have a lot of influences in my own style, and many of them come from Europe. Hergé, Albert Udzero, Jordi Bernet, Phillipe Dupuy & Charles Berbérian, and Jacques Tardi are just a few I can think of off the top of my head. To channel my drawing into a Euro-comics gestalt comes very naturally to me.

You also created the Urchin Stories series that focused on the supporting cast, and featured various guest artists. Why have the extra stories, and how did you decide on/bring in the other artists?

PT: Everybody always wants to know about supporting characters. They're such mysteries. And I myself wanted to explore them, to have them exist and have their own lives beyond their appearances with Bandette herself. Basically, it expands the Bandette story into a Bandette world. And it's fun. You see a character in the background of a Bandette episode and you can think to yourself, "Ahh! That's Freckles. She and Dalton are dating!" It's like having insider knowledge.

And, of course, reading an occasional Urchin Story bridges the time gap between episodes of Bandette.

As far as working with other artists on the Urchin Stories, there are two reasons for that. The first is that is that it doesn't take Colleen away from the main story. And the second is, there are HUNDREDS of artists I'd like to eventually work with, and obviously there just isn't time for most of them to team up with me, but, since the Urchin Stories are only two or three pages long, it makes it more possible to fit it in our respective schedules.

CC: Yeah, while I would love to be able to put out an issue of Bandette every month, it's just not possible. And this way I get the fun of seeing characters I designed being drawn by some of my favorite comics artists!

Bandette Page 2The series has a light, fun feel to it. Did you have any worries that a comic like this would find an audience, given the current trends toward dark, serious comics?

PT: No worries on that end. In fact, no worries on any other end. We really did make a comic specifically to have fun. If it worked, GREAT! If it didn't, we had fun. And the trend towards dark, serious comics is really only prevalent in the mainstream superhero books, and we knew from point one that readers who exclusively read that genre wouldn't be our readership.

CC: Even if it were a concern, it would have been a bad business decision to try to put out yet anther version of the same old stuff. Part of the appeal of independent entertainment is the knowledge that you're going to get something that hasn't been target marketed to death. Fortunately, we really are in this just to make ourselves happy.

Why did you decide to make this available digital-only first? Was your experience with digital-only publisher Monkeybrain Comics different from other (print-based) publishers?

PT: Chris Roberson and Allison Baker, the soaring divinities of Monkeybrain, are good friends of ours, and approached Colleen and I with the hopes of creating a book for their company launch. Of course we agreed. So, in truth, the decision to go digital first predates Bandette itself. And, yeah, the experience is different, but I've worked with quite a few print companies, and there are vast differences even between working for them. You grow accustomed to a lot of different playgrounds in this industry.

CC: The biggest difference is scheduling. The digital medium permits us to work at our own pace without having to factor in whether or not a printer is going to be available when we're done, or if we're going to be able to get the soliciting info to the distributer on time. When an issue of Bandette is finished, it's uploaded to Comixology within a couple of days, and it goes live a few weeks later. Easy-peasy.

Do you approach the art/layout of the comic differently when creating for digital, and if so, how so?

PT: Please picture me gesturing to Colleen. This one's all hers.

CC: The art is the same as I would have done for print, but the layout is definitely keeps the digital screen in mind. I keep to a strict three-tier layout on each page, so there are never any extremely vertical panels. This helps the guided-view version of the page stay nice and legible when you're reading on your smartphone, but it remains recognizable as a traditional comics page layout.

This graphic novel collects the first five issues. Do you have plans to continue the series?

PT: Definitely. I would like another fifty volumes. Having way too much, and have way too many more stories, to quit.

CC: Yes. I had to take some time away from Bandette over the summer to do a couple of outside projects, but now I'm nearly finished with the art for issue six!

You've had a lot of positive feedback on Bandette, from comic readers, artists asking for art tips, and winning the Eisner Award. How has it felt to get these accolades, especially for a book that’s all yours?

PT: It always feels good when it makes a difference, when fans contact us and talk about how much they enjoy reading, and when our fellow professionals say the same thing… it's very gratifying. I have an Eisner at Periscope Studio where I often work, and then one on a bookshelf at my home studio, and I look at them now and then, because they're a reminder to have fun. Have as much fun as you can.

CC: It's also a big responsibility! It serves as a reminder that we need to keep trying to do our best work to make the best comics we can. We need to keep working and growing as creators and continue to try to surprise and entertain. And have fun.