DOZEN for 10/14/2009
Nicolas Cinquegrani on The Big Kahn
of the greatest works of literature and the other arts take
as their central concern a characters quest for self-knowledge.
One of the aspects which make those tales so powerful arises
from the fact that the various protagonists journeys
all somehow mirror our own, personal search for both meaning
and our proper place in this world.
what happens to your sense of self when you discover that
one of the most essential pillars of your identity is naught
but a hollow lie?
question an entire family is confronted with in The
Big Kahn when, on the day that theyre putting
their patriarch to his final rest, they learn that the man
theyve known as a husband, as a father, as a teacher
and as a religious leader was never who he appeared or claimed
to be. The result, as imagined by writer Neil Kleid and
illustrator Nicolas Cinquegrani, is as surprising, telling
and, ultimately, as illuminating of the human condition
as the work of those past masters alluded to above.
recently caught up with Cinquegrani via email, and he was
kind enough to supply some details about his experience
working on this project, why he took the assignment, and
where he hopes it might lead readers in their own lives.
Baker: For those who might have missed it, how would
you describe The Big Kahn?
Cinquegrani: The Big Kahn is a graphic novel
(174 pages) about a Rabbi who dies, and at his funeral,
his family and community finds out he was conning them;
he wasnt even Jewish. Its a drama about a family
dealing with lies, beliefs and heritage. Its published
by NBM,written by Neil Kleid and illustrated by me, and
it came out in early September.
Howd you get involved with this project, and what
about it led to your decision to work on it?
The writer, Neil Kleid, got in touch with me by email. I'm
not sure how he found me; I think perhaps someone had given
him a link to my website. He gave me a quick run through
of the story, which sounded intriguing, and told me NBM
would be publishing. That was a big plus for me, I've been
a fan of theirs for a while, and loved the books they published
from Europe. The biggest reason though was that I was just
about to leave the US, and return to my home country Argentina.
I wanted to leave something behind, and keep some connection
to the American comics industry.
How did you and Neil work together? Did you have any input
into the shaping of the story, or was it a case of Neil
provided a script which you then drew?
Neil had the script done before he contacted me. I think
he'd had it for a while, so it was revised and polished
and ready to go.
What kind of script did you work from? Was it a full script
with panel breakdowns and specific descriptions of what
was in each panel, or was it more of a bare bones plot?
It was a full script. Neil is a cartoonist himself, and
has an excellent sense of timing and storytelling. He knew
what he wanted, and I mostly stuck to it. Since this was
my first long book, it was a good thing for me to have such
a well-planned script to work from.
How do you approach drawing something like The Big
Kahn? Do you read through the entire script first,
taking careful notes or perhaps even doing thumbnails, or
do you tend to just start drawing page one and work your
way through it?
I read the entire script before I accepted. Then it was
a matter of doing some character sketches and a small blueprint
for the house, where most of the book takes place, to make
sure I didnt have to go back and redraw things later
on. Then I started doing thumbnails.
I would do tiny scratchy indecipherable thumbnails by the
side of the script, but I needed Neil to look and be able
to understand them, so I made bigger, clearer ones. Then
I started pencils for that chapter, or sometimes I'd thumbnail
the next chapter. It was all back and forth like that; I
didn't want to do a whole chapter from start to
finish, but instead move them all forward together.
What about the pages themselves? How do you create your
art, and what kind of process does that entail?
It's about the same as any cartoonist: thumbnails, pencils,
lettering digitally, inking and finally adding some greytones,
I never did a page from start to finish; instead I would
pencil the whole chapter, or ink the whole chapter. The
only things I had to really plan ahead were the supplies.
I was moving to Argentina at the time, and I wasn't sure
what I'd be able to find here, so I bought all the paper,
ink, nibs, brushes and pens that I would need for the entire
Did the fact that Big Kahn is presented black and white,
rather than color, have any real effect on how you created
the art for it? How about generally? Does knowing what youre
working will be in color, or simple black and white, have
any effect on how you draw something?
Color, or in this case greytones, are tools to show information
the mood of the scene, the setting or time of day,
etc. If they are unavailable to you, then you have to find
other ways to show that information, it has to be present
in the inks. So yes, it makes a big difference in how you
approach the page. That said, whether you can
use colors or not, I believe the drawing must work well
without them, because colors wont hide the problems
in a drawing.
Did this project present you with any particular problems?
For example, given that youre not currently living
in the US, did you have to do some research into what the
specific area the tale takes place in looks like, or was
that of little consequence?
It would have been a great advantage to live in the US.
I was living in New Jersey just before I left the US, and
so it would have been easy to go out to some of these suburban
communities and get reference shots. As it was, I left right
as I was starting the book, so I had to use a lot of internet
research; photographs of Jewish communities,
suburban America, etc. However, since I had lived there
for a while, and in NYC where some of the book is set, I
could also use my familiarity with the area and some photos
I know youve done a lot of work as an illustrator,
so I was wondering how that work might feed into your comics
and cartooning. Do you have to mentally switch gears when
youre moving between spot or one page illustration
work and drawing sequential stories, or is it all pretty
much the same to you?
The illustration work I do is mostly for childrens
books or textbooks, it has a lot of cartoony elements; so
that was the biggest leap from doing Big Kahn, which is
for an adult audience. Overall though, drawing illustrations
and comics dont differ that much; good composition
and layout, clear storytelling all matter. But illustrations
often dont have the benefit of multiple images or
panels, or even text; so all ideas have to be presented
and in a concise manner.
Well, whats next? Do you have any new comics work
coming up, and if not, are there any particular projects
youd like to do
I haven't given much thought to whats next for me
in comics. Whatever comes my way I'll be happy to consider.
I'm focusing on illustration right now, which pays the bills
better than comics. I do have some ideas I'd like to see
through some day; I'm a bit of a history geek, so Id
love to do fun adventure books set in different times in
ancient history. In my spare time I do research and doodles
for this (hopefully) eventual project.
How about creators? Are there any writers whose work you
admire and who youd like to work with on a project?
A writer I admire and would love to work with is Jim Ottaviani,
who does science and history comics. I'd also love to be
invited to do a story for the Flight anthology.
When I started coloring my work, I was looking a lot at
what some of those artists were doing. I would also love
to work with the publisher FirstSecond one day, since I
almost everything they put out.
What do you get from creating art? Is this something you
enjoy doing, or does it feed a deeper need than that?
I love the work and enjoy the heck out of it, thats
the main reason. It has its frustrations, but overall its
great. I can't think of what else I could be doing with
my life. But I also love telling stories, and I believe
that a well-crafted story, that entertains, that influences
people, and that teaches about other cultures and places,
has tremendous value. Im an artist because thats
what I hope one day to do with my life.
What do you hope readers get from your on The Big
Kahn? How about your work in general?
With The Big Kahn my job was simple, to
tell that story, as well and clearly as I could. But theres
a lot to be gotten out of this story, its more than
just a good yarn. Its a meditation on faith and heritage,
on family and community. Most reviews of the book so far
are quick to point out how deep the narrative is, how three-dimensional
the characters are, and the issues and ideas raised by the
for my other work, my illustrations and shorter comics,
I always try to give them a sense of wonder and excitement,
and a sense of history.
Anything else youd like to add before I let you get
back to work?
The Big Kahn came out in early September,
so dont forget to check it out, or go to my website
for a 10 page preview and see some of my other work.
you so much for giving me this interview, it was a delight!
It was my pleasure, Nicolas. And thanks for the thoughtful
what are you waiting for? Head on out to your favorite local
comics shop or book store and grab a copy of Nic and Neils
for your library. Or, if youd prefer, you can always
order it directly from www.NBMpublishing.com.