A Conversation with The Land of Lines’ Victor Hussenot
When The New York Times’ T Magazine recently described The Land of Lines as “Keith Haring meets J.R.R. Tolkien,” I thought, Yes! There are also elements of Joseph Campbell and heaps of all things human. I know. That covers a lot of territory. But that’s because The Land of Lines is a hero’s journey—a universal journey—a story about the quest for self-knowledge and purpose amid an ever-evolving landscape. I acquired this project in part because I saw The Land of Lines as a picture book-meets-graphic novel in conversation with our particular moment in time: when connections are made and friendships maintained through mobile screens, and when vistas and views change depending upon whether a virtual window is open or closed.
With a minimalist approach—only red, blue, and some yellow—French illustrator Victor Hussenot makes magic with lines: They morph and merge and meld to create a landscape that moves with the characters, and that, in turn, make the characters feel alive. There are echoes of video game interfaces and shades of what might appear in a student’s notebook. There is a way in—and wisdom—for readers of all ages. And even though I have spent hours with this book, I am still moved upon arriving at the last page: The ending makes me see that we all have the power to find art in the panels of our lives.
Of course, creating a book is a journey in and of itself. Author/illustrator Victor Hussenot shares his inspiration for The Land of Lines, which is a Junior Library Selection, and was originally published as Au pays des lignes in Switzerland. (Victor’s responses have been translated from the French.)
What inspired you to create The Land of Lines?
I didn’t have any particular inspiration—I just got carried away. I started drawing in a notebook without imagining that it would eventually become a story. When I showed the drawings to a friend who could see the story’s potential, it made me want to develop that world.
The Land of Lines is very much about landscape. Is there a particular landscape that inspired the one in the book?
I don’t think there was a special place that inspired me. I was guided by the tip of my pen. Nevertheless, I have spent a lot of time in the Alps (in Italy and in France). I think the mountainsides of my drawings come from there. In the book, I wanted to convey an abstract dimension—this slightly-blurred mountain world—so we don’t really know where the characters are.
How would you describe the boy’s journey in the book, and why is that journey important?
The trip is the boy’s initiation. As he walks, he meets a girl who is also on her own way. They meet, walk together, fall in love, but end up parting. I think that’s a relationship, really. A part of our lives might converge with someone else’s, but often only for a while.
One of the books most powerful moments—and one of my favorite moments—is when the monster, which is originally a source of strife, transforms into a friend and fellow traveler. Why did you include this transformation in the book?
That’s a very good question. I haven’t really asked myself that. I wanted something to stand in the characters’ way, and the appearance of a monster seemed obvious. Then I wanted the characters to continue their road together peacefully. I think the monster’s transformation into a child symbolizes the resolution of a problem: The monster is initially a problem, and working that problem out can become something good, something positive. As in life, we solve problems constantly, and sometimes those problems become assets. That’s also a bit like this creation.
Speaking of creation, what is your creative process like when you’re developing a project like The Land of Lines?
It depends on the book, but for The Land of Lines, I sometimes drew for several days in a row, and I could just spend hours thinking about the story. I created when the mood struck me, and often in a block of time. I sometimes drew several pages in a week. Regarding the creative process, I made sketches noting the page order and overall flow:
I don’t impose limits on myself. If I find a better idea for a scene, I adapt the story. That way, the narration remains instinctive, which is especially important for a story like The Land of Lines.
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