For the past seven years local cartoonist Samantha Leriche-Gionet has attended the Montreal Comic Convention with copies of her autobiographical comic strip, Boumeries, in hand. The graduate of Concordia University’s Film Animation department has made a career for herself chronicling the ups, downs and in-betweens of daily life by finding humor in everything from raising young children to having vivid dreams on a nightly basis.
To get a sense of how our annual Con has evolved, FTB took a moment to speak with the artist about the challenges facing illustrators working the convention circuit, finding French readers in unexpected places and the double-edged sword of celebrity.
Forget The Box: Do you feel like there’s been enough support for you here on home soil to build your brand or do you feel like you get further along outside Montreal or Quebec?
Samantha Leriche-Gionet: No, I do much better here. I used to sell equal amounts of English and French copies at Montreal Comic Con, but that shifted when I started getting somewhat popular and because I’m a local, I’m going to attract a lot more Francophones.
So now, for the last volume I printed 500 in French and 100 in English. The ratio is really unbalanced now but I do sell a lot of English copies on the web and it’s nice to have English copies if I want to travel. When I went to Seattle, I didn’t bring any French copies and the first person who stopped by my booth addressed me in French and said “I’m from Calgary but I’m from Quebec originally. Do you have any French copies?” [Laughs] I have a bigger readership here than anywhere else.
Is it cathartic chronicling your personal life in your comic strip?
It’s also a great document to look back on….
Yes, it’s a really great archive. I didn’t think of it that way at all when I started doing it. Even after having kids, I would just keep doing the comic and then I’d forget about some strips and then when I read the books again I’ll go, “oh yeah – my daughter used to do that!”
Now, I’m aware that on top of baby photos my kids are going to have a bunch of comics about them to look through. They’re probably going to be angry with me at some point over some gags I’ve written about them or something they did. I’m not making fun of them though.
How do you choose what to edit out of the stories?
I never want my kids or [my partner] Pierre-Luc to be the butt of the joke. Pierre-Luc can veto anything. Usually he vetoes it right away – “don’t put this in the comic!” My kids can’t do that yet. My oldest knows it’s her and her sister but she doesn’t get that the whole story is about them yet. I just try not to make fun of them because I don’t want to. I try to depict them in a funny light. I want them to be likeable and fondly remembered. It’s not that big of a problem. I know when something is good enough for the comic.
What conventions, other than the Montreal Comic Con, have you attended?
TCAF in Toronto, VanCAF in Vancouver, Emerald City Comicon in Seattle. Here, I do the Montreal Comic Arts Festival, Expozine which is in the fall and I do Otakuthon which is an anime con, which is pretty good for me because there is less of a focus on comics.
We are three cartoonists, so if people are looking for comics in French they have three choices. There’s a small comics festival in Prevost, in the Laurentians. I did a really crummy convention in Toronto that doesn’t exist there anymore called Wizard World. The franchise exists but not in Toronto anymore. It was really bad. I did okay, but…
Bad terms of sales, you mean?
I sold one book in three days and out of desperation I started taking ten dollar commissions and paid for the whole trip with those. I did forty-five, I think. It was exhausting. I’m never doing that again!
What have you seen change here at the Montreal Comic Con in terms of the way people come through Artist’s Alley and check out art?
Well, the place got much bigger so I don’t think it’s to our advantage really because people get lost. They say “oh I’ll be back later” and they never find you again. Of course that’s also a good excuse if they don’t want to buy anything [Laughs]. And of course there are a lot more artists than there used to be.
Comic Con is not on the growth curve for me actually. I did better this year than last year but just barely. It’s not a great Con for me but it’s an okay Con so I still do it.
It’s often said there are different atmospheres at different conventions…
Do you feel, as other attendees have expressed, that the focus at this event has shifted more towards promoting the big-name celebrities?
Yes, more than before. I heard that David Tennant was something like 130 bucks if you wanted an autograph or a photo-op, I can’t recall which, but it explains why people are hesitant to buy anything. People also have to pay to get in, so it gets expensive.
I don’t do commissions but other artists here do and attendees don’t really order commissions at all. If you go to Ontario or the States, it’s basically what everyone wants. I have a friend who usually pays for her table with commissions and she was complaining all weekend because no one orders commissions.
At other conventions, do you find people will ask for commissions even if they aren’t familiar with your work?
Yes. They see “Commissions” and they’re interested.
Has there been a highlight to this year’s Con for you?
[Laughs] This isn’t a highlight but somebody told me it’s too bad I don’t have PAW Patrol merchandise and I wanted to tell him that PAW Patrol stuff is everywhere. Why did you come to Comic Con looking for PAW Patrol stuff?
I do love when kids buy my books. I love when kids know what it is. Adults are nice too, but kids are special. I think my ideal target audience is geeky parents.
What would you like to see change as the Con evolves in years to come, if anything?
I’d like the prices to drop but that’s impossible. I don’t know. I’m doing okay.
What’s next for you? More Boumeries…?
Yes. I’m also illustrating a series of children’s novels. I’m working on two comics at once: one that I’m only illustrating and one that I’m doing completely by myself. I already have a publisher behind it.
Is it weird being a local celebrity of sorts and having fans recognize you? I remember once seeing someone asking you and Pierre-Luc for a photo…
People feel like they know me. Yeah, it’s weird. I’m the one doing the comics so I’m okay with it. Pierre-Luc found it weirder so he doesn’t come to conventions a lot, in part because of that. People know a bunch of stuff about me. Some people I don’t even recognize. They’ll say hi and I’ll wonder “who are you?” But it’s nice to have three days of people saying “your work is awesome!” even if they don’t buy anything. Just hearing “this is great, I’ve read it, keep it up.” That’s my real pay.
You can check out Samantha Leriche-Gionet’s work, including Boumeries, at comics.boumerie.com