Almost one hundred years from when they were first published, Anaïs Nin’s Diaries still resonate in a strong and unadulterated way.
As a writer and public persona she was well ahead of her time, and it is no wonder her pages continue to be so attractive to contemporary readers.
A recent graphic novel by Swiss illustrator and author Léonie Bischoff has successfully revisited Anaïs’ unique life, following in her footsteps, her struggle to accomplish herself as an artist and her tormented relationships with her husband, as well as Henry and June Miller.
In this in-depth interview, Bischoff allows us to discover more about her drawing and narrative process.
How did you decide to create a graphic novel about Anaïs Nin?
The fascination for her journals started when I was a student, in Brussels. I wanted to read more about her and her time. I felt close to her because she was in a phase in her life when she was trying to become the artist she wanted to be.
For this reason, I identified with her quest, as there was something in her voice that appeared very vulnerable and authentic (even if I discovered that she edited her journals) and the way she expressed herself felt very intimate. I guess that was the first time I read about a woman describing her search for authenticity and freedom in her personal life, as well as in her work.
What can you tell us about your preliminary research and the means used to draw the characters?
It was a long search. Fortunately, there are many photographs of Henry and Anaïs. Firstly, I drew by observing the pictures and even though I’m not a great portraitist, it was a way to learn the shapes and features of their faces, as well as the manner they used in holding themselves. For me, non-verbal expression is very important, so I tried to analyse the patterns in the way they move. My style of drawing is semi-realistic so I always try to simplify, and if I think that something is overdue, I cut to the essential and prioritise expression over realism.
As far as the technique is concerned, I hesitated a lot as I tried different techniques and then I came up with these coloured pencils I only use for sketchbooks, I wasn’t sure they could be scanned and reproduced, but when I tried I understood it worked as a mirror to Anaïs’ multiple personalities.
When did you decide to depict the Diary as a character?
It was an idea I had early on, as I realised very quickly that I had to come up with a solution to represent it. Because she often talks about her journal as her twin, it was immediately obvious it should be treated as a character with its big, floating hair; which is also a symbol of someone who is free from society, especially at a time when a woman could not go outside with her hair down or without a hat. Leaving this hair flow shows the freedom inside her and it was a pleasing character to draw as it is even less realistic and free to move in a more mischievous and provocative way than Anaïs.
What is your opinion about June Miller, who was a catalyst for their works?
She is the saddest side of the story, as I’ve never ‘heard’ her voice or had her point of view I really feel empathy for her as Henry and Anaïs killed her somehow, even if they loved her. She was so hypnotising and they abused her by projecting their dreams on her. In the end, they had the same attitude towards her in trying to make her a character other than trying to understand her (or, maybe, she didn’t allow them to). She is a very dramatic character and I’d love to discover more about her.
You seem very fond of literature. How do you choose the subjects of your graphic novels?
I’ve always been a fond reader. I was a bit of a solitary child and I loved books. Comic books came later, when I was a teenager. I read anything, as my parents often took me to the library.
As far as the adaptation of the books by Camila Lackberg is concerned, that wasn’t my personal choice even though I’m a fan of the atmosphere as hers aren’t real thrillers and are more focused on the character’s emotions.
I learned a lot about adapting books working with Olivier Bocquet, because they are very different than comic books, as you need to draw what is already happening in the books.
That helped me a lot with Anaïs because there was so much in her writings and I had to choose what to keep and it was very hard, but I think I learned a lot by working with Olivier before.
Could you already tell us about your future projects?
I have two projects coming up. Since the book has been very successful, I have had many requests. One is the adaptation of a book for children for L’école des loisirs. It’s a western story for age 9-12. I’m very excited as I’ve always tried to draw one and I’ve done a lot of research on this period.
Then I have another personal project, but it is still a bit up in the air. It will have a feminist point of view as always, just a little more angry and vindictive, as I feel angry about the state of the world and feminism at the moment. It might even be a bit gothic.
I’m not particularly fast at inventing stories, that’s why I alternate personal projects and adaptations. However, I see my work on Anaïs as personal, as her work speaks to me on an intimate level.