‘Orcs in Space’ Illustrator François Vigneault: The Conskipper Interview

After knocking it out of the park with Volume One of Orcs in Space, illustrator François Vigneault (TITAN) and his creative partners (which include writer Justin Roiland of Rick and Morty fame) are back to continue the story of this irreverent space epic on April 26th, 2022 with Volume Two. To mark the occasion, we spoke with Mr. Vignealt about his creative and collaborative process, the science fiction, comedy, and what’s in store for fans in Orcs in Space Volume Two.

What kinds of familiar elements of Volume One of Orcs in Space which readers know and love will continue in Volume Two? Without spoiling anything, what are some new things in Volume Two which might surprise readers?

François Vigneault: This volume is all about expanding and deepening the crazy universe that we established in Orcs in Space Volume One. A big focus here is on D.O.N.A., the artificial intelligence that allied with Kravis, Mongtar, and Gor in the first book. D.O.N.A. is seeking out the secrets of her origins, which naturally turns into quite an adventure, taking her and the orcs all across the Galactigon as they chase down clues. En route, they encounter a wide range of allies and enemies, from the Ol’ Cyberscraper (who’s been trapped in a trash pit for years and is slightly off-his-rocker) to the Fuzzballs, a tough-as-nails biker gang (don’t you dare call them cute!), and of course Pepperfoot, a bionically-modified feline mechanic.

There is a nice focus on D.O.N.A.’s emotional journey and the development of her character, but this volume also features huge action set pieces. I think readers are really gonna get a kick out of the book’s climax… We really go all in, and when I say the action’s huge I really mean it… The orcs get caught in the middle of a knock-down, drag-out battle between two giant robots that’s out of this world… Literally! 

How is your creative approach to working on Orcs in Space with a large team of writers and other collaborators different from your solo approach to a book like TITAN? In what way is your creative process similar on both collaborative and solo projects alike?

Vigneault: Not surprisingly, they are pretty different! With something like my graphic novel TITAN, I’m not answering to anyone but myself, so I can follow my inspirations wherever I like and I can improvise a lot on every element, from the top-level story to little moments of dialogue. With a collaborative project like Orcs in Space, since I am coming to it after the script has already been delivered by the co-writers (Abed and Rashad Gheith, Michael Tanner, and Justin Roiland), my contributions are much more akin to those of a director of a film… But that’s still a lot of creative responsibility and freedom! I am deciding how to visually tell the story, from designing the characters to blocking out the action on the comics page, so there is a ton of work to do on my end (and naturally I then hand off my pages to our colorist, DJ Chavis, and his work adds a ton to the final look and feel of the project). Luckily, my collaborators (and our editor Amanda Meadows) have a lot of faith in me when it comes to bringing the story to life on the page, so I’m not afraid to give feedback, suggest changes, and otherwise do my part to make it the best version of the story I can imagine, while staying true to the initial vision of my collaborators. In that way working on a collaborative comic like Orcs in Space isn’t so different from creating a solo graphic novel like TITAN, in both cases I’m using all the tools I have at my disposal to tell a story.

Orcs in Space has many talented and funny writers. Can you remember any times where you read the script and burst out laughing? How do you consider and approach the humor of the text when planning and designing your sequential artwork?

Vigneault: One of my favorite gags the writers had in Volume Two is a moment where Gor discovers a “Face Teleporter” and uses it on himself and Kravis, swapping their heads. When I saw that in the script I laughed out loud, it was a super funny moment and I was chomping at the bit to draw it. In fact, I liked that gag so much that I asked the writers if we could extend it, so that instead of the characters swapping faces for just a couple seconds we kept them flipped for the rest of the issue, just pulling out additional laughs out of the gag and pushing it as far as we could.

Just like with the action, I’m often trying to find ways to maximize the impact of the humor in the comic, which often includes looking at the way a joke is cut up into panels or trying to take advantage of page turns to surprise the reader with a moment, whether its a funny reaction or an over-the-top reveal. The series is really joke-dense and it’s honestly a challenge to fit everything on the page, there’s so much going on!

The characters of Orcs in Space are so unique and interesting to look at. What was your process like for designing the looks of the various characters, creatures, and robots of the book? 

Vigneault: Thanks so much for saying that, I am definitely proud of my designs for this book… It was quite a challenge to create the look of this entire wild universe and all the strange creatures that populate it! Again, I’m quite blessed in that my collaborators have a lot of trust in me, they’ll give me a basic concept and then I can usually riff on it and see what I can come up with. A good example of that in the new book is the Fuzzballs, a biker gang made up of short, furry monsters. In the script the Fuzzballs were initially guys, and I made a simple change, I added in a little eyeshadow to have the Fuzzballs present more “femme” and it really worked in the overall context of the story!

Another thing I try to do is try to connect the character designs, even tenuously, to some kind of visual reality that kind of makes sense. So even though the characters obviously aren’t realistic by any means, you can see certain details that make some sense. The giant robots in this book are a good example, they definitely don’t follow any kind of strict logic, but if you look closely you can see how the constituent parts of the giant mecha Fuzzitron Supreme are made up of the individual space bikes the Fuzzballs pilot… There’s some method to the madness!

Who is your favorite Orcs in Space character to illustrate? How come?

Vigneault: It’s hard to pick a favorite, really! But I guess if I had to choose it would be Gor, the way he is designed, this gangly, long-limbed character with more than a passing resemblance to Kermit the Frog, just works really well in contrast with his hard-core warrior attitude, he’s just funny. I will say that he’s one of the most difficult of the main characters to draw consistently, he has so many little details in his costume and asymmetrical design (and I keep adding things, like the hole that gets blasted in his mohawk at the beginning of this volume) that I’m often missing  something like one of his scars or his earrings, and I usually have to do a final pass to make sure I caught ‘em all in the final art. In fact I’m sure he’s missing some bit of his kit in at least a couple panels… But that just makes a fun game for eagle-eyed readers, right?

Orcs in Space clearly loves and is clearly influenced by all of the science fiction masterpieces which came before it. Which science fiction works had the greatest influence on your personal approach to illustrating this book?

Vigneault: As you say, there are really so many different visual influences on the book, mostly stuff I was reading when I was younger, everything from Warhammer 40K to Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles to Usagi Yojimbo to Star Wars. But one major influence on my approach to this book, and one that might be new to some of your readers, has got to be the Dungeon series from Lewis Trondheim, Joann Sfar, adn a who’s-who of French cartoonists. That series, which leans more toward the fantasy side of the spectrum, has a wild, anything-goes quality to it, and has a ton of super cartoony designs while still embracing terrific action and the most incredible world-building. It’s been a huge inspiration to me over the years and I’m super happy that they are releasing new books in the series now. Honestly, I’d LOVE to draw an album of Dungeon, haha! Lewis, Joann, give me a call!

Are you working on any other upcoming projects you’d like to tell us about?

Vigneault: I’m about halfway through drawing the third volume of Orcs in Space, which will be coming out in October. That volume is quite a lot of fun because it takes place back on the orcs’ homeworld, so I really get to dig into the fantasy side of things, everything from Conan the Barbarian and Dungeons & Dragons to BONE by Jeff Smith.

I’m also very excited to be working on another solo graphic novel, a psychological sci-fi thriller called Blue Moon, and that is much more in line with TITAN. I have some pretty interesting ideas for that one, both narratively and visually, and I can’t wait to get that out to people! One final thing I’ll mention is that I just launched a podcast called Apples to Giraffes. The series is all about the art of adaptation, books into films, comics into TV shows, and much more. My co-host Jonas Madden-Connor and I take a deep dive into a piece of narrative art each episode and it’s been a ton of fun so far.

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