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Zep serves up comic relief

Zep says he still has plenty to prove despite his success swissinfo.ch

The Swiss comic-book author, Zep, has sold millions of copies of his popular “Titeuf” series around the world.

This content was published on February 6, 2004 - 16:48

swissinfo caught up with Zep after his latest triumph at a comic-book festival in Angoulême, France, where he carried off the top prize.

Zep received an award usually handed out to mark a long and fruitful career; however, the 36-year-old only published the first volume of his blockbuster Titeuf series a little over a decade ago.

Titeuf’s tribulations at school, his unrequited love for his classmate Nadia, and the run-ins with his family have endeared him to young and old alike.

The tenth volume of the little boy’s adventures is expected to hit in bookstores later this year.

swissinfo: Zep, how do you manage to keep your feet on the ground?

Zep: When I came back from Angoulême, I soon got a reality check. It was my son’s birthday and I had to deal with 15 little boys running around all over the place. So prize or no prize, nothing much had changed.

swissinfo: How do your son’s friends react when they find out you’re the man behind Titeuf?

Zep: Well, they’re only seven years old, so they know the character but they don’t really understand the concept of an author. At that age, I was a huge fan of “Lucky Luke” [a comic-book cowboy] but I don’t think I would have been very interested in meeting the author. I didn’t understand what that meant at age seven.

swissinfo: The Angoulême Grand Prix usually recognises a lifetime’s achievement…

Zep: Maybe the jury wants me to retire… I was very happy to receive it, because it’s handed out by a jury made up of the winners from previous years: people I always dreamt of meeting to see if they were for real. So to get to meet them, but also to be selected by them for the prize, was out of this world.

Winning the prize means I also get to be festival president next year and I have to organise international exhibitions: There’s a big budget, so I’m very excited.

swissinfo: You also said you were pleased your artistic talent had finally been recognised and not just your ability to shift record numbers of books.

Zep: One thing’s for sure: the jury didn’t give me the prize for being a best-seller, because that’s not what interests them the most. But saying that, it’s nice to hear people speak about my work in terms of success. Even so, for the past two years, the media have focused almost exclusively on the sales of my books.

swissinfo: People may get the impression that you are just as good at marketing as you are at drawing. You have a magazine and other Titeuf-related merchandise. Your books have also been translated into 14 languages.

Zep: I don’t really deal with that side of business, but I don’t think it’s just a question of marketing either. There was never any real intention to sell Titeuf in other languages, but foreign editors asked to publish his adventures.

And Titeuf wasn’t an overnight success. It happened over a long period simply through word of mouth. The only marketing I did was go to bookstores to sign my books.

The series wasn’t originally intended for younger readers. It was only distributed in specialist stores at first. We slowly realised that a lot of children were reading Titeuf and were coming to book signings.

But I did spend a lot of time going to bookstores and travelling around to promote my books, just like any other author.

swissinfo: And today?

Zep: I spend a lot less time promoting my books; I don’t have to travel to bookstores anymore. It probably wouldn’t be a good idea anyway, because it would be difficult to really achieve anything. If you want to promote your book, you need to meet ten or 20 people so you can spend time exchanging opinions.

The last few times I went out to sign books, I couldn’t do that. Everything had to done in a hurry; I had to draw very quickly. I have to use other ways of getting my message out now, such as television. It’s a bit frustrating, because you don’t get to meet people anymore. But that’s the way it works nowadays.

swissinfo: So you’ve become a sort of rock star?

Zep: Exactly

swissinfo: One of your passions is music. Do you still find time to play?

Zep: There is something magical about music, at least rock music. If you’ve played a lot with some people, even if you don’t see each other for a while, you just meet up, grab your instruments and something happens. Music is much simpler than drawing. Drawing requires much more practice and a lot more hard work.

swissinfo: You published a comic book about the rock scene. Will you be writing another?

Zep: Maybe. I’m definitely passionate about the subject matter, but being passionate isn’t always enough to produce an interesting book.

Generally speaking, I feel as though I haven’t reached maturity as an author. I still have other elements to add to my work, although I don’t know what they are yet. That’s why I’m reasonably confident about my future as an author. That doesn’t mean I will always enjoy so much success, but I do know I will always do things that will keep me entertained.

swissinfo-interview: Bernard Léchot

Key facts

Zep was born Philippe Chappuis in 1967 in Geneva.
His “nom de plume” stems from his adolescent love of the rock group, Led Zeppelin.
The first “Titeuf” album in 1993 had a printing run of 7,000.
His publisher printed 1.4 million copies of the ninth album in 2002.
Titeuf is distributed in 14 languages around the world.

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