Writer and illustrator Penelope Bagieu is one of the most popular bloggers in Europe, but until now she’s been an unknown in America. Her blog Ma Vie Est Tout a Fait Fascinante (My Life Is Completely Fascinating) chronicled Bagieu’s life, complete with illustrations. She then created a character named Josephine and has written three graphic novels about Josephine and her life adventures in Paris. (Though the books are currently available only in French, the fetching illustrations make it fun and relatively easy for non-speakers to follow along.) In her first-ever U.S. interview, Penelope talked about Paris’ blogger scene, how to create your opposite, and whether it’s true that American women are less stylish than French ones.
Why did you start your blog? What did you hope to accomplish?
I started my blog at a moment when my career as an illustrator (in advertising) was going really well, and I had more and more work. I realized that I never drew for myself anymore, nor for the sheer fun of it – which is pretty sad, considering I chose this job because it was my passion. So I wanted to create a space where I could draw for nothing: not for a commissioned work, without a brief, without anyone giving me their opinion about my work, pretty much like drawing on a wall. I always kept diaries (in pictures, because I’m not so good with words) so I just thought I would do it “nice and clean” this time and put it on a site, where I could organize them and browse, and that I would draw one picture every day no matter what. And in order not to add extra work to my busy days, I decided to tell a little episode of my life – something that happened to me the same day, something insignificant, just everyday stuff. And well, I still do, almost four years later.
How similar are you and Josephine? Where does Penelope end and Josephine start?
I wanted her to be different from me in every possible way, so that I wouldn’t talk about myself AGAIN (i.e. my blog). So I pictured her as tall and blonde. She could only work in a very corporate office (I share a studio with other designers), with mean colleagues and a coffee machine: all that is on only a myth to me. And I wanted her to have a bad bad family, one you can’t rely on that will always judge you and give you no consideration (because my own family ROCKS). Eventually, she HAD to be single, so that I could imagine fictional dates, hookups, first phone calls, etc… since I’ve been in a relationship since EVER, and I wanted to explore other stories.
However, you can’t avoid putting a little spoonful of yourself in yout characters (especially when you get to bond with your character so much, after working on it for years). In time, she gained a little more of me, I guess, even if it was unconscious.
Have you based characters in the books on people you know in real life? How do they feel about their portrayals?
Her three best friends take their roots in my good friends (this is why I thank them so much for being such a great crew, ’cause not only are they wonderful as friends, they also give me tons of inspiration). In the latest episode, her boyfriend Simon is a little similar to mine, in some ways.
Josephine has been called “The French Bridget Jones.” Do you agree or disagree with this comparison?
It’s very flattering, of course, although Josephine is not desperate about being single. When you think about it, her life gets worse and worse every time she’s seeing someone, and everything goes back to normal once she’s single again. I’d say she’s more of “the everyday French girl.”