Serge Gaboury – the best gagman in the business

Serge Gaboury – the best gagman in the business

LiQ_Mag_Dec_2014This article first appeared in the December 2014 issue of Life in Québec Magazine.

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Article aussi disponible en français.

By Simon Jacobs

Serge Gaboury may fly under the public’s radar but his work is instantly recognizable to many Québecois.

Creator of the Grif and Graf comic strip that appears in Les Débrouillards, a monthly science journal for kids, Gaboury’s career really took off with the publication of Croc magazine in 1979.

He went on to be regularly published in Le Devoir, Le Soleil and 7 Jours, with animated cartoons on Canoë and Cyberpresse and on the Radio-Canada TV program Et Dieu créa… Laflaque, now known as ICI Laflaque.

Gaboury was one of the first francophone Québecois to become a professional comic-strip artist. At the beginning, his family and teachers discouraged him from entering the profession. He studied graphic communications at Laval University, graduating in 1978, but his teachers looked down on comic strips and did not think he had the talent to be a professional artist. A visiting professor from the US recognized his abilities and gave him encouragement.

He was inspired by the Tintin cartoons by Belgian artist Hervé, as well as the American superhero comics he read as a child. Mostly, he wanted to make people laugh and felt that the short punchy humour of the comic strip was the best medium.

When he started, there were no professional comic strip artists in Québec, as there were no real professional outlets for their work. His first contracts were working for the Laval University student newspaper and some local papers in Québec City. He occasionally had some government contracts, as they had started to use cartoons in their literature.

This was enough to get him recognized by Croc magazine, the first comic magazine to be published on a monthly basis in Québec. Croc was published monthly from 1979 until it closed in 1995 due to stiff competition from Safarir, which started in 1987 and is still being printed today.

Serge_Gaboury_idiotsMotivation at first was difficult for Gaboury, since it required a lot of self-discipline. He created a routine, starting with the plan of what had to be done and then cutting the work down into smaller, more manageable chunks. This allowed him to work on several projects at the same time. It also stopped him from being overwhelmed by the amount of work he had to do. Another motivator was the need for a deadline or a firm date from which he could work back. Strangely enough, he finds that today’s editors are less inclined to give him a firm date until they realize it is almost too late.

Gaboury is very pragmatic when it comes to creativity. “If I have to start from scratch, well that’s where I start,” he explains. “If I have to start from something that is written, well, that’s where I start. One is not more difficult than the other.” Safarir sends a script, whereas Les Debrouillards just requires him to produce two pages.

Writer’s block has never been a real problem for Gaboury. “You may be trying too hard,” he says. “You have to just let your subconscious come out. Maybe just scribble something, but don’t just wait in front of the blank page.”

Techniques have changed since Gaboury started his career. In the beginning his home studio was full of crayons, pencils, felts, and reams of paper. His daughters used to love coming into his studio to watch him work and also join in sometimes. Today all of that has been replaced by a computer running Photoshop and an electronic drawing pad, although he has no regrets. “The problems in drawing remain the same: to get the perspective, compose the elements so that each strip has its own composition yet is in relation to the others, all the while getting a sense of movement from one frame to the next.”

The life of a cartoonist can be quite lonely and he very rarely gets any feedback. “I would have stopped long ago if I had needed that,” he says, laughing. He has few professional friends as they rarely have a chance to meet. He won prizes in 1981 and 1982 at the Salon international de la caricature in Montréal and in 2000 and 2002 at the Palmarès Communication-Jeunesse.

He was quite pleased when he was asked by the Toronto Cartoonists Hall of Fame to be a judge for the Doug Wright Awards, which recognize the country’s best cartoonists and graphic novelists. In June 2010, Gaboury was inducted into the Canadian Comic Book Creator Hall of Fame during the 6th Annual Joe Shuster Award ceremonies held in Toronto. The awards are named after another Canadian, Joe Shuster, the co-creator of the DC Comics character Superman.

In reality, the biggest confirmation of his talent is a steady stream of contracts. Today he works regularly with Les Débrouillards and Safarir magazines on a monthly basis, with Délire magazine bi-monthly, provides one weekly caricature and comic strip for La Terre de chez nous (Québec Agricultural Producers’ Union newspaper), and does the background comics for ICI Laflaque every week. Altogether he does over 700 drawings a year, making him one of Canada’s most prolific cartoonists!

His advice for young aspiring cartoonists is simple. “Do a lot of drawing, working with live models if possible,” he says. “Get to know the skills of perspective and anatomy but most importantly, master the art of storytelling. Then find something to say and somewhere to say it!”

LiQ_Mag_Abonnez-vousHe has an idea for creating a full-length graphic novel, but he can’t find the time necessary to dedicate to such a project. “I would need a grant to be able to be able to embark upon such a project,” he says. If his project does see the light, it will certainly reflect the funny dark side of Serge Gaboury’s humour.

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About Author

Simon Jacobs

Originally from the UK, Simon Jacobs has been living in Quebec City since 1989. He played viola with the Quebec Symphony Orchestra for 20 years before moving on to become the Executive Director of the Morrin Centre. Currently studying for an MBA at Laval University, he is also a certified Quebec City tour guide and a historian specialising in the Jewish history of Quebec City. He is the current president of the Québec Anglophone heritage network.

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