When he’s not putting out award-winning graphic novels and exhibitions, celebrated French comic artist Christophe Chabouté can usually be found travelling around France in his custom-built fly fishing van. We chat to him about solitude, comics, art, fly tying, and why he never takes photos with fish.
The nature of an artist’s work is quite solitary. Just like being a fly fisherman. What drives you to fly fishing? Do you somehow resemble the hermit from your first book Alone, who lives in solitude in his lighthouse? Or are there other aspects of your life where you are social and seek out people?
I like to be alone, I have a rather solitary temperament. So I’m a lot like this character from Alone where I escape most often only with the support of the imagination. The same goes for fly fishing, when I go fishing, I go alone. I take no one with me, or very rarely. I observe a lot for my job. People, their behaviour, each passer-by can tell a little bit of a story in their own way. And all this will, or can, feed into the stories I tell in my books.
Fly fishing is sort of the same thing, you have to observe a lot, understand, step aside, blend in with the place where you are. I am most often alone in the middle of a river or at the edge of the water and my final goal is not even necessarily to catch a fish, but above all to live the moment, to feel the place where I am, to know and to understand why the fish takes this type fly or this type of nymph. Ultimately, I am playing with the fish, discovering how to get him to invite me to his territory and sometimes manage to be a little smarter than him by knowing how to present him with the fly that will suit him.
I spend a large part of the year locked up at home with my nose on my white sheets, so I need wide open spaces, a horizon line, and an endless river. I need to escape, to dream and to turn these dreams into something other than what’s in my imagination. Obviously I also need to meet people and socialise, but that’s what I do with my friends over a good meal or around a few beers. Fishing remains one of my secret gardens, something that I really keep to myself and that I live alone. It’s something that I share only with fish and beautiful rivers
Do you tie flies? If so, do you find it comes naturally? Is there an artistic connection for you in tying a fly?
I tie my flies myself, I can’t even imagine fishing a fly that I have not tied at the end of my line. I learned on my own by devouring how-to books and winding miles of thread and I quickly loved it. My first flies looked like guinea fowl or misshapen feather dusters which on the water certainly traumatised or made more than one trout laugh.
There is an artistic link when I tie my flies, but it remains above all a pleasure. And a real pleasure to “do”. Tying a fly is “doing” and above all dreaming. Happiness begins when I fix a hook in the jaws of the vice. When I tie a fly I’m already almost at the edge of the river, I’m usually feverish, I can’t wait to go there, to see it evolve on or under water.
Where do you fish the most? What species do you prefer?
I lived for a long time in the north-east of France, so I was able to fish very beautiful rivers that were very famous and (at the time) full of fish like the Doubs, Dessoubre, Loue. In my region I have fished the Rhine a lot and many Alsatian rivers. For 15 years I have lived on the island of Oléron, therefore at the edge of the ocean. I started fly fishing for bass, mullet, and other sea fish. But most often I go fishing in the Dordogne, there’s a beautiful river there that remains the place where I prefer to fish. My favourite fish are trout or grayling. But I also really like fishing for pike or black bass.
We noticed you have a pretty cool fly fishing van setup? Tell us about it.
Yes I travel with my van to go fishing. This is my little house on wheels. It has a bed that unfolds, 40 litres of reserve water, something to cook hot food on for me, a stock of bottle openers for beers (I keep losing them) and everything else I need to be independent and preferably far away from everything. It allows me to go where I want, according to the desire or the mood, to stay and sleep very close to the river, to explore places that I do not know whenever I wish. For me to fall asleep at night listening to the river flow a few metres from me is rather nice!
How often is your work influenced by what you see in nature?
My work is only influenced by what I see, what I feel, what I experience. I feed on all that, everyday life, the smallest leaf on a branch, the pattern that the ripples of water can form, the blessed moment of calm, sitting on a rock or a gravel pit in the middle of the river, observing a trout or watching a mayfly fly away, sticking a hook in my fingers, or complaining because I realise that I have no more water in my water bottle, it’s really hot and I’m three kilometres from my van. It fills me up, boosts me, recharges my batteries, makes me vibrate.
The most difficult thing then is to convey this emotion that I feel to one or more readers as well as possible, with a drawing, a story, or just a few ink strokes on a white sheet. It’s often a very big challenge to try conveying this emotion when you start drawing and attack a new project, but I like these kinds of challenges. That’s what makes me love my job.
Read the rest of Christophe’s “Out of Frame” in issue 41. It’s free bro!
Our issue 41 cover is a special one, so we turned it into a fine art print. Christophe Chabouté’s “species dream” connects to his story “Out of Frame” in issue 41, and includes many of our favourite species from around the world. Each A3 print is printed on Hahnemuhle acid free cotton paper using archival inks. Shop below.
Our Issue 41 cover by Christophe Chabouté is a special one so we turned it into a limited run of 14 signed fine art prints. Featuring trout, salmon, permit, bass, poons, pike, bonefish and assorted flies in the AQUARIUM OF OUR R.E.M SLEEP MINDZZZ, it’s the perfect piece for your fly tying room, above your…