Illustrator Jacques de Loustal sketches out the dangers of meeting your heroes over lunch and explains why France is in a league of its own when it comes to cartoons.
“I like to draw people eating fish. It expresses my love for the Mediterranean, the sea, the water, the boat. My father was in the airforce but he wanted to be a sailor, to be near the sea. So in the summer we always went to the south of France, where we had a house on the coast. I was marked by that maritime landscape. Now, whenever I can add a fish to my drawings, I do.
All kids draw until some age and then either stop or continue. If you continue it’s probably because you’re surrounded by books, pictures and magazines. That was the case for me. I also kept drawing because I was the youngest and felt somewhat isolated in my family.
We didn’t eat at restaurants much. We had good meals at home instead, especially on Sundays. My mother was an excellent cook. She was from Franche-Comté, where you have a lot of traditional cuisine with cream and cheese. I liked the blanquette de veau – veal ragout – and gâteau aux marrons – chestnut cake.
Nomad’s [where we are sitting] is a very fine restaurant and I discovered it because the owners, Benoît and Fanny, used to organise a prize for travel books and travel sketchbooks – I’ve published a lot in my time. They often asked me to draw the invitation for the event too.
The most memorable meals are related to the setting. It could be some restaurant on the coast of Morocco; I don’t remember what I ate but I remember the mood, the wind, the view, the people. I’m a [trained] architect, though I never practised, so I’m concerned with my surroundings and the atmosphere. When you have dinner after a book fair there might be 40 of you, and the mood depends on who’s in front, on your left or right. Maybe there is someone you’d like to meet but you don’t manage to place yourself well and now you’re in front of someone you don’t care for.
I’d like to have lunch with Clint Eastwood. His films built me. I’d like to have met a lot of people, such as Modigliani – but I’m not sure he was very nice. It’s not easy when there is someone you admire but are disappointed with when you meet them. I once met Lou Reed. My friend, artist Lorenzo Mattotti, had created a book with him so there was an exhibition and a dinner. It was a buffet and I was waiting for lasagne; I look around and Lou Reed is waiting too. He was a very difficult man.
I started my career in 1973, which was a great time for illustration. There were new indie magazines and comics for adults. I started to publish in those kinds of magazines and especially in one called Rock & Folk – I was always into music. Today there is more appreciation for cartoons in France. At the beginning of the 20th century we had the phenomenon of Franco-Belgian comics, such as Tintin and Spirou, that you didn’t have in England, Germany or Italy. They were of such high quality. All children in the 1950s grew up reading them. In the late 1970s there were 500 comic books released every year in France – and I used to think that was an enormous number. Today it’s 5,000.
But it’s important to realise that you have two different schools of drawing in France. There are people who, like me, work in illustration and people who work at Charlie Hebdo; I lost a lot of friends there [in the 2015 attack]. They are journalists who use drawing as a medium and not everyone can do what they do.
It was hard for me to gain popularity as an artist, as opposed to some of my peers. They followed directly in the footsteps of the big masters, such as Hergé and Edgar P Jacobs, but I had mixed influences: David Hockney, Paul Gauguin, Robert Crumb. It took longer for me to find my style. I try to draw scenes with atmosphere, where you can imagine the dynamics between the people in the room. Places in which a spectator might imagine what happens beyond the scene that I’ve created.”
Cartoonist and painter Jacques de Loustal broke onto the French art scene in the 1970s, as comic books and cartoons shot to popularity. Starting with a handful of illustrations for indie rock magazines, he has since published dozens of graphic novels, comic books, paintings and cartoons, which have appeared in publications such as The New Yorker and Beaux Arts Magazine. His scenes often draw on the seaside, live music – think a jazz club in full swing – and a fair share of female nudes, in a fluid style that’s reminiscent of Henri Matisse, Henri Rousseau and Otto Dix.
Nomad’s, a short jaunt away from the grand Rue de Rivoli, is the domain of chef Nicolas Menut, who serves refined and hearty French dishes such as veal sweetbreads and almond-and-pear croustillant (a crunchy pastry). Though the loud interior design may leave you feeling transported into one of De Loustal’s own cartoons, the winning fare and personable staff have built a loyal following in the 1st arrondissement, not least with a regular troupe of local artists.
12-14 Rue du marché Saint Honoré; nomadsparis.fr
Starter: Rabbit-and-pistachio terrine with toast and pickles
Main course: Whole grilled sea bass with potato mousseline (a creamy mash) and sautéed broccoli
To drink: White Saint-Véran from Burgundy’s Mâconnais region