The Man Behind the Glass: An Interview with Dominic Bercier

Originally published on cuppajoebooks.tumblr.com on January 30, 2015. 

It has been my pleasure, over the last few weeks, to be in correspondence with Dominic Bercier, the man who leads a busy double life as president and co-founder of Mirror Comics, as well as being one of its core illustrators.

After passing a few e-mails back and forth, Dominic made the offer to answer any questions I might have, and off the cuff, I did have one or two things that I was curious about, about his experience venturing into independent publishing in Ottawa. As you’ll see, “one or two things” quickly expanded into a full interview, each question giving rise to another curiosity.

What are the goals of an independent publishing company? What kind of market is Ottawa for this style of publishing, concerning the medium of the graphic novel in particular?

How should the worth of graphic novels be judged? How do they fit into the literary schema? Do they belong more to the visual arts? Or are they truly a medium of their own?

In my own opinion, there is a lot more to the graphic novel and the comic than either of these mediums are often given credit for. So, to clear up some of these discrepencies, I’ve turned to Bercier , whose life has granted him a very suitable and interesting platform from which to address these questions, to fill us in a little on the history of Mirror Comics, and to talk a bit about the things that have encouraged him to take on the challanges that accompany the running of a publishing house.


Joseph Hutt – Well, Dominic, I’m glad to have made your acquaintance, and to have discovered our local comic & graphic novel press, Mirror Comics, that you yourself co-founded with Allan Isfan in 2010. In the span of five years now, you’ve published 14 works, in a combination of graphic novels and comic books.

Dominic Bercier – It was great to meet you too. 14? Something like that. I’ve calculated about 30 individual editions or so encompassing over a dozen titles… let’s see here :

1. Promo artwork for the Sony Pictures film Defendor
– art by Dominic Bercier’

Promo artwork for Sony Picture's Defendor

2.Ghost King [A Book of Changes]
by Dominic Bercier with soundtrack by Nicholas Bercier

3.Like Never Before & Like Never Again
– a book in 24 hours – by Dominic Bercier

4.Challenger
by Kristopher Waddell with Veronica Fish, Pat Ventura and Matt Melanson

5.Please Daddy, Hold My Hand
by Bernard A. Poulin and Dominic Bercier

6.Mission Arizona
by Kristopher Waddell and Dominic Bercier

7.The Bird Caller
by J.F. Martel and Dominic Bercier

8.Sunset Coast
by Kristopher Waddell and Keith Grachow

9.Eddie The Sleepwalking Cannibal
– a prequel comic book – by Kristopher Waddell and Dominic Bercier with Quiet Revolution Pictures – published by Capital Pictures

10.Ghost King [A Book of Changes]
black and white edition by Dominic Bercier

11.Zomkeys #1
by Josh Stafford and Barb Felix

12.Hold My Hand
– a children’s book – by Bernard A. Poulin and Dominic Bercier

13.Big Box Apocalypse
by Kristopher Waddell and Tom Szyc

14.Bring Me To Life
– a comic book adaptation of the Evanescence Song – by Rodrigo Moreira Pinto and Deivs Mello

15.Treadwell
by Dominic Bercier

So yeah, 15 projects. Give or take.

JH – From an outside perspective, your enterprise seems to be expanding and evolving, with the support of our local Comic Book Shoppe, with a nicely designed and attractive web page at that.

DB – Thanks!

JH – So, this is where you are now, but what about before all of this? What was the driving inspiration behind this project?

DB – The seed of the idea started over 20 years ago – to make my own comics – I called the project Mirror Studios at the time. But it became a real thing, a publishing entity, in 2010, when Allan Isfan and I created Mirror Comics. It has evolved, step by step, every year, until this, our fifth year.

It came down to peace of mind. I was pitching to bigger companies but not getting anywhere. And when I finally did get a green light, the US economy crashed and my project was cancelled. So what would I do? Continue pitching in the void for another 10 years or do something radical like publish my own books…

Turned out I wasn’t the only one with dreams of making comics, so I took on other creators. Brick by brick, we have together built a small but mighty indie press here in Ottawa.

A photo of Dominic Bercier

Dominic Bercier now comes equipped with fancy new glasses!
 

JH – What has your experience been as an independent press in Ottawa, and a comic book/graphic novel press at that?

DB – Ottawa was ready for Mirror Comics, in every way. Stores. Fans. Media outlets. Blogs. And exactly one year after Mirror published its first book, Ottawa ComicCon showed up, not to mention other shows that have since cropped up.

It’s been amazing. I also think that the presentation, a small press indie publisher versus, say, a studio or just a few individuals, was an appropriate format to present all of these books. We even found our website sponsor, The Comic Book Shoppe, right here in Ottawa.

JH – So, what has been your biggest challenge to overcome in this market?

DB – Winter.

JH – Well, in spite of the cold, why exactly did you decide to base Mirror Comics in Ottawa? Has it proven to be an effective staging ground?

DB – It is based here because I live here, but there are certainly advantages. Stores. Fans. Shows. And especially a supportive geek and artistic community. Plus people here have disposable income, whether they work in the government or technology or other. It’s a great place to have a small press.

JH – Do you have a particular goal that you are hoping to achieve with this company? Where do you want to see Mirror Comics in the years to come?

DB – As long as I need a place to happen, and can help exceptional creators who don’t fit in the mainstream or even indie style of comics, Mirror Comics will be there to be our champion.

JH – The fact that Mirror Comics is locally founded, and that you yourself are one of the founders, gives me the impression that you enjoy a little more “independence” than your average publishing company. In what way does this help you achieve your goals for Mirror Comics?

DB – Exactly. I’m out there, with my comics, like, Neptune. I create books that really don’t fit anywhere else, so the control and independence allows me to do whatever I want, on my own terms – which is a blessing.

It’s an amazing feeling of freedom to be your own publisher. I tend to be more of an artist who creates comic books rather than a comic book guy who makes art, so keeping things going with Mirror Comics allows me to create what I want in the styles that I choose.

It takes discipline. It takes rigour. But it’s probably less pressure than working for the big two. I get to work on books that matter to me, and I tend to wade into heavy territory, whether it be humanism or surrealism or philosophy or drama. My influences are a mix of American, European and Japanese comics, but I don’t necessarily fit in any one of those styles. Perhaps one day I’ll publish through another publisher, but it is not this day.

JH – Now, on the other hand, are there any difficulties that arise from this same situation?

DB – My empire is limited to my geographical reach, namely Canada – and Toronto, Montreal and Ottawa to be precise. On the net I appear to be yet another among thousands of similar small press projects – there are so many – though we do get some recognition. Distribution avenues have helped but it is very much a humble small press on a shoestring budget and we do our best but it can be tough, and lonely – however, it’s the long view that interests me.

I have a vision and I am carrying out that vision. I believe it will be worth it. In fact, it already is.

JH – As is quite obvious, you are not solely a “co-founder”. You are right there in the thick of things, involved and emotionally invested in the business itself, as well as being one of Mirror Comics’ main writers and illustrators (on top of your illustration work in other areas as well).

With this constant opportunity to live in a blend of business and artistic passion, would you say that you are living the dream that many artists may hope for?

DB – Yes. With a little luck and a lot of passion, I was able to create something that is greater than myself and allows me to make the comics that I want to make. It’s grand.

JH – Not to play favourites, but do you have some illustration work that you are especially proud of how it turned out, either within Mirror Comics or without?

DB – Treadwell. The Bird Caller. Ghost King. Top Three. Even my 24 hour book, which is unlike any comic I’ve ever seen, was a point of pride.

Also… the new major project I’m working on is already my next favourite [but I cannot discuss it as it’s still in production]. There are also quite a few illustration projects where I look back and say ‘I did that?! Not bad!’ haha!!! The GALLERY at www.dominicbercier.com has a few decent examples.

JH – By the looks of it, you have been engaged with art for quite a long while. Would you say that your love of illustration stems from an interest in comics and graphic novels? Or perhaps vice versa?

DB – Yes. Yes. Both. My favourite artists are Jim Lee, Moebius and Dave McKean. Luckily I’ve met all three and they had nice things to say about my art. Moebius and Dave McKean have had huge illustration careers outside of comics. Jim Lee has always stayed closer to comics.

All of them are an influence in both my illustration and comics projects. They are shining beacons of excellence. If I can produce work that honours them, I’ll be pleased.

Dominic Bercier at Wonder Geeks Activate 2

Kristopher Waddell (left) and Dominic Bercier (right) at Wonder Geeks Activate 2. Photo credit Mike Arnold (http://www.facebook.com/ChocoPhotogro )

JH – Now to tread a slightly more scholarly path, I’d like to ask you how you would define a graphic novel, by its literary elements, or by its visual elements? Or do you feel that the medium truly exists in its own unique element?

DB – Interesting question. I think it’s its own thing, to a degree, definitely. It has its own rules, but it owes so much to both literature and art that it’s hard to disassociate them sometimes. First, if the story isn’t interesting, I would not bother drawing it. And if the drawings are not as good as they could be then the story is misrepresented.

All contributors to a graphic novel project have to be on their ‘A’ game from start to finish. Making a comic book takes a herculean effort. It’s insane. Best be the top in literature and/or art before going forth into making comics.

Note, however, that comics need to be a middle ground. If each panel looks like the Mona Lisa, it will take too much time to produce. If the story is the equivalent of a 900pg novel, it will take too much time to produce.

People don’t always realise this but comics tend to be very small stories. Even epics are self contained and small. In the case of an ongoing series, it is comprised of smaller segments. In this way, a comics creator needs to be disciplined and choose his or her moments.

JH – Are there any works (graphic novels, comics, or otherwise) that you feel have impacted you in a substantial way?

DB – Star Wars. Goldorak [Grendizer]. The Little Prince. Harry Potter. X-Men – the Jim Lee years – and pretty much anything that Jim Lee has ever done. The works of Moebius – ‘Sur l’étoile’ and ‘Arzach’ being my all time favourites. Dave McKean on Arkham Asylum [written by Grant Morrison]. Neil Gaiman and Dave McKean on Signal to Noise, Mr. Punch, Violent Cases. Dave McKean’s Cages.

There is a lot of Dave McKean in there, but it wasn’t just his works that influenced me. I met him when I was 19 years old and on the verge of pitching major publishers with my pencils. I was quite the mainstream penciller back then. He insisted I become a quote-unquote ‘real’ artist, and go to art school instead, so I did. It was a blessing and a curse. I missed the 90’s boom, but I also got to work on books that mean something profound to me.

Since then comics have generally improved. The internet has also allowed many, without the means before, to now publish whatever they want. But it’s like the Wild West out there, which, I guess, is sort of a good thing.

Long gone are the days of the authoritative publisher who can do no wrong. Each creator or publisher must fend for themselves and hope for the best. What it comes down to is an entire industry based on love, the passion for making comics. It is love that keeps us going. It is passion that keeps me going, that’s for sure.

JH – Graphic novels and comic book belong to a medium that is still new to a lot of people, and bears certain stigmas in the eyes of some of the intelligentsia. Being a producer of graphic novels and other forms of graphic content, what do you recommend that people (either new to graphic novels or familiar) bring to the table when consuming art of this kind?

DB – Just be yourself. You either like the work or you don’t. I tend to think that there are genre traps and that creators fall into them all of the time. American comics, European comics, Manga, Indie comics, each geographical region or trope has its strengths but it drives me nuts that there is so much sameness in each. So I tend to agree with the critics.

That said, I don’t think we’ve seen the best of comics yet though there are ALWAYS exceptions to the rule. We’ve seen a few hundred or even thousands of guiding luminaries amid millions and millions of comic book creators so far. The best is yet to come. I believe in the form, and I’ve seen it done right, and I’ve seen it, overwhelmingly, done badly. But that doesn’t mean it’s dead in the water. Never in the brief history of comics has there been so much interest. That can only lead to good things. Everybody has a computer and everyone can afford paper and pencils. Comics remains the most powerful medium compared to its meagre means of production.

JH – Lastly, what do we have to look forward to this year from Mirror Comics?

DB – I’m going to cool my heels on the sales side of things this year, huddle myself up in the studio, and draw a few hundred pages for a major project that I cannot publicly discuss just yet. I’ll make a major comeback next year in terms of presence. For now, I’ll be attending Ottawa ComicCon here in the capital and maybe a few more appearances here and there. But in 2015, it’s all about the work – the vision! I can’t divulge anything related to the books in development just yet, but I can tell you that it will be worth the wait!!!

 

The above images are the sole property of Dominic Bercier and Mirror Comics. They are represented here with his permission.

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