Cambodian-French novelist Patrick Samnang Mey, 33, wowed the Kingdom in 2011 with his graphic novel Eugénie, which tells the love story of Cambodian and French couple Eugénie and Orian. An English edition was published late last year. Lim Meng Y interviews the artist, with photography by Conor Wall.
You were born and raised in France, why did you come back to Cambodia?
I’ve always felt that I wasn’t totally French, that as a human being, something was missing. I used to hear Khmer at home every day, I ate Cambodian food and saw so many pictures and paintings of Angkor Wat. I heard the names of Pol Pot, Lon Nol, Ranariddh, Hun Sen, Sam Rainsy without knowing who they were. Cambodia has always been somewhere inside. I had to come back.
I came here every year for about seven years and then finally settled here when I was offered a teaching position in the French school, Lycée Descartes. I worked there for a year before starting work on my graphic novel.
How did you become a graphic novelist?
There are a lot of ways to tell a story, such as making a movie, writing a novel or a graphic novel. Yet since I was a child I liked drawing and painting and it’s my passion, so I decided to write a story and started drawing pictures.
I sent a letter to a big comic company in America when I was 18 years old because I wanted to draw for them. They replied that my drawing wasn’t good enough, and told me to read a few books related to comic drawing. [I read] not only a few, I read a lot of books regarding drawing and novels and, finally, I decided to have my novel self-published.
Can you tell us about your work?
Basically, the main idea of the story is about ideal love and the consequences of divorce. Both main characters in the novel come from divorced families. They both were really hurt because of the divorce of their parents.
One day, both of them meet each other. They fall in love and get married five or six years after that. The thing is that they decide to divorce too when they get into an argument. They produced the same thing as their parents did. So, the main idea here is to focus on how both main characters thought about their past: how much they hurt when their parents divorced, how their parents cheated on each other. That reflects in their present life.
What is the hardest part of creating a graphic novel?
I put everything in my own hands. I did all the tasks including painting, drawing, writing, designing and publishing. I first wrote the story seven years ago and started drawing for a year and a half. I spent 15 to 20 hours a day on a page and worked like this from Monday to Sunday to finish the entire graphic novel.
Talking about technical details, it was really hard, especially putting light in the pictures. I had to use the right materials for different perspectives and angles. That’s why it took so much time.
Tell us a little bit about how you organised the storyboard and depicted the figures for each character.
All the plots and characters came from all the memories of my childhood. The main male character is French, while I drew the main female character as a Cambodian-Chinese figure because I used to live in Shanghai and that’s what I had memories of.
I took some aspects of my personality and I developed them more for the main male cast member. And for the rest, I used my imagination. I, myself, haven’t got married, so I talked to many friends about married life and divorce so that I had some idea [of how] to depict my novel naturally.
Graphic novels are new to Cambodia, what are your expectations in bringing this art form here?
I don’t think an author can earn money from selling books here in Cambodia. The market is still small if compared to other countries, because not many people would spend their money to buy a $20 book. I have a story to tell readers, and I just want to tell it. [It] is nothing to do with earning money. My novel is out at bookstores, but what I appreciated the most is that it’s put at the French school’s library. Having people read my novel is the reason I put in all the effort for these seven years.