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when the darkness are watching you
There are artistic universes that mark you, whose retina remembers for days so strong are the concepts and ideas. It’s not a secret, I have a particular attraction for horror, strangeness and mysteries, so when I came across Hubert Griffe‘s work for the first time, I immediately fell in love. His graphic style is quite unique, mixing brilliantly his influences. He works as well on book covers as on character design, and it’s with a great joy that we propose you this interview in which he agreed to participate. Turn off the lights and dive with us into the strange world of Hubert Griffe.
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1/ Hello Hubert. Can you tell us a little about yourself, your background and what made you choose art as a career?
Hi, my name is Hubert, I’m 33 years old and I live and work in Paris. Since I was little, 4 or 5 years old, I always wanted to draw monsters. My parents didn’t really believe in it and pushed me towards a more classical path by going into graphic design. I entered the Art Déco de Paris (ensad) in design and I worked for a while in this field, until I had a click 6 years ago.
I was not very happy in this branch but I had always continued to draw in parallel. A friend advised me to start showing my drawings, which I did by opening a Twitter and Instagram account. Then it went pretty fast, because I first worked with Third Editions on the covers of the Dark Souls collector’s edition and the First Print edition of Castlevania. Then I was approached by Netflix for the Marianne series to do the character design of the main monsters: Marianne and Beleth. And finally on various projects for Bragelonne and Mnémos (HP Lovecraft Anthology).
2/ How did you work with Netflix to create the character of Marianne?
As I said, Netflix approached me with the pitch for the series Marianne, a story about a witch in Brittany with a background of murders and disappearances. I was sent the script of all the scenes that contained Marianne as well as a 40-page moodboard and other visual ideas, including references directly from the director, prints and references to Stephen King.
The creative team explained to me that they wanted an old-fashioned witch, like the one in Hansel and Gretel, a bit ogreish, terrifying, old and twisted etc… I also had to design Beleth, the demon with whom the witch made a pact. The idea was to make scary creatures, but with a little pop inspiration, with a bit of ghost train spirit.
I think that the complete designs of Marianne and Beleth must have taken 1 month, with a lot of exchanges with the production. Finally, we went from a design close to what we would find in Stephen King, maybe a little too disturbing for Netflix, to an oriental version, inspired by some Japanese Yokai.
3/ How would you describe yourself as an artist ? What is your philosophy about art?
I like to think of myself as an explorer of worlds, and in doing so, I take a naturalist, almost scientific approach to the monsters I represent. For me, my creatures must be consistent, both historically and anatomically. Concerning my monsters, I try to never fall into manicheism, with either very dark and evil creatures or very colorful and cute ones. I keep an ambiguity in general because I like them to be equally terrifying and poetic. I keep a sensitive approach in my designs, taking inspiration from dark romanticism or symbolism, avoiding gore and pure horror.
4/ You work on different forms of mediums, to make illustrations, book covers and character design. And yet, it gives the impression that all your creations are part of the same universe. Is this intentional on your part?
At first, it just happened on its own, and it’s only recently that I’ve become aware of it. As I said, I am a stickler for anatomical and historical consistency and I want this to show in my designs. My creative process creates this graphic coherence because I often work in the same way: I start mostly on paper (with pencil, or watercolor) before scanning the whole thing and doing the digital finishing touches.
It is this whole process that gives a graphic coherence to all my creations. And it’s been 28-29 years now that I’m in the middle of these universes, it’s allowed time for my imagination to infuse and now a prism is set up, giving a similarity in terms of shared universe between all my creations. I think it’s the strength of some concept artists, to manage to develop their own universe, like Adrian Smith or Karl Kopinski, who have been great inspirations.
5/ One of your last news is the release of the Lovecraft’s complete prestige edition by Mnémos on which you worked. Can you tell us more about these illustrations and how you worked to represent Lovecraft’s unspeakable worlds?
I was approached by Frédéric Weil, publishing director of Mnémos in the summer of 2020. He already knew my work and thought it was natural to call on me for an editorial project around HP Lovecraft.
I was able to do about fifteen illustrations for the book’s lettering. The representations here were quite literal and I was inspired by the great themes and short stories of HP Lovecraft to put them in images. For the illustrations of the Charles Dexter Ward Affair, I had a real carte blanche to create my five illustrations. Contrary to the lettering, these creations were in color and in full pages and my idea was not to go into the descriptive in the literal sense but to go towards the symbolism of the story.
I wanted to go against what is usually done on Lovecraft with tentacles everywhere and I chose a more psychedelic side with a lot of collage with pieces of space, paint and color. I tried to combine the dark and the very colorful at the same time, to tell without saying anything, to leave room for interpretation by focusing on the silhouettes and the overall atmosphere. This allows a lot of possible interpretation on the images and to have the atmosphere of the Charles Dexter Ward case. I discovered Lovecraft’s universe with The Festival and Dagon and in 10 lines you fall into it, you’re already underwater, you’re completely high. With him, everything is a matter of atmosphere.
6/ What would be your dream project?
In terms of personal projects, I would like to start an encyclopedia of Japanese Yokais soon. Then, regarding licenses, I loved working for the studios that made me vibrate when I was younger: Games workshop with Warhammer/40k of course and also making at least 1 map for Magic The Gathering. Why not also work for From Software, despite the hazards of a production of this size, it would still be more than rewarding to work on one of their projects. And in general, I’m always open as long as the project is interesting and motivating!
7/ Which artists inspire me the most?
As far as I’m concerned, it’s a mix of classical and modern artists that inspire me. I’m equally immersed in symbolism, art nouveau and Japanese prints from the 19th century, as well as Warhammer, Karl Kopinski, Adrian Smith, HR Giger or even Zdzisław Beksiński.
In more classical names there are of course Rembrandt and Turner, and for the French touch Ledroit and Druillet who definitely marked me. The pre-Raphaelites, symbolists and engravers of the last century have also had a major impact on my inspirations (Durer, Dulac, Clarke etc)
But I think the most important thing is not to be too influenced by all these artists. I really see it as a system of ingesting and digesting these influences and regurgitating them in your own way with your own sensibility, influence and technique. Everybody has different techniques, your work has to dissociate itself from the rest, to represent the synthesis of everything you like personally.
8/ What are your current projects… And future projects ?
As far as current projects go, I’m going to be doing illustrations for the Book of which you are the hero project Astra Mortem by Alt 236, Mehdi Chamsa and Sullivan Rouaud. It’s going slowly but it’s a real pleasure, the Books you are the hero have been a great influence for me and to be able to work on a project like that is a real treat.
I also have two book covers for 2022 and a character design project for the big screen, but I can’t say much more about it for now!
Your favorite movie?
Fantasia and especially the end scene with Night on Bald Mountain. It was one of my first big aesthetic shocks I think. I can also talk about Taran and the magic cauldron or Brisby, but in general, I don’t follow too many movies or series where the construction of the narrative doesn’t always please me. I prefer books and video games, where a movie is often going to be a 2 hour moment to tell much longer stories.
Your favorite book?
It may sound cliché, but all of Lovecraft’s work would have a place for this question. I also think of Stephen King’s Bazaar and Moorcock’s Elric cycle. I also read a lot of poetry and particularly Rimbaud’s.
Your favorite comic book/manga?
The Black Moon Chronicles. I discovered volume 3 when I was 7-8 years old but my mother didn’t want to buy it for me because there was a relatively explicit succubus on the cover, while what interested me was to see the other incredible drawings of Ledroit inside.
Your favorite video game?
Bloodborne, Demon’s Soul and Dark Souls I would say. But still, more Bloodborne for its universe, its risk-taking and its narration. And in terms of older games, Demon’s Crest on Super Nes. Apart from video games I play a lot of tabletop RPGs, card magic, Warhammer tabletop etc.
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