Raised in Paris and Tokyo, Antoine Revoy’s illustrations bend styles and influences into staggering portraits of of the surreal and hypnagogic. As a teacher at the Rhode Island School of Design whose work has been published in The New York Times, Revoy’s work unveils complex shades of Moebius and old-school Manga, yet holds a precision and clarity that transcends borders. Today, Revoy announces his first graphic novel with publisher First Second: The Playground. The plot revolves around two children who discover a ghost haunting the titular space. With this exciting news and the mind-bending work it promises, Paste asked Revoy some questions over email to discover more about this spooky narrative. Revoy also included some pictures of the oddly unsettling childhood playgrounds he frequented in his youth, included below.
Paste: Congratulations on your new work, Antoine. How would you describe the general plot of The Playground? How did you conceptualize it?
Antoine Revoy: Thank you very much for your kind words. The Playground is a horror story with elements of detective fiction. A quiet Japanese neighborhood’s inhabitants slowly come to the realization that inauspicious, paranormal forces are surreptitiously at work in their town. Two friends, a young boy and girl, resolve to exorcise these evils. The tale explores themes and sensations that are dear to me, among which are death, fear, curiosity and companionship.
Paste: You spent your childhood between Paris and Tokyo. How do those cultural perceptions of horror differ from those found in America?
Revoy: Perhaps differences lie in horror’s expression — its tempo and atmosphere — more than in perceptions or purpose (thriller, cautionary…)? Slower, more mundane and contemplative in Japan, more exuberant and satirical in America, with Europe somewhere in between? I don’t know if this is very fair, there is a lot of cross-pollination in recent horror.
There might be a higher degree of acceptable, visible violence for younger audiences in Japan. The level and nature of violence in sh?nen manga such as Devilman, Violence Jack, Fist of the North Star or The Drifting Classroom would probably not have been deemed appropriate for French or American elementary school children.
Paste: You’re producing a horror book aimed at children. Was it difficult empathizing with that mindset? Did you have to think back to what scared you as a child?
Revoy: More so than attempting to second-guess or recall the perceptions of children, I sought to appeal to their natural curiosity and to strike a contradictory balance of fascination and fright. I wished to create a book that respects and engages children’s emotional and intellectual sophistication.
Paste: You mention David Lynch and Hirohiko Araki as influences, who aren’t necessarily auteurs associated with YA literature or comics. How are you channeling those influences into your book?
Revoy: The aspect of David Lynch’s work that appeals to me most is his embrace of the irrational. Rather than emulating his visual motifs or tropes, I sought to invite absurdity and to allow the unconscious to do its work. As to Araki, I share his delight in being frightened, his taste for the bizarre and his curiosity toward life’s little mysteries. Hopefully The Playground will share some of their work’s evocative qualities.
Paste: Your illustrations definitely have a J-Horror influence. What are some of the manga, comics or films that scared you the most.
Revoy: As a child I enjoyed the frights of Kazuo Umezu’s mangas and Devilman by G? Nagai. I loved — and still love — Kiseij? (Parasyte) by Hitoshi Iwaaki. The latter has a wonderful mix of horrifying yet fascinating phenomena. Despite it not being a horror film, I was terribly frightened by the dirty, superstitious, medieval world of The Name of the Rose, which I watched at a very young age. The horrors of war in Platoon deeply affected me as well. Finally, my personal nemesis is the preacher in Poltergeist II (Julian Beck as “Kane”). It appears that 1986 was a traumatic year for Antoine.
Paste: Why did you pick a playground as a setting?
Revoy: As you mentioned, I grew up in Tokyo, which is a very dense, crowded city. Its playgrounds are typically neatly bordered and clearly defined, small areas of soil and sand with humble playing structures (swings, slides etc.), benches and sparse trees. As a child, I would often visit these spots day or night, and pause. They were like interstices to me, «in-between spaces» within the busy urban landscape, where I could daydream and let my mind wander. Surrounded by the walls of the compact, neighboring houses, these areas felt like little artificial «bubbles», spatial parentheses for one’s busy life, triggers for the imagination. Beyond a setting, these experiences inspired my story, in which reality is intermittently “suspended.”
Paste: Your art can also have an incredibly surreal element to it; I’m thinking specifically of illustrations like “Year of the Horse” and “Hibiscus.” Is The Playground going to feature that degree of fantasy and whimsy, or is it going to hew closer to reality?
Revoy: It shall be a balance of both. Whimsical, oniric elements will feature in The Playground, but they will act in contrast to a firmly established, quotidian reality, in the spirit of magic realism.
Paste: What do you ultimately want your readers to walk away with after reading The Playground?
Revoy: I would like readers to walk away with personal interpretations and diverse impressions that I would not necessarily have suspected or labored to summon. I would also like them to feel as if they have made new friends.
Paste: Is there anything else you’d like to add at all?
Revoy: The Playground is the most personal, absorbing and challenging project that I have ever worked on. I hope that your readers look forward to discovering it.
Pictures of playgrounds from Antoine Revoy’s childhood in Japan.