I’ve spoken to many illustrators over the years, and I’ve listened to them describe their work to me in lots of strange ways, but I’ve never heard anyone call their own output “toothpaste.” But that’s exactly how comic artist Baptiste Virot chooses to define his prints and doodles, which are typified by flat, lurid colors, Pop-Art textures, gangly characters, and patterns straight out of the wardrobe for Saved by the Bell. At a first glance, there’s really nothing minty green or squeaky clean about them.
Let’s squeeze the metaphor a little more, though. “I synthesize different elements in my work, and with this mix I make something fresh,” Virot explains to me from his home studio in Paris. His portfolio, which includes commissioned work for titles like The Fader and a handful of German magazines and French newspapers, is very clearly influenced by the visual language of the ’80s; Virot is entranced by the vibrant colors and shapes that adorned a decade of shoulder pads and spiky furniture. It’s a love that also permeates his comics, and the kind of illustration that he publishes with his girlfriend Jinhee Han, whom he runs small publishing house Animal Press with.
Virot has always considered the tools of his trade very carefully, and is well-versed in a variety of print techniques, from screen printing and offset to Risograph. “I’ve used a Rotring pen for years; it’s really thin and perfect for lines,” he says. “It gives a unity to the drawing, making the front and the background feel equal and flat. It’s actually an architect’s pen—it was used a lot in the ’70s. Once the line is done, I scan my drawing and color it in Photoshop. That last step is the comfortable part. I do it peacefully, at home, at my desk. When I’m in print shops, it’s always a lot more complicated and I often get quite stressed!”
“I always think about how I can speak to our decade, instead of turning to the past,” he says. “I sincerely think we’re living in the most interesting time, right now, in 2017. Sometimes, I’ll look at a piece I’ve just drawn and think, ‘Shit, I’m sure somebody did that already, but better.’ That’s when I know I’m not there yet.”