Minds of ‘Snowpiercer’ see ‘miracle’ on film

By Claire Lee

French authors of graphic novel talk about participating in Bong Joon-ho’s film adaptation and late creator Jacques Lob

  • Published : Aug 15, 2013 - 19:25
  • Updated : Aug 15, 2013 - 19:26

BUCHEON, Gyeonggi Province ― What is it like to see one’s graphic novel being turned into a movie nearly 30 years after it was published?

According to French comic book creators Jean-Marc Rochette and Benjamin Legrand, whose 1984 work “Le Transperceneige” (Snowpiercer) was recently released as a film, it is “very much like a miracle.” 
Jean-Marc Rochette (left) and Benjamin Legrand, authors of French graphic novel “Le Transperceneige,” on which director Bong Joon-ho’s sci-fi film “Snowpiercer” is based, pose for a photo during the Bucheon International Comics Festival in Bucheon, Gyeonggi Province, Wednesday. (Yonhap News)

Following the enormous box office success of the star-studded “Snowpiercer,” the story’s original authors visited Korea to watch the movie for the first time at the Bucheon International Comics Festival. The two also participated in the production, Legrand in a cameo and Rochette by creating the drawings that appear in the film.

The dystopian sci-fi, which features an international cast including Tilda Swinton, Song Kang-ho and Ed Harris, sold seven million tickets as of Wednesday, just 15 days after its release, a first in Korean box office history.

“We are grateful for this miracle,” said Rochette, through an interpreter, during a press conference held in Bucheon, Gyeonggi Province, on Thursday.

“It is such a joy to watch our work being reinterpreted and recreated by someone else, and the whole experience has been very inspiring.”

The graphic novel, which was initially penned by late French author Jacques Lob (1932-1990), tells the story of a post-apocalyptic future in which the remnants of humanity live on a train divided by social class after the arrival of a new ice age.
A viewer reads the graphic novel “Snowpiercer” on display at the 16th Bucheon International Comics Festival. (Yonhap News)

Lob and artist Rochette together completed and published the first volume of the graphic novel in 1984. Lob died six years later. Rochette, who had always wanted to create sequels to the book, teamed up with author Legrand and published the second and third volumes in 1999. Director Bong Joon-ho first discovered the book series at a comic book shop in Hongdae in 2004. The graphic novel, however, is much darker than the film adaption, according to the Frenchmen.

“Lob was the ultimate pessimist, not me,” Legrand joked, when asked why the original was darker.

“I think Lob came up with this train idea because it keeps running; it is not stuck at one place. The train works as a metaphor; it’s a metaphor for a system that keeps running, although it is flawed. So yes, the first volume was very dark; everyone on the train, regardless of their class, is miserable in it. Writing the sequels to Lob’s work was challenging, and I think volumes 4 and 5, if I ever got to work on them, would be relatively more hopeful and positive.”

Rochette and Legrand said three French filmmakers wanted to make a film adaptation of the graphic novel throughout the 1980s.

“The first two offers were not so serious, whereas the third filmmaker was very serious about it,” said Rochette. “But Lob rejected it. I think it all turned out for the better because I don’t think the movie industry in the 1980s had the right technology to recreate the sci-fi themed book on the screen.”

The two also participated in making Bong’s “Snowpiercer.” The filmmaker asked Rochette to create drawings ― mostly portraits of the destitute living on the very last railcar ― that appear in the film. An actor played the role of the artist, though the hand that drew the pictures is Rochette’s.

“I stayed in a hotel near the studio,” said Rochette, who added that drawing at a film set in front of the film crew and as the camera was rolling was quite an experience.

“I would wander around near the hotel, looking for dirty pieces of paper on the street. I picked up the dirty scrap papers and drew on them, as the characters in the back cabin live in harrowing living conditions. Director Bong let me do whatever I wanted to do with the drawings so there were no limitations.”

The news conference was held before the special screening of the film provided for Rochette and Legrand. The two, who consider Bong as their “friend,” said they were satisfied with the filmmaker’s script.

“The script was already at the level of a masterpiece,” Legrand said. “I didn’t disagree with anything, and I trusted the director. And it was obvious that the script had an outlook that is relatively more positive than the original.”

“Snowpiercer” opens in theaters in France in October.

By Claire Lee (