His Max et Lili books sell in the millions each year and over 200m people have viewed his animated SamSam series. Serge Bloch’s latest book The Big Adventure of a Little Line was published this week
Serge Bloch has illustrated hundreds of books, produces editorial illustrations for newspapers around the world and has had his books turned into successful animated series. He lives between Paris and New York with his partner Mireille Vautier and they have two grown-up sons
Where were you born?
I was born in Colmar, Alsace, in France – near the German border.
When did you decide to become an artist?
I studied illustration in Strasbourg, at the School of Decorative Arts, with Claude Lapointe. For 35 years I’ve been drawing. I draw every day – for my books, the press or animation – with the same wonderment, asking myself: how is it possible to lead such a fun life, doing what I love? It’s amazing, really.
Yet, I don’t know if I’m an artist. I’m as much a storyteller, an entertainer, a smuggler of ideas, an image juggler, a professional amateur, a lover of jokes, a worshipper of humourous drawings… I build, brick by brick, a small house – each brick is a drawing. The house is a book.
Why did you start making children’s books, specifically?
I started my life as an illustrator towards the end of the 1950s. I made a book for children because, at that time, it was an interesting way to work.
I have made many books – some I’ve written, some I’ve illustrated and for some I’ve done both. But my books are for all ages; for the family or to share between generations. Like The Big Adventure of a Little Line, or The Enemy – they can be read and appreciated by both child and grandparent.
My ideas come from watching people on the street, on trains; whether family or strangers. I have a memory of expressions and feelings more than a visual memory
Where do your ideas come from; what inspires you?
My ideas come from watching people on the street, on trains; whether family or strangers. I have a memory of expressions and feelings more than a visual memory. The expression of feelings is at the heart of my work. I love to express feelings in my drawings – from laughter to tears, amusing embarrassment, sad humour… there are infinite combinations.
My sons are now 19 and 21 years old but they inspired me a lot when they were younger. Samuel, the older one, was the inspiration for SamSam [Bloch’s illustrated book, which has become an animated series watched around the world], and I made a book called Leon’s School with my younger son, Leon.
Where do you live now and what is your home like?
I live between Paris and NYC – I like these two big cities. They are very different. Paris is at the heart of Europe, I can quickly be in London, Berlin or Lisbon.
New York is like an island in America; it emerges from the sea of madness that is this country. It is the capital of immigration. You can go cycling on Brighton Beach, which has a large Russian population, then there’s Chinatown, Polish shtetls from before the war in Williamsburg… a whole world.
I live between two large apartments, which are quite empty except for my books – of which I have many. I love books: art books, graphics, humorous books.
Where do you work?
My studio is great, I work with assistants. It’s right in the centre of Paris and I have a view right down the street, leading to a canal. Sometimes when I look up, I can see a barge crossing. It’s pretty surreal.
I have another studio in East Village in NYC at the top of an old building with a rooftop where we have parties. When I feel I’ve worked enough, I get a drink or just watch the city, the sky, the lights. It’s magic.
I would like to live in a lot of places: Valparaíso, New Mexico, Sicily, Lisbon, Kyoto, Seoul… the world is great. I like to feel a little lost, so I like to work in different places where I don’t understand the language; where I feel foreign
What books did you read as a child?
Tintin, Asterix and Spirou – French and Belgian comics.
Which of your own books is your favourite, and why?
I can’t say that I have a favourite book; I like lots of them. I’m proud of I Can’t Wait, and my latest – The Big Adventure of a Little Line – because it’s a book about life and the pleasure of drawing.
I love My Little King – Rascal: a small book with pictures of hands playing with a drawn character. I also like And Before – the book I illustrated for the musician Charlélie Couture. It is designed around a central hole that can become a muzzle, an eye, a subway entrance. I like to look for simple ideas that give originality to books otherwise why continue doing this? There are so many great books out there already.
What are you working on at the moment?
The Bible – the Old Testament – a book for young readers and adults; for the family. There are 500 pages, 2000 illustrations and it will be adapted into an animation movie, 150 minutes long. It’s a crazy project that I’ve worked on for over a year and I hope to finish it in a year… inch’Allah.
What is the dream, career-wise?
To finish this project and start another.
If you could live anywhere, where would it be?
I would like to live in a lot of places: Valparaíso, New Mexico, Sicily, Lisbon, Kyoto, Seoul… the world is great. I like to feel a little lost, so I like to work in different places where I don’t understand the language; where I feel foreign…
Buy The Big Adventure of a Little Line here