miki montlló and the re-definition of success

By Javier Espila

There are two ways of approaching an artist giving a workshop. The first is to simply go to their class, and the second consists of listening to the person. In theory, the main aim of this kind of workshop is to learn the artist’s technique, tricks and resources. However, sometimes scratching the surface and listening to the stories that those beautiful drawings hide can be a lot more productive than learning to draw in a specific way and getting out there and making a living out of this.
You’d quickly assume Miki’s career is a successful one if you looked at the list of everything he’s done in the last 15 years. He’s worked on big animation projects like “Nocturna” and “The Breadwinner” for prestigious Irish Studio, Cartoon Saloon. He has created and illustrated a series of comics for the emblematic comic publishing company, Dargaud, as well as working with big names in the video game industry… However, as soon as you get to know him, you realise that his greatest success doesn’t lie in the power of his illustrations, no, it’s all about the clarity of his ideas.

The guy is so good, you feel like slapping him. He commands it all: composition, character design, backgrounds and especially, the use of colour to create atmospheres. But let’s talk about the ideas.

Upon first sight, we could argue that a successful career is based on great technique and spectacular illustration. However from the get go, Miki realised that there’s a difference between being technically good and getting published. There are people who make it and carve a space for themselves without standing out graphically. So making the simple commitment to working in this industry was the impulse he gave gave precedence to above all else. There’s a whole generation of parents that propose an alternative route, consisting of getting a degree, make a living off something else and with a bit of luck spending some of your free time on that illustration thingy.

But Miki was very clear from the beginning. The «normal» path was not lacking in nonsense, so as soon as he came of age he decided that if he could make enough to get by with his illustrations, nothing else would matter.
Working as a freelancer came naturally to Miki. After all most mortals dream of not having a set timetable, being chained to a particular place and putting up with a paranoid boss or having to face the same people for years and years. However the freelancer must brave other risks. For example, when Miki decided to work at an animation studio abroad for 3 months, he ended up spending seven years away from home! Most people would think that jumping from country to country for seven years is a sure sign of success, but then you hear about the craziness of having to constantly adapt to major changes. Languages, customs, food, it gets to a point that people’s name just dance around in your head, you have to endure super long journeys and learn a thousand different work methods sprinkled with another thousand computer programmes in order to adapt to different production processes…All that without mentioning the risk of estrangement, of never quite settling while focusing so much on your successful career that you forget you have a life to live and that the years gone by will never return.
Risking being dragged away by other people’s interests, leading a life that wasn’t the one you wanted, that marvellous one you had dreamed of.

French Belgian comic veterans say that the first fifteen years of work consist of chopping wood. Usually a big company like Dargaud will publish around 500 books a year, they’ll break even on around 85% of these. Then, out of the rest, there may be twenty books that they make some money out of- the author will actually see very little of that profit. Then maybe one or two projects will be enough of a hit to give the company enough oxygen to keep rolling.

So why get involved with any of this?

“It’s good to do things we are passionate about” – says Miki- “but be careful, ‘cause you can charge three or four times more for the same work in the animation or video game industry than you do making comics in France. You can’t just say yes to everything, you have to invest some time in stopping and thinking. Even occasionally waste some time to try out your own crazy ideas. In an author’s I+D anything goes… redrawing old cartoon characters just ‘cause you feel like it or spend a few days editing videos of your creative process. Works attracts work and streams seemingly leading nowhere actually end up getting you work or taking you to unexpected places. Working on big projects is good, but when you create your own characters, a concept, a story, something emerges that only you can do and that allows you to negotiate and fight for your creation”.

While chatting with him in order to write this article, Miki is back in Spain after spending many years working all over the world. He’s spent a few months recharging and thinking about what he really wants before deciding on his next project. He’s chosen to do a comic book- positive point – in the science fiction realm – extra points for that- published by a Chinese company that actually respects author’s rights and dignity much more than that other industry we all worship but know very little about – three points for that, man.

“You have to be pragmatic in artistic professions” says Miki. “Your priority should never be to cling onto success at the cost of mortgaging your life, but rather be happy with what you’re doing every day instead of dwelling on nonsense”.