COMIC book artist Kevin Betou is making a name for himself here.
Originally from France, Betou lived in Oakland before coming to Savannah about four years ago. He’s always been interested in drawing and creating comics, and he’s honed his talent even more while here.
Currently, Betou is working on a comic merging hip hop and fantasy, as well as illustrating a poetry book for a friend. He likes to incorporate symbolism into each square, letting a singular image tell a story.
We talked to Betou last week.
1. How did you come to Savannah?
I came to Savannah a little over four years ago. I came from Oakland, California, for college at SCAD. Then I dropped out two years ago and I’ve been in Savannah since.
I used to work at this comic book shop in high school, and we had professionals do signings. I’d ask them where they attended school and a lot of them went to SCAD.
2. Have you always been creative?
I’m not actually from America, I was born in France. We had a guy—I don’t remember him too clearly—but he was staying with me and my mom. He did a lot of art and introduced me to visual arts. When I came to America, my stepmom put me into this charter school called Oakland School for the Arts. It’s academics in the morning, art things in the afternoon.
I attended that school from middle school all the way through high school. I was into artwork, but I wasn’t super into drawing comic books until closer to the ninth grade, I want to say. I just like telling stories, and I think comic books are a great way to tell stories and bridge the gap between me drawing and telling stories.
3. What stories do you tell through your comics?
I predominantly tell stories about Black and Brown characters because growing up, I didn’t see a lot of characters I could relate to. I wanted to give my audience something that I was missing [by] growing up with these characters. Just to see themselves represented and that they’re seen.
My first story was Black Man, and it was about this African American superhero in a fictional city. He’s the first Black superhero in the city. I did that for a while, and now I’m working on an Afro fantasy book where people can physically manifest music. I’m trying to bridge the gap between hip hop and fantasy.
In my mind, having heroes represented in media shows that anyone can attain that level of success or achievement. If you don’t see yourself represented in those kinds of positions when you’re younger, I think it could create some confidence issues. “Oh, maybe I’m not able to get into that position because I’ve never seen characters that look like me in that position.”
4. What’s your artistic process?
I’ll go on Pinterest and go through a bunch of references. I’ll have an idea in mind and I’ll try to find references that would help me fulfill that idea. Then, if it’s a piece I’m more intensely focused on, I’ll try to find symbols I can use to tell a story within it.
I’ll try to find some kind of second layer to the image so there’s some kind of narrative there in addition to the visual. I love telling stories even in a single image, if I can. Sometimes that step comes after I draw most of it, and I’m like, “Oh, I just drew a bunch of owls, I’d better figure out what owls mean.”
Then I’ll do thumbnails to quickly sketch out the composition of the piece—that helps get ideas out quickly. It’s like a rough draft to an essay. Then I’ll do the pencils on the actual size. I use pens and sometimes brushes, and then once all that’s done, I’ll scan it in and color it digitally on Photoshop.
If I do commission pieces for people and they tell me exactly what they want, I can knock something out like that pretty fast. If it’s something more conceptual, I have to spend more time researching. I’ve been trying to research in more ways than just the Internet. For a piece with queens and their flowers, I went around to a few local flower shops and asked about flowers, because I don’t know about gardening.
5. What’s next for you?
A lot of stuff is up in the air because of the virus and everything. Ideally, I think I’d plan to stay [in Savannah] another year or two and then move up to Atlanta.
Right now, I’m working on this poetry book with one of my good friends. He approached me and asked if I wanted to do visuals for his poetry book. Before, I found myself avoiding collaborating too heavily with people, but I wanted to open myself up to that a little more, so I agreed to it.
I definitely by the end of this year want to finish the second book and get that out to people. It’s definitely the best comic book I’ve made so far.
In the larger scope of things, it’s hard because with comic books, you can either go down the path of submitting your work to a larger publisher and working semi-freelance, almost like a contract for a series. Or you can do your own thing, build an audience and make your own books.
It’s hard figuring out which side I should go down, but I really love writing my own stories and making my own worlds, so I kind of want to do my own thing.
I actually did reapply to SCAD this year, so I might go back to school. We’ll see how everything goes, I guess.
Follow Kevin on Instagram at @kb2draws