Manuel Barbez a.k.a Maba

Where did you grow up and when did you decide to become an artist?
I was born in Tournai, a city of Belgium. I started to practice drawing very early in my life since it was basically my favourite hobby as a child. It was a way for me to project my dreams on paper and I started to create imaginary worlds, creatures, adventures..

Did you go to an art school or are you self taught? How did you develop your skills?
Initially I was a student of Classical Studies (my parents were a bit scared about the prospective of an education focused on art at the time), but at the sight of my poor results in these conventional studies, they finally agreed to see me go to an actual art school. I joined the St. Luke Institute in Belgium, an institution devoted to Graphic Arts, Advertising and Communication when I was 16 years old. Those years of school were a fantastic and formative experience for me.

Have you always been supported in your artistic path or has it been challenging to let your family and friends understand your choice?
As I said earlier, my parents weren't exactly thrilled by my decision to study art, but my good grades and the job that I eventually got at the end of school reassured them later.

What was the strongest influence you had when you were growing up ( artists, movies, cartoons, comics etc.. ) ?
There're some many things that have influenced me and still do today. Nature has always been one of the greatest inspiration since my childhood, I always find a lot of ideas, images and feelings in it. I love comics from artists like Crisse (with whom I have also worked with, on the comic ''Nicodemus Red''), Régis Loisel with ''The Quest for the Time-Bird'' and then Moebius, Bilal, Alberto Varanda and many more. About movies, I have always had a soft spot for heroic fantasy productions such as ''Legend'', ''LadyHawk'', ''Conan'', etc. Animation has always been a strong inspiration too, titles like ''The Secret of NIMH'' and many cartoons from Disney (and Pixar and DreamWorks, later) above all. I could also cite a lot of recent production, I’m seriously some kind of ''visual devourer'', so to speak, it happened to me sometimes to buy a comic book just for the beauty of a single page.

Did you have a favourite subject to draw when you were a child and do you still have one today? If you do, what makes it so special?
As I mentioned before, nature has always been the subject that suited me the most. I loved drawing animals, particularly horses, and sometimes it still happens to me to draw them. If you look into my body of work, I believe you can actually spot the influence that nature has on me.

From the initial client idea to the final work: what goes through your mind when you are designing and what is the method you use when starting a project? Could you describe it?
Before becoming an illustrator, I worked for more than 20 years in communication and advertising. I have been an Artistic Director for 15 years, working for many leading national brands. This experience allowed me to work in an organized manner, with methods, steps, logic and I use the very same approach in my job today. There are no ready made recipes but a process that I adapt to each situation: I start with ''fast'' searches, but in large quantities, after this first  selection, I refine my research by documenting and checking all the references about my subject. The result of this approach allows me to work on a base that feels strong enough and in which l feel comfortable to proceed. The implementation phase is more technical and it will be accomplished by software or traditional drawing. Everything depends on the results that I have in my head in that moment.

What is your process in colouring your art and what type of tools and media do you use?
I use Photoshop quite often and also Illustrator (for vector art). Sometimes I also work with traditional media such as watercolors, I like the rough feeling you can achieve with it.

What part of the creation process is the most fun and easy and what part is the hardest?
I think that searching for the right idea and the eventual design that follows are the most exciting part of my work. The hardest? I really try not to think that there's something hard in what I do, in a way I would deprive myself of the pleasure of doing my job. At times a project can be very complex, but if you have time you can always find a solution.

What is a typical day for you, and who are the people you work/collaborate with?
As I am employed as an Illustrator & Visual Designer for Ankama and the Dofus Game Team, I have ''office'' workdays, starting at 8.30 a.m and I finishing around 6 pm. I work within under the artistic direction of Lorko (Laurent Carlot) and I’m surrounded by a bunch of other talented people like Rumo (Lead Character Designer) with whom I work closely. As I have to direct much of his designs, I try to be very faithful to it. The team is composed of so many talented people, it’s such an inspiration to see their work everyday.

What are some of the things you have learned from other artists who you have worked with or whose work you have seen?
Due to my position in Ankama, I'm in touch with many artists and skilful people. We often exchange our feelings and thoughts about our way of working and at the end of the day, it's truly an incredibly rewarding feeling.

Is there something that you have designed that you are most proud of?
My 2 daughters.

What projects have you worked on in the past and what are you working on at the moment (if you can tell us)?
Since I have been employed by Ankama in the last 4 years, I have worked for magazines dedicated to the video games of the company. For more than a year and a half, I work directly in the Team Dofus as an Illustrator & Visual Concept Artist. I made numerous illustrations for all types of media (games, web, communication, promotion, page loader, etc.) and also graphic designs. I just finished a series of illustrations for a new game produced by Ankama called Krosmaga, which should be playable in a few months from now.

What is your longterm career goal and what would your dream project be?
I have many ambitions and a lot of creative desires for the future, projects that I would love to pursue at some point in my life, but at the same time I try to live the challenges of the present moment with dedication.

Working for a company or freelancing: what suits you best? And why?
I admit that working in company provides security but also has its limitations. I have a supplementary activity beside my job that allowed me to make a comic, but I currently limited it to have more time to devote to my family.

What advise would you give to an artist who is dealing with an art-block? How do you boost your imagination and keep yourself creative?
Be interested in everything, have motivation, be curious. We must not be satisfied with our achievements nor we should  dwell on things that we have already accomplished. Move forward. It takes a good dose of courage to have a desire for change, you really need to invest an enormous amount of time to develop your talent and this doesn't come without doubts. You will constantly questioning yourself.

Concept art, animation, illustration, comics, there are lots of choices. When you’re young, sometimes you know only one thing: you love to draw. What should a young artist take into consideration to make the right decision when choosing an artistic path?
It’s quite complicated to say. As I said, back in the day my studies in Graphic Arts landed me a job in advertising, which was a pleasant job that I liked. But then the economic events of 2008 shacked things up for me and I became an illustrator for the video game industry. All of this to say that there are not any roads established and that life can make you change paths when you least expect it. We adapt ourself to the needs, expectations, capabilities. We must do everything with passion; if there is none, the public will see it and you will not go anywhere.

Many art teachers and schools suggest to their students that a commercial artist should always work in one consistent style if they wish to have a healthy career. In your own experience, do you believe this to be true?
No, nothing is drawn in the same manner. Times change, trends too. We must learn to adapt ourselves and evolve.

If you had to recommend only one art book (a comic book, graphic novel, children book, ''how to'' book) to a fellow artist, what would it be and why?
My latest favorite book is called ''The Art of DreamWorks Animation: Celebrating 20 Years of Art''. It's filled with interesting artworks and it's very inspiring, I recommend it.

Who are the artists who inspire you the most today and what are some of your favourite designs out there?
Social networks really allowed me to discover a lot of fantastic and talented artists from all over the world. To mention just a few: Claire Wendling, Alberto Varanda, Crisse, Vatine, Umberto Ramos, Meglia, Herrera, Sean Galloway, Claire "Shoom'lah" Hummel , El Gunto, Biboun, Xa and many more.

We have a soft spot for hand drawn animation, what is your opinion about the future of this art form?
Primordial! Even if the computer has given us facilities tools, we should never neglect the traditional way. I remain attached to the pencil, brush and pens and often I resolve quickly my achievements without computer, just with hand-drawing. Then I find that a digital file is less pretty when we frame it..

Social networks, crowd funding websites, print on demand online service, you name it. New media on the internet are connecting the artists directly with their fans like never before. In your opinion, how is this affecting the industry and what are the pros and cons?
I think we see a new process of sales, distribution, communication emerging and developing. Things are changing and will change even more in the future. We’ll have to adapt and again question our way of doing things. It's too early to determine the final outcome, but it's certainly unavoidable.

Finally, Where can we see your art online and get in touch with you? How can we buy your creations and support your work?
I have a website dedicated to my personal work and to the one I have created for Ankama ( ) You can also find my work on my Facebook Page HERE

Thank you Manuel :)