This beautiful pair of illustrated posters for two late 50s Maigret adaptations by Jean Delannoy is the work of Nathan Gelgud, an artist who by now should be well known to cinephiles in New York and Los Angeles. Nathan is the creator of the auteur tote bag, an essential cinephilic fashion accessory for the 2010s, more on which later. Full disclosure: I was involved in the art direction on these posters at Kino Lorber, whose repertory division is re-releasing Maigret Sets a Trap (originally released in the US as Inspector Maigret and later re-released as Woman Bait) at Metrograph today and will be releasing both films on Blu-ray in December. I’d been aware of Nathan’s work for a while, but it was his comic-book style resumé poster for Metrograph’s Alain Tanner retrospective this summer that convinced me he’d be perfect for Maigret. And, as luck would have it, it turned out that he is a big fan of author Georges Simenon.
I’ve been wanting to feature Nathan’s film-related work and to talk to him about it for some time. Nathan currently lives in Los Angeles so I interviewed him by email. His stories, I was happy to discover, are as quirky and entertaining as his drawings.
NOTEBOOK: Could you tell me a little about where you got your start?
NATHAN GELGUD: I was born in upstate New York. We moved to Charlotte, NC, when I was pretty young. An idyllic suburban bike-riding childhood. I studied movies at North Carolina State University. In my film classes, I was very involved, but in every other class I just drew in my notebook, sometimes making little comics. I'd show the doodles to my friend and roommate, the filmmaker Robert Greene, and he’d keep them. Years later, when I was trying to make movies, he told me “You know, these little comics are really the best thing you do,” but I wouldn’t listen. At NCSU, Robert and I both studied under the mentorship of Joe Gomez. He showed us Peter Watkins, Nicolas Roeg, Tarkovsky, Ken Russell. He taught me how to interpret visual storytelling, what it means to put two images next to each other, what the relationship is between image and time, and of course all those things are a big part of making comics, so I still think about his classes and our discussions all the time. I was an occasional freelance movie critic for a while, too, so I did use those studies professionally a little bit. I also worked in video stores, which counts.
NOTEBOOK: Your first movie poster was for the Film Desk’s re-release of Truffaut’s Small Change in 2009. How did that come about?
GELGUD: I moved to New York in 2002 and met Jake Perlin on my third day there. Some friends of mine had seen some Bud Boetticher movies the night before, as had Jake, and they were talking about them. Jake asked if I’d also been there, and I said no, and he said “Your silence betrays you!” We had friends in common and would see each other at movies all the time, and we became friends. I wanted to write screenplays and make movies at the time, and I did a bit of that. The movies I tried to make were experimental and terrible, I never got out of a sort of sophomoric need to be inscrutable. The screenplays were more narrative, and I think they were pretty good, but I never tried to do much with them. I started taking drawing seriously around the time I met my girlfriend Jolie, which she helped me with quite a bit. Around that same time, I started working down the hall from Jake at BAM, where he was a programmer for the Cinematek and I was working a sort of clerical job for the Education department there. I did a drawing in marker inspired by the movie Maitresse and Jake bought it (I think he talked me down on the price), and a little while later he asked me to do the Small Change poster. That was maybe my first official illustration assignment. My style at the time suited a movie about kids. It looks like I’m drawing in a childish style to suit the content, but really it was just how I was drawing at the time! I still like it and kind of wish that’s still how I drew.
NOTEBOOK: You are of course legendary for your tote bags. How did you start doing those?
GELGUD: Around 2010 I was doing these little bazaars and craft fairs in Brooklyn and wanted to have a print for sale, because all I had was original drawings. I really had no idea what I was doing or how to price anything, and wasn’t having any luck, but I figured a print for $20 made sense. I don’t know why I decided to do a Godard one, probably just because I love Godard movies. I had no idea if anybody would want it. But I felt really good when I figured out how to anchor the composition at the bottom, with that row of cars from Week End, that’s when I felt like I was onto something. Jolie had the idea to put the print on a tote, and Justin Tesa at Crown Prints in Queens had the good idea to do navy ink instead of black, because a line drawing as a print is always going to look better in a color. After I did that, I was able to get them into IFC and the Film Society, and then the Film Society asked me to do a Jarmusch one, and so the little tote business got started. Now I live in California and they’re for sale at Cinefile and Videotheque out here. They’re also at the Cinematheque Française in Paris. I half-joke that I’m afraid my tombstone will say “He made those movie director tote bags.”
NOTEBOOK: Beyond its subject matter, how do you think your work relates to your love of cinema?
GELGUD: I finished my first graphic novel recently and was thinking about what its main inspirations were. And my biggest influence is always going to be movies, not comics or other novels or drawings. When I make comics, and think about how one image relates to the next one, and how much time I want a reader to spend on a page, and whether or not to use narration or to be able to read someone’s thoughts, I think of all that in terms of how I think about movies. Showing someone performing an action, or walking somewhere, you can get them from point A to point B in one panel, or you can take several pages to do it, and I always think of that as quick edits versus long takes. So I think about spending several pages showing a minor action like it’s Tarkovsky or maybe Rivette pacing. Or if I want to do a story in a small town, I’m thinking about Last Picture Show. When I rewatched My Dinner With Andre last year, I was blown away by it, and have been wondering if there’s some equivalent in comics. Or when I think about a dream opus that I hope to do someday, I think about doing something like O Lucky Man! I do a lot of nonfiction comics for clients, and those require a lot of text or narration, which frustrates me because I think of that like a voiceover in a movie, which usually doesn’t work. But sometimes I'm able to figure out how to do just a dialogue scene, like with a Joan Didion comic I did a few months ago, and I felt like it really worked, it was a clear, strong scene, with very little narration, good framing, slight variation in angles and distance from the subjects. Maybe it’s my way of still trying to a be a filmmaker after failing at it for so many years.
You can see more of Nathan’s work on his Instagram or on his website. And you can purchase his tote bags at his Etsy store. He also has bags for Jim Jarmusch, David Lynch and Fred Wiseman.
Many thanks to Nathan and to my co-conspirator at Kino Lorber, Jonathan Hertzberg.