If you haven’t seen Le Mans, the 1971 cult classic starring Steve McQueen, it’s an absolute must. Not because Le Mans is a great film—but because McQueen’s racing obsession bled onto the screen. The film pioneered cinematographic techniques barely matched since. You are in the cars. You feel the speed and danger. Now, a man as impassioned as McQueen, Geneva-based graphic artist Sandro Garbo, has finished the first of two oversized graphic novels that reboot Le Mans. The art is astounding, each page worthy of hanging in your living room. We spoke to Garbo about the art of reinterpretation.
MICHAEL FRANK: First, why do this at all? What were you hoping to add? Who are you hoping to reach?
SANDRO GARBO: I didn’t come up with the idea. Steve McQueen appeared in a dream and gave me this mission: Create a graphic novel about the film. And that’s what I did. I wanted to create the most beautiful graphic novel about car racing ever made.
MF: The artistic vision here is audacious. Some of the work is gorgeous. How did you approach each page?
SG: I wanted this to be a true work of art, not just a retelling of the film. My goal was that, with every page turned, the reader would be blown away by the illustrations. I didn’t want there to be a single moment in the graphic novel where the reader grew bored of the visuals.
MF: You’ve taken some liberties with the story.
SG: I created characters, like a police officer who meets Michael Delaney [McQueen’s character] but doesn’t recognize him. I had to invent a number of scenes for the sake of the story.
MF: One of the shortcomings of the film was the script. You’ve increased the love-story tension. Were you tempted to make the story more logical? To flow better?
SG: I didn’t want there to be any ambiguity in the relation- ship between Delaney and Lisa Belgetti [his love interest]. My vision is not a “copy and paste” adaptation of the movie, as is often the case with graphic novels based on films. [That approach] is easier, but that kind of graphic novel doesn’t bring anything new. So what’s the point of making it?
MF: Were you able to see the film’s cars in person? Did the artists have access to models?
SG: I sent car artist Guillaume Lopez to photograph a Gulf Porsche 917 in England, and I tracked down the Ferrari 512 S, the one [actor Siegfried Rauch] actually drives in the movie. I spoke with the two owners about my project. Without hesitation, they made their cars available for photography. Every angle. Inside and out. I thank them again for their kindness.
MF: The pages depicting rain are some of the most stylized in the book, barraging the reader with a sense of danger, but they’re also lovely.
SG: Every page needed to build intensity to keep readers on the edge of their seats. Rain is the most spectacular aspect of the Le Mans race. It rains almost every year. It’s legendary.
MF: When you were creating the book, did any of the story unfold by happy accident, or was each step a deliberate building block?
SG: None of what I created or decided happened by accident. I watched the movie over 100 times and then 20 times in slow motion. It was a lot of work. For me, every part of the graphic novel is vital to the story. If you take out one scene, everything falls apart.
MF: How did you end up making something like this?
SG: I used to make pop-art paintings and I painted cars. I had about 20 art shows but always as an amateur. This graphic novel was really my first experience in this field. Except for Guillaume, none of us had made or even worked on a graphic novel. We were all rookies, and we had to learn everything. A great but challenging experience. But as the saying goes: If it was easy, everyone would do it.
Steve McQueen in Le Mans by Sandro Garbo; Garbo Studio, $32.