In 2013, along with her husband and daughter, French cartoonist Laureline Duermael left Metz and moved their video games developing business to San Francisco. The experience quickly became a living nightmare. She started to blog her misadventures as a comic strip, which was then published as a graphic novel called Comme convenu (As Agreed) in 2015. She recently launched an online crowd-funding campaign to help finance the next volume.
France-Amérique: Why did you choose to develop your start-up in America?
Laurel: Our first trip to America was in 2010. Our first game, Doodle Grub, had just been released and was very successful. We were fascinated by the country’s diversity and energy. We had to be based in Silicon Valley so the big players in the tech industry like Google and Facebook would notice us. We moved to Burlingame, in between Palo Alto and San Francisco, and we set to work on our second game. Our two partners were responsible for raising funds, while my husband was busy on the coding with two interns, and I worked on the graphics. Our second game, Greedy Grub, came out in June 2013, and that’s when the problems started.
Less than two years after arriving in California, you and your husband were forced to abandon your business. What happened?
We’d been naïve. Our two partners had become majority shareholders, taking control of our start-up. They had an opinion on everything. They promised they would reimburse our moving costs and equipment we bought. They promised to recruit a press agent who would promote our business. They never kept their promises. “We need to tighten our belt while we wait for the next game to come out,” they would repeat, all the while paying themselves a comfortable salary. We were underpaid and so we had to share a house with the interns. Our E-2 Investor Visas were only valid if we stayed at our company. My husband and I had our hands tied: we couldn’t work elsewhere and we had no money. Luckily, we managed to turn things around and eventually apply for a green card, thanks to the success of my blog and my first graphic novel which was financed by internet users.
Have you met other French families in the same situation?
What we went through is far from being an isolated case. When I started drawing about our setbacks on my blog, I found that more and more internet users were sharing their stories of similar experiences. The legislation is different in America. It’s a whole lot easier to fire someone. I remember the story of a French guy who was transferred to California. He left France with his wife and children, only to be dismissed a couple of weeks after moving there. His employers gave him no notice. I was fired by email: “As agreed, you’ll stop working.” That one sentence inspired the title of my graphic novel, Comme convenu (As Agreed).