Did You Miss Me? Oog & Blik, reviews by Kenny Penman

Published On November 16, 2006 | By Kenny | Comics, Reviews

Yesterday we ran an interview with Mara Joustra, editor of Oog & Blik – the Dutch comics publisher – so today I thought I would cover 3 of their recent books, and an old favourite, by way of some continuity with that interview. All these books, and more of their publications, are in stock now. If your local comics store doesn’t carry them, ask for them, I’m sure they can be ordered for you.

Leporello – Joost Swarte

This is an oversized career retrospective of Joost Swarte’s work – and given he was one of the first cartoonists the company published and also named it and designed their logo, it seemed an appropriate place to kick off. The book itself has an unusual design having shaped corners and stuck on (rather than bound in) outer boards. Before the colour artwork, there are a few 2 colour pages at both front and back which fold out to give a key for each and every illustration – telling you when, who and what it was made for. It’s quite a client list. From mainstream, high profile, folks like the New Yorker, Phillips and the New York Times to a potted history of comics publishing in Europe over the past 25-30 years. Comic company clients include Real Free Press (Holland), El Vibora (Spain), Raw (USA) and the original Futuropolis (France) – pretty much a who’s who in the development of an independent vision for comics in Europe.

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Swarte is just about to have a huge career retrospective interview and career overview in the latest Comics Journal (279 due pretty much any day now) and when you look at the work here all one can say is “about time”. This is essentially an Art book (tho’ it does contain snippets of Swarte’s comics – which have conspicuously slowed over the past 10 or so years) beautifully printed on lovely heavy paper. If you have ever loved the so called Ligne Clare (Clear Line) style, this book is pretty much an essential purchase. Swarte was one of a bunch of European artists who emerged in the 70’s and 80’s loosely bound by the clear line style. They took up the stylistic torch left by Herge and EP Jacobs and started to do new things with it.

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Swarte (Dutch), Meulen (Belgian) (see next review), Clerc (French), Challand (French), Benoit (French – who would actually go on to draw Jacobs’ Blake and Mortimer), Torres (Spanish) and Hughes (British) and many more – produced for around 10 years some spectacular comics work. Whilst some used the style in a way that was a homage to Herge in both art and story styles (Challand, Benoit, Torres) for others most notably Swarte, Meulen and Hughes the work often seemed to become an exercise in design as much as in storytelling. At times the work seemed almost architectural. Much of that design aesthetic drips from the pages here – at times the drawings seem as much about the buildings, architecture and devices (even if many of those buildings have the logic of Max Escher imposed upon them) as about the characters that populate them.

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In fact the book shows examples of where that trend has reached a 3 dimensional fulfilment in the creation from Swarte’s designs of the Toneelschuur – a film theatre built in the Dutch city of Haarlem. Taking Swarte’s dramatic, angular design the Mecanoo Architecten practice has produced it in the real world. What those who are followers of Feng Shui would think of it I can’t imagine but it is an intriguing building. And the whole of this book is an intriguing thing – filled as it is with 351 pieces of Swarte’s incredibly precise and wonderful art. If you ever loved a Herge comic or are attracted to the modernist mindset that is typified by New Yorker covers this is a book to cherish. What very little text the book has (1 page) is in Dutch but it in no way will spoil your enjoyment of the book. A number of Swarte books are promised for 2007 in English from publishers like Fantagraphics. When they appear we will try and cover them – ’til then – buy this.

Verve – Ever Meulen

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This large art book runs 207 pages and covers the works of Meulen from 1998 until the present. It’s an often startling book with almost every other page looking like a New Yorker cover (and some of them actually were). In many ways Meulen comes from a similar design aesthetic to Swarte – both can trace their styles back to a love of Herge – and whilst they also both have tendencies towards the architectural they are only superficially similar. Where Swarte’s work is always precise, with fine clean lines and his drawings always showing an almost mathematical logic, Meulen draws with an ecstatic line (one can almost feel the ‘Verve’ of creating in its wavery signature), his work is often impressionistic and the logic that of Cubism rather than that of geometry. This book has more space to breathe than the Swarte and allows small illustrations, on occasion, to take up whole pages. Many of the pictures Meulen makes can hold your attention for minutes at a time as you unravel the different planes of design and colour.

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The book has an introduction by Art Spiegelman – another connection with Swarte – as they have both worked for Raw. It also includes an essay by Bart De Keyser, “Ever Meulen and the privileges of drawing”, which is an interesting and fairly ‘high-brow’ analysis of his work and technique which helps bring context to the drawings. Both written pieces are in English – but you could probably enjoy this book nearly as much just by looking at the art. If you aren’t familiar with Meulen but seduced by the application of new forms of the clear line in Euro’ comics there is no better place to start than this book. If you have friends who delight in the weekly revealing of a new New Yorker cover this will be a Christmas gift to knock their socks off. A lovely book.

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The Complete Universe of Dupuy/Berberian

If you have just come to Dupuy/Berberian through the recent publication of the early Mr. Jean stories by Drawn and Quarterly “Get a life” (they have also just published “Maybe Later“), and I have to admit to being in that band, you will be as amazed as me by this book. Largely ignored by readers outside French speaking countries D/B have been at it for nearly 20 years. The Mr. Jean books alone have sold over 120,000 copies in France and they have published over 25 books together (check out their French language website for further details). When you take all that into account along with thriving illustrative and commercial art careers you can see how such an impressive book can be dedicated to their past works.

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And what a book – this is roughly the size of something like a DC Archive – but thicker. It is on very heavy gloss paper which really shows off the art – it also includes a number of 4 page wide fold outs to show some panoramic pieces. At under £20 it feels like an absolute steal. Now I don’t know much about D/B but just the heft and production values of this book makes you realise their importance in the French and probably world comics scene. It seems all us English speaking readers have a lot of catching up to do.

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The introduction, in English (as all the text in the book is), written by the artists, is fascinating and shows how a carpet store laid the basis for their careers. It also name-checks a load of influences from Tomi Ungerer, through comic greats like Tardi and, inevitably in this review, Swarte and Meulen. It is loaded with references to enough old French illustrators to have Seth rushing back to eBay (and we will probably join him). Overall it shows how their art grew out of a rejection of the hyper real and is informed by a more timeless, elegant design aesthetic.

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There are hundreds and hundreds of wonderful, timeless, illustrations here. They have been done for French mags and newspapers, the New Yorker (naturally), CD booklets, fashion catalogues, 3D figure designs and many more. There are a few cartoons, sketchbook pages and other unpublished drawings – an absolute treasure trove for the D/B or general illustration fan. D/B’s work is as removed from the style of a current Marvel comic as the fabulous UPA cartoons were from Disney. Both saw that art need not be a realistic imitation of real life and that often, less is more. Buy this book and fall in love with its pictures and you will surely agree.

Posters – Mattotti

Lorenzo Mattotti seems a man torn, on occasion, by divergent artistic styles. One has only to contrast something like the dense, impenetrable non-art of the recently published “Chimera” or his 2003 sketchbook “La Stanza” with his earlier comic classics like “Fires” or “Dr.Jekyll And Mr.Hyde ” to ask “will the real Mattotti stand up?” Of course both are real.

I, who loved the earlier comics and illustrative work, must admit to finding “Chimera” just about the most jarring thing I have looked at all year in comics. Someone I had always associated with colour and a slightly abstracted beauty seems to have deconstructed his art to where at times it looks like the work of an Etch a Sketch coupled to a perpetual motion machine. I’m still reeling.

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If you long for the Mattotti who will wrap you in artistic velvet, who can reassure and soothe you with his colours, his invention – with the almost unsurpassed ‘brio’ of his work the 90+ pages of his poster art may set you back on solid ground. The posters are beautiful. In a book, without having to survive as part of a larger tapestry as they would when slapped on walls in a street, they seem almost overwhelming. They burst from the page in huge swathes of colour. There is so much to admire here.

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Just as you are allowing yourself to luxuriate in it all a poster catches the eye hinting at what might, in time, become the “Chimera” style (page 87) and you wonder of the Ignatz book – was it a plan all along? This lovely art book is a few years old now, having first been seen in 2002. The text is in English which is handy for the captions that go with the posters – but if you can make head or tail out of the rambling, presumably, literal translation from Italian that is Antonio Faeti’s introduction you are a better man than me. I’m off to read “Chimera” again – I may not like it but I can’t forget it. I really can’t forget it.

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Next week I really will do those anthologies – taking in reprints like Vol 1 of Popeye and the new EC reprints along with the Ivan Brunetti book and maybe some more. Oh and whilst I have your attention and we have been drawling on about the clean line in comics you should go and check out Garen Ewing’s amazing online comic drawn in the classic Herge style – “The Rainbow Orchid”. This is a truly beautiful thing – a couple of parts have been self published but for now it lives online. Come on, some far sighted publisher – get this book out.

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