From our Continental Correspondent – a tale of terrible loss from Willy Linthout

Published On June 7, 2007 | By Wim | Comics, Continental Correspondent

It seemed that Willy Linthout had everything a man could wish for: good health, a nice family and a career in a million. Even though his drawing skills aren’t that great, he was the artist for one of the best selling comic books in Belgium: The Adventures of Urbanus (as Lambiek points out a very successful series of 120 albums – and yet most English language readers won’t have heard of it – Joe). This series, written by Flemish comedian Urbanus competes for the attention of the younger readers with long-term successes like Jommeke or Suske & Wiske. With one important advantage: their parents hate it…

Then one day, Linthout’s son decided to end his own life. The perfect life that Linthout and his wife painstakingly had built collapsed. All the questions a parent would ask when something this dramatic and traumatic happens raced through their minds: why had he done this? What had they done wrong? Why was life so unfair?

Linthout’s wife found support and a little comfort in self help groups, but Linthout wanted more. He decided to try and come to terms with his life by making a comic about it. And last month, the first two issues of “The Year of the Elephant” were published by Bries.

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The book is not an ordinary comic. Linthout’s art, which was never sophisticated to begin with, is rudimentary at best; he never bothered to ink or even elaborate his pencil sketches, but rather prints them as they are – rough, immediate, painful.

And although the story is not autobiographical (the main character is not a comic creator, but some sort of pencil pusher – pun intended), its tone and feel most certainly are. The despair and bewilderment of a recently bereaved parent, whose life has halted while the world keeps on turning, is sometimes too painful to read. And at the same time, it’s quite funny, hilarious even to read how Karel’s meddled mind mixes with reality, resulting in psychedelic scenes that would not be out of place in a Beatles cartoon.

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Sadly, the comic has not yet been published in English (there is an interview on De Poort, but it is in Flemish – Joe). Even though it does not strike you at first as a great book, it grows on you and you soon become impressed by its direct and at the same time very keen inventiveness and the honesty with which this difficult subject is tackled.

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