Today’s Best of the Year has a Continental flavour, coming as it does from Toon Horsten, one of the guiding lights behind the highly respected Belgian comics journal Stripgids, which he edits, as well as being the director of the Strip Turnhout Festival and long a champion of quality comics art. Toon should also be familiar to our readers from some of his excellent interviews from Stripgids which Toon has been kind enough to let our regular Continental Correspondent, Wim Lockefeer, translate into English to share on here. I’m intrigued to see what Toon has enjoyed over the last twelve months, so let’s have a look:
Cyril Pedrosa: Drie schimmen (‘Trois Ombres’, ‘Three Shadows‘)
The passage to the other side of the river Styx – artists have recreated this theme for centuries. But nobody did it in the very personal, overpowering way of Cyril Pedrosa. Romantic, melancholic, bitter and sweet, all at the same time. And with beautiful artwork.
I love Boerke. For English and French-speaking readers: I love Dickie. ‘Boerke’ is a wordless comic by Pieter de Poortere, in which nothing is what it seems to be. The comics look like Dick Bruna’s children’s books (best known here for his Miffy books – Joe), but the content is as cynical as you can get. Boerke is victim and aggressor at the same time, a sort of Everyman for the 21st century. Everything he does turns into disaster. Since ‘Boerke’ was published in the culture-section of the Flemish news magazine Knack, his fame has grown consistently in the Dutch-speaking part of the world. A first collection of comics was published in France a few weeks ago. Now, only the rest of the world remains to be conquered.
(a page from Boerke #4 by and (c) Pieter de Poortere, published Bries)
Growing up in Lebanon in times of war, that’s basically what Zeina Abirached talks about in the four books she published so far, all fragments of her autobiography. ‘C’est le Jeu des Hirondelles’ was translated in Dutch in 2008, ‘Je me Souviens… Beyrouth’ (a free adaptation of George Perec’s book with the same title) was published in French only a few weeks ago. Well-told stories about a childhood in Beirut in a highly efficient graphic style that is almost logo-like in its simplicity. (you can read Wim’s translation of Toon’s interview with Zeina here on the blog – Joe)
Rutu Modan, Jamilti, and other stories
From the other side of Lebanon’s southern border comes Rutu Modan. I really enjoyed her breakthrough book ‘Exit Wounds‘; ‘Jamilti’ collects some of her older work, beautiful short stories, focusing on ordinary people. Most of these people turn out to be traumatized by their past, and are desperately trying to cope with it. Well, maybe not so ordinary after all.
Rabaté: Een tweede jeugd (‘Les petits Ruisseaux’)
A wonderful feel-good comic about growing old and still enjoying it, every second that life deals you. If you believe Rabaté, life begins all over again at 70.
Shaun Tan, ‘De aankomst’ (‘The arrival‘)
I had heard about this book before, as it seemed to have been received just as enthusiastically wherever it was published the last few years. For some reason, however, I only read the book when it was published by Dutch children’s books publisher Querido. And all the good things that were being said turned out to be true. ‘The Arrival’ is a great book about immigration, defying all classifications and genres. A wonderful book by a great artist.
Reinhart Croon: Hunker Bunker, Merho: Kiekeboe 116: Boek.bv
The Flemish comic book industry is – at least on the commercial level – dominated by what could be called ‘family comics’. These popular comics are published on a daily basis in newspapers, and aim at a broad public of all ages. One of the longest-running and most successful titles is ‘Suske en Wiske’ by Willy Vandersteen (in French: ‘Bob et Bobette’; attempts to conquer the English-speaking markets were undertaken with the rather unfortunate title ‘Willy and Wanda’). This book still reigns supreme in the Netherlands, whereas in Belgium it faces competition from series like ‘Kiekeboe’, ‘Jommeke’ and ‘F.C. De Kampioenen’ (which is based on a public television sitcom).
All through the year these series sell a few hundred thousand copies each, and because of the intense rhythm of publication, not every title in these series is of the same high quality. However, sometimes the craftsmen that make these books really surprise you. The 116th episode of ‘Kiekeboe’, for instance, turned out to be a witty parody of the way the book industry works nowadays. And at least my niece and nephew were crazy about the latest ‘Jommeke’-title, the 244th episode in the series.
Reinhart Croon on the other hand is creating ‘family comics’ in a completely different style. While most family titles use some kind of watered-down ligne claire, Croon’s art is inspired by artist like François Avril, Ever Meulen and Hanco Kolk. His main characters, a close-knit family of a father, mother and two young children, is not a plain, ordinary family. For instance: they live in a bunker, albeit a pink one. And they drive a tank, also a pink one. Their adventures, however, are very recognizable for anybody who has gone through babyhood.
Yoshihiro Tatsumi: Good-Bye
The last thing anybody will say about the short stories of Yoshihiro Tatsumi (originally published in Japan in the 60’s and 70’s) is that they are a pleasant and enjoyable read. Tatsumi digs into the underbelly of society. His characters are losers, the ones that didn’t make it. And he tells their story. Impressive.
Best books about comics:
David Hajdu, The Ten-Cent Plague
A very compact, well-written book about the campaign against comics in the America of the 1950’s.
Pascal Ory, Goscinny. La liberté d’en rire
René Goscinny was raised in Argentina and later moved to France. He lost many family members during the Holocaust, moved to New York after the war, and worked with Will Elder, Jack Davis and Harvey Kurtzman. Later he moved to Brussels to work for Tintin magazine, but would only become famous all over the world later in life when he created Asterix the Gaul with his friend, Albert Uderzo. A comprehensive introduction to the life of one of the great comic artists of the 20th century.
Most anticipated projects for 2009
Brecht Evens: he’s young and he can draw. I only saw a few samples of the book he intends to publish in the spring of 2009; they look impressive, and make me look forward to the complete book. If it turns out to be just as good as the samples, it might well be a masterpiece.
Marvano (his comic adaptation of Joe Haldeman’s ‘The Forever War’ was also published in English, I think) just finished his ‘Berlin‘-trilogy for Dargaud. For his next project, set for publication in the fall of 2009, he will focus on the German racing teams that were to promote The Third Reich in the years before the War; a subject that seems most suitable for Marvano’s approach.
Willy Linthout’s ‘The Year of The Elephant’ was published in eight comic-like pamphlets, but only in Dutch (see Wim’s post last year on them – Joe). In 2009 the complete story will be published in one volume in Dutch, English, Spanish and French (the English and Spanish editions will come via Fanfare/Ponent Mon; interestingly Stephen from Fanfare mentioned Wim’s original article here as inspiration for pursuing the book – Joe). Linthout made this comic about death and mourning after the suicide of his only son Sam four years ago, largely inspired by what he himself went through after the passing of Sam.