Bries is a Belgian publishing house that focuses on the creative aspect of comic books. It was founded in 1999 by Ria Schulpen and is currently still going strong under her guiding hand.
It has launched the careers of international greats like Olivier Schrauwen, Pieter De Poortere, Brecht Vandenbroucke and Ephameron – artists who have seen their books published by the likes of Drawn & Quarterly and Fantagraphics. Ever the champion of the innovative non-commercial artist, Bries opened its own gallery space in 2011, exhibiting talent from all over Europe, and curated a book fair called Klaxon, where art meets comics, in Antwerp, Belgium, on Saturday, May 9th.
With graphic novels becoming ever more popular and the public embracing more and more expressive means of communication, 2015 is turning out to be a very productive year for Bries, with some outstanding publications. This month Crossing Borders celebrates Bries with creator interviews, in-depth looks and reviews of their latest releases.
In a world dominated by Tintin, Bob and Bobette, Spirou etc, it is quite refreshing to encounter a festival like the Klaxon Comics Festival, held on May 9th in Antwerp. Organised by Ria Schuiten of Bries, with a beautiful poster by internationally lauded artist Olivier Schrauwen, the festival celebrated experimental and self-published comics from Europe – comics that aren’t readily available in your grocery store or run-off-the-mill comics shop.
Playing host to exhibitions, performances, artist talks and more, Klaxon had a lot to offer visitors. The exhibitor hall was rather small but every table was chock full of comic excellence, so it did take me quite a while to complete my tour of the tables. The nice part of such a festival is meeting familiar faces, people who know you from Crossing Borders but never met you before and new artists alike. So let me walk you through some of the highlights.
There were a lot of artists showcasing some incredible and virile work, much of which was not known to me. Two collectives stood out, and I’ll discuss them later in greater depth.
Marcel Ruyters is a Dutch artist who is well known in underground circles in the States. His All Saints graphic novel was published by C’est Bon Kultur in English, and his heavily 70s underground style is well worth checking out.
Next up was the Belgian collective Tieten met haar / Nichons poilus whose stable of artists comes from all over Europe. I was very impressed with the range and quality of this eclectic band of merry scribblers. Their TMH anthologies contain expressive and kinetic art that straddles the borders of the medium with an investigative eye. Absolutely recommended stuff, and check out their tumblr for some great visuals. (You’ll soon be able to read some of their work in English courtesy of Space Face Books.)
If you’re name is Ruben Steeman, than you drew one picture every day for 2,500(!) days straight, collected them all in one huge book and promoted the hell out of this remarkable achievement. Next to Ruben was a collective from Brussels named Vite. Vite is an outlet for young artists who can showcase their work in their bi-yearly anthology, and they had some great weird art with a variety of styles and printing methods.
The ever inimitable Shamira Debroey showed me her best magical pixie smile, and was last seen on Crossing Borders with her excellent graphic novel Lost in Life. I bought the print by Charlotte Dumontier (bottom left in the picture), who made an appearance on Crossing Borders way back in 2012 with her graduation project Murphy’s Miserable Space Adventures. Next up is Inne Haine who had some lovely prints while promoting her book The Miracle of Vierves. You can read an interview with Inne on Crossing Borders.
The Bologna Treasure was the first time I came across the simple and oh-so-funny stylings of Dutch illustrator Rob van Barneveld. Now even my daughter is a fan – and those coffee mugs are amazing! Next to Rob was illustrator Jasper Rietman, whose work has appeared in publications including The New York Times, The Guardian, The Washington Post, Wired and Variety.
The driving force behind the unbeatable web collective Pulp Deluxe, Bruno Willaert, was present with a great mini-exposition of original artwork (no, I’m not talking what’s on the table in front of him) and a few artists present, including Maarten De Saeger (whose latest OGN will show up in Crossing Borders over the coming weeks), Chris Reynen and Pieter Rosseel (above right), who was spotlighted on Crossing Borders last year.
There were also some great exhibitions showcasing the extremes of the art form at its best. The first work below spotlights the flexible and rough figure work of Wide Vercnocke, who was the focus of our first Celebrating Bries column. The second installation is by the talented Brecht Vandenbroucke, who is hard at work on an international career but – of course – you read it here first!
Another highlight was the group exhibition, which featured ATAK, Frank Wagemans, Marcel Ruyters etc. and a few originals from Olivier Schrauwen’s latest OGN Arsène Schrauwen, published in English by Fantagraphics.
And in between great artist talks by Joost Swarte and Frits Jonker, a great time was had; once more my mind was blinded by all the possibilities that this lovely medium of ours can aspire to. And what better way to support the creators of these fine paraphernalia than buying stuff! Here’s an overview of my loot.
Kayeko is by Boris Peeters and Pinky by Jeroen Funke, two members of the Lamelos collective who make comics fun again! Jeroen Funke also created the rather popular Victor & Vishnu comics. Kayeko was great fun, with very clear cartooning and storytelling, while Pinky exemplifies Jeroen Funke at his best: free from constraints, immediate and inventive.
The find of the day for me was Runbeast & Lola in Technoland by Nina Van Denbempt, from the TMH collective. She’s an incredibly talented artist drawing from her guts (quite literally, sometimes), whose demented figurework and ingenious page layouts never cease to amaze. You can get lost for hours in this short comic. You can read Runbeast & Lola in English online at the Pulp Deluxe site!
From Tieten Met Haar, I bought one of their anthologies and consider me converted. There’s just so much creativity in these pages, it’s just impossible to not be mesmerized by it all.
I also acquired the C’est Bon Kultur anthology, especially for the unique pencil renderings of Chris Reynen. You can also view his story in English online at Pulp Deluxe. His pencil drawings have a real delicate touch and his lines seem to meander over the page.
And last but not least, Frits Jonker was kind enough to give me a stack of prints that he hand-lettered(!). He is an old-school hand-letterer from before the computer age, and I swear to God you can’t tell on first glance whether it was done on a computer or not.
Of course it feels much more organic than a computer font, but the lettering is so tight it is unbelievable. And no festival is complete without buying at least one poster to aggravate the wife with (“Now where do you want to put that one?!”), and this is an amazing reprint from a painting on a slab of wood by Davor Gromilović from Vite.
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