From Germany to Belgium, we take a look at two recent releases, by up-and-coming alt talent Jan Soeken and Judith Vanistendael, who already has two books released in English.
Friends by Jan Soeken
This is based on a true story: two friends, both police officers, are on their way to a Ku Klux Klan meeting taking place deep in the forest. Mostly they’re hopeful of meeting new people, particularly those of the opposite sex. It’s just a shame that the instructions in the e-mail were so unclear…
Nothing can be more hilarious than reality, and the premise of German artist Jan Soeken’s thin graphic novel sure is a doozy. Soeken plays the humor straight and uses ‘real world’ dialogue for comedic effect, together with some slight situational comedy.
Soeken’s cartoony and economic style is a great joy to watch and fits the comedy well, though he sometimes misses a beat by having his “camera” always off in the distance. He mostly foregoes facial expressions, which is a good choice for this comedy style, but for some extra punch it would have been better to have the camera come in closer and work more with repetition to really drive home the sardonic approach.
Friends by Jan Soeken is a nice in-between read with some solid comedy at times, but I suspect his next book will be much better.
Pelgrim of Niet? (Pilgrim Or Not?) by Judith Vanistendael
Internationally renowned artist Judith Vanistendael releases a small compendium of her illustrated diary, completed while walking the 900-km pilgrimage of the Camino Francés, which starts in Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port in France and goes all the way to Santiago de Compostela in Spain.
Both of her previous graphic novels, Dance by the Light of the Moon and the sublime When David Lost His Voice (reviewed on Crossing Borders) were translated into English by SelfMadeHero, so the name should ring a bell for English-language readers. Pelgrim of Niet? is an autobiographical side project, an illustrated account of her philosophical meanderings down the road to self-discovery (or not), taking a much needed distance from goings-on in her personal life.
It’s an honest inside look into the mind of Vanistendael, who is a solid observer and is able to forsake the navel-gazing. She depicts the inside of her head just as matter-of-factly as the theft of her wallet and belongings. Her drawings and paintings range from intricate aquarels to rough blotches of her shadow to beautiful black-and-white observational drawings. The text is sometimes a direct transcription from her diary, lending context to the illustrations, forming a guide for the reader and lending insight to both the drawings and her mental journey.
Aside from the pompous introduction, I really enjoined spending some time inside of the head of Judith Vanistendael and her meandering thoughts on life, her companions and trying to inject some sense into it all. Nicely done.
Pelgrim of niet? Een voettocht naar Santiago (Pilgrim or Not? On Foot to Santiago de Compostela) by Judith Vanistendael is published in Dutch by De Bezige Bij. It is a full-colour hardback counting 88 pages and retails for €19,90.
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