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Great Review of Brecht Evens' The Making Of on High-Low

Updated November 7, 2013


By Rob Clough
July 26, 2013

"The Imitation Circle: The Making Of

Belgian cartoonist Brecht Evens has carved out an interesting career to date by eschewing line and instead focusing solely on color to form that backbone of his comics. His most recent book, The Making Of (2012 Drawn & Quarterly), is a book about artists and artist wannabes (and really, everyone in this book is an artist wannabe whatever their reputation might be) where Evens differentiates them less by forms and shapes (though those are present as well in surprisingly subtle ways) and more by a particular bright watercolor. The story is a classic farce: a struggling painter, jealous of the success of his peers, is invited to a small Belgian country town to create a piece for the town's biennial celebration. His comrades for the art show are a group of amateur locals, most of whom have limited ability. As the big fish in a very small pond, the regard he gets starts to go to his head a bit as the piece he intends to create taxes the abilities and interest of his fellow artists. That's pretty much it as far as the plot goes, but Evens is always more concerned with scene and character than story.


Evens has fine comedic chops. The artist, Peterson, is pretty much constantly thwarted by life; it's as though Charlie Brown grew up to be a fine artist and somehow managed to grow an ego along the way. Going to the town of Beepoele is like that one time Charlie Brown drew the admiration of an entire summer camp's worth of kids, to his constant wonderment and even bemusement. Of course, in the case of Peterson, he eats the attention up with a spoon, as the townspeople trip over themselves to make him feel welcome. That includes a sexy teenaged girl who volunteers to document the making of their art piece through photography and is more than willing to throw herself at him. The scene where they finally hook up is deftly set up (as they leave behind Leslie, a local who has essentially become Peterson's shadow) and hilariously interrupted as a real disaster befalls their piece. Evens could have used any number of approaches to tell this story, and it still would have been funny.


However, the approach that Evens chose is what makes this book so interesting to look at. Every character is depicted with a single color, carefully brushed on to each page. Kristoff, the man running the biennial, is a nice ruddy red, which sets off his huge frame and hands nicely with dot eyes. Leslie is blue and ghostly, with an elongated head. The damaged artist Dennis is a mostly brown smudge. Peterson himself is a translucent green, and he looks elfin with his slightly pointy ears and long sideburns. Evens uses a gridless open page that allows the characters and events to flow and seep into each other. When Evens wants a hard stop or to really get the reader's attention, he suddenly pulls back and puts the characters into a dense, rich realistically painted setting. Indeed, Evens repeatedly shows the reader that the most beautiful thing in the town is the actual setting: the trees, the flowers and its people. It's very much the same principle as the common practice of using iconically drawn figures up against a realistically drawn background. Peterson is the emperor with no clothes, as his idea of a worthy project (a giant garden gnome) is denounced by a clown (!) as kitsch, before Peterson "corrects" him. The only worthwhile thing Peterson does in the whole book is calm down the artists after the gnome gets ruined and makes them feel good about their efforts. In a sense, he's trying to convince himself of this as much as he's trying to convince them.




What I like most about this book is that Evens turns the notion of art imitating life on its head in the way he depicts his characters. It's as though this comic was about the figures in a static painting coming to life and interacting with each other on page after page; eventually, the novelty of this wears off as the reader becomes completely immersed in Evens' approach. The fact that this "painting" is about artists creating art, trying to think about art and understanding how and why art is important to them further complicates that art/life circle, with the proper response (in Evens' eyes) being to do a send-up of art and artists. That said, it's a gentle and affectionate send-up, where even Peterson gets a bit of redemption. Incidentally, I thought the way he used the teenager, Cleo, was quite interesting. Far from a simple doe-eyed groupie, she has real agency as a person and in many ways is the most successful artist in the town. The final sequence of the book, where she dresses up as a flight attendant at the senior center for which she volunteers, shows her commitment and devotion to a performance that actually makes a difference. This is simply a beautiful, funny and humane book that shows Evens really showing off his chops as his style evolves and matures."

Read more interesting comic reviews on Rob Clowes' blog High-Low
 
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The Making Of




  Rookie Mag loves Brecht Evens's The Making Of

Updated September 11, 2013


"Compare and Contrast: Books we love about emulation, imitation , and replication."

by Laia Garcia, Tavi Gevinson, Amy Rose Spiegel, Anna Fitzpatrick, Stephanie Kuehnert, Roxane, and Anaheed Alani
Rookie, July 11, 2013

How Should a Person Be?
Sheila Heti
2012, Henry Holt & Company
Some books find you. I had seen this one’s cover in my Tumblr feed a few times before happening upon it at a bookstore right before my first adult vacation. It was instantly obvious that this was the book I needed to read right then. If you are in the middle of figuring things out, this is a good book to read. Humans are always in the middle of figuring things out, therefore this is always a good book to read. The Sheila in this book is not necessarily the Sheila that wrote it but it also is, and she is trying to figure things out—namely, how should a person be (not just a clever title!)? Like most of us trying to figure things out, Sheila looks to her circle of friends—smart, creative people with different talents from her own—for answers. The book doesn’t really have a plot, but that doesn’t mean that things don’t happen, the same way that life doesn’t have a plot and it’s just life. Sheila and her friends go to parties and get drunk. Sheila and her best friend go to Miami and buy the same dress. Sheila engages in experimental sex acts with the guy she’s doing it with. Sheila’s friends have an “ugly painting competition.” None of these things might seem like a page-turner, but Heti’s language somehow starts to become an extension of your own thoughts (or is it the other way around?). You find yourself agreeing with what some of the characters are discovering, and this helps you discover things about yourself…does this sound self-help-y? It’s most certainly NOT! How Should a Person Be is a book about growing into your desires and your friendships and everything else. I read it in one swoop, sitting by a pool, taking notes on the margins and making notes in my journal, and right afterward I called my best friend and said, “I have a book for you to read.” She read it and she loved it, and then she went to see Heti speak at an event last week and she had her sign the book for me and when she told me what she had done, I thought, That’s how a person should be. —Laia

The Making Of
Brecht Evens
2012, Drawn & Quarterly
The Making Of tells the story of a semi-douchey artist named Peterson who agrees to participate in an art festival that turns out to be kind of below him. He’s greeted by a cast of characters who are impressed and intimidated by his stature, some of whom even start to try to be like him. Eventually, a series of subtly hilarious exchanges and mishaps shift the book’s focus from Peterson to the group as a whole, and maybe even to ART AS A WHOLE. The story is fun to follow, but the watercolor visuals will really blow your mind. Brecht Evens lets all dimensions of a piece of furniture or building be seen, creating all these gorgeous candy-colored layers and, like, emotionally accurate slivers of light—just look! It’s also a delight to see his system for indicating different parts of the story—instead of using speech bubbles he color-codes the text by character, and he draws dream sequences in black and white, in sharp contrast to the rest of this colorful book. Be sure to take an extra-good look at every page. —Tavi

Emerald City
Jennifer Egan
1997, Picador
This bomb-ass short fiction collection opens with “Why China?”—the best story I can remember reading this year so far, by far. It’s about a banker and the guy who stole thousands of dollars from him. A few years after that crime, they meet up again by chance in China, and both pretend to be other people. The way their actual identities and their backstories are slowly, artfully revealed makes this story as tense as it is beautifully written, and it’s very beautifully written indeed. The rest of the stories in the book are equally ruthless and skillful, and I can promise you’ll find at least one, but probably more, that will linger for weeks after you finish it. —Amy Rose

Where’d You Go, Bernadette
Maria Semple
2012, Little, Brown and Company
I had just read a series of bleak Russian novels where everybody dies in the end. Why is all the fiction I read so depressing? I asked myself. That’s when I came across Where’d You Go, Bernadette, and it was prefect timing. It’s the kind of book you say you’re going to read one chapter of before bed, then you find yourself on the last chapter at four in the morning because you couldn’t stop. The main character, Bernadette Fox, is something of a misfit—she doesn’t fit in with the other residents of her upscale Seattle neighborhood, and rarely socializes with anyone beyond her husband and their teenage daughter, Bee. When a series of mishaps causes Bernadette to disappear one day, Bee sets out to track her down. In the process, Bee learns about her mother’s mysterious past. It’s a very funny story (relevant: Semple was a writer on Arrested Development) that is still very poignant and tear-jerky. —Anna F.

Twelfth Night
William Shakespeare
First performed in 1602, published in 1623 by Edward Blount, and William and Isaac Jaggard
I’ve always loved twin switcheroo stories—I watched the Hayley Mills version of The Parent Trap like once a month as a child; my favorite Sweet Valley High plots were the ones where Elizabeth and Jessica pretended to be each other; and Twelfth Night has been one of my favorite plays since I saw it performed when I was in eighth grade. After a shipwreck, Viola finds herself alone on the coast of Illyria, her twin brother, Sebastian, nowhere to be found. Believing him to be dead, she decides to take over his identity in order to access the kind of independence and privilege that women had much less of in the 1600s than we do now. Shenanigans ensue, and people fall in love with people whom they don’t realize share their gender. It’s a super-fun romantic comedy—a nice break from Shakespeare’s tragedies if you are reading a lot of his plays this summer—and a really good one to see performed in a park, if they do that kind of thing wherever you are this summer. —Stephanie

Up in the Old Hotel
Joseph Mitchell
1992, Vintage
I love this collection of essays, most of which originally appeared in The New Yorker, where Joseph Mitchell was a staff writer from the late 1930s until he died in 1996. Among his best known pieces are the two that begin and end this collection, “Professor Sea Gull” and “Joe Gould’s Secret.” They tell the story of a homeless writer living in Greenwich Village and his supposed masterwork, The Oral History, which he claimed contained 20,000 conversations he had recorded over the course of his “research” since his graduation from Harvard in 1911. Mitchell’s mad-elegant essays about Joe Gould were published 20 years apart. Together, they form a long-view picture of a fascinating Village personality—one who often represented himself with half-truths or just plain lies. —Amy Rose

The Talented Mr. Ripley
Patricia Highsmith
1955, Coward-McCann/Cresset Press
I never tire of this book. Written and set in the 1950s, it is a psychological thriller that takes the reader from New York to the Italian coast. Tom Ripley is a man who wants so very much, comes from so very little, and is willing to do whatever it takes to get the life he covets. Tom is also consummate liar and something of a chameleon. He is the kind of man who makes himself into whomever people want or need him to be. Tom is skulking along in New York when he meets Herbert Greenleaf, who offers to pay him to fetch his rakish son, Dickie, who’s living off a trust fund in Mongibello, Italy, and return him to the United States. When Tom arrives in Italy, he is immediately entranced by Dickie and his American friend Marge. He envies their lifestyle, their sophistication, and how they seem to take their blessings for granted. Slowly but surely, Tom inserts themselves into their lives, hanging on with all his might as he realizes they’ve begun to tire of him. He is forced to do something drastic that will send him on the run across Italy, pretending to be Dickie, and searching, always searching for a way to stay in this new life he has found. Highsmith has written the loveliest of novels because there is so much empathy for Tom in her writing despite the terrible things he does. She clearly cares about this flawed man, and she makes us care about him too. It’s also just a really gripping book—the tension is almost unbearable from beginning to end. Highsmith so effectively puts us in Tom’s head that his fears become our fears, his joy our joy, his desires our desires. Tom Ripley is a man who has assumed so many identities, he can no longer remember who he once was. This book’s greatest trick is how it makes us believe that who the “real” Tom Ripley is never mattered at all. —Roxane

Heroines
Kate Zambreno
2012, Semiotext(e)
There’s a scene in Woody Allen’s movie Manhattan where Woody Allen’s character describes a female character as “the winner of the Zelda Fitzgerald Emotional Maturity award.” It’s supposed to be an insult, of course, reducing Zelda to the punch line of a joke about how intense she was, how emotional, with a palpable subtext about how she was somehow lesser than her husband, F. Scott Fitzgerald. In Heroines, Kate Zambreno revisits the biographies of women like Zelda, writers and artists who lived in the shadow of their famous-writer boyfriends/lovers/husbands and who, once they were no longer considered useful as muses to these men, were largely cast aside (Zelda died in a mental-institution fire). It’s also a very personal book, as which Zambreno weaves bits of her own story in with those of all these women, and uses their stories to ruminate on her position as a writer who is also someone’s wife. It’s a book that will remind you that your experiences—as well as the art you make—are just as valid as anyone else’s. —Anna F.

John Belushi Is Dead
Kathy Charles
2010, MTV Books
John Belushi Is Dead is about the side of Los Angeles that you don’t see in Francesca Lia Block‘s colorful, magical novels. This L.A. is gritty and sad and utterly devoid of magic. The plot revolves around Hilda and her friend Benji, who are both obsessed with celebrity deaths. Then Benji starts to get really dark and Hilda starts to pull away, then Hilda starts to hang out with another guy and Benji cannot handle it. It’s an incredible study in personality, why we become obsessed with certain things, why we keep secrets, and what our obsessions and secrets can do to us. It’s beautiful, sad, and filled with interesting tidbits about celebrity deaths and the underbelly of Hollywood. —Stephanie

God, If You’re Not Up There, I’m F*cked
Darrell Hammond
2011, HarperColins
This is both a recommendation and a trigger warning. Because if you have experienced physical and/or psychological abuse, torture, self-harm, and/or addiction and reading about such things is bad for your mental health, you should not read this book. If you, like me, have experienced any of those things and reading about them makes you feel less alone in this world, I recommend that you do read it. It’s the autobiography of the guy who did all those amazing impressions on SNL throughout the naughts: Bill Clinton, Jesse Jackson, Donald Trump, and about 100 more. It’s kind of about his career, but the real subject is his process of identifying the source of his lifelong inner turmoil—which happens, in such a sad twist that is not really surprising when you think about it, to be the same source of his uncanny talent for impersonating other people: his mother. Hammond’s mother seemed to love him only when he was doing impressions, which she had a knack for too. The rest of the time (maybe if you’re in that first group I talked about you stop reading now) she literally tortured him. With knives. With electrical wires. With threats, and with a fear that never leaves him. How convenient that the gift she gave him allowed him to do what he later used alcohol and drugs for too: to leave himself for a little while. I came to see his remarkable talent as the most complicated gem, formed by taking equal parts unimaginable pain and a stubborn desire to escape from that pain and throwing them into a fire together. I’m glad I read this book. It made me feel less alone. —Anaheed

Role Models
John Waters
2010, Farrar, Straus and Giroux
John Waters is not afraid to gush about his idols, and this collection of essays is an homage to the real-life characters that have inspired his films and his life over the years. I had read and enjoyed shorter works of Waters’s before, but what I loved about this book is that he really takes the time to go into detail about these people, exploring what it is about them that fascinates him so. You wanna read 34 pages on the greatness that is Rei Kawakubo? Oh man, has he got those for you! Waters combines his adoration of Kawakubo, Miles Davis, Little Richard, Tennessee Williams, and more with a genuine desire to humanize and understand them—with Leslie Van Houten, the onetime Manson Family member with whom he’d been obsessed since her murder trial, he attempts to reconcile the atrocity of her crimes with the good friend she’s become to him in the intervening years. It’s a personal, complicated piece that proves that Waters can write a thoughtful, contemplative essay almost as well as he can put together a delightfully trashy film. —Anna F. ♦
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Brecht Evens

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The Making Of




The Observer praises "gorgeous-looking" The Making Of

Updated February 25, 2013


The Making Of by Brecht Evens – review
The Belgian cartoonist's latest novel is an amusing tale about hubris, but it's the illustrations that really dazzle

Rachel Cooke
The Observer, Sunday 27 January 2013

Brecht Evens, the award-winning Belgian illustrator, wrote his new graphic novel, The Making Of, with the help of a grant from the Flemish Literature Fund – which is quite funny given that his book starts out as a neat little satire on the world of subsidies, festivals and all the other ways in which public money is used to help 21st-century artists survive; I wonder how much the fund's administrators knew about what he was doing when they gave him the cheque. Not that they've any cause to complain. Evens is the finest ambassador for Belgian illustration since Hergé, and his book, so original and so gorgeous-looking, comes with the warm-hearted message that, however silly and pompous this world can sometimes be, in the end, art only ever brings people together.

Peterson, a moderately successful artist, has been invited to participate in a biennial at a village called Beerpoele. He's quite puffed up about this, telling an old friend that he'll be "creating something in situ" when he gets there. But alas, all is not what it seems. Peterson was the only artist dumb enough – or desperate enough – to have agreed to participate in the festival, and its organiser, Kristof, is not some adoring arts professional, but an enthusiastic amateur aided and abetted by a small crowd of village misfits. Worst of all, he intends to put Peterson up, not in some swanky hotel, but in his mother's garage, which she has generously kitted out with a mattress, a potty and a goldfish bowl. Peterson, however, is not to be put off. Now he's here, he'll create something great: an ironic – and iconic – masterpiece fashioned from papier mache that will tower above Beerpoele, and have the Brussels critics flocking.

Needless to say, it all goes a bit wrong – this is a book about hubris, after all – and it's pretty funny watching Peterson's plans crumble about his ears (he fails even successfully to bed his newest groupie, a care home assistant with tomato-coloured hair). But the real pleasure of The Making Of lies not in its plot, however comical, but in the way it looks, which is remarkable. Evens, who works in watercolour, really is the quirkiest of illustrators (at the Angoulême international comics festival, his last book, The Wrong Place, was awarded a prize for "audacity", and it isn't too hard to see why). I love the way he uses colour to signify personality type – Kristof, big and loud, is red; Peterson, vain and just a little sleazy, is a liverish, retro shade of green – and his wild experiments with scale and perspective mean that, for him, pace is never a problem. Turning the pages, you never know what you'll find next: a scene from a children's fairytale, lush and magical; a comic strip, busy and droll; or a nightmare straight out of the lost sketchbook of Edvard Munch.
 
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Brecht Evens

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The Making Of




  The Making Of described by Bookgasm as "an experience possible in no other medium"

Updated February 25, 2013


by BRIAN WINKELER on DECEMBER 12, 2012

Released by Drawn and Quarterly, Brecht Evens’ THE MAKING OF looks like no graphic novel I’ve read before. He draws no borders between panels so that all action exists in an open space, which perfectly fits the medium he uses to illustrate his story.

All 160 pages contain luscious watercolor art, with simplistic yet expressive characters (whose un-ballooned dialogue is color-matched to each character’s primary palette) and large, surreal tableaus. It’s an artistic achievement that is also a fairly gripping read.

The unlikely protagonist is Peterson, a moderately successful Flemish artist and instructor who is invited by the small town of Beerpoele to be the artist-in-residence at its biennial celebration. The “city mouse visiting the country” trope is well-worn, but Evens has assembled a truly eccentric cast of small-town characters whose lack of sophistication is never viewed condescendingly, except by Peterson, who, essentially, is kind of a dick.

Peterson’s huge ego — fanned by his good-natured oaf of a host, Kristof — inspires him to lead the festival volunteers in the creation of a giant garden gnome, which he describes as “iconic, but also ironic,” when asked sincerely if the idea is “a bit kitsch?” The process — or “making of” the massive sculpture — reveals Peterson’s shallow nature and often cold disregard for the small town “artists,” but he’s not a one-dimensional character, and the unexpected climax reveals greater depth in his character than previously displayed.

Evens’ brushwork and dynamic color palette create an experience possible in no other medium (though it’d be a kick to see how it would look animated). THE MAKING OF could easily be translated into a quirky, heartfelt Best Foreign Language Film entry from Denmark – luckily, it exists as a graphic novel, and it’s one of the best released in 2012. —Brian Winkeler
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Brecht Evens

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The Making Of




Paste magazine features two D+Q books as 10 Best Comic Books of 2012

Updated February 25, 2013


The 10 Best Comic Books of 2012
BY HILLARY BROWN, SEAN EDGAR AND GARRETT MARTIN
Published at 8:53 AM on November 30, 2012

3. Jerusalem by Guy DeLisle

Jerusalem addresses complex and heated issues with grace and deft charm. Guy Delisle doesn’t pick sides, and he doesn’t let anyone off the hook, but he also doesn’t preach or depict himself in any noble light. The result seems to be a very real and well-rounded picture of day-to-day life, a journal comic that happens to be as much journalism as autobiography, with plenty of lightness that also doesn’t trivialize the situation in Jerusalem. Smart and fun, Jerusalem is undoubtedly one of the highlights of this year in comics. (HB)

2. The Making Of by Brecht Evens

The Making Of is an intelligent statement about the importance of process in making art that also functions as a fish-out-of-water narrative. The book looks great, unsurprisingly, with pages that could easily stand on their own as works of art. Evens isn’t afraid of awkwardness and comedy, two aspects that frequently intersect in his work and do so beautifully here. The Making Of looks at the decision to make art without being pretentious or annoying or flippant; it’s also genuinely enjoyable to read and, at 160 pages, it’s not over before you know it. That combination makes it one of the strongest comics published this year. (HB)
 
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Brecht Evens

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Jerusalem: Chronicles from the Holy City
The Making Of




  Publishers Weekly calls The Making Of, "brilliant"

Updated January 16, 2013


The Making Of
Brecht Evens. Drawn & Quarterly, $29.95 (160p) ISBN 978-1-77046-073-7

The contrast between creating art and building a community, and passion and pretension, is at the center of this beautiful, ink-wash Flemish import. Set in the fictional village of Beerpoele, the story reveals how Peterson, a minorly successful artist from the big city, is brought into a strange, amateur artistic community. Hoping to make their village a cultural center, the artists of Beerpoele are creating an exhibit for a biennial celebration. Peterson, dismayed at the cavalier attitude of the artists, wrangles them into creating a single big project as a team. But Peterson's leadership style soon has the other artists disillusioned with the project (though never with Peterson, whom they adore) and the impermanent nature of art is revealed in all too spectacular a fashion. Evens's abstract art breathes life into the small, quirky community—as well as city night clubs and art classes—and his washes of color are brilliant. The lettering style, using different colors of ink for different characters, helps establish unique voices. The story, however, is crowded with characters who are difficult to like, and Peterson's anti-hero nature may frustrate readers searching for a likable protagonist. (Sept.).

Reviewed on: 12/10/2012

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The Making Of




WKZO praises Brecht Evans' innovation

Updated January 15, 2013


Belgian graphic artist breaks with comic tradition
Monday, December 10, 2012 9:25 a.m. EST
By Madeline O'Leary

BRUSSELS (Reuters) - Comic artist Brecht Evens decided to break away from the traditional comic strip images of clear lines and pencil sketches developed in Belgium more than half a century ago.

After surviving at first on government subsidies, in 2010 he produced a graphic novel featuring vibrant watercolours and smudged scenes of sexuality and riotous nightlife, with characters blurred into their surroundings.

"The Wrong Place" - a graphic novel about the angst-filled night-time escapades of Robbie, a mysterious party animal - became an international success and made Evens the darling of the new wave of experimental comic artists currently sweeping across Belgium.

Traditional comics "seemed limited in what they could do and show", 26-year old Evens told Reuters. "They couldn't suck you in and just looked like toys laid out, or puppets."

His new style "lends movement and hustle and bustle".

Evens' success comes as graphic fiction, or comics, search for a new direction.

Traditional comic strips - with speech bubbles and clear pencil lines giving shape to the characters - are seen as old-fashioned. Even though they have die-hard fans in Belgium, that market is declining and was anyway tiny.

In big comic markets, such as Japan, South Korea and the United States, fans have long since moved on to new media, starting with television and now taking in smart phones and tablets. But these new media have flopped in Belgium, as readers are attached to the book-and-picture format.

Without new styles, the industry will not survive, says Johan Stuyck, professor at the Sint-Lukas School of Arts in Brussels and publisher at Oogachtend in Leuven.

"Those who stick to the old fashioned way of making comics, they are doomed," he says. "They will disappear."

Reverence for the past is perhaps unsurprising in a country with such a glorious history in comics.

Georges Remi, who worked under the pen name Herge, created Tintin in 1929 while working at Belgian newspaper Le XXe Siecle.

"The Adventures of Tintin" series became an immediate success and remained a top seller until the 1970s. "Spirou", the eight-page weekly magazine that disseminated comics to the Belgian public and gave artists exposure, was created in 1938.

Belgian artists pioneered the use of clear black lines to outline characters precisely and make them stand out against the background in the earlier half of the 20th century. Belgian comics went through another boom with the advent of the Smurfs in 1959.

But when new electronic and animated media emerged from the 1980s - and Hollywood eventually turned Tintin into a movie - Belgian artists largely shunned the new forms, as their conservative readers at home weren't interested.

Recently, however, Belgian artists have innovated in their own ways. Traditional comics required solid plots, like Tintin's traditional, documentary-style. For strips appearing in newspapers, artists had to provide a daily cliffhanger.

These are now disappearing in favor of vaguer, more psychological themes.

"Artists used to think more about their audience, what will work and what won't work," says Koen Van Rompaey, general director of Strip Turnhout, a Belgian comic festival. "Artists don't do that anymore. They do whatever they want."

They no longer stick to orderly strips to arrange their stories. And they sometimes don't outline their figures. That leads some illustrations - like Evens's - to lack structure and clarity, giving them an appearance of modernist paintings.

"Some are just drawing without tracing," says Stuyck. "The text is not necessarily put in balloons. It's experimental."

The new experimental styles are commercially risky, and publishers need to be patient with new artists. Most first works flop, selling just a few hundred copies and losing money. Success often comes only with a third book.

"Without those first two, the artist wouldn't have made a third," says Stuyck. "The publisher must take risks."

Even then, the Belgian market is saturated, with comic book production at a historic high, even as overall sales decline. Around 800 professional comic artists currently live and work in Belgium, says Willem De Graeve, director of the Belgian Comic Strip Centre.

One source of support is the Flemish Literature Fund, which provides government grants for illustrators working on the national art form in the Dutch dialect spoken in the northern half of Belgium.

"Without support from the Flemish Fund, this new wave of Flemish comics would not have been possible," Van Rompaey said. "It would have been five to 10 percent of what it is now."

During his final years at art school, Evens survived with help from this fund as he struggled with early drafts of "The Wrong Place".

His new style consisted of broad swathes of color with minimal line work. He then adds details in a series of layers.

"There are no pencil sketches. It differs from traditional comics because the lines and surfaces are independent," he says. "Traditionally, artists will make a pencil sketch, then trace over it in ink and add detail, then add color."

Critics loved "The Wrong Place", which has been translated in six different languages, placing Evens in the elite group of young, experimental Belgian artists that achieve more success globally than locally.

And now Evens has found a winning formula... he's going to change it.

"I wouldn't be happy with the feeling of pedaling in place," he said.

 
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Brecht Evens

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The Wrong Place




  Paste Magazine calls The Making Of "visually stunning"

Updated November 20, 2012


Comic Book & Graphic Novel Round-Up (8/29/12)
August 29, 2012 BY HILLARY BROWN, SEAN EDGAR AND GARRETT MARTIN

The Making Of
by Brecht Evens, trans. Laura Watkinson and Michele Hutchison
Rating: 9.3

...Brecht Evens’s work is always visually stunning, an intricate world of watercolor washes flooded with color and pattern, shaped by creative layout. Past incarnations of his vision have felt slightly lacking, though, like a party full of interesting people that doesn’t quite gel into a unified picture. But The Making Of is a step forward, an intelligent statement about the importance of process in making art that also functions as a fish-out-of-water narrative similar to a movie like Local Hero. The book looks great, unsurprisingly, with pages that could easily stand on their own as works of art. Those that subtly address different perspectives of the same scene, as with one that shows the path of a car from a distance juxtaposed with closer views of images viewed from its window, are especially rewarding. Evens always does a nice job with quickly sketching characters, and his habit of rendering dialogue in colors tied to individuals is an intelligent solution to differentiating them. He also isn’t afraid of awkwardness and comedy, two aspects that frequently intersect in his work and do so beautifully here. The Making Of looks at the decision to make art without being pretentious or annoying or flippant; it’s also genuinely enjoyable to read and, at 160 pages, it’s not over before you know it. That combination makes it one of the strongest comics published this year. (HB)...
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Giant Robot reviews The Making Of, Birdseye Bristoe, Gloriana

Updated August 27, 2012


Comics reviews: The Making Of, Birdseye Bristoe, Gloriana

Martin
Aug 15 2012

A lot of you left Comic-Con with the latest scoop on movies, TV shows, and toys. But what about comics? I finally finished my stash of advance and new titles from my favorite page pushers out of Montreal, and here are my takes. Of course, you should buy own copies at Giant Robot on Sawtelle or your local indie bookstore.Comics reviews: The Making Of, Birdseye Bristoe, Gloriana
Martin | 15, August 2012 | MW, News, Reviews Publications | No Comments


A lot of you left Comic-Con with the latest scoop on movies, TV shows, and toys. But what about comics? I finally finished my stash of advance and new titles from my favorite page pushers out of Montreal, and here are my takes. Of course, you should buy own copies at Giant Robot on Sawtelle or your local indie bookstore.



If you read the interview with Brecht Evens that I posted a couple of weeks ago, you already know about his painterly style, colorful aesthetic, and deceptively loose panels. It turns out that his artwork is beautiful to look at and fun to talk about but belie the Belgian artist’s formal composition and masterful storytelling. The Making Of tells the tale of a liberated artist who is expected to liven up an uptight art festival. The story addresses art, partying, and sex, and the effect is not cautionary or sordid but liberated. The subtly playful tone–as well as the subtle randomness, slapstick, and artfulness–remind me more of Blake Edwards’ The Party than any comic book that I’ve ever read, and it’s as much of a page-turner as it is a mind-blower.D. Zettwoch’s Birdseye Bristoe isn’t exactly bedtime reading. Every over-sized page is crammed with images, words, and references, and the point of view not only shifts between the main characters but smaller ones as well. To further challenge skimmers with short attention spans, the saga about a high-tech cell phone tower being erected in a small, rustic town is complemented by an unending barrage of asides that range from science fair projects to science fiction. (In the spread above, you can see not only a reference to the geodesic form that appears on the Suicidal Tendencies debut album but a footnote to Gamera movies.) It’s a testament to Zettwoch’s skill as a storyteller that the barrage of information enhances the mood and builds up the tension rather than diffuse or distract from the plot.The stories in the brand-new hardcover expanded collection of Glen Ganges strips by Kevin Huizenga typically begin with everyday events that trigger existential and scientific daydreams. As you read each story, you can feel the pacing quicken as the protagonist’s mind begins to wander and his fast-moving logic mutates into fantasy. History, astronomy, writing utensils, basketball, and Gamera (again!) are only some of the topics that are mixed and matched as simple errands lead to the end of the world. However, Gloriana never becomes close to boring or pretentious, as Huizenga is as self-deprecatingly committed to the humility of mini comics as he is to pushing the possibilities of the form.
 
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The Making Of




  Video of Brecht Evens at San Diego Comic Con, from An Empire of One

Updated July 19, 2012


Comic-Con 2012: the Geek Brigadoon


by David Kilmer

July 18 2012



...On Friday we found ourselves standing in line next to Matt (Life in Hell/The Simpsons/Futurama) Groening. This is not the first time I’ve found myself standing next to Mr. Groening at Comic-Con. (Maybe it’s because he has great taste, just like me.) However, I’ve never been able to say anything to him. However, as we waited in line with him on Friday, many people provided ample evidence that they do not have this problem.

While Groening was in line waiting just like the rest of us, innumerable fans stopped and asked to pose with him for photographs. He did. If I had the nerve, I would not be asking for a photo. I would ask him about Krusty the Clown’s availability for a starring role in The Tears of a Clown, a script I’ve written about a land of clowns and its clown president who loses office to a little girl who can’t even smile, let alone laugh. It’s hard to imagine anyone more perfect for the role of ClownWorld Prez than Krusty.

Here’s a making of video for the painting Brecht Evens did for Matt Groening. (I could have put up the video of Evens making the watercolor sketch he did below, but isn’t it more fun to use the one with Groening? Hopefully, Mr. Groening agrees.) Don’t expect to hear much talking – the audio mostly gives you an idea of how noisy it can get on the convention floor....
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THE WRONG PLACE is "an invigorating tale" says by the Guardian

Updated January 12, 2012


November 15, 2011
James Smart

There's always a party going on somewhere in Belgian cartoonist Evens's gorgeous fourth book, which uses watercolours to wonderful effect. Evens gives us riotous nightclubs, bulging tube trains and a one-night stand of shapes and smudges, but is just as fascinated by an awkward silence as by a good dancefloor. The book follows the relationship between Gary, a man so ostensibly colourless that he moves in shades of grey, and Robbie, a mysterious party animal who proceeds through the city like the Pied Piper, accepting compliments from almost everyone he passes. In his first story, Robbie's absence bleeds the life from Gary's house party; in the second he leaps from a pot plant to ravish shy Naomi; in the third a heart-to-heart turns into a fencing bout. Robbie takes strange routes through the city. Evens adopts similar tactics, painting a scene from behind a chair, or leading the eye in unexpected directions, to follow red hair through a crowd or conversations up a stairwell. The result is an invigorating tale of discomfort and joy, with artwork that captivates.
 
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  TCJ interviews BRECHT EVENS

Updated May 26, 2011


Brecht Evens' characters judge, love, party and gossip, in his lauded 2010 graphic novel, The Wrong Place. Most of us who encountered the work last year had little context for its author, but lately he's been on everyone's lips (almost literally, according to Pascal Girard's recent diary comics, where Evens' penchant for cheek-kissing and his party antics at MoCCA 2011 are recounted with fascination and bemusement). Despite what readers may think (between the setting of The Wrong Place, and Girard's diary), Evens did not produce his lengthy graphic novel between drinks, in the bathroom of a nightclub. We'll hear from Evens himself about work and play in Belgium, but first there's the medieval city where his painting came to life.
I had the pleasure of visiting Gent completely by accident in 2008. Eating dinner at a squat in Amsterdam, I saw a poster for an Alternative Bookfair. On a whim, my traveling companion and I decided to go, and after locating Gent on a map (it's in northwest Belgium), we found some hosts online and hitchhiked there a few days later. The fair was a bust, but the sleepy town captivated me completely. A river runs through the city; lampposts are topped with St Michael the dragon slayer defeating his foe; and a castle sits at city center. We walked past Sint-Lucas Visual Arts as our hosts showed us around town; "This is a very well respected art school, but I think you have to speak Dutch..." We wandered on and visited a comic shop. Meanwhile, back at Sint-Lucas, Brecht Evens was hard at work. His lengthy commitment to making comics has led him through many styles; but it was his enrollment in Sint-Lucas, and in particular the critical guidance of his mentor, the painter Goele Dewanckel, that really pushed him to explore alternative tools and methods and eventually ditch the pen for a paintbrush. In his five years of study, he went from making comedic genre fiction to a 180-page dance of characters and colors, his final school project; what we in the English-speaking world have come to know as The Wrong Place.
Evens is hesitant to call himself a part of a "scene," citing his international outlook. However, this outlook seems to characterize a group of young, upcoming Belgian cartoonists, whose work is cross-pollinated by many art forms and locales: Evens' former classmate and friend Brecht Vandenbroucke has found an international presence online and in various publications through the likes of England's Nobrow Press and the Latvian anthology KUS!; former Brussels inhabitant and fellow Belgian Olivier Schrauwen is poised for the release of a full-length English graphic novel through Fantagraphics; not to mention Evens' friend and another mentor, Randall C, whose book Sleepyheads has just been translated and released by Blank Slate. With an implicit cultural immersion in the Franco-Belgian comics tradition, access to modestly priced public arts education, and the ability to make a living through their work and state grants, these artists are able to explore their own voice and potential to the fullest. Multilingualism abounds; Evens' own ability as a polyglot leaves almost no work unreadable and no opportunity lost. Within this framework, Evens has produced magnificent comics, of which I'm sure there are only more to come.
Born in 1986, Evens is a young artist. Part of what makes his youthfulness significant is that he belongs to a generation that grew up with the Internet, and thus one can follow almost his entire artistic formation through his website and blog, with commentary in Flemish. With online translators these days, even that is not a huge impediment. Evens candidly displays his past work in a timeline on his website, from childhood scribbles to genre fantasy to the "stoner" comics of his adolescence. Evens' online presence certainly contributed to his international rise. The Dutch edition of The Wrong Place, Ergens waar je niet wil zijn (Somewhere you don't want to be), was published by Oogachtend, which had already published a few of his previous works. His entry into the French market was another story. Thomas Gabison, an editor at Actes Sud BD (the comics division of a larger publisher), found Evens' work on an American website, and followed a path of links back to Evens' blog, where he saw images of the Escher-esque staircase that would eventually grace the cover of The Wrong Place. Evens was still in school at the time, finishing work on the book under the guidance of Dewanckel. Gabison inquired as to whether Evens was working on a graphic novel, and was shown more work soon after, at a book festival. Impressed by what he saw, and with help from the Flemish Literature Fund, the book was published in 2010 as Les NoceurIn Les Noceurs, characters traipse through dazzling nightclub scenes and bedrooms, appearing many times per page in a Winsor McCay like manner, foregoing bounding box and gutter. Rhythmic, gridded passages creep in and out through the book; small personal moments are foregrounded on pure white. Evens' transparent inks layer to show movement, ambience, passions and chills, as color-coded voices are thrown across the page. His work displays both subtlety and visual intricacy, with the intent of a practiced artist.
Les Noceurs quickly gained critical acclaim, and was soon published in English by Drawn & Quarterly as The Wrong Place. At Angoulême 2011, the French edition took home the "Prix de l'Audace," a relatively new but fitting prize for "audacious" works. Evens has also been nominated for an Eisner for Best Painter/Multimedia artist for The Wrong Place.
Evens was kind and patient as we conducted this interview via e-mail over the course of the last two months. Evens now lives and works in Brussels.
- Sophie Yanow
SOPHIE YANOW: Can you talk about your early exposure and forays into comics?
BRECHT EVENS: My sister Sara and I read and reread our Franco-Belgian comics every day after school. She's four years older than me and she taught me to read and write. She's a language teacher now, like my parents. I started drawing comics in kindergarten: the characters were stickmen. Sara re-drew some of these more pretty and elaborate, until I felt I surpassed her as a draftsman. After that, we still worked together sometimes, but I was a very arrogant and difficult little artist to work with.
YANOW: Which comics were you reading?
EVENS: Tintin, Suske & Wiske, Kiekeboe, Urbanus,...
YANOW: Did your parents encourage you on your path as an artist and cartoonist?
EVENS: I couldn't imagine more encouraging, supportive parents. Also, we read and traveled a lot. My mother draws well, and my father, Jos, wrote some stories and plays, which I couldn't bear to read (because of sex scenes written by my dad). He improvised stories to tell us on camping trips, ending every daily installment with a cliffhanger, until we became too adolescent an audience and had to switch to Whist. We even had to stop mid-story then. I think the story was about mysterious natural phenomena, omens and premonitions of we'll never know what.
YANOW: Whist, as in the card game?
EVENS: Yes.
YANOW: So do you find traces of these early stories creeping into your work at all?
EVENS: If they have anything in common? Maybe... They were always stories about failure.
YANOW: Do you feel connected to a particular "old guard" of European cartoonists?
EVENS: They probably have a big unconscious influence, having read them so much as a kid. But now I mostly look at painters and writers - and maybe cinema, though I'm more suspicious of cinema's influence. As much as possible I want to avoid making cinema on paper, with frames, "camera angles" and images that are photographic.
YANOW: Which painters and writers are you excited about right now?
EVENS: Lately I've been excited about David Hockney, Saul Steinberg and medieval/Eastern drawings, and I'm reading Albert Cohen's' Belle du Seigneur (for what must be months now).
YANOW: What excites you about them?
EVENS: The original forms, shapes: the tweaking of perspective to serve the picture, to show more. In Hockney and the medieval artists there's a personal, unconventional synthesis of nature.
BELGIUM
YANOW: I want to help readers further contextualize your work a little bit. Describe a day and a night in Belgium. Feel free to take the train between Gent and Brussels.
EVENS: I take that train a lot: it's only 30 minutes. But let's stick with a lonelier day in Brussels. Get up around 1pm: read e-mails and ponder over occasional paperwork. Do shopping. Breathe deeply and go to the atelier around 5pm. Pace back and forth on the roof. Work picks up speed at sundown. Work loses speed around 1am. Go home, maybe a drink in the very late-night bar on the corner, strike up or avoid conversation. At home, watch series and eat. Fall asleep reading/digesting around 6am.
YANOW: You've mentioned your mentors in Gent, Goele Dewanckel and Randall C, were responsible for "kicking open doors in [your] head," as well as your former classmate Brecht Vandenbroucke, and nearby cartoonist Olivier Schrauwen. How important is an artistic community to you?
EVENS: It keeps me sharp. I need people who look at my work with a skeptic frown, slightly biting their lower lip, so I too take a fresh, worried look. But it's only natural that a lot of my friends are artists or the like, work and social life go in the same blender. Conversation in my artistic community is roughly 80% love life, 40% art (there's overlap). I sporadically seek out Goele, my former illustration teacher, to get a proper evaluation. Randall and Brecht are important. Olivier, alas, lives in Berlin, and he mumbles.
YANOW: You went to school for illustration, despite the fact that there are many comics-oriented programs in Europe. You've said that you would encourage others to avoid these comics programs in favor of illustration programs. Can you elaborate?
EVENS: It's not so much about studying illustration vs. studying comics. You need your education to give you a wide scope. In illustration we also looked at comics. You just need to find good, demanding teachers wherever they are. At Sint-Lucas Gent, illustration smelled like more of a challenge, and it was. I only started getting it right in the final (fourth) year, when I started to work on The Wrong Place. Night Animals was made before that, in 2007, and is still a bit sterile in comparison. YANOW: I imagine "getting it right" must have involved a lot of experimentation. You drew a 24-Hour comic in between Vincent (2006) and Night Animals (2007). Was that your first "performance comic" of this type? Did it change your process on later projects?
EVENS: Which comic are you talking about?
YANOW: I believe it was called Droom Met De Zeevruchten ("Dream with Seafood"). I know you also had a later one that was painted on a long scroll.
EVENS: Oh, yeah! It was a dream I had, with seafood as the fruits of freedom. A very tall girl in a police uniform offered me a plate and said, "Take a mussel, you have to taste it once in your life." But the mussel got blubbery as I tried to pick it out of the shell. I'm forgetting what the question was... Ah, process! Working at high speed is a useful experiment; you stumble upon new solutions. I stopped making elaborate pencil-sketches around that time.
YANOW: So you transitioned to a more immediate way of working. What happened instead of the sketches?
EVENS: For Night Animals I started drawing directly in ink. For The Wrong Place I worked in direct color, working my way up from light colors to darker colors, making many little decisions on the way. When I make a drawing now, I don't know what it will look like until it's finished.
YANOW: You produced Night Animals while you were studying abroad. What was it like making work in a new environment, without the same support structure?
EVENS: I studied in Barcelona for six months. A lot of people in that class made comics, which probably helped to erase the imaginary border between comics and illustration.
YANOW: Were these students also interested in a non-cinematic approach?
EVENS: I can't remember discussing it, but their work did not have any annoying camera-effects. In Barcelona I got to know the work of Clara-Tanit Arqué, Alberto Vazquez, Martin Romero, ...
YANOW: The opening scene in The Wrong Place was based on one of your earlier short stories, which you've said was "more judgmental." Can you talk about the first iteration of the story and its origins?
EVENS: The original short story was called "Waiting for Robbie," published in Hic Sunt Leones 2 in 2007. It was what I had in mind for the rest of The Wrong Place that was more judgmental, not that first scene. "Waiting for Robbie" had only three characters, the host and two guests, plus every time the host calls Robbie you hear Robbie's voice and enticing sounds in the background. And it had more of a gag-punch line ending.
YANOW: Your love life is clearly pretty important to you. You've said, for example, that the story for The Wrong Place changed drastically after you began having one-night stands. So why did this change affect the story and the way you felt about the different characters?
EVENS: Of course my love life is important to me! But I was making a broader point, I hope: I started dreaming up the book in 2006, when I was 20 years old. By the time I got to actually making the book, I had lived more nightlife and gathered more real, lived or overheard chunks of dialogue and anecdote to replace the more outlandish, noirish parts of the story that no longer rang true. And it has to ring true: you have to believe in the world your creating.
YANOW: In The Wrong Place, you've said you feel that the characters' identities are often made up for them by others. Do you feel that way about your own identity? About identity in general?
EVENS: Yeah. To speak for myself, I feel like my identity is a story that me and a lot of other people made up together. Most adjectives we would use to describe ourselves only have meaning in a comparison with other people. But we should probably say 'image'? The book has the characters projecting an image on each other, and attempting to control their own image. The image we have of ourselves and the image other people have of us interact. My father is my Father to me, a particular package. When he is with me a part of him is probably looking at himself through my eyes, and this will make him feel like my Father. While answering your questions I feel like the Author, which makes me say things like "I was making a broader point." An hour ago I felt like the Stranger at the Laundromat.
YANOW: Can you talk about the process of drawing scenes and creating characters for The Wrong Place? Of course you needed to do some planning before painting a page, but did the story flow from exploring these scenes with the characters, or did you already know the ending when you began?
EVENS: I decided on the ending somewhere halfway. Most of the scenes were drawn right after I wrote them, which is good because with the dialogue fresh and alive in my head it was easier to get the expressions and gestures right. I think I gave myself a lot of freedom to just let the story flow from what I thought the characters would do. You can draw out a plot, then write the characters until they come alive, look back at the plot and think, "Nah, he wouldn't," and take sides with the character rather than the plot.
NEW WORK
YANOW: You've gone back to creating sword-and-sorcery fantasy comics in a strip called Idulfania. After a long break from this kind of work, what compelled you to return to it?
EVENS: I was asked to do short three-panel comics for a Brussels newspaper, for the kids' page. The target age for these comics is 9-13, and I was easily pulled into any kind of fantasy at that age. I try to avoid making "fantasy-jokes," parody that only refers to fantasy. But I'm all for dumb jokes.
YANOW: There definitely seems to be a tide of meta-narrative when it comes to fantasy comics these days. Do you think you'd ever try to pursue a more "adult" story in a setting like this?
EVENS: The PictureBox people, like Brian Chippendale, Lauren Weinstein, CF, are great at this. I love their work; they create beautiful worlds. I don't think I'm going to do a story in a fantasy or SF setting, but in a way the disco in The Wrong Place already is a fantasy world, an infinite, impossible building, like the spaces in our dreams.
YANOW: Have you had exposure to a lot of "alt" comics creators from the U.S.? Is it easy to get this stuff over there?
EVENS: Yes, as far as I know. We have good comic shops.
YANOW: Could you describe the themes or story of your next long book, The Making Of?
EVENS: It's about events taking place at a small-town art festival, and it's a more plot-driven story. But the same things have excited me this time; searching how to arrange things on a page (how to "show everything") and showing people behaving in ways. There's a lot of plants, that's why I was looking at David Hockney and the Eastern art.
YANOW: Your comics often take place at parties or festivals; you've done plenty of fun experimental comics and you've also participated in what I might call "comics concerts," where you draw while a band plays. How important is "play" in your work?
EVENS: Work is like play, serious play. When a kid plays he's pretty serious about it. I like what Lynda Barry says about this, about "deep play," where the puppets come alive. And another thing I read about play, about computer games, also applies: That the fun is in the right proportion of new challenges and doing what you already master.
YANOW: Why is the new project called The Making Of...? Do you usually name your projects before they're finished?
EVENS: Yes. Someone in the book takes pictures of the buildup to the art festival; she documents the "making of." And the word has a wider resonance.
YANOW: You received a grant from the Flemish Literature Fund for your last book. Will they continue to help you for the publication The Making Of...?
EVENS: Yes. I can work on the book almost full-time, thanks to another grant.
YANOW: How has your creative process changed for this story?
EVENS: I made a complete storyboard beforehand. (A decoupage, how would you call that?) And then changed most of it in the process of drawing, but with that storyboard to start from. It was fun, making that storyboard.
YANOW: You've been nominated for an Eisner. You've already received the relatively new prize for "audacious" works from Angoulême. What's your reaction to these awards and nominations?
EVENS: It's encouraging. And I love to tell my parents, who keep press clippings.

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The Comics Grid gives THE WRONG PLACE a glowing review!

Updated May 19, 2011


The Wrong Place, by Belgian Brecht Evens, recently got an award in Angoulême for audacity, and it is easy to see why. The first thing that calls attention, just by glancing at the book, are Even’s loose watercolors, distancing himself from the expected emphasis on the trace and contour that prevail in comics. The surprise, though, is that The Wrong Place is more than just a beautiful book made by a skilful visual artist, as it is so common to find. Evens’s style comes hand in hand with a happy awareness of the mechanisms of graphic storytelling, and explores the possible combinations between word and image and the reading directions on the page.

The first part of the book takes place in a party, in an apartment. This specific page reveals those common small rituals and social codes so familiar in these festive occasions, when the guests are just arriving. The only character that we can actually see is Gert – the host, and protagonist in this part of the story (and even so, the author is economic to the point of just giving us Gert’s head, one hand and some contour of his back). The rest of the characters in the scene are only barely suggested: yellow and green circles indicating heads, shoes, hands, eyes, mouth. The same metonymic logic applies to the space of the apartment: if the door – as the place of arrival – gains a little more definition as it concentrates more activities, the rest of the apartment is suggested not by a delimitated space composed of floor, ceiling and walls, but by objects spread across the page (a lamp, a hi-fi and a photo frame) functioning as symbolic shortcuts for the whole.

Besides characters and scenario, the third – and most interesting – visual element that composes this page is the text. On the content level, what we have is a sample of the familiar small talk typical from these situations. The dialogues follow conversational patterns that make the flow very predictable and repetitive, with lines involving instructions on how to get to the place (Gert asks three times, with the same words “did you find it alright?”), followed by asking what the guests wish to drink, or remarks on the house decoration (“you’ve got the same IKEA’s chairs as us”) or guest’s figurine (“oh, you’ve got the same tights as me”).

The content (or lack of content) of the dialogues, is reflected in the way they are visually arranged. Here, it is not the silences that are meaningless, but precisely the need of breaking a potential uncomfortable silence and reduce the tension with any topic, even if just fillers. This purely phatic communication is translated visually, with words (more than anything else) filling blank spaces of the page. Everything that is said in this page is basically chatter to fulfill the function of initial bonding.

And this is also efficiently reproduced visually: instead of adopting a sequential order of panels, what we see are different moments developing in the same image, in the same apartment space, reproducing the same temporality and confusion existent in parties. It’s true that the absence of panels compromises a sequential order of events, but this is compensated by the text, that can still be read from top to bottom, in three diagonal lines that go from the top left of the page to the bottom right. That organization obeys not only a temporal logic, but also a spatial one, going from the door – where everything begins – to the living room inside the apartment in the adjacent page, creating a sense of progression and development. In the absence of balloons, corresponding colors help to identify who’s speaking.

These are only a few of visual solutions that make this book succeed in the task of integrating artistic skills to a larger narrative program. While it keeps the reader busy to figure out his way along the pages, offering a considerable variety of styles and reading possibilities, The Wrong Place avoids the temptation of gratuitous visual tricks and manages to maintain a coherent tension between showing and telling.
 
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  Reviewer gushs about THE WRONG PLACE by BRECHT EVENS

Updated May 12, 2011


This comic by Brecht Evens is like nothing I've seen before. It's amazingly painterly, created with watercolor in vivid colors. There are so many thin layers of loose blob shapes that come together somehow to make the characters and settings. Often the layers are so transparent that patterns from the floor, or drawings of other people, are visible underneath other drawings. This works particularly well in the crowded party scenes creating energy, motion and confusion. There is also a great use of light and shadows that adds another layer of interest to the compositions. The story centers around a group of 20-somethings all captivated by a guy named Robbie: women want to sleep with him, guys want to look like him, everyone wants to be his friend. It's a fun read filled with party scenes and realistic dialogue. Because the text is un-contained and there's no obvious direction you're supposed to read them in, your eyes just float around the page reading the conversations very naturally. I really enjoyed both the story and the style of this book which is rare. You should get a copy right here.
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Nick Gazin of VICE digs THE WRONG PLACE

Updated March 11, 2011


This is one of the best comics I’ve seen in years. Each page is beautifully illustrated with gesturally drawn watercolor people who look like candy. The compositions, colors, poses, lettering–it’s all perfect. There’s something about the poses, situations, and the location of the “camera” in relation to the people that reminds me of Eddie Campbell, although I find his work dull. This stuff is like if you replaced his scratchy little lines and people with a luscious cornucopia of patterns and color.

The book’s chiefly about two characters: Gary, who’s fairly tame, and his old friend Robbie, a party boy who everyone loves and gossips about. The first half of the book shows a party at Gary’s apartment in which everyone seems uncomfortable and mostly talk about the absent Robbie. The second half follows the characters to a nightclub where Robbie is worshiped and it seems like anything is possible. Going any farther into the plot would be pointless as there isn’t a totally straightforward plot. It’s all made up of little instances. There are moments of conversation at Gary’s disaster of a party as people inadvertently reveal the kind of people they really are. The camera always keeps an objective distance and we never really get inside any of the characters heads too much but that doesn’t seem like a major problem when the art’s this pretty. Although we never really identify with any one character too much it does feel exactly like you’re witnessing everything as a ghost. I got the sense that Brecht Evans resented all the characters, or at least I resented them all. They all seemed like shallow jerks, maybe they just reminded me of people I know.
It’s rare to find a new good long comic these days. I say this a lot as a joke but Brecht Evans really is the guy I am most excited about seeing more new work from. Every page of this book is like tasty, tasty candy.

 
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  THE WRONG PLACE reviewed by Sean T. Collins

Updated March 4, 2011


The brightness of Brecht Evens’s watercolor reds may well have been the only thing that helped The Wrong Place pass my traditional “if it doesn’t appeal to you at first glance, you’ve got other books to read” test. See, I’d assumed it was just one of those froofy Euro-art comics of the sort Nick Gazin describes here as “new-age bologna.” It’s just not a visual or tonal aesthetic that speaks to me. It’s also not The Wrong Place at all.

No, here’s something that is in actual fact closer to that elusive, perhaps mythical “Okay, so I like Scott Pilgrim — what else is there?” comic than to anything else: A fun, funny, sexy, insightful comic about the lives of urban twentysomethings that doesn’t pull punches about their shortcomings but also doesn’t beat you bloody with them either, told with a unique visual vocabulary that pops off the page and makes you jealous of the creator who came up with it. The two books couldn’t possibly look more different, of course — just for example, everyone remembers Bryan Lee O’Malley’s invitingly slick manga/videogame/cartoon black-and-white line, while Evens’s lush and liquid watercolors have no real lines to speak of. But O’Malley’s pop-culture grab-bag shorthand and Evens’s symphonic color-coding both serve the same purpose: Giving the reader ready-made and memorable character designs, the better to reveal character through those designs’ interactions with the environment and with one another. In Evens’s case this mostly means tracking two polar-opposite friends, legend-in-his-own-time bon vivant Robbie (he’s blue!) and dependable, well-liked but never really well-loved Gary (he’s gray!), as well as the (presumably) latest girl to spend one crazy night with Robbie, Olivia (she’s red!).

What I like best about how things play out is that Evens resists the temptation (one I thought would be irresistible) to lecture us about the shortcomings of each character’s monochromatic approach to life. Sure, Robbie’s “on” enough to make him a nice place to visit but not live, but at no point is there any indication that his life-of-the-party lifestyle is anything but fulfilling and sincerely lived; moreover he appears to genuinely care about the well-being of everyone he comes in contact with — old friends, new lovers, random people at the club, everyone. Gary’s comparative dreariness engenders empathy, not pity or disgust; I think his motives for staying in the shadow of his friend and not taking the kinds of chances Robbie takes are clear and sympathetically portrayed — that lifestyle really isn’t for everyone! — and moreover he’s a genuine and caring guy too. Olivia decides to take a chance, and as a reward has an awesome night and reality-warping sex with a super-hot and funny and interesting dude; there’s a tinge of regret in a thoughtfully colored scene after the fact, but as best I can tell it goes unheard by Robbie and presumably the two of them, being grown-ups, wake up the next morning and go on with their lives, their experience together having enriched it just that much.

I’m glad no one has an arc to speak of. Why should they? It’s just a cartoonist painting the living shit out of parties and club nights and sex scenes and subway rides, the stuff people’s lives are made of, and sometimes those lives don’t have arcs.
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EDEN and THE WRONG PLACE reviewed by The Boston Globe

Updated March 4, 2011


My favorite is Brecht Evens’s “The Wrong Place,” an exhilaratingly sensual book about jealousy and desire among a group of hip, young urban adults and the leader of the pack, Robbie, a very elusive life of the party. Evens is a Flemish watercolorist who populates his pages with distinctive characters such as the mercurial, magnetic Robbie; his stand-in host, Gary, a Hendrix fan; and Waldo, a schlub whose sad story becomes part of the Robbie myth. The look of Evens’s illustrations is reminiscent of watercolor wash; figures seem to melt into one another. This fizzy little novel is all about buzz, gossip, sex, and having fun. It’s so busy and exuberant you wish you could join the party.

Two graphic novels dwell in fantasy: Pablo Holmberg’s delightful, minimalist “Eden” and Charles Burns’s queasy, creepy “X’ed Out.” Holmberg’s little book is decidedly nonlinear: This whimsical medieval folktale consists of a series of four-panel comic strips, each of which depicts a comic king and his queen and other characters in specific situations. The logic of “Eden” is not continuous but rather dreamlike. It is a charming book that leaves a sweet, surreal aftertaste. Burns’s first book since the epic, disquieting “Black Hole” is a kind of horror-show homage to the French comic “Tin Tin.” In it, teenager Doug, suffering from a head injury, follows his cat, Inky, through a hole in the wall, entering a universe populated by noseless thugs and monocular reptiles. Flashbacks and dreams alternate as Doug tries to remember what happened to him. This is the first installment of what Burns intends to be a three-part work. It’s scary and tantalizing and whets the appetite for the next unsettling piece.
 
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  The Hooded Utilitarian reviews THE WRONG PLACE

Updated February 18, 2011


The revelers which fill the stairwell of Brecht Evens’ cover painting seem like a code for the contents of his book, ever striving for the space which occupies the right topmost corner of that image. They are dressed as for a masque: a conga line of harlequins, butterflies, angels, fairies, gauchos, ballerinas and Greek gods; ancient bacchants holding fiddles and rattles, sitting astride tandem bicycles and hobby horses; leaching on to the front and end papers of the book design, an account of the history of gaiety and debauchery.


As with the divided space of the book’s cover, Evens’ tale is performed in three acts and a coda. The ten guests which we see arriving at Gary’s apartment in the opening pages of the comic are about to discover they have arrived at the “wrong place”. The fault lies not with the host for he has been meticulous in his preparations: bottles of wine and spirits have been laid out for consumption; vodka has been chilled in the freezer; the hors d’oeuvres laid out neatly on flat serving trays. New seats from Ikea have been purchased for the visitors, their configuration conforming to the owner’s passion for predictability and practicality.

A party game is initiated and an awkward silence descends upon the group. The interactions suggest Beckett by way of Woody Allen. The negative space which borders these exchanges have a hint of Jules Feiffer. A perfectly congenial soiree spoiled by the fact that the anticipation of the group is not for the host but for his childhood friend, Robbie, an expectant and missing guest who has an indefinable and mythical allure.

An empty seat betrays his absence.



Like disciples awaiting the risen Christ, their muted conversations never stray far from this overarching fascination. They speak in cloistered groups jealously guarding their communication, quietly yearning for his return. Their stories concern thaumaturgy and legendary tribulations: a night club transformed by his miraculous touch into a haven of exquisite sin; …



… a wife accidentally shot in a hunting accident when mistaken for a duck (a tale once ascribed to a fellow guest now grafted indelibly on to Robbie’s legend). The cult is only dissolved when the eschatology is dismantled through a series of despairing phone calls denying his advent.



In an interview with Sean T. Collins, Evens explains one point of origin for his comic:

“I got started on the right track by looking at a book of early 20th-century Georg Grosz drawings, Ecce Homo. There’s a lot of cityscapes with skewed perspectives. In one of them there’s a prostitute sitting on a chair, viewed from behind. She’s all dressed, but through the back of the chair you see her naked. A lot of what I now do in my drawings comes from that, the transparency, see-through walls, people, things…”



[Dusk, George Grosz]

The influence is unmistakable and seen right from the outset: the overlapping colors and translucent forms congealing in the crush of a subway train, then processed into solid blocks to denote a physical and emotional separation.



There are crevices allowing us access into a world of voyeurs; a myriad figures moving dynamically and chaotically through the streets on a canvas divided by architecture and light – a purulent dissemination reiterated in the crush of Evens’ compressed and overlapping cityscapes less Grosz’s anger and pessimism; here replaced with a gaze which is hallucinogenic and addictive, seemingly acquiescent to the allure of modern living.



[The City, George Grosz]



An intrinsic part of the experience of perusing the first chapter of The Wrong Place is the act of rereading; a process which allows readers to find their way across a page where the dialog is arranged in staggered horizontal pairs; to make sense of the disassociated words which border a scene in a sitting room. While these words are color-coded to the attire of the characters, their sources often remain hidden, the voices severed from any person except in retropsect.



In a purposeful disregard for sequence, the reader’s eyes are led up and down a stairwell probing for markers to identify Gary’s visitors, searching for their likenesses in the people traversing the streets of the city earlier in the book.



It is as if we were guests at the gathering ourselves, discovering names, understanding histories, sharing in the social floundering. The experience is halting, uncomfortable and occasionally humorous, a stark contrast with the relative ease with which we glide into Robbie’s world in the second chapter. It is here we find Naomi’s long journey into the arms of that “lothario”. She is permanently attired in red…



…and we first see her bumping into Gary in a subway train on the fourth page of Even’s book, cowed by the crush of commuters and even less socially adaptable then that failed host. We only make the connection between this figure and the woman preparing for a night out in the second chapter through their shared flower-print coat. Her friend and personal dresser is bedecked in the green absinthe which emanates from the Chinese and Moroccan lamps that hang from the ceiling of the club they decide to visit. Their separation is inevitable and swift.



The crimson hue of Naomi’s dress allows us to chart her solitary progress though this dimly lit wonderland…



…a world of confusion and paradox which Naomi traverses like a Penrose staircase, a mystery created by the chronological plasticity of panels in sequence.



That blush of skin and clothing suggest not only a sense of displacement but also a permanent state of embarrassment, arousal and lust. No surprise then that she is seized upon by Robbie as a nymph by a satyr.



It is an effortless seduction and her euphoria is mirrored in the colors which gradually infiltrate the once opaque club.



Robbie’s irresistible charisma is revealed through his words, his actions, and the seduction of the artist’s brush; an instrument which turns the simple act of covering Naomi’s eyes with one of her stockings into an evocative mix of shadow, color and tone; …



… a touch which molds a simple indoor garden into a lush haven of music, light and forgotten memories, …



… and transforms a flash of ecstasy into a mesmerizing series of stuttering chromatic lines and washes.



It is not Robbie who seduces us with his conversation, physique or sartorial sense but each level of the club he calls his second home, each saturated with the exotic aromas of food, intimacy and orgiastic sex. This is where Evens succeeds so thoroughly in The Wrong Place, these acts of enchantment which allow the reader to grasp with ease the utterly addictive nature of Robbie’s world.



When the moment is over, Naomi lies back in her bed fully sated. The bedside lamp is switched off and for the first time she is swallowed, body and soul, by the vacant darkness…



…that same shroud which envelops Robbie at the close of the first chapter.



Her partner lies quietly by her side in bed, his form suggested by the folds in the sheets, her solitude emphasized by the absence of any other clear signs of his presence or humanity. In this illusive play of light and shadow it is never entirely clear whether her lover remains with her or has already departed, whether the pleasures which preceded this point were the products of hallucination or reality, whether she has in fact arrived at the right place.

This sequence towards the close of the second chapter is described by Evens as a “joyride ending in separation and anticlimax“, a prelude to a similar moment which closes the third chapter of this book. This last chapter is largely expository in nature and overlaced with metaphor. There is a long conversation between Gary and Robbie in the bowels of the cavernous club and then the suggestion of a choice between adult responsibility, and childhood contentment and freedom. The decision to make Gary’s new job that of a playground manager perhaps pushes this idea too far where more subtlety would have been preferable.

Robbie is, of course, the boy who never grew up, an incandescent child without a single inhibition. His club, the “Disco Harem”, is a chic Neverland filled with pirates, Indians and other exotic creatures; a world filled with the kind of “wonderful thoughts” that allow people to fly, a type of intoxication which Gary is unwilling or unable to partake of.



He can only stare down at gathered crowd, this confluence of childhood memories and desires, like an administrator. For an instant, he almost dares to join them.



Then the moment is over …



…and he is crawling back into a familiar geometric darkness. His back is turned towards us as he traverses a passageway heavy with eyes of expectation.

The last we see of him is a shape bowed down and cast in black and white; just like the barely discernible “party animals” of his youth who look back at him in portraits lining the exit, all shaded in dusky uncertainty, all tired, old and dull.


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Forbidden Planet calls WRONG PLACE "so right"

Updated February 18, 2011


This first English language release from Belgian artist Evens is all about colour, moods, conversations, and people.
It’s concerned with charismatic leading men and the lives they affect, whether it’s women seduced by their charm or men drawn into strange, inexplicably enduring friendships. It paints, with simply gorgeous watercolours, a beautiful, opulent and lurid portrait of modern manners, in all their painfully awkward details.
Wrong Place is all about the far too charismatic Robbie, although for almost half the book, it’s Robbie’s absence that defines and drives the story. And it’s also about Naomi, who finds herself literally bulldozed into bed by Robbie’s charm at a party. But first, it’s about Gary, who claims a long-standing friendship with Robbie, but who couldn’t be further from the life and soul of the party if he tried.
Gary throws a party, and an impressive number of guests show up. But they’re all there to see Robbie, who’s meant to be coming. Poor Gary overdoes everything, trying too hard to be a perfect host, his feeble attempts to please just come across as desperately needy and his party is a joyless, horrible experience:

(Gary’s party, where all the guests feel they’re in the wrong place. Beautiful use of colour to delineate the moods and characters of those present – Gary’s drab, dull grey world is momentarily enlivened by the colour bubble of the guests. From The Wrong Place by Brecht Evens, published by Drawn & Quarterly)
It’s a party I’ve been to. You probably have as well. The party you get to and instantly realise that you need to leave and spend the next three hours making stilted, uncomfortable and barely polite conversation whilst working out which excuse will work best to get you out of there.
It takes merely a few pages to feel desperately uncomfortable along with Gary’s guests, such is Evens’ ability to convey a mood through the careful use of so much colour, with every character given a different tone, a different mood through colour:

(Poor, dull grey Gary, possessing the ability to suck the atmosphere out of a room every time he opens his mouth. You feel sorry for him, but that’s only because you aren’t there with him. From The Wrong Place by Brecht Evens, published by Drawn & Quarterly)
When we finally meet Robbie, it’s through the eyes of Naomi, uncomfortable on a night out. And, as Robbie literally overwehlms her with sheer personality, we feel every bit as uncomfortable as she does, unable to resist the incessant and irrepressible Robbie; party king, Lothario, Casanova, the life and soul of anywhere he finds himself.
It’s a blur of experiences, of new people, of snatched conversations, all orchestrated without need for traditional word balllooons by Evans. We follow every conversation simply becasue his page layouts and pacing is so very good all the way through. Robbie’s world simply overwhelms poor Naomi, it’s a Mad Hatter’s Tea Party of new, strange people, and she’s always on the sidelines, feeling incapable of resisting the current, the gravitational pull of Robbie’s orbit.
Until, inescapably, inevitably, she ends up at his place, lying awake on the wrong side of the bed, wondering how on Earth she got here in the dead of the night.

(Overwhelming – yes, that describes Robbie quite well. From The Wrong Place by Brecht Evens, published by Drawn & Quarterly)
A terrible morning will no doubt follow for Naomi, although we’ll never know as part three takes us to another party where we finally see Gary and Robbie together.
And it’s obvious where the sexual politics of this platonic friendship have always been teetering towards. Robbie’s captivating personality extends to his old school friend, but nothing ever came of it, and nothing ever will. Gary just wouldn’t do that sort of thing – he’d never relax and let go enough to even realise it. Their conversation, their actions are all loaded with yet more uncomfortable energy as Gary gets smaller and greyer in comparison to his friend. A final moment of exuberant release from Robbie nearly sees Gary join in, but it’s not his nature, it never was, and no-one is as disappointed as Robbie. A moment lost, and only Robbie realises it.

(Gary and Robbie, opposites do attract, in the strangest of ways. If only Gary could see it, if only Robbie could meet him halfway? From The Wrong Place by Brecht Evens, published by Drawn & Quarterly)
The Wrong Place looks so gorgeous, it’s possible that a reader may be overwhelmed and miss the story that lies beneath. And the art, the colours are an integral part of this story; of love, of people, of lost opportunity, of character, of moments. And they’re all beautifully realised, with breathtaking conversational action, words flying around the pages, multiple conversations at once, yet never confusing, always brilliantly real.
But the art is always what dominates – it assaults and seduces the eyes as they play across the page. The Wrong Place is simply a perfect realisation of character and lifestyle through art, just lovely. Art, story, the whole thing. A sumptuous work.
 
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  THE WRONG PLACE reviewed on The Ember

Updated February 15, 2011


Party Politics - Brecht Evens on Social Dynamics
- Elizabeth Prater
The Wrong Place by Brecht Evens
Drawn & Quarterly 2010, 184 pp, $US 24.95, ISBN 978-1-77046-001-0
January 2011

Nobody wants to be in the wrong place if they can be in the right place. In Brecht Evens’ graphic novel, the wrong place is anywhere that Robbie, a charismatic social dynamo, is not. And so, as guests assemble for a party at the apartment of Robbie’s school friend Gary, they are eager to know when Robbie will arrive. Gary is a nervous host, and a poor social facilitator, but he has promised his guests that Robbie will come. The group sit around a table, make distracted, reluctant small talk, and anxiously regard the single empty chair. The conversation is strained and jagged. Gary’s social cachet is less than zero - without the promise of Robbie, no-one would have come. An unspoken consensus that they are in the wrong place makes the guests squirm. But such is the allure of an interlude with Robbie that they wait on regardless.
Then someone tells a story. It’s a story about Robbie, so everyone is interested. The story is of the just-so variety, it explains why the philandering Robbie will never commit. The story is drenched in pathos and dubious romanticism (undercut ever so slightly by a mildly absurd visual) and the listeners are all deeply impressed. And then Evens shows his A game. As this ritualised fable in the cult of Robbie is brought to a breathless close by the young woman telling it, one of the listeners interjects. Like everyone else he had been carried away by the sorrows of Robbie, but at the denouement of the tale he recognises the story as his own. His protests don’t draw too much sympathy, why should he be allowed to reclaim this poignant vignette, this trauma from his past, when it suits Robbie so much better.
When the party-goers ultimately abandon ship and go off as a pack to find Robbie at Disco Harem (a nightclub with a kind of life-transforming carnival vibe) the pent-up irritation that had bristled around Gary’s coffee table is swept away. Evens’ artwork defines Disco Harem as a place of ecstatic adventure where personalities become exaggerated and the fantastic seems possible. Although not for Gary. You have to give Evens a good deal of credit for allowing Gary’s grey presence to remain the bum-note in Robbie’s cosmic sing-along.
The Wrong Place gives a short and evocative slice of a social milieu and a subtle portrait of the friendship of opposites. Evens is a Flemish language cartoonist and illustrator who lives in Brussels. In 2010 he was the inaugural winner of the Willy Vandersteen Prize and his first graphic novel has already been translated into French (Les Noceurs) as well as English. Evens is young and his style is almost the antithesis of the typical visual idiom of the graphic novel. The Wrong Place is vividly colourful, there is no linework as such (Evens uses a brush) and there is not a single framed panel. Working in watercolours and gouache, Evens juggles layers of varyingly transparent colour washes with more opaque forms and planes. Characters might be fully realised in one picture, and a loosely formed colour blur in the next. In his use of colour, the figure and the mise en scene, Evens is working an expressionistic seam.

Evens likes patterns and dense, intricate visuals. He is also willing to render an interior as a blank space where objects float like roughly sketched volumes on a roughly sketched grid. And in amongst all this, Gary moves about in his own unique hue – to the roots of his being, he is grey. (It would be interesting to know whether this parallel is there in the original Flemish, the echo in English looks like more than a coincidence.) While Robbie glides about his kingdom of music, dance, adulation and sex, Gary trudges through a monochrome existence and secures a job as an administrator at a school.
In the parlance of modern marketing, Robbie is the ideal brand ambassador – men want to be him and women want to be with him. This status is confirmed in the most literal fashion. At Gary’s floundering house party (where Robbie is all anyone wants to talk about) we hear that at least 20 local scenesters have begun to imitate Robbie in every detail of his grooming and wardrobe. Robbie’s appeal to women is confirmed in many ways, but it’s once Gary and the party-goers arrive at Disco Harem (the right place) that we get to see real proof of his magnetic charm. For Robbie merely has to see a flower and pluck it, and his intoxicating charms will ensure a frictionless path to mutual gratification.
Robbie is more of a force than a personality, he is defined by his extreme popularity and his vivacity. When grey Gary begins to ramble about the impossibility of realising dreams and achieving goals, Robbie lightens the mood (shuts him up) with a fart. That’s right. It’s such a blatant dismissal of his old friend’s angst, though, that you have to give credit to Evens for throwing a bit of shade onto his shiny playboy. Then there’s the moment where the kittenish redhead who he plucks from the gathered throng for a night of erotic exercise, and who is already deeply smitten, unthinkingly looks forward to the next time. Robbie’s distracted response - ‘Next time?’ – speaks volumes. There won’t ever be a next time. There are hints that Robbie has demons (a gypsy matriarch discovered 206 spirits when she plumbed his depths) but this ‘a new girl every night’ syndrome also looks a little tawdry. Is Robbie a virtuoso of charisma and the art of seduction - a sensualist in love with love? Or is he an arrested adolescent totting up notches on the bedpost, a callous stud?
There’s a whiff of Poe about this psychological portrait of complementary opposites (especially with all that bacchanalia in the background). You half expect Robbie’s face to flatten into the surface of some magic mirror and transform into Gary. Robbie is just the kind of figure that a mischievous occult power might have conjured up to lead Gary out of his grey ghetto of anxiety and self-repression. The prospect of happiness Robbie holds out to Gary will only haunt him the more keenly given his inability to take it.

Evens mostly relies on astute depictions of body-language to convey subtle social dynamics, but there are moments when his touch with dialogue is equally sure. He also has an ear for the tacit challenges and negotiations that can play out in small talk and banter.
It’s safe to assume that those of us who are old and plain, or perhaps just a bit further towards grey on the spectrum of joi de vivre, will find a rich morsel like Robbie a little indigestible. As we get our heads around the co-dependent relationship of the glum and the hyper-bright, we will be recognising ourselves among the adoring crowd rather than investing in Robbie. And then there will be the quiet voice, the one we hear best when we’re on our own, reminding us how familiar grey Gary’s cautiously deferential attachment to his socially bankable friend is.
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Sean Collins of Robot 6 interviews Brecht Evens

Updated February 9, 2011


“A fight between operatic spectacle and tiny intimate moments”: Brecht Evens on The Wrong Place
January 2, 2011
by Sean T. Collins


The Wrong Place

Brecht Evens took a lot of people by surprise this past autumn. Seemingly emerging from nowhere, the Flemish cartoonist’s English-language graphic-novel debut, The Wrong Place, was released by Drawn & Quarterly and quickly made a major splash among critics and cartoonists in a year already crowded by high-quality releases. For that you can thank Evens’ eye-popping painted colors, which do far more than just tell you what color hair or clothes his characters have.

His story of a small group of twenty-somethings — revolving around an odd couple of mismatched friends and their divergent night lives during a party, a one-night stand, and a night out at a club — uses color almost as a code. It differentiates the characters, conveys their personalities, and helps us understand their environments and relationships. You’ll see parts of yourself you like and dislike in all three of its main characters: gray-colored wallflower Gary, his legend-in-his-own-time bright-blue best friend Robbie, and Olivia, who decides to live it up one night in fiery red.

So color us excited (sorry, couldn’t resist!) to be able to interview Evens as part of Robot 6’s second anniversary spectacular…

Sean T. Collins: The thing that most surprised me about The Wrong Place was that it didn’t “teach me a lesson.” I expected to be hit with a moral about how Robbie’s vida loca was actually empty and meaningless, or how wrong it is for Gary not to loosen up and live a little, but neither thing happened. Olivia shows a tinge of regret about her wild night with Robbie, but it’s just a tinge, not an indication that she Did The Wrong Thing or something like that. All of this despite the fact that the title itself implies that one or all of these characters is not where they really belong. I was hoping you could talk a bit about why you took this approach to your main characters and their decisions, which I found refreshingly non-judgmental.

Brecht Evens: I was 20 when I came up with the first draft, the setup for the book, and it was very noir, very contrived and judgmental, and full of nifty “ideas.” Most of this got thrown out along the way, where the ideas come to seem stale and instead the need becomes greater to be able to believe in and identify with the characters, and to testify about things observed in real life. Or, because I automatically began to identify with the characters, and love them, I was more compelled to nuance.


To give you an idea, in the original script someone is crushed by one of those mirrored disco-balls. That didn’t really go anywhere, so it had to go. Even though, once, I almost got crushed by a falling disco-ball. It missed me by a few feet.

So anyway, what I ended up with is a book in which people coldly step on each other’s soul all the time, except when they don’t.

Ha! The “crushed to death by a disco ball” element is really hilarious. Not the part of it involving it almost happening to you, of course! What’s interesting to me here is that you’re really not all that much older than twenty even now, but obviously you’ve grown quite a bit in terms of your approach to this material. I can’t help but wonder if you’ve had more experiences with people like Gary or Robbie that have tempered your initial, harsher treatment of them, in addition to simply coming to like your own characters better as you said.

Yeah, that’s part of it – let’s file that under “testimony.” For one thing, I only began having one-night-stands myself a short while after writing that first draft. And oh — almost getting crushed by a disco ball was genuinely funny in real life, too.

Glad to hear that, I guess! [Laughs] It occurs to me that you let color do a lot of the work normally reserved for linework, character design and so forth — it emerges as a sort of shorthand for not just what the characters look like, but the type of people they are. What do you feel you gain in painting the comic in this way as opposed to a more traditional fashion? Is there anything you lose?

I think the whole spectrum is there, or at least that was the idea when I started drawing this way: to have big crude forms and surfaces combined with fine detail, also linework. So nothing should be lost. It’s only when I get lazy that I stop using the whole spectrum. Characters had to be recognizable by color, even when just drawn as a splotch. This way, when I do detail a face, for example, it draws a lot of attention.

I certainly didn’t mean to imply that you were being lazy! I suppose what I’m saying has to do with one of the things you told Frank Santoro in your interview at Comics Comics — when you’re drawing a woman wearing fancy boots and a hat, you emphasize the boots and the hat and allow suggestion to do more of the work with the rest of her. Is that a fairer way to characterize it?

The first way was perfectly fair already — I don’t think you called me lazy. As you say, there’s a lot of shorthand in the book, which allows other details and newer information to come to the fore.

One passage of the book that really did draw a lot of attention because of how differently it was drawn was the sex scene. You obviously use a lot of techniques there, but I was struck by how your line thinned out and became less dependent on dense, overlapping fields of color. It was a very different way of depicting the intensity and physicality of the act than what you do elsewhere for dancing or fencing, for example. How did you come to feel that this was the right way to go about it?

While dancing and fencing look pretty convincing just by showing the frozen poses in between quick movements, lines seemed more apt to depict continuous and repetitive movement like sex. And I had to work up to the orgasm, which had to be linear to have the drawings vibrate and disintegrate the way they do.

I have a feeling that readers of The Wrong Place will come away preferring one of the book’s three sections — Gary’s party, Olivia’s night on the town, and Gary’s rendez-vous with Robbie — to the others. They’re all different not just in terms of the outcome of the evening for the participants, but also in terms of the way the most impactful dialogue and layouts are delivered — they really FEEL like very different sections, even though they’re obviously in the same world with the same characters. Did you have a favorite among the three, or at least did you feel that one worked better than the others?

I think the first section works best, as a tightly controlled whole. It was first conceived as a short story. But I prefer the third and last section. There’s a lot of warmth in it, but also all the chilling notes from the earlier parts. It combines operatic spectacle and tiny intimate moments, or alternates between them, as if it’s a fight between operatic spectacle and tiny intimate moments, both of them wanting to define the finale.

I definitely like the final act in that, as I mentioned earlier, I’m not left with the feeling that I’m being told who the “good guy” and “bad guy” are. Like the conflict between spectacle and intimacy, you leave the victor of that particular duel up to the reader. But do you yourself have a preference for either character? I guess I’m so struck by how even-handed you are in their depiction that I’m even more interested than usual in where your own sympathies lie.

No, I love all the characters in their moments of difference, Robbie when he invites Gary to sit on his lap, Gary when he’s struggling for words…Anytime they seem alive it gives me a nice warm Pygmalion feeling.

The art in The Wrong Place is so striking and unique that it’s going to get a lot of attention, and justifiably so. But I wanted to talk to you a bit about the dialogue, which struck me as very accurate to the lives of young urbanites. Gary’s party in particular was dead-on in depicting the ebb and flow of conversation at a get-together, and how that ebb and flow can gradually push things in uncomfortable directions. Do you have any particular techniques you use for writing believable dialogue? Also, since The Wrong Place was translated into English, how involved were you in that process? Do you feel like the English-language version captures the feel of the original?

Most of my dialogues consist of small talk with a hidden agenda, an undercurrent. My favorite moments are when this undercurrent bubbles up enough to mangle the characters’ phrasing, with one word tripping up a sentence. A lot of the small talk comes from life, where it often didn’t have a desperate and obvious hidden agenda.

[Drawn & Quarterly editor] Tom Devlin and me were heavily involved in the translation, and bothered the three translators about many things, so I think the English mangled phrases come close to the Dutch mangled phrases, but, necessarily, some very Dutch stuff is lost.

What influenced you when you were working on The Wrong Place? I’m especially interested in what kinds of comics you were looking at as you prepared to draw the book, but feel free to mention anything else that influenced its creation.

I wasn’t really looking at comics, except for maybe Blexbolex. I got started on the right track by looking at a book of early 20th-century Georg Grosz drawings, Ecce Homo. There’s a lot of cityscapes with skewed perspectives. In one of them there’s a prostitute sitting on a chair, viewed from behind. She’s all dressed, but through the back of the chair you see her naked. A lot of what I now do in my drawings comes from that, the transparency, see-through walls, people, things…

Finally, you have a new book coming out in 2011 from Top Shelf called Night Animals. How did you hook up with Top Shelf after first publishing with D&Q? What can we expect from the new book? Is this a return to the nightlife setting of so much of The Wrong Place?

This is not a new book but an older one I made while studying abroad in 2007. The contact with Top Shelf dates from before The Wrong Place. Night Animals has more of a ‘Where the Wild Things Are’-setting than any other I can think of.
 
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  Douglas Wolk reviews THE WRONG PLACE for Time Magazine's Techland

Updated December 21, 2010


Emanata: "The Wrong Place" and "Hewligan's Haircut"

by Douglas Wolk
Techland, Time Magazine
December 17, 2010

There's scarcely a black line to be found in the Belgian cartoonist Brecht Evens' graphic novel The Wrong Place, which is a little bit startling. It's almost entirely executed in watercolors and ink-wash--blobs of color floating in space. There are no panel borders: some panels just sort of fade into the page, others end at a particular invisible line. There are no word balloons: as with David Mazzucchelli's Asterios Polyp, most of its characters are associated with a particular color scheme, so Evens attributes their dialogue by lettering it in their respective dominant colors. And there aren't many lines-as-contours--there are no specific boundaries between one person or thing or place and another, which ends up being vital to the way the book's story unfolds.
(More on Techland: Emanata: Bad Alchemy)
The plot concerns a pair of near-opposites: the sexual lightning rod and bon vivant Robbie, who floats through life casually commanding the adoration of everyone around him and being talked about for his absence as much as his presence, and his friend Gary, a near-nonentity who's lost hope of ever achieving his desires, and now only longs "not to have to want anything." Most of it takes place in social spaces--a party and a club--and the density of color Evens gives each character seems to suggest how much fullness and gravity they have in those particular spaces. Robbie barely appears until a third of the way through the book (aside from a couple of set-pieces where other characters are describing his radiance), but when he turns up, he's painted in solid, electric shades of blue, becoming the focal point of every image in which he appears. And Gary is scarcely even present in the world: he's painted in translucent gray shades, so dilute that we can see through his body.
It would be easy enough for Evens to be taking sides--Robbie and Gary are both exaggerated types, and there's more than a bit of observational satire in the way he paints their worlds. But it's a nice touch that he perpetually tries to humanize both of them. (Robbie's not really a blowhard, just very charismatic and sometimes a little bit creepy; Gary's not really a schlemiel, he's just a basically good guy who's been crushed by degrees.)
The most impressive parts of The Wrong Place are the set-pieces where Evens gets to play with color and transparency: a public park where some people are wholly commanding their space and others are barely shadows, a strobelit nightclub where everyone's melting into the colors projected on them, an oppressively empty room set up for a cocktail party. There's a remarkable sex scene in the middle of the book in which the brushstrokes that form the bodies of Robbie and his paramour don't melt into each other the way clothed bodies do elsewhere in the book. Instead, their forms seem to shake apart, finally unraveling into colored pencil lines that twist around each other near the space of their intersecting bodies, his always blue, hers always red.
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Comic Book Resources lists WILSON, THE WRONG PLACE and ACME NOVELTY LIBRARY 20 as top comics of 2010

Updated December 21, 2010


10 BEST COMICS OF 2010

First, a disclaimer: reprints and collected editions don't count, so "Casanova" doesn't make the list. It may be a fundamentally different comic, what with the colors changing the tone and the tone changing the meaning, but it still falls into the arbitrary pitfall of "something that came out during another year, and even though it is an amazing comic, it doesn't fit our needs for this kind of end-of-the-year-listing."

Still, "Casanova." It's very good, and if this were a reprints-and-new-stuff list, it would crack the Top 10, along with "Absolute All-Star Superman." I eagerly await the recolored "Casanova: Gula" and the newness of Volume 3.

If I were to name honorable mentions, and identify those comics that don't quite make the Top 10 of 2010 but deserve some attention, and if I were to list those comics because they are pretty great and I liked them a whole lot, the rankings of the not-quite-top would look something like this:

17. "Wilson," by Dan Clowes. Clowes is one of the Top 10 great graphic novelists of all time, with "Ice Haven." "Wilson" isn't up to that level, but it has misanthropic charm and Clowesian dark humor, and it isn't as simple as it first seems.

...

9. "The Wrong Place," by Brecht Evens. While so many of the best comics this year felt insular and hermetic, Evens watercolor graphic novel seems celebrative of the sprawling relationships that make up our world. It's an illusion, of course, even within its pages, as the characters double back on themselves and the apparent sprawl is at the service of a story about a small group of people in the end. But it feels loose and lively, and Evens doesn't spend time pondering the deep connective tissue between humans when he can show the relationships in action, through gossip on the train, at dinner parties, in the bedroom. The book might conclude with a promise for more, but it's a promise that leads outside of its pages, into the world around us.

"The Wrong Place" isn't a comic about characters inside a comic book. It's a comic that engages with something greater: the messy life we lead, both joyous and sad (but mostly joyous, if we can accept it).

...

7. "Acme Novelty Library" Volume 20, by Chris Ware. I don't know how much more of the tiny lettering my eyes can take, but the strain involved with literally reading this book is surely part of the experience. The story of Jordan Wellington Lint, from his moment of birth to his moment of death, is a story of suffering, but not in the manner of the Good Book's Job. Lint is no blighted figure of legend. No metaphor for the depths of faith or the capacity to withstand loss. Lint is merely a man trying to make his way through the world, following paths he shouldn't take, maybe because that's how he was raised, or maybe just because he followed a faulty instinct. Ware's diagrammatical storytelling seems to indicate answers, but it's never as simple as "his dad was this way, so he turned out that way," even if Lint himself may fall into that trap of misunderstanding. Ultimately, this is Chris Ware showing the life of one man – not everyman – and saying, "look." And we must.
 
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Acme Novelty Library Volume 20




  USA Today's Pop Candy recommends ACME NOVELTY LIBRARY 20 and THE WRONG PLACE

Updated December 21, 2010


Comics recs: Chris Ware, 'Night Business' and more

I've been reading lots of good comics lately, and Thursdays are when I like to share 'em with the group. Here are some books that have moved me:

- Acme Novelty Library #20 by Chris Ware (Drawn & Quarterly, $23.95). The great thing about Ware's latest book is that it's a stand-alone story, which makes it a good entry point for anyone unfamiliar with his work. (Jimmy Corrigan: The Smartest Kid on Earth is still the best entry point, but at 380 pages, it's a little more daunting.) This installment takes readers through the life of one character: Jordan "Jason" Lint, an imperfect man in many regards, but one we get to know as an infant all the way through to old age. Though Ware is known for filling his pages with impeccably designed images and miniscule blocks of text, he still manages to slip in thick slices of pain and meaning that resonate long after the reading experience ends.
Because you like:Jimmy Corrigan, Wes Anderson movies, animations like this one

...

- The Wrong Place by Brecht Evens (Drawn & Quarterly, $24.95). If you're the type of person who likes to pick up graphic novels just for the art, you may want to invest in this one, which tells a story in sweeping watercolor. Evens is a Belgium-based artist and The Wrong Place marks his first English book. While it tells several stories, most of them focus on a fellow named Robbie -- he's the life of the party, yet he's so popular that no one can ever seem to find him. (Certain moments reminded me of those "Louie" sketches from The State.) When the conversational style isn't a pleasure -- and it almost always is -- I simply enjoyed just gazing at the pictures.
Because you like: partying and painting, of course
See a preview: Drawn & Quarterly has posted a PDF preview on its site.


....
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The Comics Reporter reviews THE WRONG PLACE

Updated December 9, 2010


CR Review: The Wrong Place

This is a beautiful-looking work, almost floridly so, but it's also an emotionally devastating and slightly frustrating one, and the balance between those effects is where things become much more intriguing. Brecht Evens' use of watercolors dazzles at first glance, and second glance, and third. Rightfully so: its depiction of the interlocking lives of a group of twenty-somethings is richly realized, and bursting with color, but never in a way where comics fundamentals of proportion and perspective and continuity have been abandoned. It's only when you dive into it that you begin realize how full a range of of comics' formal elements Evens employs. There are dramatic switches between tightly-plotted grids and border-absent tableaux. Language is obscured to suggest the impact of overpowering noise. The color schemes by which we might distinguish certain characters follows into the word balloons. Evens builds strong visual contrasts between, say, the apartment of sad-sack Gary and the hangout of mythologized party-boy Robbie, while subtly playing on their similarities (compare the function of stairs in each place). It's a cataclysmic performance, less about the airy theatrics of a guitar solo than a tightly-controlled and equally awesome jazz musician clamped down on the individual strings of expression spinning around them in order to wrest from them what it is they want to say. I could spend a lot of time looking at the darn thing. Heck, I already have.

Like many stories told with this kind of style to burn, the narrative and thematic structure prove fairly simple. Evens contrasts the lives of two childhood friends, Gary and Robbie, through three scenarios: a party at Gary's apartment where Robbie's absence is keenly felt, a evening out with Robbie from the perspective of a woman he picks up, and then a direct encounter between Gary and Robbie (tellingly) on Robbie's turf. Each set piece spins out its narrative with a control and delectable patience to match the technical virtuosity of the art. Each rough third of the book has their moments, even stunning ones (the sex scene proves to be pretty remarkable on its craft merits, and it furthers the plot) but on a second read-through it's the first scene that sticks because of the degree of difficulty involved, a gorgeous train-wreck of an evening that sets up two characters (one completely absent) and hammers out the thematic distance between them. My main quibble with the book stems from the fact that the final encounter between Gary and Robbie underlines their forcefully communicated differences rather than supplying it with additional depth or idiosyncratic detail. It's exactly the meeting you expect it to be, and while that inevitability is part of the tragedy involved -- the inability to break out of certain habits and harmful self-conception is each party's unwelcome guest -- I still think there might have been room for a twist or two in the way that the narrative unfolds. The last thing I expected to feel the last 20 pages of this book is disinterested; the rest of the work was so good I remain open to this being my shortcoming rather than the book's.
 
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  Jeff VanderMeer loves EDEN, WILD KINGDOM, and THE WRONG PLACE!

Updated November 23, 2010


Drawn & Quarterly: Pablo Holmberg, Kevin Huizenga, and Brecht Evens

by Jeff VanderMeer
November 20th, 2010

Thousands of books arrive at our house every year because of the various reviewing gigs like the NYT and Omnivoracious, and because of Ann editing Weird Tales. Some publishers, time and again, become anonymous in that context. The books all look the same, or there’s something about the format that becomes anonymous.

Others stand out by a mile because they’re recognizably coming at readers from a unique or interesting perspective, and because they vary their formats and design approaches while remaining true to some central focus.

Drawn & Quarterly always puts out cool books. When they come in the door, I can’t just throw them on the stack.

Today, for example, we got Eden by Pablo Holmberg, The Wild Kingdom by Kevin Huizenga, and The Wrong Place by Brecht Evens. The art style of each, the world view behind each, and the size of each book are entirely different. But they share the D&Q vision. They’ve all got great end papers. They each are in the format best-suited for them (Wild Kingdom as a little hardcover, cover image printed on the boards, for example.) Take a look at some samples below, and definitely look for all three. Extremely awesome stuff—and am enjoying the kind of “eavesdropping on party conversation” style of the Evens.
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WRONG PLACE reviewed by Broken Frontier

Updated August 17, 2009




Posted by Bart Croonenborghs on Jun 16, 2009

Drifting in and out of conversations, a swirl of people and lights, a never ending row of drinks and friends sliding in and out of focus. Parties. Underlying tensions and relationships. The 'spotlight people', the back-against-the-wall'-people, the 'I need more booze'-people, the 'naturally exuberant'-people and the introvert people. Thank you Brecht Evens for making it easy to watch the world go by.

Gert and Noemi are two lonely people in a world dominated by relationships. Robbie is the alpha male, loved by men and women alike for his party atmosphere and his ever positive outlook on life. But what happens when Gert and XX each separately run into Robbie? Will their lives be changed by Robbie's exuberant outlook on human relations or will they stubbornly stay stuck in the social ruts they find themselves living ...

Parties are a haphazard mix of all humanity has to offer. A cross slicing of society of a certain age group where are all the strengths and the weaknesses of the group and the individual are laid to bare. The setting of Belgian writer/artist Brecht Evens fourth graphic novel The wrong place is a place stuck between two worlds inhabited with the same type of people. Mid twenties post graduates, marking their place with the exuberance of youth. Or the lack of exuberance.

The main characters are Gert, Noemi and Robbie. While Gert and Robbie occupy opposite ends of the growing up-circle of life, Robbie seems to exist as an archetypal joker, a fun boy who seems to avoid all responsibility and just wants to enjoy life. Making friends, going to parties, carefully avoiding grown up themes. Noemi gets the most growing up to do, Gert is clearly unable to expand himself beyond the gravitas of the trauma of growing up, never reaching the heights Noemi reaches. Whatever Gert does or whomever he meets, he does not seem to succeed in passing through the different stadia of responsible behaviour. In both cases though, Robbie is the catalyst. An obvious fit for the royal joker who gets to say or do whatever he pleases.

The book is divided in three parts, first we get introduced to Gert, then we meet Noemi who meets Robbie and then we see Gert meeting Robbie. Evens takes his time outlining his story. A lot of it is conversational talk where meaning is gathered by reading between the lines. Evens has a great ear for dialogue and philosophical one-liners and even foreshadows it on the cover which contains pieces of dialogue that become only visible when tilting the book due to the printing of the text with a varnish. However, Evens never lets the gravitas of the themes weigh him down. Humour is prevalent in this graphic novel and the philosophy is tempered with a satirical and humorous outlook on life.

Brecht Evens uses colour to its utmost effect here. His drawings are like paintings, shedding any ambition of outlining or delineating, he uses the brush by applying layers and layers which leads to characters on top of each other, buildings and levels inter-crossing. An apt visual style for the superfluous lives these people seem to inhabit. Using ecoline in combination with coloured markers, his drawings and tableau's give off an otherworldly, vibrant vibe resonating perfectly with the exposed world of transitions, pure fun to adult responsibility, that is on showcase here. It also firmly roots the characters on one end of the world. Clearly, this world is so much fun that you can understand that Robbie wants to sip its nectar all the time. Where-ever he goes, he is always revered and called upon and is the star of the party, even when he isn't there. He is an easy character to like and one of his powers which makes him so charming is his ability to see through the gravitas and seriousness other people lend to their lives. When Gert is giving his grand soliloquy about his depressing view of life, Robbie interrupts him with a loud fart.

Evens even goes so far as to give each character its own colour scheme. Gert is always drawn in a drab gray, Robbie gets a vibrant blue and Noemi gets a female dark pink. There are a lot of crowd scenes in this book and besides being a neat colour symbol, it also lets Evens' characters stand out in the crowd.

Brecht Even's The wrong place is a phantasmagorical tour de force where, through colour and conversation, a fiction is told about life's different phases and growing opportunities. Evens' artwork captures the essence of the frivolous nature of development and the surrounding circumstances of maturing. The relaxed pacing and spacious storytelling gives the tale gravitas and in the end, we recognize a bit of all the characters in ourselves. Though maybe we would all like to be a bit more like Robbie ...


The wrong place by Brecht Evens is published by Oogachtend. It is an 176 pages counting original full colour graphic novel, retailing for € 24 and is available in finer bookstores and comic shops in Dutch speaking countries. The english edition will be published by Drawn & Quarterly in february 2010.
 
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