Wednesday, 24 June 2015

Is that all there is? Joost Swart

This collection of comic strips from 1972 - 2010 from the Dutch artist Joost (rhymes with 'post' not 'juiced' as Chris Ware informs us in the introduction) Swart, is a delight from start to finish for fans of the European style of cartooning.

Joost was strongly influenced by Hergé's Tintin adventures, and his style is similarly precise and clear, meticulously crafted and elegantly coloured by watercolour. Yet his content could not be further from the innocent Tintin, taking it's cue across the Atlantic from the adult content of the underground American comics scene, and artists like Art Spiegelman and Robert Crumb.

Joost Swart's most popular creation was Jojo de Pojo, a lad sporting a quiff and plus-fours, yet who, rather than save the world from crime and evil, indulges in activities Tintin never even dream of. His audience, brought up as boy scouts, and now young adults in the seventies, experimenting with narcotics, alcohol and sex, would have appreciated the artist struggling with complexities that they encountered in their everyday lives.

Swart is a renaissance man, and is a graphic designer and architect, has designed furniture, murals and stained glass windows. He designed a theatre in Haarlem (his hometown), and designed the interiors of the Hergé Museum in Brussels. He founded a publishing house in the eighties and in the nineties instigated the Comics Event held in Haarlem. Chris Ware also writes in his introduction that, when he visited the artists studio, he had just finished designs from pastries for his local patisserie, and how he faxed him a beautifully drawn map showing how to get to the studio. This charming and innocent approach seems to underpin much of his work, and he operates at the personal level, getting involved in projects close to his heart (and his home), rather than the one with the largest pay-cheque.

This small book will introduce one of the greats of European comics to a new audience, bringing together strips that were published over 40 years ago, in obscure Dutch magazines, and re-presenting and translating them for fans of comic books the world over.

Written by Mike Stonelake, illustrator, cartoonist and designer. See

Saturday, 11 April 2015

Tintin. The Art of Hergé

Hergé is probably the most important figure in cartooning and Tintin his most popular creation. This coffee table tome runs to almost 500 pages of reproductions from the Archives of the Hergé Museum, and will delight anyone who has enjoyed the books.

The first chapter is dedicated to the Hergé Museum, which is a shame, as it gives the book the feel of a catalogue, which would be a disservice to such a wonderful book. I feel this chapter should be the last chapter, especially as, chronologically it comes last in the Tintin story.

However, that's a small fault, in an otherwise very satisfying book, crammed full of treasures. There are early sketches of Hergé, from when he was a young teenager of 16 years old - fine drawings, showing he was a talented draftsman from the start. It contains some pages from his early cartoon, Totor, the boyscout, a forerunner of Tintin, and important frames from the first Tintin drawings, black and white, printed in Le Petite Vingtième in 1929, for example, the moment Tintin gets his quiff, as the wind blows back his hair as he speeds away in a car.

There are also many photographs, documenting important events, for example, the moment a young lad and a bleached fox terrier arrived at Gard du Nord station, met by crowds of children, already fans of the young reporter.

There are also examples of his other cartoons. Quick and Flupke and Jo, Zette and Jocko, which featured a family, in response to Tintin's unmarried status! Also of interest are the examples of Hergé's graphic design and advertising illustrations and posters, very much of it's time, but beautiful nonetheless.

The book reproduces many working drawings, black and white line art, as well as some of the original versions (the books that most of us know where later workings of serialised adventures, many originally reproduced in black and white.

The book plots the development of Hergé, as he became more interested in accuracy and detail, and documents some of the source information he used: postcards; newspaper cuttings; museum exhibits.

The real hero shots in the book, however, are the enlarged colour panels, watercolour on printed proof, showing the artwork in all its subtlety.

The book has a debossed, black and white reproduction of Tintin's iconic head, enlarged many times over. The edges of the pages have a pleasing red and white, checkered pattern from the rocket in Explorers on the Moon. Unfortunately the process made the pages of my copy stick together, which took a while to unstick. But that was just a tiny fly in a beautiful ointment!

View the book here.

Written by Mike Stonelake, illustrator, cartoonist and designer. See