The illustrations move you through the story of a young woman who is writing a children's book and runs out of ideas. She decides to take a walk to clear her head. This all seems pretty straightforward, but what makes this book so unusual is the text that accompanies Ephameron's characteristic fragile dream-like drawings - namely, van Oudheusden's story about a bear and a little fox who embark on an unusual friendship. This unconventional combo of children's tale and grown-up drawings creates an uncanny atmosphere that could have been confusing and disjointed, but winds up poignantly moving.
The authors are also from different worlds: van Oudheusden is an award-winning Dutch author of several children's books and comics, while Eva Cardon is known for her contemplative collages.
"As a writer I am always intrigued by graphic artists," explains van Oudheusden, "whether they are comic strip artists or illustrators or whatever. I always try to look at what they can do within that specific world, and Eva gripped me. I discovered that I had to stick very close to the world she shows in her drawings and photographs, which is a very personal and intimate, so the story had to be a very personal and intimate as well."
Ephameron and van Oudheusden have worked on projects together before. For this one, "we were brainstorming for quite a while," says Ephameron, "but a project like this grows gradually. One of our previous projects was a children's book for which I did the drawings and Pieter the text, but it didn't work out."
This time the pair looked into their own histories for inspiration. "That's more or less why the main character of Weg is working on a children's book," adds van Oudheusden. "Bear and fox are also very close to us. They start out as alter egos because there were things happening in our personal lives that influenced the story. It's a story about loss and finding a sense of meaning."
Weg is a fast read, but don't be fooled by its odd simplicity; there is much lurking beneath the surface. "First we wanted to draw two characters playing the scenes that were written," says Ephameron, "but that was too literal and had already been done so many times. So we took it a step further."
The result, as Ephameron puts it, is "an intimate story where you need to read between the lines. I think it's mainly for an audience that likes to be challenged."
But it's also a simple, rather magical, story and an excellent last-minute gift item besides.
Picutred: Eva Cardon, aka Ephameron, a self-portrait (left); Pieter van Oudheusden
The Man Who Let His Beard Grow
This follow-up to Olivier Schrauwen's 2006 English debut My Boy, which was about a father who takes his thumb-sized son on an absurd trip through Flanders, is a multi-layered collection of short stories featuring a wide variety of bearded men. Each story - ranging from the Genesis creation narrative to art classes - has its own style, both visually as narratively. Schrauwen's work is unique in Flanders, with a retro and slightly nonchalant vibe to his surreal tales filled with humour and agony, ultimately resulting is a rich tapestry of humankind. In English, Dutch and French
Ik zien A geire
(I Love You)
Mekanik Strip; €8.95
Frederik Van den Stock's ode to Antwerp is both brooding and vibrant, like the Port City itself. He takes you through the multicultural districts, cafés, eccentricities and quaint little alleys. It is a delightful debut, a combination of Van den Stock's daring drawings and own little musings. The title is a play on words, meaning "I love you" in the Antwerp dialect while at the same time referring to the A in Antwerp. Ik zien A geire is also the first graphic novel published by Mekanik strip.
Philip Paquet once again combines his love for illustration and jazz in his own quintessential cinematic black-and-white style. With a little help from writers Gilliom, Tim Vendaux and Stéphane Daniel, he has created a swinging musical masterpiece that captures the liveliness of jazz culture. This sublime publication looks like a jazz EP by the Vertigo Quartet, but in fact contains four little booklets with two fictional and two biographical comic stories about jazz legends Dizzy Gillespie, Charles Mingus, Charlie Parker and Miles Davis.
De wraak van Bakamé
(The Revenge of Bakamé)
Jeroen Janssen has once again teamed up with Pieter van Oudheusden for a colourful satire about a hare called Bakamé who is always the butt of Mpyisi's jokes - Mpyisi being a well- connected hyena who tries to con everyone he meets. Based on several African folktales and slightly reminiscent of our own Reynard the Fox, they have created a hefty book with an impressive scope. Janssen's expressionistic drawing style and van Oudheusden's thrilling tale delve deep into the core of humanity and expose an exhilarating world where darkness, sex and sarcasm reign.
Sint-Jacobsmarkt 73 Antwerp
Founded in 1983, Antwerp's Mekanik Strip was one of the few places in Belgium where comic strip afficionados could get their weekly fix of Watchmen, Spiderman and Batman: The Dark Knight Returns, which were not only hard to come by here but even harder to back order. Located in the heart of Antwerp, Mekanik is now one of the biggest and most important comic shops in Europe, offering an impressive and eclectic range that includes most European and American comics on the market.
Mekanik also specialises in other aspects of the medium such as figurines, movie memorabilia, manga, DVDs and, of course, graphic novels. Originally located just across the road from their current spot, they expanded in the '90s to include a gallery on the first floor where many local artists, such as Ephameron, and international artists, like American Charles Burns, display their work.
Mekanik prides itself on lending a helping hand to budding illustrators though this exhibition space and through workshops focusing on the art of comics. Even if you've never visited the story, you've seen their work: Many comic strip walls that now grace Antwerp are courtesy of Mekanik.