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Interview met Rik Willemen

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Antwerp, a hot summerday in the park. Fountains get switched on, children running in the water with smiles of joy,since summer just arrived a couple of days ago.We are about to meet RikWillemen, author of A Song Called City, an online, weekly updated comic.
Greetings! Rik, what’s the reason you started making comics?
Well, I have always been drawing since I was old enough to hold a pencil but I never imagined it would become my profession until I went to Sint-Lucas Antwerpen and later Sint-Lucas Brussel. Red. These are both artschools. My parents wanted me to choose a ‘’real’’ profession and wouldn’t let me go and follow Painting at the academy so I chose Graphic Design. They both approved of this, in their eyes, respectable choice. I had to choose between Graphic Design, Publicity and among other classes: Comics. Explaining the folks at home that on the actual paper stating my degree, when graduated, the word ‘’Comics” would be printed in a small font on the bottom of the page hence not lowering my job opportunities, they gave their blessing.I have all the theoretical know-how like typography, PhotoShop, Illustrator, … so I am generally schooled as a Graphic Designer but telling a story the way comics does always fascinated me. So for the next two years I followed a class at Sint-Lucasto learn more about creating comics.
What did they teach you there?
Among my teachers there were Johan de Moor, author of ‘Kobe de Koe’, who’s father used to share his studio with Hergé,andMarnixVerduin aka NIX, author of ‘Kinky en Cosy”. Two important icons in the Flemish Comic world.I would say they taught me how to become ‘a person who draws comics’ but I think that ‘a person who tells comics’ would be a better definition. There are a lot of talented people who can draw but this doesn’t necessary mean that they are good comic artists. The sequences of frames need to be drawn in a logical way, they have to tell a story, taking the reader along for the ride. Ultimate goal of this all being that the reader forgets that he is looking at drawings and loses himself in the story. An interesting comic Scott Mc Cloud’s Understanding Comics: The Invisible Art . Surely a must read for anyone who wants to that deals with this matter is know more about the mechanisms that make comics work.
More now about your own comic, a Song Called City. Could you explain, to a reader who never read it, what it is about?
I started creating this comic together with a friend, Bram Michielsen and the ideas we took off with where generally based around what kind of comics we like ourselves and what kind of comic we would like to read that doesn’t exist yet. We both are huge fans of the DC Vertigo Series with classics like Watchmen, Sandman,Transmetropolitan, V for Vendetta,… Both of us liked the fact that in this genre we found a kind of comic that really told a long and complex, adult story with multiple in-depth characters.
A Song Called City is a tale about modern magic that takes place in an urban environment. In this case the city of Antwerp, but othercities will eventually follow. We wanted to create a metaphor for ‘the city’, not a city in particular. From the start we decided to work on a “seasonal” approach. The first season, which is still in progress right now,introduces the reader to the lead characters.We really took our time building up these characters and their motives, setting the pace for the story rather slow so you really get to know them. Specially with Jonathan we took it slow.Jonathan is a shamanwho’s job is to protect the city from evil magical forces that threaten it. He’s been doing this fora long time and finds himself in a comfortable position.
Muriel, our black haired lesbianmain character, is a completely different kind of person. She studies Philosophy, doesn’t have anything to do with magic and neither believes in it. She is writing her thesis on secret magical societies like the Illuminati, the Golden Dawn and so on, who came to life in an era when magic still was a part of everyday life. Since the Enlightenment science and rational thinking took over but these secret organizations remained in existence. Muriel’s tries to find out what their cultural influence is nowadays in modern society and that’s how she crosses paths with Jonathan.
Why have you chosen magic as an important aspect of your story?
I was, and still am really intrigued by the world of magic. AleisterCrowley (1875-1945)had a great influence on me.He and the group of people around him where taking magic very serious. Practising the Kabbala, Hermetical texts, Egyptian hieroglyphs,… they had an influence on a lot of early 20thcentury artists and scientists.Jack Parsons (1914-1952), for example, was a pioneer in rocket fuel research and one of the people who made modern space-travel possible. The fact that these serious and intelligent people were working on this made me want to know more about it. I don’t claim that all of it works but there are a lot of very smart people who are a lot more intelligent than me who took this very serious. So I, and Bram in particular, started to read a lot about these subjects. The idea that there might really be magic that actually works and that they never told us anything about this in school fascinated us. Here for example (Rik shows us a page of his comic) I am working on a scene where Muriel and her friend are practicing a summoning. I used the actual symbols of the ArsGoetia which features in The Lesser Key of Solomon. This is a 15th century book written by an unknown author who calls himself Solomon and refers to a number of practices such as the invocation of angels or the evocation of demons.
Did you ever wake any spirits by accident by drawing these symbols?
No I haven’t but I am not really hoping to do so neither. When I chose the symbols to use for my story I took a demon that isn’t that powerful. I kind of see it as my responsibility to my readers because the symbols might trigger a reaction while you read the comic.
You told us that you used to write the storyline together with your friend Bram. What made you finally decide to do it by yourself?
After a while it became apparent that we had different visions on how the storyline should develop. This became clear to me when we were discussing an important scene. Bram wanted to make our lead character Muriel very vulnerable and I saw it the opposite way.
I also experienced the whole creative process as frustrating from time to time and projected this on Bram. The reason we finally decided to stop working together on this project is the fact that our friendship was suffering under it. I didn’t want to lose a friend so I said to him: I don’t want to work with you on this project anymore but I give you the choice whether I can continue alone or whether the story ends here. He then told me that I could continue alone, which I did and I am still very grateful that he made this choice.
Your comic is in mainly drawn in black and white but it also has some blue in it. Why?
Well, I am partially colorblind so adding color to the drawings would have taken me a lot longer. When I started working on this project I was thinking about doing it in color but in doing so I would have produced a lot less work. Two pagesget published every week and I didn’t want it to be less, so people can enjoy a new part of the story every week. In an ideal world I would even be publishing three pages every week. On the other hand black and white gives you more room to play with the contrast.
Do you have other projects planned for the near future?
My master-project at St-Lucas was a political sci-fi comic called The End of Belgium. Back then I was still very much looking for my storytelling style as a writer so if I were to give new life to this project I would restart all over again. The story takes place around 2050, the Flanders part of Belgium is completely submerged and became a part of the North Sea . All the Flemish people fled to Brussels so the main language has become Dutch, this causes the Wallonian people to construct a wall to keep out the Flemish in order to prevail their culture and language purity. I really like the Belgian aspect about it. The fact that it has a very unique identity is something that interests me a lot, and this makes me want to write stories about it. The fact for example that in Belgium we have one bar or café for every five inhabitants. This Belgian identity and unique socio-cultural landscape is something that I like to use in my stories.Back then I was still very much looking for my storytelling style as a writer so if I were to give new life to this project I would restart all over again.
Do you plan perhaps to do a non-fiction, autobiographical comic some day?
Maybe someday but my life at the moment is just really boring. Also I have to admit that in my opinion nowadays there are a lot of autobiographical comics out there. I, personally, prefer to make a comic that tells an immense, fictive story that you have to construct entirely out of your own imagination. Of course this fiction is always based on real-life elements. The Golden Age of Comics has passed, so it seems and a lot of this has to do with the fact that comic-authors don’t get work anymore. Jean Van Hamme, author of Largo Winch, XIII, Thorgal and so on said in an interview recently that he is eager to work with younger artists but doesn’t get any offers. Creating an entirely new universe out of nothing is what I really like about this and is the reason I prefer fiction.
Are there any comics that you read recently that you liked and recommend?
Yes and this goes in against everything I just said because it’s an autobiographical comic: de DagelijkseWorsteling (The Daily struggle) by Manu Larcenet. Best Comic of the Festival of Angoulême 2004 red. Beautiful drawings, really simple drawing style but also somebody who masters at storytelling. Somebody like that, telling an epic story like the Donjon-series is what I would really like to see. The Donjon series is something that I also have finally discovered recently and is something that I really can recommend to everybody.
Allright, last question now: If there was a song to your Song Called City, which song would it be?
Well, A Song Called City is in fact named after a song, called “City”. It's by Jane's Addiction, a band that Bram and I feverishly idolized, and it's one of their most happy, simple tunes. It's about wandering around in the city, doing graffiti, dodging cops, eating out of trash cans,... It's an atmospherical sketch of city life, and it's beautiful.
Artropoda:Wonderful, thank you very much for the interview.
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Geplaatst op 12/09/2013 Citeren
Geplaatst op 12/09/2013