Those Pesky Nepo Babies

It’s 2023 and suddenly nepotism seems to be all around. It seems like there’s a whole bunch of talented people who also have parents! That are also talented!

Even in comics this is rampant, as this cartoon from the New Yorker will attest. Somehow I feel more inclined to buy into the left side of the family tree, and yes, I was gullible enough to actually believe that is Butt-head’s real name.

(cartoon by the brilliant Paul Noth, © 2023 Condé Nast)

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The truth about Markovia

I guess this message is well past it’s sell-by date, but just to make a point, I’d like to present to you : Markovia has been doing all right, even without Batman’s help.

In Batman And The Outsiders #1 (1983), Batman leaves the JLA and joins a ragtag band of second-rank superheroes in their battle against the evil oppressor of Markovia, a “small country in Eastern Europe”. However, the first mention of Markovia places it smack-dab between France and Germany, and as a matter of fact, right in the southern part of my native Belgium.

Real-life Markovia would stretch the whole of Luxembourg Province (not to be confused with our neighbouring Grand-Duchy of Luxembourg), with half of the Namur Province added for good measure. As for the capital of Markovia, Markovburg, I would situate that in Saint-Hubert or Rochefort, both very lovely towns but a long way away from any oppression or war ever since the end of World War II.

It’s another example of the sheer lack of interest that American comic creators had for anything that was outside of the US, like Germans saying things like “Stopf! Mit mir gekommen” and all Central and South American people basically looking like Mexicans. The fact that they mention Luxemburg and (Fr)ance by name, which are very much in Western Europe, can only mean that this snafu is not due to lack of knowledge, but more of giving a damn.

Oh, and just to be complete, Castle Markov is nowhere near Belgium, but rather in the South of Germany, and possible better known as Neuschwanstein. And it doesn’t look nearly as yellow as in the comic.

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Broken Promise

There’s a Batman blockbuster with oodles of marketing money, and then there’s Stephen Trumble who goes ahead and creates a great Batman animated short all on his own (ok, with some pretty good voice talent).

Broken Promise features two of the best Batman villains ever, the Ventriloquist and Two-face, in a showdown that doesn’t stop with just one split personality conundrum, and a twist that would never take place in the DC world.

This is brilliant stuff, that harkens back to the time when Detective Comics had bonafide, sturdy storytelling, and not just crossover continuity. “No double standards”, indeed.

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Shoe gazing helps when social distancing

The pandemic may slowly be on its way to be a thing of the past (at least in Europe), but you do still find them around: floor stickers reminding you to keep 1.5 meters apart in shops and other venues where people typically gather.

This one I spotted in a bookstore in Haarlem, home to design and illustration legend Joost Swarte. I like the metaphor of the cat and the songbird — it’s almost as if the image was lifted from a La Fontaine fable.

You can’t miss him when you visit that town — from the china plates in your hotel to the Toneelschuur theatre that he designed, with its in-your-face neon typography.

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Dem Bones ain’t movin’ yet

Netflix seems to be doing not that well : stocks are dropping, subscribers are leaving, things are bad. Which in turn means that costs are getting cut, and productions here and there are axed.

Among them the animated series project centered around Jeff Smith’s celebrated Bone stories, which seems to have been in and out of (pre)production for as long as the original comic run has been completed. And it would seem that Smith is getting tired of this never-ending cycle, as this comic from his Twitter feed would attest. And it even has a classic strip reference!

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Super board games!

Earlier this month I visited the Fumetto comics festival in Luzern, Switzerland. One of the main items on the agenda was an exhibition by Peter Poplaski on the 20th Century super-hero and his precursors, relation to classical pantheons and appearances in modern media. Poplaski’s obsession with Zorro is well-documented, and the original Caped Crusader played a heavy part in this show as well.

Most artifacts in the exhibition came from Poplaski’s personal collection, and included some interesting oddities, like these vintage game boards for Zorro and Superman board games. As they came without a rule set, it was a challenge to find out what they were about.

Judging from the board, the Zorro game (one of several, it would seem) is basically a Monopoly round robin type game, with a prison and a Start field, various type of bonus and challenge cards to collect. Not sure how it’s supposed to end though. Oh, and that horse is sure on something.

As opposed to others, Calling Superman seems to focus on Superman’s relation to mass media, the professional field of his alter-ego, Clark Kent. I couldn’t make heads or tails of the game based on the board, and I wasn’t able to find an instruction sheet on the Internet. The illustration are neat, though.

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Yoko Ono Cartoonist

Last week I dragged a few good friends along with me to the Yoko Ono retrospective in the amazing new Chipperfield wing in the Zürich Kunsthaus. It was an interesting, funny and moving exhibition, mainly focusing on Ono’s work as a performance artist and as a member of the Fluxus movement, with drawings, movies and recreations of iconic works. True to the original nature of many of her works, the show invited the public to contribute in many ways.

One of the smaller pieces on show was Ono’s Ad for Bagwear from a 1966 exhibition catalogue. Looked at from a half century’s distance, these pages would not be out of place in today’s webcomic ecosphere, with their quirky lines, self-referential logic and quaint humor.

Photographs taken at This Room Moves At The Same Speed As The Clouds, which is still on until May 29.

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Thank you for waiting

While en route to a client meeting near the Gare du Nord in Brussels, I noticed a rather peculiar use of comics.

Near one of the many pedestrian stop lights, somebody had posted the February, 2022 edition of the Gazette du Feu Rouge, or Red Light Paper. According to its byline, it’s a “sheet of more or less interesting information for pedestrians while they have to wait”. In this issue, the paper bewails the often sorry state of Brussels sidewalks, where treacherous puddles hide beneath loose pavement stones.

No information on who made this, but the art style at least highly reminded me of underground cartoonist Jean Bourguignon.

And while we’re at it, thank you for waiting.

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Evens Mural is History

Since the current owner of the Oever building on the Antwerp Steenhouwersvest has torn down / is tearing down the wall that has sported Brecht Evens‘s wonderful mural for more than ten years, it’s a good thing I made pictures of it back in 2012.

The mural was part of the Antwerp Stripmuren Route (comic mural route), along sides similar walls with works by Jan van der Veken, Dick Matena, Marc Sleen and other luminaries.

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Superheroes offer support

Rode Neuzendag is an annual awareness in Flanders, focusing on specific aspects of health and well-being. This year the spotlight was on the effect the corona pandemic has had on our mental health, and especially with childeren and young adults, who often felt isolated and shut off from their peers. The aim of the campaign was to train teachers in competences that will help them to notice signs of problems of all kinds in children, and to coach kids in dealing with their situation. Sidekick Sam helps you to be the hero that you are.

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