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'Oh, it's being torn apart a bit' #wu13

At 1 strip or 1,000 words blogger and columnist Peter Breedveld spoke to three influential illustrators, Barbara Stok, Peter van Dongen and Thé Tjong-Khing using projected images from their beautiful work. The relaxed conversation was a breath of fresh air among the other ferocious debating violence at the festival.

Comics will always remain an oddity at a literary festival like Writers Unlimited, says Breedveld. But also in the outside world, where the medium is still too often dismissed as childish unpretentious entertainment. Breedveld - known, admired and hated for his frothy, razor-sharp tirades on his blog Frontal Nude - proves to be a congenial moderator, connecting the work of the three illustrators in a very pleasant way.

Peter van Dongen created a furore with his series Rampokang about the brutal Dutch police actions - or, if you prefer, colonial, military aggression - in Indonesia. With his clear Tintin-like style, he shows the crimes of both the Dutch and the Indonesians. It was preceded by three years of research.

Peter van Dongen - Rampokan

Breedveld projects a page by Van Dongen about a Javanese purification ritual, at the end of Ramadan. A panther is captured by villagers, surrounded and driven up, until the beast runs itself into a wall of spears. Van Dongen stumbled upon this ritual by chance during his research. "It doesn't fit among the Indonesian cliché images of nasi rames or the pasar malam. In my work, I always look for that kind of unfamiliar angle."

Some beautiful but gruesome drawings of Thé Tjong-Khing, from his book The Greek Myths, pass by. Breedveld: "What's going on here!" Thé: "Oh, it's being torn apart a bit. But that's not so bad, is it? There's very little blood. At least this way something happens. I don't like all that sweet stuff."

Thé Tjong-Khing - The Greek Myths

Barbara Stok made a beautiful comic about the last years in Vincent van Gogh's life. "I decided to focus on that last stage of life, because that's when the most intense things happened," he says.

Thé is impressed. "You have mastered the art of omission. Look at that second picture, almost completely blank. That poignant loneliness of Vincent is beautifully suggested." Thé downplays his own success. "Oh well, I was lucky enough to always be linked to bestselling writers. I still think people believe that looking at pictures makes you stupid, and that letters make you smart."

Do comics have to be called graphic novels to be taken seriously?" asks Breedveld. "Nonsense," exclaims Van Dongen. "That's a marketing ploy. They are just comics, and they really do get enough serious attention these days. By the way, I myself hardly read comics anymore. Only real books now."

Breedveld: "In these 50 minutes, we have carefully demonstrated that the comic book is a serious art form. Nice of you to now pull the rug out from under our argument." Stok grins: "I rather think those 'real books' are little more than abstract drawings."

Daniel Bertina

/// Freelance cultural journalist, critic, writer and dramatist. Omnivore with a love of art, culture & media in all unfathomable gradations between obscure underground and wildly commercial mainstream. Also works for Het Parool and VPRO. And trains Brazilian Jiu Jitsu.View Author posts

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