When she published Hic Sunt Leones in 2004 (English language edition the following year – Joe), Ria Schulpen completed one of the most impressive and ambitious projects ever. Hic Sunt Leones was an overview of up and coming Flemish cartoon and illustration talent, in a lavish but affordable full colour tome. Everybody that was (going to be) anybody was present: Pieter De Poortere, Stijn GisquiĂ¨re, Nix, Maarten van de Wiele, Philip Pacquet, Olivier Schrauwen and a host of others presented their work, held together by a beautiful cover by Jan Van Der Veken (best known abroad for his work for Drawn & Quarterly).
Schulpen, full time one woman powerhouse behind Flanders’ prime small press publisher Bries (I’m glad to say we have a Bries section on our webstore here – Joe), even permitted herself a little joke: she called the book “Nr 1″, even though it was clear that it would take years and years before she would be able to pull of a stunt like this again. Enter Toon Horsten, the freshly appointed director of Strip Turnhout VZW and editor-in-chief for the Flemish comic magazine Stripgids. Strip Turnhout wanted to compile a new overview of Flemish talent, and rather than starting from scratch, they went to Schulpen and asked “Can you do that again”. Six months later, behold Hic Sunt Leones, Nr 2, and once more, it is a treasure trove of talent.
The book opens with “Burberri Blue” by Reinhart, featuring a couple of fashion cops who are clearly inspired by EP Jacobs’ Blake and Mortimer. In “The Last Days of Flowbot 1.0″, Serge Baeken, winner of the 2006 Turnhout debut Prize, tackles the question how far man would allow artificial intelligence to evolve. Leen Van Hulst, one of the few women in the line-up, presents “Underground Comic”, in my opinion the best contribution to the book. It’s a set of seemingly loose snapshots from the Brussels underground, but when read closely, it unfolds as a beautiful and poetic evocation of the dynamics of attraction and separation.
Amongst the “pure” illustrators, who are not telling a story, but “just” create great art, I was most impressed by the work of Ephameron, which I had encountered here and there before but never consciously recognized as being by one artist. Jan Van Der Veken has selected some recent work, which clearly shows how he’s evolving from the Next Generation Ever Meulen to a new and more personal style, with a very vivid brush stroke and an almost exotic dynamism.
Hic Sunt Leones 2 could easily be dismissed as just more of the same. This book too has a beautiful cover by Jan Van Der Veken, and it is exactly the same size as the previous volume. It has the same combination of superior comics and illustration work (albeit more harmoniously mixed), and even some of the artists from the first volume are present yet again. More of a good thing, that’s never bad.
However, as you leaf through it, the subtle differences with part 1 become apparent. The cover in itself is a dead giveaway in that respect. On the first volume, a (more or less) struggling lone artist was slaving away at this cartoon, with his admiring girlfriend in the background. Volume 2 shows the entrance to a production house, where professional artists come to create professional work. This factory has a sing saying, “Comics and illustration”, and that’s what they’re selling. Incidentally, as the back cover reveals, there’s no comics work after hours – the production floor is dark and empty.
And it is indeed clear that the contributors to this volume, even though they never compromise in terms of personality and identity, strive at presenting themselves and their work as commercially viable, and available for assignments. The art is never totally different or outrageously new, but always breathes a high degree of quality and professionalism. But it is never cold; it’s never “just beautiful pictures”. Even more so than the previous volume, this book presents artists and storytellers who know what they can do and demand a stake of what they’re owed. And rightly so.
(Some panels from Randall C’s contribution, borrowed from his blog)
Even though the book is a perfect companion to its predecessor, and a wonderful introduction of Flemish art at its prime, as it is almost completely in Dutch it fails as an international calling card for the art it aims to promote (although Randall C’s blog mentions a possible English edition, which we’ll need to check into – Joe). Still, it deserves some space on your shelf, next to your copy of Kramer’s Ergot or Drawn and Quarterly.