Every year, in the countdown to the Lakes International Comic Art Festival, we bring you a series of interviews with guests at the event. This “Festival Focus” for 2018 is Marcel Ruijters, a Dutch comic artist, who is best known for his work based on medieval themes.
Marcel studied at the Art Academy in Maastricht and started self-publishing his comic stories in 1988. He has self-published over 30 comic books, including Onbegrijpelijke Verhalen, Mandragoora, Fun&Games, Thank God it's Ugly and five issues of Dr. Molotov.
His work has been published in several alternative magazines, including Zone 5300, Coyote and Gr'nn, as well as a variety of magazines and anthologies from all over the world, such as Hopital Brut, Malefact and Stripburger.
Between 1999 and 2007, he released the three-volume series Troglodytes with Oog & Blik. Abroad, he published the mini-comic A Jest of Nature in Canada in 1998, and several of his books were published by Le Dernier Cri in France, such as Bestiarium (2004) and Tarot Corrupt (2007).
His 2005 graphic novel Sine Qua Non was inspired by medieval woodcuts and mysticism, and was well received in the press. In May 2008, Marcel Ruijters won the VPRO Award for best Dutch graphic novel for Inferno, his comic based on Dante's work, which was also published by Oog & Blik.
In 2010, Ruijters released a colour edition of Bestiarium, a collection of scraperboard illustrations that pays tribute to medieval manuscripts full of mythical creatures and human races. He's remained inspired by the art and stories of the Middle Ages for his next works, 1348 (Le Dernier Cri, 2010) and Alle Heiligen, a collection of fake saint's lives (Sherpa, 2013).
Marcel Ruijters won the prestigious Stripschapprijs in 2015. In that same year, he was commissioned to make a comic about the 16th century Dutch painter Hieronymus Bosch, on the occasion of the 500th anniversary of his death.
For his last graphic novel, Het 9e Eiland, he won the award for best Dutch comic book of 2017.
What are you working on, comics-wise, right now, and when will it be published?
Marcel Ruijters: Right now, I'm working on the successor of Pola, which will be published (in Dutch, by Sherpa Books) in the autumn. It is a whimsical satire featuring Pola, a young woman who grew up on a tropical island and settled on "the mainland", where time has been put to a halt. In fact, the world has been pushed back to the state of affairs in the year 1913: trams, bowler hats and long skirts.
Pola likes books, something that was scarce on her island. An aspiring writer, she writes a screenplay about her grandparents, who were cannibals. It gets butchered by the Censorship Commission, but it attracts some strange viewers, such as Helga Hahnemüller, head of the Spiritual Underground, an obvious parody on Mme Blavatsky. They will start a lesbian Fight Club while exchanging their clashing world views.
Pola and her small circle of writer-friends (based on Henri Michaux, Paul van Ostaijen and such avant garde characters) are being spied on by the government, however. Then, she meets a distant relative, who is a spitting image of her grandfather... that's the story so far. No schedule for publication yet. Maybe autumn 2019, or a bit later.
Which comic project you've worked on are you most proud of and where can people see it or buy it?
Marcel: It's hard to pick a favorite, but for the English audience, Hieronymus, published by Knockabout, is most of interest. I spent five years working on this biography of Hieronymus Bosch and it brought me many good things, knowledge of the late Middle Ages being one of those. I had to dig really deep in order to construct what his life may have been.
How do you plan your day as a creator? (Do you plan your day?)
Marcel: I work seven days in a week when I am not out of town. I don't own a TV, do sports, or play in a band. So practically all of my time is reserved for drawing. I get up around 10 or 11. The first cups of coffee get my ideas going. After that, practical stuff such as answering messages, sending invoices for illustrations and elaborating on sketches. My routine is to do that until one or two o'clock at night.
What's the best thing about being a comics creator?
And the worst?
Marcel: The money. Obviously.
What most distracts you from getting your work done?
Marcel: Many things. Assignments are within a different dimension than my own artistic view. Sometimes, I'm lucky to work on a compromise on the two. I would say that inspiration is a fragile thing. While inking, I often have music in the background, while scripting, silence is the only option.
Do you think it's easier or harder for young comic creators to get published today?
Marcel: That depends how you look at it. Is publishing on the internet really publishing? Printing costs have gone down dramatically, so self-publishing has become easier. On the other hand, postage rates have become extortionate. Publishers are pickier than ever (understandably, I'd say) and print runs have gone down while the number of titles is rising. So, also for us middle-aged creators, things aren't that great. Some young artists are clever at reaching their audience online, I should try that one...
Have you ever been to the Lake District before and if so what did you think of it? If you haven't, what are you expecting?
Marcel: This will be my first time. I hope to see some English eccentricity. A mini-Angouleme, I have been told to expect.
Which one comic creator would you most like to meet, and why?
Marcel: Ooh, i don't know. Most on the list of guests, I don't know yet. It should be a surprise then!
How do Festivals and other comics events help creators most, do you think?
Marcel: I have been to many festivals over Europe. It is a great way of networking. It has been quite helpful in meeting publishers.
What one piece of advice do you offer people looking to work in the comics industry?
Marcel: YOLO (You Only Live Once). No, seriously! Go for what inspires you.
What's your favourite comic right now and where can people get it?
Marcel: It's impossible to narrow that list down to one title, and it varies depending on my mood, of course. But if you are twisting my arm, I'd say that i enjoy re-reading Philémon, by the late, great Fred. The series is currently published again in Dutch and I must say it has withstood time really well. I am not sure if it is known in the UK. In France and the surrounding countries it certainly is, or was.
Marcel, thank you very much for your time and we look forward to seeing you in Kendal.
• The Lakes International Comic Art Festival will be back in Kendal 12th – 14th October 2018. Tickets for the Festival are on sale now from: www.comicartfestival.com