Every year, in the countdown to the Lakes International Comic Art Festival in October, we bring you a series of interviews with guests at the event. This “Festival Focus” for 2019 is with Belgian comic artist Joris Vermassen, who started his career with absurdist stories, published in major Flemish and Dutch magazines, his style gradually evolving from Pythonesque to tragi-comical.
In 2014 he published Het Zotte Geweld (Mad with Joy), a graphic novel about a troubled comedian who has to cope with the illness of his sister, which became an instant classic and will be launched at the Festival, a project from LICAF in partnership with Flanders Literature and Fanfare UK.
Joris Vermassen also works as a cartoonist. He has a PhD in the Arts and teaches illustration and storytelling at the School of Arts Gent.
What are you working on, comics-wise, right now, and when will it be published?
Joris Vermassen: An epic love story set in World War One. I hope to finish it next year.
Which comic project you've worked on are you most proud of and where can people see it or buy it?
Joris: I am very proud of Mad With Joy, my latest graphic novel, which will be presented at the Lakes International Comic Art Festival!
How do you plan your day as a creator? (Do you plan your day?)
Joris: I have to free my mind to work on a comic - I also teach and make cartoons, so this is not easy! I have to be able to work on it for a long uninterrupted period. That's why it takes such a long time to finish a graphic novel - Mad with Joy took me five years, my current project will take me seven years.
What's the best thing about being a comics creator?
Joris: Freedom! (I can do anything I want)
And the worst?
Joris: Freedom! (I can waste my time as much as I want)
What most distracts you from getting your work done?
Joris: My day jobs: teaching, making cartoons for the newspaper...
Do you think it's easier or harder for young comic creators to get published today?
Joris: I think it's harder. The market is shrinking. You cannot publish in magazines any more, and younger audiences prefer gaming.
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?
Joris: I've been to the Peak District before, so the Lakes will be a pleasant change :-)
Which one comic creator would you most like to meet, and why?
Joris: Marjan Satrapi. She's a wonderful storyteller, and she knows how to combine humour with tragedy. I think we could have a good laugh together.
How do Festivals and other comics events help creators most, do you think?
Joris: By doing this kind of interviews and spreading the word! :-)
What one piece of advice do you offer people looking to work in the comics industry?
Joris: It's all about the characters. Whether it's Game of Thrones or Persepolis, style and setting is not important. It's about creating people from flesh and blood, who drag you into the story and leave you behind surprised, bewildered, sad or laughing.
What's your favourite comic right now and where can people get it?
Joris: Irmina, by German comic artist Barbara Yelin. A beautiful story about her grandmother, set in World War Two.
Joris, thank you very much for your time and have a great Festival!