After a long time of not making new portfolios, I made a new portfolio!
It’s been a long time coming, and I’m happy with the result. I even forgot a lot of the illustrations I did along the way =) Check it out!
A free, online comic about modern-day magic. Intended for mature audiences.
You guys like coffee, right?
I was biking through the City in December, selling comics to fancy coffee places. Winter was upon us, and every now and then I got a free cappucino to fuel my nippy biking. Coffee bars cater to a specific audience: in order to be a regular here, you need
Plus, it’s usually a culture-loving newspaper-reading hipster crowd that gathers here.
And so I thought: these folk need COMICS!
Skip two months and we’re on the brink of opening Expo Espresso!
Expo Espresso (details can be found here) will be a multi-location exhibition, spanning five coffee bars. Each location has a scene from Episode 4 as its centerpiece, with prints from said scene as accompaniment. The prints will be for sale at democratic rates, and every location will have its own special day where I sit down to sign your comics.
The exhibition opens this friday in Maurice & Dietrich, on Antwerp’s Grote Markt.
Hello there strangers,
It’s been quiet here. Awfully quiet.
As you may recall, A Song Called City started off as a webcomic, which (one assumes) would include the occasional blogpost, notifications in case of late comics, and some level of human interaction. No? Well, the episodes got printed, the official publication (which has sold acceptably well so far) came, I’ve been convention-hopping (including the Boekenbeurs which seemed like a very big deal), met a lot of people… And totally lost sight of the roots of the comic.
(I’m talking about you guys. This website. You guys, the first online readers.)
I mean to fix it though! Starting today, I’ll go and try to make at least one blogpost per week (there, it’s pinned to my calendar as a weekly to-do), provide some insight in the process, maybe get a conversation or two running… We’ll see!
I’ll start off with another disappointment: Episode 5 probably won’t go online tomorrow. I’m in the process of storyboarding (and thumbnailing) episodes 5 and 6 simultaneously, which
is more work than I had anticipated I started working on way too late. It’s starting to look pretty good though! As you may or may not know, Episode 6 will be the conclusion of the main ASCC story-arc. Fear not, it’ll take at least a year until we get there, and I think it ‘ll be worth it!
See you guys soon!
(oh wait, expo espresso? Expo Espresso!)
The last weekends I’ve been touring (ha!) through Flanders and the Netherlands, visiting comic conventions and comic book shops in an effort to promote my little comic. While I visited Amsterdam’s legendary comic book shop Lambiek, I was visited by the illustrious Michael Minneboo – freelance journalist and comic aficionado. And he did an impromptu interview!
In Dutch of course.
Travels! Many travels have been done!
As it turned out, I’m not the kind of guy who can keep working while travelling. Deadline management has never been a strong suit, although this is a new record – datestamps reveal the latest page to date from APRIL. My shame is great.
The journeys have not been fruitless, however. I’ve kept two sketchbooks of these travels, which are yours for perusal.
The Journal of the Journey chronicles our American road trip in pencils, inks and other stuff – I tried some new drawing styles here, with varying results. This sketchbook can be enjoyed next to the blogposts from that period!
Download the pdf!
The China Sketchbook (Zhōngguó sùxiě běn, or 中国速写本) is a more meditative thing, on colored paper, using white ink for highlights. I’m slightly (only slightly) more satisfied with the results.
Download the pdf!
That’s it for now. Enjoy the sketchbooks, and see you next week!
So, apparently my American journey will be immediately followed by a Chinese one!
Very much fun of course, but that means that I’ve been completely neglecting the website and you, dear readers.
Sad news: the comic won’t resume until september.
But in september, there’ll be some happyfuntime news for all dutch-speaking readers! Can’t say too much more about it now, but I’m super psyched for it =)
Have a mystical summer!
I’m on the NYC subway as I write this – a high-speed bloodstream of strangely efficient public transport, underscoring the City of Cities. People are sleeping next to me, whereas others are yelling, standing, sleeping again, listening to their tunes, trying not to get too close to their neighbours’ armpits, and still being… at peace, for the time being. The subway cars let you have a break from NYC’s adrenalin rush – at least until you get to your next station.
America has not been what I expected it would be. But what the hell did I know? Clichéd movies, the same Times Square and Golden Gate bridge icons played again and again… Rednecks, niggers, spics, jews, white trash, occupiers, stock brokers, bums, mutants and superheroes.
The reality of the continent seems to be that all those things do exist – they’ll turn up again and again, playing off your expectations, offsetting their own cliché with a very real granularity, more real than any HFR3DIMAX movie. Young spunky black girls on the subway being loud and obnoxious, slapping one another with pretend dicks. Hobos you can smell a block away, with a putrid stench you didn’t think a human being could produce, except maybe for someone who died three weeks ago in a sealed plastic bag. Fascist cops, friendly cops, impressive firetrucks. Walls and buildings and walls again of advertising screens, surrounding you, assaulting your synapses. Lonely deserts that stretch for days of driving.
The insane thing about America, to me, is the fact that you’ve got a country that’s really a continent. Everyone speaks the same language (more or less), and you can roam the shit out of it. The road trip is truly an american thing, and it’s real. You can leave everything you have built, take the highway west, and build a new life without too much hassle. This is simply not possible in Europe – it might be possible, but it’s not part of our culture. We stay in our own country, our own city. In ‘MERICA, you can go live wherever the fuck you want, work as you want, do whatever you want – you can be free. And people use that freedom. It’s real.
At the same time, there’s also the issue of credit. Good Credit and Bad Credit are also very real things here, in ways a European cannot understand. Most people are born into debt here. Your Student Loans are a millstone around your neck, as is any credit you ever take – and you’re encouraged to take it. From before the moment when you get your first job, there’s already a big-ass hole waiting for you. A gaping maw in your finances, dug out over years of flunking studies, having fun and being young – and that hole might never be filled. You just live from month to month, paying off loans, paying rent, and living off whatever you have left. Most people I talked to don’t have a savings account. All they have is what they earn each month – that and that fucking gaping MAW of debt, that terrible gnashing monster, always hungry for its next meal. And if you miss one payment, the next one is double… And they’ll write down how you missed a payment, and that’ll add to your downward spiral of Bad Credit, a death sentence to any new apartment, even employment.
I don’t know when America became like this, but I know I couldn’t take it – even the idea of loaning money makes me uncomfortable. In this scenario, your job is your lifeboat. The one thing that stands between you and the gaping maw of debtors’ prison, and getting fired from it may turn out to be a long-term death sentence. And suddenly, freedom becomes a very relative thing. I was raised on the idea that money is an unimportant means-to-an-end: you don’t need it, you may need the things it can buy you. In this scenario, money is a living thing, a parasite, a symbiont attached to your life. Its presence or the lack of it has dire consequences on the rest of your life. You won’t just be hungry for a week – its absence heralds the beginning of either a long period of toiling in sweat, or the beginning of a steep downhill road that ends in curbside panhandling.
This continent provides a great freedom to those who walk it. It may well be amongst the greatest realms of freedoms in our world – home to the brave. But the price of growing up in this system is steep, indeed.
The strongest part of a bottle, apparently, is the neck. I’d never thought of this (why would I?), but the fact struck me yesterday…
Capitalist society leaves a trail of garbage in its wake – we all know this. But have we ever been to a landfill? Have we seen the poor kids who crawl those mountains, scavenging for treasures? I’ll be honest, I haven’t. But as of yesterday, I have been to Dead Horse Bay.
It’s a small stretch of beach, southeast of New York City. As part of the Marine Park, it’s something of a natural reserve area: there’s a couple of trails through the trees, and overall it’s a very cosy piece of nature. But then you get to the beach.
Burnt-out husks of motorboats are scribbled with grafitti. The sand is speckled with shards of glass, pottery, plates, plastic, bubble wrap, starbucks cups, coke cans. And tons, loads of bottlenecks. The rest of the bottle shatters and becomes mere shards, but the neck remains the only recognizable part of these premature archeological artefacts. A tree on the edge of the beach, lushly decorated by someone with multi-colored bottles and glass shards. A cupboard, almost completely submerged in the sand. A hundred meters further, the beach is no longer made of sand, but of old -some still intact – glass bottles. Perfume, medicine, Coke, Pepsi, Dr. Pepper, Fanta, Gatorade,… It might just be me and Kris, but this was a true treasure hunt. We spent hours on this godforsaken beach. Each time the waves rolled back, you’d hear a distinct tinkling sound. The tinkling of glass shards, washed back and forth in the surf. Finding unseemly treasures amongst the refuse of the Great City, with bottles dating back to the sixties. In the light of the setting sun, the beach transmuted into a multi-colored sparkling jewelry counter.
We’d had some beers before, which seemed like the appropriate state of mind to browse this strange boutique – but being a mudlark on a New York beach is thirsty work, and there was no bar or liquor store within a few kilometres. And then, suddenly, there’s two unopened cans of Modelo Lager in the sand. Straight in our path, only TWO of them. No way these are still good, right? They looked slightly dented and scratched, and they’d been warmed by the sun for at least a couple of weeks – definitely gone bad by now… But of course our curiosity got the better of us, and – sniff – it smells alright, and – gulp – doesn’t taste bad…
The universe says “Here you go guys, this one’s on me.”
If this is what lies in the wake of capitalism, I’ve seen worse postapocalyptic visions.
Three hours outside of L.A., there’s a lake. They call it the Salton Sea, and it was never supposed to be there – created by accident when the Colorado river dams burst, and it took them three years to stop the breach. When all was said and done, there lay the Salton Sea. I could harp on about it, but there’s a video on youtube that says it all:
Put this one on fullscreen, folks.
East of it lies a derelict military base. All that’s left of it are the concrete slabs on which the barracks once stood – and on those slabs, some hippies staked their claim and made their home. Slab City. It’s nothing but a spiteful desert, rife with thorns, rattlesnakes, scorpions and black widow spiders. Yet out there they live, a couple hundred people, increasing to two thousand in wintertime, when temperatures get more bearable.
I walked out there the first morning, and was greeted by menacing signs. Keep out. Fuck off. Dogs barking, people shooing me away. Not exactly a warm welcome, until I came up on the Skate Park. In fact it’s a derelict swimming pool with a car wreck in the middle, improvised ramps… But it works out all right. I was greeted by White Rabbit (no joke), a twenty-something busker, acrobat, fire juggler and martial artist, who came to live out here to ‘practise his kung-fu’, by which he meant Mastery of Self. I met Randall, a 60-something Texan who’d spent his life travelling the world, and was now working on this yellow school bus which was his new home. There was a girl who’d just spent three years in federal prison and missed her days of methamphetamine chemistry, another girl practising free love while cooking up cannabis oil, a paranoid weed dealer who miraculously found his stolen macbook, a handful of wise old bearded men, couple of meth junks, a christian named Smiley who sort of kept things running,…
By now I suspect that there’s too much to tell about Slab City. What was supposed to be a two-hour visit turned into a three-day stay at White Rabbit’s place, the Rebel Circus. There I meditated, bathed in hot springs, went swimming in a canal, got a full-hour tarot reading, practised kung-fu, and witnessed… I witnessed a different way of life. A wholly different way.
I wanted to stay there. Take care of everything by yourself, battle the desert and the elements, forge life-saving bonds, depend on one another, be wary of meth junkies,…
But as I stayed longer in the Slabs, I found that in a very real way, it could ensnare you. At noon it’s too hot to do anything much, and you’re tempted to spend the day hunting for tobacco, booze and weed. Staying productive can be tricky when it’s blazing 45° celsius all day long. And there’s the risk of getting caught up in your own bullshit.
Still, it tugs at me: the idea of going out into the desert, by yourself, and combat your inner devils. The Jesus card did come up twice during my tarot reading.
It’s been a while since we saw the last of San Francisco. A strangely wonderful week it was, in which many of our dollars got shot, leaving our hands for a worthy cause. One of our last evenings, however, left an aftertaste.
Whenever you go traveling, you obviously find a number of layers to any place. You’ll talk to the locals, walk the streets, get a feel of its texture. So far, so good.
And then you see a faint bonfire glow over a pacific ocean dune. Armed with smiles, quips and a crate of beers we boldly crashed the party.
They were boys and girls, most of them 20-somethings. It took a while until I figured out they were from Oakland, San Francisco’s across-the-bay rugged twin, rife with gangs, shootings and who knows what. These were teen gangsters. Off the grid on the pacific beach, they were celebrating some girl’s birthday.
One of the guys – I forgot his name – was all “you feel me, bro?” “nah’mean?” and other slang we Europeans came to know through clichéd bad boy movies. Only here, the clichés are real. Not only was he a gangster, he was actually clawing his way out of that world. Educating himself, rising above his origins. Still, his gang rationale was not that easily eradicated: he’d done a number on some people, an eye for an eye. When you’s from Oakland, ya gotta make dem bitches respect ya, you feel me bro? I believed him.
And then, there was a slight disturbance. People were looking in different directions, all of them busy not-seeing something. I was severely drunk by this point, so it took me a while to understand what was going on. The girls were huddled together, birthday girl included. As I got closer, she sniffed her last tears away. All of them staring at the ground as I approached.
“She got decked”, someone said. Someone had hit her hard.
“Who did this?”, I asked. Repeated the question.
It was a difficult thing to wrap my drunken head around.
“This… This should not happen. This ain’t right, you hear? Don’t you accept this!”
“You girls stick together, you hear me? You look out after one another.”
I almost got around to sorting through the guys, finding the culprit, and then I didn’t. Because it wasn’t my turf, because I didn’t know the precise circumstances, because I was an outsider, because I was drunk,… But that scene stuck with me.
Poor scheduling is a constant in this trip. To my mind, that’s not always a bad thing: we constantly encounter unexpected things, linger longer than we’d planned, find derelict
backyards full of rusty Fords, gatecrash a mormon fathers-and-sons camping trip,…
So yesterday, we once again arrived late at our destination. The hike we’d planned wasn’t going to happen, as the trail is hideously dangerous at night – so we resolved to just walk along the rim, and see the sun set.
We walked through a tiny, unimpressive forest. There was no buildup, no mountains, nothing amazing really. Until, in front of you, the ground suddenly drops.
There it is. The grand fuckin’ canyon.
It sounds corny, but my mind was washed clean. All sorrow, worries or preconceptions – everything was obliterated as I found my tiny, mortal, cosmically irrelevant husk confronted with that sacral monumentality.
I was struck the ancientness of it all. Of the blink-of-an-eye that my life was, compared to this eternity, which itself was only a blink of an eye in the bigger universe of things.
Almost automatically, i started to vocalise some words of humility, gratitude. Which evolved into a prayer.
“Aware of my cosmic insignificance… Fully aware of the contingency of all of this, of the blind forces that shaped all of this and I, I am nonetheless thankful for this experience. Knowing that I, myself, am but a grain of sand in an endless beachhead – knowing that even now, the wind washes away my words as it erodes these rocks, I am happy and thankful for my brief life.”
Or something like that, I don’t remember the exact words.
We watched the sun set, with the sky on fire, the canyon in ever-changing relief, and my eyes full of sunspots. I smoked the last cigarette I will smoke on this trip, and was at peace.
The first days on the new continent have been kind to us. I’m beginning to think that there couldn’t have been a better place to land on this continent than sunkissed San Francisco. Our gracious host (a self-proclaimed druid) frequently postulates how his City (capital C) sports the largest amount of freaks per square mile. Well, we do feel welcome.
It takes me a while to calibrate my social equipment to american standards. Me and my cohort have frequent disagreements on this: we’re frequently hailed by people so friendly it’s suspicious. In Belgium, those friendlies are after your money – no doubt. So we’re going down some street, and some homeless old lady suddenly compliments me on my t-shirt. Obviously a lead-in for ‘spare some change, fellas?’
And then, the anticipated sentence never follows.
It’s a weird mix: some hobo will chat you up, and will just keep on chatting, being ever so friendly. He says goodbye without money-oriented requests. It makes me think for a minute – half-heartedly wishing I’d given the poor bastard a dollar.
Me and Kris form a decent – even if not entirely functional – team on this issue: I’m the too-trusting hippie. Only yesterday I was chatting with a mouth-foaming drug dealer. Kris on the other hand, is stone paranoid. Not quite functional, but still a useful combo.
We went to pick up our rental car, only to find out they’d framed us with a tiny Chevrolet Spark – not quite the American Pride vehicle we’d booked. Dreading the cramped journey down route 66, we half-heartedly asked what the next class of vehicle would be.
Yes! The very same Dodge Charger, the classic american muscle-car, that is driven by our esteemed Mr. Vandersteen in THIS COMIC!
Life does imitate art, huh?
You may have noticed how the promised update failed to go live. My sincerest apologies!
Part of this may be explained by my current location: I’m currently getting ready for bed, at a time my neighbours consider to be a quarter past midnight. My biological clock however, reads 9:15 in the morning.
I’m in San Francisco!
I don’t have my scanner with me, which is a shame, because that means no more new pages until I return to Belgium, damn! The old CanoScan spoketh not the language of Windows 8, reducing it to dead weight. Again, apologies!
I’ll try to confer something vaguely interesting in the form of blogposts.
In which we landed at a fabulous hostel, met a wonderful guy, and had a speeding showoff with four junior motorcyclists.
We met Jeffery near his home, as he got me out of a pickle I was having with a drunken local. We had spoken online, but the person was much older than I’d imagined. As we were dead tired, he offered to drop us off at our hostel almost immediately – an offer which we gladly accepted. Instead of making a beeline for the Green Tortoise (seriously, if you ever go to San Francisco, stay there!), our gracious host showed us all around town – the pacific ocean, golden gate park, Twin Peaks (overlooking the entire city!) etcetera. As we went down Frisco’s central hill, a quartet of motorcyclists (wet behind the ears, even to the untrained eye) started making a ruckus, swerving between lanes, braking unpredictably. They effectively forced the eight cars in their wake to make abrupt evasive maneuvers –
They were being total dicks.
But our host would not stand for this.
He caught up to them on market street, one of San Francisco’s heavy traffic boulevards, and started berating them from behind the wheel, all the while keeping their pace.
Things seemed to turn ugly (PULL OVER OLD MAN!!) yet he was unrelenting. As they threatened him, he filmed their license plates, pausing only to scream rhetoric at their pubescent faces. My head found itself in the unfortunate middle position between the two parties. Driving behaviour was brusque.
As he finally broke away, making for calmer streets, he assured us everything was okay. “I have friends with the police”, he said. “They’ll hang for sure”.
We wondered a while at this peculiar evening. As first nights of a trip go, this one certainly didn’t disappoint.
Hay readers of A Song Called City,
My artist is currently working on (some paid, some unpaid) deadlines so he can leave to America next week worry-free. Page updates will therefore be less often: once every week on Tuesdays, until he is back from ‘Merica (on the 3rd of June).
Some plus points are however that the comic will be shown in Stroke (a Dutch digital comic book magazine).
Have fun reading!
Let’s delve into non-comic related business here.
I’m something of a free software enthusiast. Free as in libre, not gratis. The digital medium has taken such a central place in our lives, that it’s disturbing to see how we are still severely limited by the corporations that provide us with these platforms. Want a new computer? Have Windows 8 with it – even though you’d rather stick with 7, or XP, or even something entirely different. It’s completely understandable that these corporations try to push this on us – hell, they’re corporations, it’s what they do. But what’s weird is how placidly we accept these limitations. We seem to think there’s no other way.
And sure, most of us don’t understand how these digimal shenanigans work. But we do understand that we didn’t like Windows Vista. We definitely know we don’t like having to pay every two years for a newer, even crappier version of MS Office – resulting in incompatible document formats, ending up saving everything as a ’97 .doc.
The reason for my writing this today, is an interesting petition over at avaaz.org. If you buy a computer nowadays, it’s pre-loaded with all kinds of software you might not be interested in (Photoshop Elements? MS Excel/OneNote/Access? McAfee? Norton? I’m never gonna use those). The only purpose this pre-loaded software serves, is further reinforcing the existing market monopolies. Furthermore, this software (on average) makes up 30% of a PC’s retail price.
30%! Even when I just want to throw the windows off, Office included, and install some sweet free software instead?!
This pre-installed bullshit should be optional. And that’s what we’re fighting for, today.
Democracy is now!
Belgium’s heavily anticipated elections are closing in on us, like a nefarious cloud of Olympian proportions – but there’s still two months to go before that hammer comes down.
No, I speak of the coveted Comik Web Award, a trophy to be awarded during the Haarlem Comic Days!
(the previous winner, Christiaan De Jong)
Of course, it would be greatly appreciated if you could take some time to vote for this comic. Instead of pointing you to some fancy web-voting applet, I’m afraid this one is a bit more old-fashioned. To nominate (and vote for) A Song Called City, you’ll have to mail your vote to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Thank you so much!
P.S.: There’s a big news thingy on the way! More disclosure one o’ these days!
After rebooting Rik everything seems fixed! There will be a new page this Tuesday, Friday, Tuesday, and … Friday and so on! =)
To avoid further (necessary) financial delays please click on the pretty yellow button to your left ;]
p.s.: some comments seem to have disappeared after the reboot You are very welcome to repost!
Imagine hosting a comic book party. You’ve been wrangling these comical shenanigans for some time now, and your friends and family smilingly endorse your quirky hobby. Which is fun! It’s all kinds of fun. But you never know if anyone really likes (let alone reads) your comics. You can’t know whether you’re any good, compared to the people you hope to one day address as colleagues.
Friends and family (on account of them loving you) are fundamentally untrustworthy.
But suddenly, some strangers casually stroll into the room! What are they doing there? You don’t know them – and they don’t know you – but their purpose seems clear. They are there, enjoying your doodles. Hell, they even buy your books. And the people running the gallery make you an aftermovie!
Suddenly, friends and family’s maybe-feigned enthusiasm gains credibility.
Lessened paranoia is a wonderful side-effect of these parties.
With episode 3 being nigh concluded, i’m taking some time to carefully prepare episode 4 – which will debut somewhere mid-january.
December will be a pretty busy month. Between the classic festivities, there’s a couple of ill-timed birthdays, a bunch of comic conventions and a wonderful little thing called the fourth anniversary of me-and-my-lady. I may go offline for a while.
Enjoy the conclusion to episode 3, and I’ll see you in january!
A mere two days before the official launch of the Episode 3 booklets, and only now do I take the time to write about it. Smarts are lacking. Things are looking bright, though. The Book of Faces was warned well in advance, and there was even a tiny poster campaign. This thursday, the 28th of november, at Antwerp’s city hall. I like the ring of that.
One year ago, a stern look from a senior artist scoured my pages.
“You suck at anatomy”, he said. “Think more about the placement of your word balloons; you should use them to guide your readers’ eyes across the page.” Meanwhile, someone else criticized (ridiculed) me for my overwrought, theoretical and distant dialogue. “I can’t connect with your stupid stuffy talking characters,” she said. “they’re just saying blah blah blah, theoretical non-interesting bullshit,…I can’t care for what they’re saying.”
Many more criticisms were uttered (take a look at the About page’s comments, for example) during the last year. I took away from that what I could. Many of the lessons learned have been put into practice while constructing Episode 3.
For those wanting to join in, you’re most welcome this thursday. There’ll be free drinks and a live performance by Ashtoreth.
In stealthy fashion, a shiny yellow button smokebombed its appearance on the front page.
It’s something I’ve been postponing for months on end now, until my Lady started doing it for me. As it turns out, it only takes two minutes to install.
Now don’t worry, the comic is still free to read – and by my current plans, will stay that way. I’m convinced that our generation has a different lookout on its consumption of entertainment. People download movies, series, music and comic books alike, reading them in a binge. And sometimes, buying or otherwise supporting what they like. Therefore, this comic is free to read. And if you like it, and you’d like to support its author, you’re free to do so. You can blog about it, like and share stuff on the Book of Faces, buy booklets (in another perpetually postponed project, the coming-soon-Webshop) or -as of now- donate your spare change.
PayPal’s ‘donate’ button has helped many a cartoonist before me in slowly rising from Starbucks part-timer with a quirky hobby to, ultimately, Emperor of teh Webcomics. Few succeeded as Penny Arcade or PVP did, but many are able to live comfortable lives sans panhandling or prostitution. And as the website’s stats slowly rise, I find myself thinking that gods willing, this could be me, one day.
This yellow oval is a first step. May there follow more.