Cartoonist Brecht Evens appeared to emerge out of nowhere in Fall of 2010 with the American publication of “The Wrong Place” by Drawn and Quarterly, a book that had originally been released in Europe the year before. This year saw the U.S. release of one of Evens’ earlier books, “Night Animals,” this time through Top Shelf. Evens is young, only in his mid-twenties, which makes the fact that he’s currently in the midst of his fourth graphic novel all the more impressive.
Evens made an impression on attendees of this year’s MoCCA Festival in New York, but as charming as he is, the artist wouldn’t have made nearly the impression he did were it not matched by his skill at crafting characters, his sense of design and, above all, his use of color. Given how self-assured his North American debut was, it’s almost startling — and somewhat charming — to hear Evens sound horrified by his first book “Vincent,” because no matter how it may seem to the rest of us, his career didn’t quite emerge fully formed at his first time at bat.
Evens spoke with CBR News about his career thus far and what he’s got planned for the future.
CBR News: What is your background as an artist ahen did you start working on comics?
Brecht Evens: I made comics as a kid and never stopped doing it. I studied illustration at Sint-Lucas Beeldende Kunst in Ghent, all the while making comics outside of school. Then, as a final project, I wanted to make a comic that could pass my teacher’s scrutiny.
Can you talk a little about your creative process?
You mean, how do I draw, or how do I write? I don’t have much of a routine for making books, yet.
Well, could you talk a little about how you’re working currently and how that differs from how and if it differs from the way in which you worked on “The Wrong Place?”
I’ve been plotting and writing more beforehand. I’m trying to be less expansive and more economical, make less double spreads so as not to end up with a 500 page full-color comic book. More drawings end up in the trash. The book has many little scenes rather than three big ones like “The Wrong Place.” The drawing technique and materials are the same, but I try to use a wider range of ways to show things, and a more varied color palette, relying less on the primary colors.
“Night Animals” actually consisted of two stories. Where did they originally come from?
The “Night Animals” story came first. I was in Barcelona, watching “Pan’s Labyrinth,” where the monsters in the girl’s fantasy world turn out nice in the end, which made me want to make my own monster story with ambiguous monsters. They oscillate between an adult and a child’s fantasy world.
I made the “Blind Date” story afterwards, since I was having fun, but that story is more straightforward.
How do you think that pairing them together changes the meaning or how people read the stories?
I don’t know. The two stories seem to take place in the same mute little world, so having two stories instead of one was satisfying just for that, to enrich that little world.
Now, these stories came before “The Wrong Place,” is that correct?
Yes, I made them in Spring/Summer of 2007. Later that year, I started working on “The Wrong Place,” which had already been taking shape in my head for a while.
I ask because in both stories in “Night Animals,” you use watercolor in very sophisticated ways. But in “The Wrong Place” you really seem to take it a step further in your use of color with regards to mood and character.
I started making “Night Animals” while studying abroad, but then I got back home, where my illustration teacher Goele Dewanckel pushed me hard. She said, “Are you going to draw like that for the rest of your life?” She made me see that my drawings were still too monotone, too sterile. So I experimented a lot that fall, made some really ugly drawings, until things suddenly came together in the first drawing deemed suitable for the book. That’s the purplish cityscape, just after the prologue.
How did you originally get published in Europe? I can’t imagine it’s easy or cheap to reproduce color in this fashion.
And the market for Dutch graphic novels is small. It’s made possible thanks to grants from the Flemish Literature Fund.
How did you end up having two books published by two of North America’s major comics publishers only a few months apart?
Top Shelf agreed to publish “Night Animals” a long time ago, but they released it after “The Wrong Place.” For a moment, I worried that people would mistake it for newer work, but then I saw a spot on my arm and started worrying about that.
How challenging was it to translate “The Wrong Place” into English?
It was done by a team of three enthusiastic translators. They had to get the tone right. Most people in the book speak with a hidden agenda, which warbles their speech.
You have another book that’s been published in Europe but has not yet made the trip overseas, “Vincent.” Are there plans for that volume to be translated and published here?
Not if I can help it. I made the book when I was nineteen, twenty. One of the worst things about it is that the main characters wear thick, woolen turtleneck sweaters all the time. They look as if their heads are poking out of anuses.
What’s the comics scene like in Brussels?
l’Employe du Moi organizes some fun happenings, and I know there’s a lot of good comic artists based here, but I mostly meet them at foreign festivals. We don’t have a bar where we meet.
I know that you’re working on a new comic right now. Would you like to talk about what it’s about or what you’re doing differently this time around?
The book is called “The Making Of.” It’s about an art festival in the countryside, conflicting interests in a small group. It’s more plot-driven. Graphically, it’s not such a big leap from “The Wrong Place,” but it has lots of plants and is slightly more dense. I’ve been trying to be more frugal with the sprawling double-spreads.
Finally, what were your impressions of New York and the MoCCA festival?
I hardly had any time to take in the festival, let alone New York. I had Chinese dumplings, I liked doing the panel with Dash Shaw, hanging around with Joe Ollman and Pascal Girard. I went to the Zebulon in Williamsburg — and then I spent the morning bent over a toilet with a Chinese dumpling stomach infection. Then I had to catch my plane home.
The “New York, New York” moment came late at night in a cab, crossing, I think, the Brooklyn Bridge. I momentarily forgot the stomach infection. Suddenly, [I felt] pleasure and awe. Then, back to the stomach infection.