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Intimate performances create strong ties

Nine foreign publishers of graphic novels were our guests for three days in mid-May. Will they still be able to remember the names of all the nineteen authors on the programme? For a whole week the group was out and about in Flanders, calling at sublime graphic novel spots. Variety was the key word in this first publishers’ tour of its kind: variety in authors and their publications, but also in conversations with creators or local publishers, study visits and several intimate performances. In a variety of languages, director Paul Hermans briefed the eight European publishers plus Fantagraphics from Seattle, USA.

foreign publishers on publishers' tour graphic novel
foreign publishers on publishers' tour Graphic Novel, hosted by Lien Devos & Diego Rodriguez (in front row on the right)
I particularly enjoyed seeing with my own eyes what has inspired the artists, as in the live performance by Sabien and Mieke and the city tour by Wauter. It feels like my trip to Flanders was just yesterday, but one thing I am sure of is that I won't forget it easily.
Doğan Sima, Baobab

Some highpoints

  • On the Tuesday all eyes were on Sabien Clement and Mieke Versyp at De Studio in Antwerp, who with a session on life drawing showed how they arrived at the idea for the graphic novel ‘Vel’ (Skin).
  • On arrival in Brussels on the Wednesday, a visit to the Bright Yellow Cube in the Marc Sleen Museum was a must. It is an alternative setting for an artist in residence, intended to showcase young talent. Miel Vandepitte, resident there at the time, showed us his creations in detail.
  • The day ended with a drawing concert, in which music by Stoomboot brought the work of Wide Vercnocke to life amid the decor of the graphic novels shop Graphic.
  • On the Thursday the publishers called at the Hendrik Conscience Heritage Library and were received in the imposing Nottebohm Room, one of Antwerp’s best kept secrets. The first 150,000 items in the library’s catalogue are held there in a breath-taking historical setting.
Miel Vandepitte in The Bright Yellow Cube at the Marc Sleen Museum

Building new relationships

In preparing a publishers’ tour, the selection of invited guests is just as important as the creative programme. It comes down to maintaining a good balance between existing relationships and new contacts. As a result of meetings at professional book fairs, Lien Devos, who promotes graphic novels abroad, was able to put a face to most of the names in her inbox, and to sense what would appeal to the tastes of specific publishers and their foreign markets. This year, for instance, Lien invited newcomer Baobab, a publishing company in Turkey that wants to put the graphic novel in all its glory on the map. Baobab has already published big names including Liv Strömquist and Manuele Fior. Lien is determined to persuade founder Doğan Sima that a huge amount of talent exists in Flanders.

The days were packed, but it was super interesting and I gathered many lasting impressions about the huge diversity of Flemish comics culture. I had a blast meeting some colleagues again and getting to know new ones.
Johann Ulrich, Avant Verlag

Rising talent

A tour of our creative landscape is certain to have made the guests familiar with what Flemish authors have to offer now and in the future. Authors Judith Vanistendael and Johan Stuyck of publishing house Oogachtend, for example, teach graphic storytelling at the LUCA School of Arts in Brussels – unique in the Dutch-language area. Partly as a result of their course, the terrain is littered with rising talent.

But don’t meetings at international book fairs, where practically the entire professional book world is present, ultimately have the same impact as a publishers’ tour? What is the added value of a creative programme right here in Flanders? In other words, is all the effort worthwhile? The publishers who took part were happy to give a positive answer to that question.

It was lovely to be introduced to all of the incredibly talented artists of Flanders, and to share this experience in the company of all of you who are passionate about bringing comics into the world in your own languages; just a rare treat.
Conrad Groth, Fantagraphics

Strengthening lasting ties

The primary aim of international promotion is of course the building up of lasting ties, both between the Flemish graphic novel scene and publishers and between foreign guests themselves. In the case of most of the publishers invited, that relationship has already resulted in one or more publications. Furthermore, this list of translations reflects the diversity of the work of Flemish authors of graphic novels: