Q&A with Dutch comic artist Evert Geradts - one of the main representatives of underground comix movement of the '70s

"Music and comics can help realize changes that are floating in the air, as they reach a big public. Nowadays these changes will start more on the internet, which is much faster than other media. But music, books or comics can produce reference points. They last longer than a Facebook discussion."

Evert Geradts: Ragtime of Comicland

Dutch comic artist and script writer Evert Geradts is one of the main representatives of the Dutch underground comix movement of the 1970s. He contributed to and published the influential Dutch underground comic “Tante Leny Presenteert!” and later worked in mainstream comics with the pop group gag series “De Alsjemaar Bekend Band”. With the advent of computers he helped pioneer the use of 2-D vector-based graphics, doing several cartoon series for Malmberg publications.

An ardent admirer of Carl Barks, he became the most prolific story writer for the Dutch weekly “Donald Duck”. Geradts lives in southern France and, appropriately enough, writes his stories from a renovated duck farm.

Interview by Michael Limnios

How would you characterize the philosophy of your comic art?

I work mainly for children, so my first goal is to show them that although life can be hard at times, having a sense of humour can save you. Other goals are proving that you can’t trust everybody, that once you start lying life will become horribly complicated, that money does not guarantee happiness, that you should not push buttons on strange machines and many, many more useful lessons to live by. But keeping your sense of humor is the most important. Even my drawing style bears witness.

What has been the relationship between music & literature in your life and art? How does it affect your inspiration?

I come from a very musical family. My mother had finished the conservatoire to be a classical singer. She was an excellent piano and organ player and a promising soprano, but she abandoned a singing career to have a family of six kiddies instead. She regretted more or less, but anyway she stimulated all six of us to play an instrument. A daring decision, as we were very poor. We all started to play the simple recorder, I promoted to the violin and later the trombone. My elder sister took it even more seriously and had a career as a professional clarinet player in an Australian orchestra. The other siblings still play piano, guitar, cornet or banjo in their spare time. At home, the whole family sang songs together for Christmas or on other festive occasions, or why not, just for fun. We also formed a small orchestra that played classic jazz songs from the 1920’s, listening first very closely to King Oliver, Clarence Williams and Jelly Roll Morton recordings to get the parts for each instrument. Later some of us also had a Mississippi blues trio with violin, guitar and washboard. Much later, with my third wife here in France I learned to play the accordion, as she wanted to sing the old French repertoire of the ‘20s and ’30s.

As I did not know anything about the instrument, and I had no teacher, I played it the high notes up, the low notes down. It seemed so logical to me, I didn’t even hesitate. Later I found out accordions have the high notes down, which makes me un upside-down accordion player. With my background it is no real mystery why I did the comic strip “Marion McKay’s All Animal Orchestra” in my underground days. Or, once a professional, I started a comic strip about a three-piece pop group “De Alsjemaar Bekend Band”. Plus another comic strip later in Adobe Illustrator style about a boy and girl singing duo. I love music on a very personal level. To me languages are music, hearing people talk is music. Most of the time, I listen to the music of the voices instead of what the speakers are saying. A good story is like music too: it should develop like a great melody that you can’t break off in mid-air. Plus the texts and images of a comic story should bounce with an irresistable rhythm.

"Emotions like shame, fear, desire, despair… I have had my share of them, like everybody else, and while in real life they are not always easy to go through, (well, desire is not so bad) they make great building blocks for stories. Without emotions stories are flat and dead as roadkill."

Which meetings have been the most important experiences for you?

First, meeting Willem De Ridder, who is a Fluxus artist and who created the Dutch underground weekly “Hitweek” in the 1960s. It published my first comic strips, so I had a platform to develop and grow. The most memorable moment with Willem was when he explained the technique of color separations to me, with an analogy based on bread wrapping paper. Suddenly something that was awfully hi-tech at the time became utterly simple and within my reach. Unforgettable! Another meeting that formed me was meeting Marc Smeets, who was a brilliant artist, living only for his art and filling sketchbook after sketchbook with magically charming comic art. And of course Glenn Bray, the comics collector from L.A. who has the most personal and astonishing taste for comics, who has an enormous comics collection and who, among other exploits, pushed Carl Barks to start his Duck paintings.

What is the best advice ever given you?

I guess it was Willem de Ridder’s advice: “Don’t worry, it’s simple, you can do it”.

What are your hopes and fears for the future of comics?

I hope there will always be talented artists with a passion for comics, and especially that there will be many platforms where they can show their products and make a decent living. I fear nothing much. Comics are strong, comics are multi-leveled. There will always be comics.

What do you miss most nowadays from the comics of the past?

The excitement of discovering them. When I was growing up comics and graphic arts were my fascination. But there were no books on the subject of comics, there was no internet either, so in the beginning kids like me knew nothing at all. Little by little and very slowly in the 1960’s with my friends (and future colleagues) we discovered the great comic artists of the past, like Winsor McCay, Herriman, Carl Barks, Knerr… It was new and exciting, like Columbus discovering America.

What I miss most is the poetic freedom. Comics that you can read upside down, jokes about ladies’s corsets, a complete German family stranded on an island inhabited by a black tribe, a Kat who loves bricks being thrown at him, (or her…). It feels all so surreal today!

What has made you laugh lately and what touched you (emotionally) from the nowadays comic artists?

I have written so much that I can’t keep all my stories under my skull. So when on my computer I reread scans of stories I have written, they are completely new to me and I laugh a lot reading them, as their humor is exactly the humor I appreciate. But ahem, more modestly… With my young nieces I watch Usavich, which is a brilliantly funny japanese cartoon series about two rabbits in a Russian jail, made for Japanese MTV. For emotions I love the japanese Ghibli cartoons. The Pixar products are great, but I have the feeling I’m looking at puppets, like the George Pal Puppetoons from the ’50s, carved from wood. Usavich is computer-generated too, but has the looks of art done with color crayons.

(Photo: Evert Geradts)

What did you learn about yourself from the underground culture and what does Counterculture mean to you?

The freedom of drawing my floating thoughts of the moment I drew them. Doing that was like a mirror I held up to myself. Very often I was amazed at what I was doing in my sketchbooks. It didn’t sketch to develop a commercial comic series, but on the contrary, just to have a dialogue with myself, to be confronted with my inner thoughts. Counterculture is necessary at all times to not sink into a uniform society where everybody thinks the same thing, that most of the time is dictated by the fashion of the media or by a popular concensus.

What are the lines that connect the legacy of counterculture comix of 60s with the new generation of artists?

In the late 60s and 70s to our great astonishment and delight we saw that a lot more things could be drawn, published and liked than we were accustomed to. It had its influence, as today we have the graphic novel and plenty of comics by individual artists. But then, not all the wild freedom of those days did last, at least not for me. Some of my old artwork created a scandal when published 30 years later in Penthouse Comix magazine in 2001. At the very last moment four pages were cut by hand from all 25.000 copies before they went into circulation. History comes by waves.

If you could change one thing in the world (and comics world) and it would become a reality, what would that be?

The disappearance of sadism. I know why it exists, but I think it is one of the most horrible consequences of the whole structure of our existence. I am for love and tenderness, not sadism. In the comics world I would change nothing, not even a ban on bad artists. Comics were often a kind of folk art, not taken too serious, a bit under the radar. On the one hand it is frustrating for artists giving their all to create their best work, but on the other hand it may give them the freedom they need.

What experiences have triggered your ideas most?

Emotions like shame, fear, desire, despair… I have had my share of them, like everybody else, and while in real life they are not always easy to go through, (well, desire is not so bad) they make great building blocks for stories. Without emotions stories are flat and dead as roadkill. Watching story characters suffer the same awful moments that you remember (or try to forget) is liberating and fun. And it will add years to your life!

"What I miss most is the poetic freedom. Comics that you can read upside down, jokes about ladies’s corsets, a complete German family stranded on an island inhabited by a black tribe, a Kat who loves bricks being thrown at him, (or her…). It feels all so surreal today!" Artwork © Evert Geradts

What is the impact of comics and music on the racial, political and socio-cultural implications?

Music and comics can help realize changes that are floating in the air, as they reach a big public. Nowadays these changes will start more on the internet, which is much faster than other media. But music, books or comics can produce reference points. They last longer than a Facebook discussion.

Where would you really want to go via a time machine and what memorabilia (books, records) would you put in?

I really would like to go into the past, any past, mainly to see if people walked, talked, moved or sang differently than they do today. We don’t have movies from the past, we only have paintings, drawings and musical scores on paper. It would be great to see the past as a reliable movie, not something invented by Hollywood. Watching the real Mozart playing, spending a few hours in Jheronimus Bosch’s workshop… I’d like to see cavemen or cavewomen do their paintings in the Lascaux grottoes. What I’d take back would be my HD videos. On the other hand, I’d like to go back to the 1950’s to buy a stack of Action Comics with the first Superman story and be a millionnaire on my return!

How you would spend a day with Donald Duck?

One of my first stories had this same subject! My hero finds himself in Duckburg, and in a well-known Donald Duck story too. He knows where Donald will make a consequential mistake which he repairs to save Donald from ruin, only to learn that on his return, his favorite Duck story doesn’t exist anymore. He killed it. The moral was that good stories always have a pivotal moment where everything starts to turn into a disaster, but that this is necessary to build an interesting story. I showed my story to the great Carl Barks himself, when I visited him in 1973, with Glenn Bray. Little did I know that later I would follow in his footsteps.

What would you say to David Bowie?

How is life in Paradise?

What would you like to ask FUTUREMAN?

Everything about his place of birth, his family, his brothers and his sisters, what he did in life, his plans for the future, his musical tastes, his political views, anything. Stories interest me and I am a dedicated listener.

Artwork © Evert Geradts

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