Dropped in at Shakespeare & co. last weekend with some friends, a couple of whom had never been to the bookshop before. As usual, I coasted to and fro between the shelves and jostling tourists, mentally pruning for a new find. It’s my habit to wander around inside bookshops, plucking books out by their spines and hugging them possessively until a bored or hungry friend nudges me to hurry up. It’s how I settle on my “find of the day”; I move to a corner, put my pile down, and discard book after book until I can’t. This time, the book I could not discard was Belgian artist Brecht Evens‘s The Making Of (Les Amateurs, in French).
I’m a huge fan of black and whites. I love the contrast, the shadows, the sillhouettes, the moodiness of ink; I love how there is a hint of another shape in every space, that wink towards optical illusion. With the exception of Asterios Polyp, my favourite graphic novels have always been in black and white. And when it comes to my own work, you’ve probably guessed by now that I’ve no talent for colours. I hide in monochrome.
But Brecht Evens blew me away. I won’t dwell on the story, since the Guardian has done a decent job reviewing it here. I want to talk about the art, oh god, the art. The Making Of is a tome of watercolours that is totally original in its vision. Characters fade in and out, translucently layered over each other, under clothing, floating above kitchen sinks; suggesting that everything is temporeal, the stuff of flashing heat and moods. In this way, Evens has a special talent for crowds. They blend with loud colours into the floor, the ceiling, the streets, the sofas. There is enough movement to these energetic, absract spreads to keep you poring over the detail and soaking up the atmosphere on the page for at least five minutes. For a comic book, that’s an extraordinary amount of time.
As with most comics, Evens has managed to keep his character designs simple and easy to follow while keeping a surprising level of detail – a print shirt, flowery dresses, ghost-like eyes – that pulls your eye back for a linger. When he’s working those panels, Evens harks back to the likes of Bastien Vivès’s Dans mes yeux: effortless lines and colours sketching out the same moment over a number of sequential stills, often with a telling change in body language and pace in dialogue.
Evens has a fantastic range of style. In 160 pages, he manages to allude to great European masters by appropriating his own style of pointillism, cubism, and surrealism. Some pages are so richly textured and ornamental they look more suited to be murals:
The Making Of is not great writing as far as comics go, but it is Evens’s gorgeous artwork that truly makes the book stand its own ground. With colouring skills like these, even I’m tempted to grab a box of watercolours.
Here’s a speed drawing by Brecht Evens at this year’s Angoulême. I’m not that short-sighted, am I? He really is holding two brushes?