February 2, 2024
For his first book in more than five years, cartoonist Brecht Evens once again drew on his mental problems. In ‘The Allies’ he shares with the reader a psychotic experience with great feeling.
We meet Brecht Evens (37) on a cold and rainy Brussels terrace, smoking and scribbling in a sketchbook. Hasselaar, who emigrated to Paris, is in the country for the seventieth birthday of his father, to whom he dedicates his latest book.: ‘For my father: fully present.’ “That assignment was partly intended to keep him out of the wind,” he says. ‘Unlike the father in the book, my father is an example of reasonableness and attention.’
In ‘The Allies’, which will be released on February 8, a psychotic surgeon prepares his son Arthur for life and chaos, in which he sees a plot by the so-called Administrators and which he wants to counter with his own group, the Allies. This adventurous starting point is primarily a reason for Evens to share a psychotic experience with the reader in his typical mix of delicate and exuberant drawings.
‘Pondering how I could play with what I felt during my psychosis attack in Tokyo (where Evens worked on a book for Louis Vuitton in 2013 workeded.), I found a writing exercise in one of my sketchbooks from 2012 about a little boy who has to talk about his summer at school and brings a mixture of normal and adventurous things. He is my main character, I knew immediately. That had nothing to do with psychoses, but I brought those two elements together.’
Evens has been working on ‘De Bondgenoot’ for more than five years. ‘It’s not like I wasted my time. After ‘The Amusement’ I did nothing for several months, but since then I have been working on this book continuously.’
Full screen display
It quickly became clear to Evens that ‘De Allies’ had to be a diptych. ‘This is such a large and complex project, of about 500 pages, that it is impossible and unaffordable for one book. So I started making it as two parts, with a natural break, a more or less finished ending for part one. Shortening was not an option, I have too much to say. Many ideas have been killed, hopefully the unnecessary ones.’
I’ve noticed that psychotics, conspiracy theorists and children have something in common: they reduce the complex world to something clear.
“In a manic episode you think at breakneck speed and you get strange ideas,” says Evens. ‘In my case, I had the impression that I was going to solve the world’s problems and I got an urge for things that I had never thought about before. It is a state without fear. Everything seems possible.’
That celebration was reflected in ‘The Amusement’. In ‘The Allies’ another side of the mental breakdown emerges. ‘When I entered my psychosis through that manic high, I thought that everything was a backdrop to test me, a megalomaniac illusion full of delusions of interpretation in which everything was coded, especially for me: everything means something different, even people are not as they imagine themselves to be. occur.’
So complete conspiracy thinking. ‘While making this book I noticed that psychotics, conspiracy theorists and children have something in common: they reduce the complex world to something simpler, something clear, a game with rules, with good versus bad. This results in a worldview full of danger, but one that can be solved. There’s something reassuring about that. Even when a bad guy is in power, there is still an ‘adult in the driver’s seat.’
‘A title like ‘The Allies’ expresses the hope that help will come, that there are mature, good people at work, friends. Conspiracy thinking also stands for hope in a community in which people are good to each other, which creates a bond. The reality, however, is that incompetence is rampant, even at the top. We as children hope that our political leaders are the parents of the world, but no one is really in control. There’s nothing comforting about it.’
Brecht Evens (37) started his career quite conventionally with the wordless humor strip ‘A message from space’ (2005), good for the debut prize of the Flemish Independent Comics Guild. Four years later he broke through with the award-winning and graphically unprecedented ‘Somewhere you don’t want to be’. Since then he has collected awards from the Far East to Canada. The ultimate recognition for the time being came in 2019 with the jury prize at the Angoulême comic festival for ‘The Amusement’. That stunning account of a manic night through the streets of Hasselt was the reflection of a period unleashed by drugs and antidepressants.
Evens gave Arthur’s adult no name or face, like a crash test dummy. “That anonymity creates distance, not access,” he says. ‘Just as every child does not have access to the inner world of his parents. Only later in life does it see its parents as persons.’ In contrast to Evens’ own attentive father, Arthur’s father sees different things than his son, such as boat people in a drawing by Arthur instead of the intended Vikings.
‘The story is full of contrasts between what you see and how you interpret it. Comics are an ideal medium for this purpose, because the reader has enough time to look. Unlike a novel or a film, the comic can tell more with images. In films, the speed at which you watch is determined. In the comic, your eye can wander and get stuck somewhere. When a movie zooms in on something, you know it’s important. In the comic you don’t know whether I, as an artist, mean something intentional with certain details. In this way, coincidence can help to put you into a mild state of paranoia, so that you can experience and understand that delusion of interpretation yourself, carried away by the experience.’
Just like in ‘Panter’, Evens’ penetrating book about child abuse, a mother is missing in ‘De Allies’. Not coincidentally. ‘We see the mother as the child’s greatest protector. By getting her out of the way I immediately make the reader much more concerned about Arthur. I don’t have a mother complex, you know. (laughs) You can even see her absence as a compliment. Why did the mother have to die? Precisely because she is so important.’
Evens is now diligently working on the last dozen pages of ‘De Bondgenoten 2’. And here too, everything still seems possible. ‘Never before have I had my work read by a small group of proofreaders, who help maintain an overview of this complex story. There are many elements that are interconnected. My previous books were less of a machine in which everything is connected.’
Full screen display
What comes next is already completely open. ‘I have sometimes fantasized about more animation, but I don’t want to be boss of a team. I’m not interested in things that would distract me from comics. An offer from a chic gallery? Wow, but I feel like they’ll ask me to do things I don’t want to do. I don’t want to be a painter. My product is not exhibiting. Books are more democratic. And I want to tell stories. That’s the interesting thing about this profession: I can draw in a narrative manner. Unlike a painter, who is free to use the same subjects for years, I have to draw according to what I have in my head. I haven’t come up with a new story yet for after ‘The Allies 2′, but I’m sure that idea is already in one of my old notebooks.’
‘The Allies’ will be published on February 8 by Oogachtend, has 290 pages and costs 39 euros.