Here’s the first of this year’s “Kendal Calling” interviews, highlighting the work of comic creators attending this years Lakes International Comic Art Festival (13th – 15th October 2017). Weekend Passes are on sale now
Returning to the festival from Belgium to continue the story he began in Kendal in 2014, Ivan Petrus Adriaenssens dedicates himself to exploring the Great War through personal stories bringing them to life through comics, painting and performance.
Ivan is an illustrator, production designer, scenarist, story-boarder and director. He has produced a number of graphic novels in recent years including The Last Braedy and The Nieuport Gathering; and Cher Ami, Elsi & Mairi (the latter two titles available in Dutch)
Alongside his graphic novels Ivan has also written and illustrated two books: Odon, A World War One Soldier and Maurice Braet – The Life of a World War One Sapper, both published in Dutch. His children’s comics work includes Boeboeks, Kriegels, Orphanimo!! and Pitt and Puff.
Ivan has also been involved in numerous multimedia projects and storyboards for feature films and TV projects.
downthetubes: What did you have published most recently?
Ivan Petrus: My most recent book is The Last Braedy, which is my third World War One graphic novel. This time I focus on the tank war.
As much as I hate war, I adore the Mark IV tank. 1200 were made, only seven remain.
There were so many stories to be told, but I stuck to “Fray Bentos” (on the Passchendaele battlefield) and “Deborah” (on the Cambrai battlefield).
I always use historical facts to construct my story, and this time I added Vicky Braedy, a fictional character who links the stories and historic characters together. She is the Last Braedy. Or is she?
I will have a book presentation in the Tank Museum in Bovington, Dorset on 25th October 2017, next to one of the last seven remaining Mark IV tanks.
downthetubes: You have done several projects with a World War One connection – what is the attraction of the conflict as a source of stories for you, and are you influenced by any other comic stories set in the same period?
Ivan Petrus: My fascination for World War One is the fact that the Belgian front was in my backyard, so to speak. The Great War is still so visible in the landscape, in the west of Flanders, not least with the numerous cemeteries.
Each year, farmers are still ploughing up tons of bombs.
Everybody has one father, two grandfathers and four great-grandfathers. So, for 40-something people like myself, there’s four chances that you had a great-grandfather in the trenches.
Some of my friends found that all four of their great-grandfathers served (and often died) in the Belgian army in the Great War. With the centenary, people make a “Who do you think you are” for themselves, looking for ancestors in the war. And not only soldiers, because there are also fascinating stories about the women and children on the home front. German-occupied Flanders.
downthetubes: Which comic project you’ve worked on are you most proud of and where can people see it or buy it?
Ivan Petrus: I always say “I’m most proud of my next project”. Because the aim is always to make progress. Still, I’m quite happy with The Last Braedy.
I thought my World War One work was going to be trilogy, and I had already started work on a funny ‘1066’ story, but then came the question to write and draw a fourth one, about the end of the war.
So I will have my fourth Great War graphic novel out in the autumn of 2018.
downthetubes: How do you plan your day as a creator? (Do you plan your day?)
Ivan Petrus: I don’t really plan my day. I’m nobody’s boss, nor anybody’s servant. All I have is a deadline. Sometimes I work on my comics for 14 hours, sometimes not at all for a few days.
downthetubes: What’s the best thing about being a comics creator?
Ivan Petrus: The best thing about drawing comics is the freedom. I combine my serious World War One work with a funny pre-school animation series, Aya, which I work on as a writer/director. We’re in production of our third season.
downthetubes: And the worst?
Ivan Petrus: The worst thing is – sometimes – the workload, but there are also times when work is slow. Paid work, I mean. I can always start a new project for myself, ideas aplenty, but it is so difficult to get things funded.
downthetubes: What most distracts you from getting your work done?
Ivan Petrus: Family stuff, I suppose. But on the other hand, they make me get out of bed early. If I didn’t have children, I’d probably be a night owl artist.
downthetubes: Do you think it’s easier or harder for young comic creators to get published today?
Ivan Petrus: There are so many comic books out there, with such high quality, there is certainly a high bar for beginning artists, or indeed, any artist. In the last ten years, it has become easier to self-publish, but then you still need a lot of promotion, which is difficult if you don’t have a big budget, or a publisher with a distribution network.
I suppose a good first step for a young artist could be to become an assistant, as a letterer, penciller of inker. But I’ve always been an author, and that’s tough. A publisher or reader either likes you, or not at all!
downthetubes: Have you ever been to the Lake District before and if so what did you think of it?
Ivan Petrus: I first visited the Lake District on my honeymoon, 18 years ago, driving up to Scotland, to get married in Gretna Green. I fell in love with it immediately.
So I was keen to participate in the first Lakes International Comic Arts Festival, to present my first World War One graphic novel, The Nieuport Gathering at the time. The 2017 LICAF will be my third visit.
I look forward to seeing my British friends again. Weather-wise, it’s a pity it’s in October. There’s never been any after-festival hiking activity, because of the rain!
downthetubes: Which one comic creator would you most like to meet, and why?
Ivan Petrus: I immediately buy everything by Dave McKean, Loisel and Andreas (Martens). I’ve met Dave McKean twice, and each time I’m rather starstruck.
I feel that I need so many words to express my adoration for his work, that I prefer to keep the conversation very short. The same will probably happen if I ever meet Loisel or Andreas.
downthetubes: How do Festivals and other comics events help creators most, do you think?
Ivan Petrus: Like I said, it’s hard to get publicity. Festivals don’t necessarily give you publicity, but at least you meet your potential audience, in the flesh. It’s important to do networking, and that’s why festivals are interesting. But you will find that the big decision makers of the publishing companies will never visit festivals.
downthetubes: What one piece of advice do you offer people looking to work in the comics industry?
Ivan Petrus: Work. Just work. Do your stuff. A lot. What you do a lot, you get good at.
downthetubes: What’s your favourite comic right now and where can people get it?
Ivan Petrus: I tend to turn at continental comics rather than manga or American comics, so my favourite at the moment is Manu Larcenet’s Le Rapport de Brodeck. Book One is out now (but not in English, yet) I’ve just seen the cover of Book Two, and guess what… It features World War One soldiers. The Great War continues to draw circles around me.
Speaking of which, Dave McKean’s Black Dog: The Dreams of Paul Nash was of course my favourite book of 2016. How could it be a disappointment ? Dave doing World War One, and then bringing it to the stage, live… (I saw it in Amiens).
2016 had 8784 hours, and seeing Black Dog live was my favourite hour of that year.
downthetubes: So what’s next for you ?
Ivan Petrus: My next book will be about the last months of World Qae One, with the Germans retreating and killing 368 Americans soldiers in Waregem, Belgium.
And I can’t stop myself from developing my ‘1066’ project. It’s war, again, but this time: funny. Again 128 pages…
I can’t wait until the 1000th year anniversary of that war to publish it, I’ll be 97 then! Although, I plan to stop drawing comics when I’m 95, so I might just as well publish it as soon as possible…
downthetubes: Ivan, thank you for your time and the very best of luck with your projects – serious and funny! See you in Kendal!