Up and Coming: Art Grafunkel

Up and Coming: Art Grafunkel

While some of us may be delighted by the biggest and the most popular in the world of comics, we all realize that for every popular book, writer or artist there has to be a beginning. While there are many ways to success with each story finding its own route, there is one attribute that can be found in each one: talent. Up & Coming is a regular feature at Newsarama.com that seeks out the next generation of comic creators and profiles them today.

Today we bring you an artist from the country of Belgium. Steven Van den Broeck, better known as Art Grafunkel, has contributed work to several comics while working as a graphic designer for a large bus and coach manufacturer. He's making a name for himself in the realm of sketchcards, and has worked with writer Steve Niles.

For more, let's talk to the man himself.

Newsarama: You're known online as "Art Grafunkel", but your real name is Steven Van den Broeck. Where'd the alias come from?

Art Grafunkel: When I first started to explore the wonderful thing called internet, I was known as “Juju” on the WEF. When it passed away, I followed some WEF-ers to Steve Niles and Ben Templesmith’s board.

At that time… eight or nine years ago? … I tried freelancing as an animator/illustrator, and I needed a nice catchy name for my one-man-business. And that’s where “Art Grafunkel” came from: It had “art”, it had “graphic”, and it had “funk”. Also it’s a white guy with an afro. Win, right?

So I had the name, I had the email address, and I had some message board accounts with the name Art Grafunkel, hence people knew me online as “Art” instead of “Steven”.

The one-man-business only lasted about a year or so, but the name lingered like the ghost of flatulence past in a badly aired bathroom. Not a bad thing really, I guess “Art Grafunkel” at least sounds slightly less bland, and generally it’s slightly more pronounceable than “Steven Van den Broeck”.

NRAMA: In comics, what have you got published so far?

AG: I’ve had three short stories published in a Belgian ongoing anthology called Ink (“Envy” and “Bot Story”, both written and drawn by me; “A Love Story”, written by me with art by Gilles Vranckx).

Tales From The Inner Sanctum, an anthology created by members of Steve Niles’ message board, had a poem written by Mike Stevens, illustrated by me. (We both collaborated again for the unpublished short story “Cold”)

Writer J. Andrew Clark wrote a short one page piece, which I illustrated, for a Katrina Relief anthology, by members of Ronin. I don’t know if that ever got published, but I recently found out the piece was used in Genius J's Technicolour Almanack Of Graphical Wonderment!.

Ben Templesmith asked me to do a pinup of his creation Wormwood, which appeared in issue #2, as well as the first trade. Ben’s a mate. He’s the cat’s nipples, he is.

I’ve also done some sketchcards for Topps. You know, those hand drawn cards, randomly inserted into packs of trading cards? I’ve done some for their “Lord Of The Rings Masterpieces 2” series, but that fell through after I finished about half my cards. But I just heard my 100 cards for the series based on “Indiana Jones & The Kingdom Of The Crystal Skull” were all approved, so I’m pretty pleased about that. I mean, there are people like Adam Hughes, Michael Avon Oeming, Grant Gould, Jessica Hickman, Otis Frampton, Killian Plunkett working on those card sets. It’s pretty mind-blowing to see my name between theirs.

NRAMA: What are you working on now?

AG: There are still two scripts I really need to finish drawing. Not because of any deadline, but because they’ve been lying on my desk seemingly forever! It’s a sci-fi barbarian story written by Michael May (writer of Moonstone’s Jesse James vs. Machine-Gun Kelly), and a story about occultist Sir Reginald, written by Benjamin S. Stone and his very own ____brain.

I’m also keeping myself busy with the odd illustration or graphic design job, like wedding invitations, cards, posters, CD covers and such for friends and/or relatives.

And I recently did my first commission for a Belgian con organizer. He paid me with beer. Can’t go wrong with beer.

NRAMA: Did you do any schooling for art?

AG: I’ve been drawing for as long as I can remember. In high school, I managed to get myself through five years of economic science or something similarly boring, but after taking an evening drawing course for a year, I switched to a genuine art school, and finished high school there.

After that I studied animation and illustration at Saint-Lukas Art College in Brussels for four years.

During my last year the school had set up a sequential storytelling course, and I managed to sneak in some classes, like scenario and comic book history and theory. All very interesting. They have a field trip to the Angoulême Comic Festival, how awesome is that?

NRAMA: What do you do for a living now?

AG: I’m a professional graphic designer at the communications department of a pretty big Belgian bus manufacturer. I design internal and external communication, mainly print, such as posters, leaflets, brochures, adverts, photo touchups (We sometimes call it “porning the bus”: photoshopping the thing until you don’t now whether to drive it or ____ it). All fun stuff.

NRAMA: You've also done some work in animation. Can you tell us about that?

AG: Apart from some animated stuff when I was studying animation, I got a job straight after art college at a small production company, doing digital coloring on a Belgian-French animated series. Mind-numbingly uncreative, but well-paid.

Throughout the years there were some collaborations with a pro animator. Those were mainly business-to-business animations, but also a commercial for a Turkish snack company, involving a dancing and footballing turtle (of course), and some animated sequences for a Belgian rock festival.

But I think I’ve had it with animation. It’s the most mind-crushing job I’ve ever had: hour after hour behind a lightbox, page after page after page, and it’s twelve to twenty-six pages for one measly second. Argh! Never again. I couldn’t be more of a happy chappy doing graphic design and illustration.

NRAMA: Are these animation videos online where we could see them?

AG: No. And trust me, you’re not missing out on much.

NRAMA: You live in Belgium. What's the comic scene like there?

AG: Well, there’s the iconic Tintin creator, Hergé. Other than that, I don’t think I can name anyone that’ll sound familiar to the general Newsarama reader. Maybe Franquin? Schuiten?

Despite being such a small country, we do have plenty of interesting comic book publishers, both mainstream (Dupuis, Casterman, Le Lombard, Glénat…) and alternative (Bries, Xtra, L…), and a massive amount of young talented people: Gilles Vranckx, Conz, Olivier Schrauwen, Serge Baeken, Randall C., Brecht Evens, Mario Boon… But unlike French comic books, the majority of the Belgian material doesn’t reach beyond our borders, and that’s a shame. It seems fairly impossible for any new (non-too-mainstream) creator to reach a large audience, or earn anything with comic books on our Belgian market alone, let alone make a living out of it. Looking at Slave Labor or Top Shelf, I really think there has to be a U.S. audience for a lot of Belgian creators as well.

Some mainstream U.S. comic series have been translated in Dutch for ages now, but translated Manga are beginning to become available just about everywhere lately (from comic book stores to supermarkets), so series like Shaman King, Yu-gi-oh, and Dragon Ball (as well as the more mature Monster, Death Note and 20th Century Boys) are quickly gaining popularity with a new, young audience.

There’s a comic book museum in Brussels, a few magazines and anthologies going around, some comic festivals (Strip Turnhout…) and conventions (F.A.C.T.S. in Ghent…), and there are two rather large comic book stores located within a 15 mile radius from my house… which is nice. I’ve noticed a lot of comic book stores around here are mutating into comic book store/coffee bar/art gallery-things… which is nice as well. It might get rid of the whole “comics are for kids” mentality, which still lives pretty strong in Belgium (especially in Flanders), despite having such a history with the medium.

NRAMA: And the age-old question – what do you want to do in comics?

AG: I’d love to get more of a routine, more discipline in my drawing, but a dayjob and two kids don’t allow as much spare time for drawing as I’d like to. I’m okay with deadlines, but for the moment, I’m too much of a procrastinator anyway to take on anything else than short stories or single illustrations… and I guess those are exactly the things I want to do: short bursts, small chunks of story, explosive and expressive and suggestive, dark and moody…

I did have a big pro writer ask me for some illustrations for a possible future project, which would be cool as all heck, but I’ll guess I’ll just have to wait and see what happens. I’ll grab whatever floats by.

For more of Art Grafunkel's work, check out his blog at http://grafunkel.livejournal.com/.

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