In Belgium, comics and illustration are as fundamental to country’s cultural identity as fashion, good food, and films are to the French. Illustrator Jan van der Veken has developed a personal technique that melds the “international style”, art deco, and Belgium’s comics tradition into a visual language that is both contemporary and timeless. Even though some of his work might seem simple or even naïve at first glance, it is always thought through to the last detail.
Van der Veken works with a limited color palette and uses lines sparingly. He creates his own typefaces in the style of the 1920s or 1950s. To give structure to the individual visual elements in his work, he often uses an isometric perspective—similar to that used by the best-known designers of the Bauhaus era.
Influenced by Hergé’s iconic “atom style” and ligne claire, Veken’s book covers, posters, and editorial illustrations for international publishing houses and magazines such as the New Yorker have succeeded in capturing the mid twentieth century’s rational yet pioneering spirit. In his work, he bridges the gap between today’s lifestyle, design, and graphics and the timeless look of the masters of Belgian comics and illustration.
Despite the pleasantly anachronistic accents set by work clearly inspired by classical modernism, Van der Veken does not hesitate to explore very current themes including sensory overload in our digital age; brands, patents, and industrial espionage; medical ways to fight heart pain; reaching the end of the career ladder; and attacks on our legal system. The fact that van der Veken is visually anchored in a time after World War II in which many aspects of today’s world were mere dreams of the future, helps him to disarm controversial topics with charm and the wink of an eye without ever seeming to make fun of them, trivialize them, or be presumptuous.
Given this achievement, we can all learn a lot from Belgians as masters of visual communication in general and Jan van der Veken in particular—a topic explored in further detail in the book’s introduction by the respected Belgian illustrator Ever Meulen.
The sought-after graphic artist and illustrator Jan van der Veken lives and works in Ghent, Belgium. He is very modest about his own person and prefers to let his images speak for themselves—which they do splendidly. His contract work can, for example, be seen regularly on the cover of the renowned magazine the New Yorker.
Ever Meulen has been an established comic strip artist and illustrator for almost a half-century. In addition to being recognized for distinctive cartoon creations such as “Balthasar, the green stone eater,” Meulen is primarily known outside of Belgium for his cover illustrations for the New Yorker. He also teaches illustration at Ghent’s St. Lucas School of Visual Arts.
“Van Der Veken's line is so sharp that his world is beautifully streamlined. He transports us back to a time when the modern was exciting, everything was aerodynamic, people knew how to dress, and artists knew how to draw. He's a worthy disciple of the great Ever Meulen, and there's no greater compliment in my book.” – Françoise Mouly The New Yorker