Wednesday, April 02, 2008

The Netherlands, Part Two

Marcel Ruijters (with one of his sculptures)

Marcel and I boarded a tram and rode it down a multi-ethnic street of shops and restaurants—Chinese, Turkish, Indian. A large picture of Krishna looked down from the top of one of the taller buildings. It is a neighborhood also favored by artists, such as Marcel, for its affordability.

Marcel led me to his apartment over one of the shops. I left my luggage there, then we walked to the Museum Boijmans van Beuningen where a painter friend and neighbor of Marcel’s, Ewoud van Rijn, was exhibiting his work. The installation, “Through Hell and High Water,” was very impressive—swirling, surrealist waterscapes, cartoonish skeletons, bats, and nymphs, in a style reminiscent of Rick Griffin. I spent considerable time with these paintings and made a mental note to look up this artist on the Internet when I got home.

We also looked at the museum’s collection of fifteenth century Dutch paintings. The work of Geertgen tot Sint Jans particularly caught my attention, my favorite being De verheerlijking van Maria.

Afterwards, we had dinner at a Middle Eastern restaurant, then started hitting the pubs for a night of beer drinking and conversation. We talked politics and art mostly. Our last pub of the evening was in one of the few sections of Rotterdam where older buildings still stand, most of the original city having been destroyed by the Nazi bombs during World War II. On the way back home, Marcel pointed out a traditional Dutch windmill down the street. We walked along a canal. Just as we were about to cross it on the drawbridge, bells began clanging and traffic came to a stop. We, too, came to a stop. The drawbridge was opening to let a barge pass.

Back at Marcel's apartment, he presented me with a copy of his new book, a graphic novelization of Dante's Inferno. It might be more accurate to call it Marcel Ruijter's Inferno, as this is a free adaptation stamped with Marcel's own vision. Visually, it is unique as well, a real treat for the eyeballs. Marcel's style is strongly influenced by medieval art. Which, as he puts it, makes him more retro than any other comic artist.

To get a glimpse of Marcel's Inferno, check out this video of the book's release party, where the original artwork was displayed, all 119 pages. At present, the work is available only in Dutch (Marcel gave me an English translation of the text, so I am able to read it). However, an official English edition should be published soon.

I slept well at Marcel's place. In the morning, I could hear the trams moving outside on the street. Rotterdam was awake. It was time for me to wake up as well and begin the next phase of my trip.

Marcel walked me to the train station. On the way we stopped by the home of Tonio van Vugt and Helmi Scheepers. Tonio is one of the founders of the Dutch comics and culture magazine Zone 5300 that regularly features work by Marcel and has on occasion published my work (translated by Marcel). A few years ago the future of the magazine was uncertain, but it has survived and is better than ever.

I greatly enjoyed my visit with Tonio and Helmi. Before I left, they took me up to the rooftop of their apartment to see the view of Rotterdam ...

Helmi, Marcel, and Tonio

Marcel walked me to the train station. We said goodbye. Our visit had been all too brief, but a lot of fun and rewarding. I am very glad that, after ten years' correspondence, not to mention working with each other on The Bush Junta, we finally met face to face.

I boarded my train for Utrecht. Now it was time to meet Albo Helm ...

(to be continued)