News about the premier academic journal devoted to all aspects of cartooning and comics -- the International Journal of Comic Art (ISSN 1531-6793) published and edited by John Lent.

Saturday, May 8, 2021

When Le Chat Was Put Among the Pigeons

 Musings by Wim Lockefeer

In a time of pandemic, it was no more than a fait divers on the global news cycle, but it was a fait nevertheless: the plan of the Brussels regional government to invest 9 million euros in a museum for Belgian cartoonist Philippe Geluck and his character Le Chat met with less than favorable, or at least mixed, reactions. Protest predominantly focused on the perceived lack of artistic merit in Geluck’s work and on whether the government should spend that amount on a new museum in times of Covid (while the Museum of Modern Art has been closed for more than a decade).

What is Le Chat? Why would the Brussels government want a museum for a cartoon cat? And why is everybody in the art world seemingly so set against it? Here are some thoughts from a local part-time comics journalist.

For the casual observer, Belgium’s government structure may seem like an impossible Gordian knot. We have three communities, each with their own language (Dutch, German, French) and their own governmental functions. In addition, there are two state-like regions that don’t really cover the same grounds, but also have their own governments. Then there’s the region of the capital or Brussels (with its own government) and there’s the federal government. Even I had to look it up, and I’ve lived here for more than fifty years.

Belgium likes to present itself as the cradle of European comics. Almost every sizable town has its speciality store, and comics fairs and festivals are all over. In Brussels especially you’ll bump into comics around every corner, be it in one of its several museums (including the comprehensive Comic Art Museum and the specialized Marc Sleen Museum), along the comics mural route, in galleries and art houses and in quite a lot of comics shops, both in French and Dutch (and a little English).

Even though Philippe Geluck is a cartoonist, his most important work, Le Chat, largely is not a comic strip. During its run in the Belgian newspaper Le Soir (from 1983 until 2013) his daily offering was quite often a single panel gag cartoon, with a penchant for bon mots, absurdism and self-referential jokes. Le Soir is one of the oldest newspapers in the country, and its readership is a perfect fit for Geluck’s kind of humor: respectable, highly educated, with a well-paying office job and quite progressive values, but not so much so as to ever be calling for a revolution.

Belgium may well be the birthplace of the Franco-Belgian comics tradition, but for the longest time comics were considered to be low-grade children’s fodder, whereas the single-panel cartoon was a quality cultural product for the discerning connoisseur, with international festivals in places like Knokke-Heist since the early 1960s. Think of the status of the New Yorker cartoon in the USA.

Single-panel jokes have the additional benefit that they can be easily reproduced on all kinds of merchandising products. Over the years Le chat has graced numerous post cards, napkins, badges, magnets, posters, and lately, of course, face masks. Le Chat chocolates (Les Langues du Chat) in their collectable tins are a favourite to take along when visiting friends. Les Chat and its licensing is omnipresent.

Or rather, that’s what you’d think if you visit Belgium and land in Brussels National Airport (or, conversely, if you leave the country and want a final farewell to all the riches it has to offer). If you don’t consider the ever-present Tintin for a moment (or at least try not to), you’d think that Belgium is basically Chat country.

Which it isn’t. I’d wager that if you ask any one hundred Dutch-speaking Belgians, roughly 80% would not know about Le Chat or Geluck (although they would now, after all the hullaballoo in the papers). In Brussels, the urban centers in the south of the country, and in France, they are a bona fide hit though, with more than 14 million books sold.

Because, indeed, Geluck also managed to get his cartoons collected in a long-running series of albums, published by Casterman (historically, the publisher of the more respectable clear line of bandes dessinėes, such as Tintin or Alix). From 1985 onwards, Le Chat was a recurring feature in color in the avant-garde comics monthly A Suivre (also published by Casterman) and, as with most of the more popular titles in that periodical, later collected in up-market hard cover books.

All in all, Philippe Geluck is without a doubt a very successful creator, with numerous books in various languages, radio shows and television series, awards and honorifics a-plenty, and even an asteroid named after him. He could be considered, for better or for worse, one of the most recognized Belgian authors of the past few decades.

But even while he kept quite busy with his cartoon series, stand-alone books, spin-off books and animation series, Geluck also started try his hand at a different, even more profitable business - that of fine art. Helped by specialized galleries such as Huberty-Breyne, he started doing large scale paintings with the same zany, absurdist humor and, indeed, with Le Chat.

At high-profile art events like the Brafa art fair, Geluck is present with his paintings, offered at quite hefty prices, and limited-run multiples. And he is selling – this is the kind of art that fits the office wall of an accountant who wants to be more than just a dreary functionary. It’s funny (it has an actual joke that may break the ice), it’s easy (Geluck’s art style has been called a lot of things, but never sketchy or chaotic) and it’s largely innocuous.

Halfway through the 2000s, Geluck started mentioning how Paris and other French cities had approached him with proposals for a museum of some kind for him and his creation, and culturos in the Brussels government got a tad anxious. After all, haven’t they just lost Tintin and the Hergé Museum, to Louvain-La-Neuve-Ottignies, a provincial town in French-speaking Walloon Brabant (one that, admittedly, also had a university)? Could they afford to lose Geluck as well, and to France at that?

            And so, a plan was made, a site was chosen (a building that for the longest time had been empty, but that is situated on the Rue Royale, in the middle of the cultural heart of the city) and initial designs were presented to the assembled press.

After which a (small) wave of protests washed in, especially from the Brussels art world, with a petition asking why a museum dedicated to one man, a cartoonist with a simplistic style at that, was in the works, while the whole collection of the National Museum of Modern Art had been in storage for more than a decade, and while other (more serious, I gather) art was being neglected.

While all this was covered in the press and on TV, the Brussels, and Belgian, comics scene, kept strangely quiet, even though the Belgian Comics Museum had announced only two weeks earlier that it was forced to let go a third of its employees because it had attracted 70% fewer visitors due to the COVID crisis. In addition to the rent from the book store and coffee shop, tickets are the only source of income of this unique Museum.

            Philippe Geluck seemed quite shocked by all the hubbub the plans for his museum had caused. During a television debate on commercial station RTL he announced that, if a better goal for the building could be found, he’d gladly step aside.

            So, what to do? Perhaps turn the Rue Royal building into a modern art museum and support the already existing Comics Museum? Give Le Chat its own wing there? For the government bodies involved in the affair, nothing seems to have changed in spite of any controversy. Maybe we should simply wait a couple more years. After all, Geluck is still alive and very much kicking, while other bigwigs of the Belgian art world only got their museums long after their demises. 

 A version of this will be published in print in IJOCA 23-1.

Wednesday, April 28, 2021

Chronicles of a Circuit Breaker Exhibition book talk (online) and exhibit in Singapore

Comics and Covid

Sat May 1, 2021
11:30 AM - 12:30 PM SGT

A year after Singapore's circuit breaker, author of Chronicles of a Circuit Breaker, Joseph Chiang joins book editor, CT Lim in reminiscing the quirky, and sometimes, downright perplexing days of the lockdown. In this special book launch event with Mulan Gallery, learn how comics play a role in recording the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic.

Date: Saturday, 1st May 2021
Time: 11.30AM-12.30PM SGT
Location: Zoom and FB Live

*For those who want to participate in the Zoom session, please fill up the attached form. Invitation to the Zoom session will be sent via email.


Funny and stark, this comic strip memoir relives the surreal days of Singapore's circuit breaker days from April to June 2020. Cartoonist Joseph Chiang records the strangeness and the mundanity of daily life during the circuit breaker such as the toilet paper shortage, mask-wearing woes and forced family time. Chiang's slice-of-life stories provide humour during unprecedented times and document local events and idiosyncrasies that stemmed from this new-normal era.

Get the book here.

Joseph Chiang is a visual artist and printmaker. He is the founder of Monster Gallery, a creative print studio; and the Young Printmakers League, a mentorship programme supported by Noise Singapore. He was commissioned by the National Arts Council to organise the Contemporary Printmaking Festival as part of Singapore Art Week 2017. He has exhibited in Singapore and internationally, and was invited to show his work at the 10th World Triennale of Original Prints and Engravings in Chamalieres, France in 2017.


Chronicles of a Circuit Breaker Exhibition
Exhibition Day: 1 - 15 May 2021
Event Address: 36 Armenian Street, #01-07 s(179932)
Contact us at (65) 6738 0810 or

Friday, April 9, 2021

New Issue of IJOCA is out - 22-2 Fall/Winter 2020 table of contents

Vol. 22, No. 2 Fall/Winter 2020
Editor's Notes
Survilo and Historical Trauma in Contemporary Russian Comics
Jose Alaniz
Tintin: From Violent Communist-Hating Conservative to Radical Peacenik, Part 2
Marty Branagan
An Interview with Patricia Breccia
Hector Fernandez L'Hoeste
"The Fez, The Harem Pants, and the Embroidered Tie: Fashion and the Politics of Orientalism
in Three Francophone Graphic Novels"
Annabelle Cone
Far Out of the Box: The Comics of Chile's Marcela Trujillo (Maliki)
John A. Lent with Geisa Fernandes
The Characteristics of Japanese Manga
Natsume Fusanosuke
Translated by Jon Holt and Teppei Fukuda
Ordinary Enemies: Robert Kanigher, Garth Ennis, and the Myth of the Unblemished Wehrmacht
Stephen Connor
Re-invention of Indian Myths in the Superhero Comic Books of Nagraj
Pritesh Chakraborty
Watchmen: An Exploration of Transcendence in Comics
Christine Atchison
The 1936-1939 Spanish Civil War and American Comics
Francisco Saez de Adana and Michel Matly
Comix from the Cosmos: Interview with Barbara "Willy" Mendes
Kim Munson
Trying Times Require Re-inventiveness: Ways of Coping of Taiwan's Ling Qun
John A. Lent
"Reoccurring Dreams": Music and the Elegiac Voice in John Porcellino's Perfect Example
Brian Cremins
The Maternal-Feminine and Matrixial Borderspace in Megan Kelso's Watergate Sue
Alisia Grace Chase
How Sugiura's Ninja-Boy Comics Developed after the Asia-Pacific War
Kosei Ono
The Pedagogy and Potential of Educational Comics
Aaron Humphrey
To Play or Not to Play? That Is the Question:Perspectives on Organized Youth Sports in Comic Strips
Jeffrey O. Segrave
An Interview with India's Ghost Animation Studio about Their Short Film "Wade"
Alexandra Bowman
An Expert on Arrow: Critical Fan Activism and Gail Simone's Twitter
Peter Cullen Bryan
Is It a Bird? Is It a Plane? It's Jack the Ripper!
Andrew Edwards
Habibi Worth a Thousand Words, and a Few Words Worth a Thousand Tales
Safa Al-shammary
In Memory of Theresa Lee Wai-chun (1943-2020)
Wendy Siuyi Wong
Print Is Dead; Long Live Print!: Are Digital Comics Killing the Print Comics Industry?
Kyle Eveleth
Comics as a Window into Disposability: Some Thoughts
Angelo J. Letizia
Cartoons in the Time of Corona in India
Mrinal Chatterjee
The Wild Career Path of Taiwan's Tsai Chih-chung: Animator, Comic Strips and Books Creator, Physicist, now Monk
John A. Lent with Xu Ying

Book Reviews
John A. Lent
Janis Be Breckenridge
Bryan Bove
Christopher Roman
Tony Wei Ling
John A. Lent
Lizzy Walker
Elke Defever
John A. Lent
Cord A. Scott
John A. Lent
Matthew Teutsch
A. David Lewis
John A. Lent
Aaron Ricker
John A. Lent

Exhibition Reviews
Chris Yogerst
Lim Cheng Tju
Chaney Jewell and Cassandra Christ


Sunday, April 4, 2021

An Obituary & Remembrance of Manga Historian Shimizu Isao

Shimizu Isao,  2015 Japan Cultural Affairs Agency Award winner

by Ronald Stewart 

Shimizu Isao, a giant in manga studies scholarship (and founding International Editorial Board member for IJOCA) left us on March 2, 2021 at age 81, after a battle with prostate cancer. Shimizu was astonishingly prolific. Over a period of roughly fifty-years from when he began to publish on manga history, he penned and/or edited in excess of 100 books, but this was just part of his legacy.

Born in Tokyo in 1939, Shimizu had toyed with the idea of becoming a cartoonist or animator after graduating university, but found himself instead doing editing work between 1963 and 1984 for publishers in the heart of Tokyo’s Jimbochō secondhand book district. His growing interest in satirical prints and cartoons, particularly those of the Edo (1600-1868) and Meiji (1868-1912) periods, as well as comics history in general, led to him haunt those used bookstores. He managed to amass a huge collection of historical comic art cheaply, at a time when there was very little interest in this material. His home overflowing with a collection that swelled to over two million items (magazines, clippings, books and prints) and became the Japanese Manga Archives (Nihon Manga Shiryō-kan). This collection not only enabled Shimizu to research, exhibit and publish using this material, but he also allowed other historians, museums and students access for their research.

The caricature used on his name cards and website     

Public institutions had long ignored this kind of material as ephemera of little value. However, as Shimizu’s writing, talks and exhibitions began to draw attention to pre-war manga history, his collection and his expertise became sought after by more and more museums, galleries, libraries, universities, and the media, and became integral to a number of major exhibitions in Japan. These include, his early “Meiji Manga” exhibition at Machida City Museum in 1978, “300 Years of Japanese Manga” at Kawasaki City Museum in 1996, “Images of Meiji – The World of French Artist George Bigot in Japan” at Itami City Art Museum in 2002, and the “Grand Manga History: Tracing back to Edo” at Kyoto International Manga Museum in 2015. At the time of his death, the large “Giga – Manga” exhibition that he supervised – consisting of comic art from Edo satirical prints, called giga, to early popular comics of the 1930s - is touring a number of public and private museums throughout the country. He had also been involved in exhibitions and manga related events in France, Germany, Spain and Italy.

Giga Manga exhibition catalogue 2020-2021

After Shimizu quit his editing work around 1984 to concentrate full time on researching and writing on satirical cartoons and manga history, he was employed as a research associate at Kawasaki City Museum for nearly two decades. In 2006, he became an advisor to the Kyoto International Manga which acquired a large portion of his collection. The “Shimizu Collection” there forms the core of the museum’s pre-war historical holdings. At both of these institutions, Shimizu helped foster a number of young curators and researchers active at various institutions today. At Teikyo Heisei University, where Shimizu worked as a professor for over a decade, more than a few students had an interest in satirical cartoons and manga history kindled by his lectures.

1995 Poster for a public lecture

Shimizu was also involved with the creation in 2001 of the Japan Society for the Study of Cartoons and Comics (Nihon Manga Gakkai) and was a member of its inaugural board of directors. This remains the only national society for this field of study in Japan. However, Shimizu no doubt felt slightly marginalized, for the vast majority of the society’s more than 350 members are interested first and foremost in post-war and modern narrative comics expression (rather than Shimizu’s first love of satirical cartoons and pre-war comics history). Moreover, for the limited number of younger scholars who now actively research early manga history, Shimizu’s long view perspective on this history - a perspective built upon earlier manga histories which connects comics to a centuries-old humorous art tradition - had become the subject of criticism. Nevertheless, while Shimizu’s books are primarily aimed at a general audience, many of them are, and will remain for many years to come, essential reading for any scholar of manga. In Yoshimura Kazuma and Jaqueline Berndt’s 2020 book Manga Studies, which introduces thirty foundational books in the field to Japanese readers, Shimizu’s 1991 classic Manga History (Manga no Rekishi), is at the top of the list as a “first step into Japanese manga history research.”

Bigot Sketch Collection 1 - Manners and Customs of Meiji 

Shimizu’s earliest books were two self-published cartoon collections in the early 1970s. The first grew out of his fascination with French artist Georges Ferdinand Bigot who produced satirical cartoon magazines while living in Japan at the end of the nineteenth-century. The other book was a rare collection of wartime political cartoons. These two interests, Georges Bigot and wartime cartoons, along with Edo period humorous prints, Meiji period satirical magazine cartoons and cartoonists, manga pioneer Okamoto Ippei, early postwar comics, and newspaper comic strips, were themes he would revisit throughout his career, revealing surprising new discoveries each time. Shimizu wrote or edited eighteen

Manga Shonen and Akahon Manga
publications on Bigot, many of which have been reprinted multiple times; his 1992 book Bigot’s Japanese Sketch Collection (Bigōt Nihon sobyō-shū) has gone through an incredible thirty-one printings. Among his other publications that are highly regarded are his 1989 book on the early postwar magazine ‘Manga Shōnen’ and akahon manga books, his 1997 book on Hasegawa Machiko’s Sasae-san comic strip, and his 2008 book on the pioneering story manga artist Yokoi Fukujirō. For scholars of manga history, his chronologies of manga publications, manga dictionary, and his reprints early satirical magazines, in particular his 1986 series Manga Magazine Museum (Manga zasshi hakubutsukan), are indispensable references. His self-published journal Satirical Cartoon Research (Fūshi-ga kenkyū), 48 issues between 1992 to 2005, is an important resource for scholars of political cartoons.

Shimizu’s efforts to preserve, record and bring manga’s early history to a broad audience earned him the 1986 “Special Jury Award” from the Japanese Cartoonists Association and in 2015 a “Special Achievement Award” from the Japan Agency for Cultural Affairs. It is no exaggeration to say Shimizu’s achievement in making material available through his collection, exhibitions and publications has made it possible for a new generation to conduct pre-war manga history research today.

Pages from Fushiga Kenkyu journal showing research on Shonen Puck

My own research on early manga history was sparked by Shimizu’s publications on Meiji satirical cartoons, written in highly readable jargon-free prose. I had the good fortune to meet him a number of times over the years beginning in 1995 when I attended one of his public lectures. He acted as chair in 2002 for my first academic paper in Japanese on Frank A Nankivell and his student, Japan’s first career mangaka Kitazawa Rakuten (for more details, see Fusami Ogi’s interview with Shimizu in IJOCA 5(2) 2003). The last time we met was at another talk public talk in 2018 on Rakuten. As always, I was amazed by his encyclopedic knowledge of not just Japanese, but also foreign cartoon history (He could be described in Japanese as an ikijibiki or a ‘living dictionary’). His curiosity was also insatiable, and his eyes would sparkle whenever he a conversation turned to manga and cartoon history research. While my own take on the history of manga development has come to diverge from his over the years, his work continues to be important for me. On the bookshelves of my study, I keep over fifty of his books close at hand as a constant source of information and inspiration. I, like many others, felt his ever-inquisitive mind would continue to provide us with more research, discoveries and exhibitions. Rest in peace Shimizu-sensei, and thank you. 

Some of Shimizu Isao's many books on my bookshelves

A version of this will appear in print in IJOCA 23-1.