Marcel-Ruijters

To begin and to go on

The Dutch comics exhibition at BIBF 2011

It was at the stand of the Netherlands Foundation for Visual Arts, Design and Architecture (Fonds BKVB), at the 18th Beijing International Book Fair last September, that I met Gert Jan Pos, a Dutch comic strips promoter. He was so kind to give me a tour of the entire Dutch stand. The BKVB commissioned him two years ago to create a public exhibition at the Fair which would showcase emerging illustrators and comic writers working in the Netherlands today. So he asked a number of young artists to pick a canonical Dutch text and to represent it to a 2011 audience. The result was a dozen or so 6-foot freestanding blocks with prints on all sides displaying short, graphic versions of classic Dutch novels and stories. It’s clear that the style of Georges Rémi still weighs heavily on these artists but in themselves, each print was inventive, emotional and engaging.

The one that stood out for me and the one that has stayed with me since was the very first print. It took the first known text written in Old Dutch and illustrated it accordingly.

Hebban olla vogala nestas hagunnan hinase his, enda thu uuat unbidan uue nu.

All birds have started their nests except you and me, what are we waiting for?

Gert says: ‘It was written in the margin of a classic book/bible by an English or even Irish monk. He was trying his pen before starting the really serious text in Latin. This phrase is thought to be from a (folk) song. It sounds friendly.’

Marcel Ruijters, All-birds

The image (left) shows how artist Marcel Ruijters interpreted these words for the Beijing exhibition.

But, oh what a sentiment! Everyone else is doing it, what’s stopping us now? Why don’t we get started? What could possibly go wrong? It is impatient, romantic and leaves nothing and everything to the imagination.

I must confess that, last March when I finally decided to do something that would become THE SOUTH CIRCULAR, I was as impatient as the beggar in the song. Firstly, it seemed obvious to me that emerging writers would want to be published. It seemed obvious that if I was going to do anything it should be text/literature based. I had no doubt the format should be digital.

But what was less clear and not a little daunting was the kind of support I would need to make my idea a virtual reality. If I asked someone for help would they help me? If I needed to know something would I be able to find the answer? And more importantly, once I’d opened my mouth and said what I wanted, would I be able to sustain that desire with hard work, focus and the appropriate attitude?

I must honestly say that the last nine months have astounded me. From the Banter session, ‘Young Guns Doing it for Themselves’ in March 2011, through the many Skype and email conversations with industry experts and enthusiasts, to the mind-blowing reach of Twitter, the literary, design and artistic community that I have encountered (both here and abroad) has only ever been generous, interested, varied and inspiring. But then my amazement is just the blinking and focusing of someone who has entered the light that is the frighteningly creative environment of Ireland in 2011/2012. I am simply becoming acquainted with the spirit of local rivalry which sees our most imaginative encourage and compete with each other in equal measure.

These are the people I hoped to find, to foster, to present on a platform called THE SOUTH CIRCULAR. It is such early days and THE SOUTH CIRCULAR has yet to prove itself to you, but if nothing else, it has been a privilege to see creative Ireland at work.