The 9th Art: Graphic Novelist Olivier Broyart in Belgium

Brussels, the capital city of Belgium, is famous for its chocolate and waffles.

© Olivier Broyart's "Attention Nuage"

But lesser known is the treasure trove of artists that permeate the small city.

A recent trip to the quaint town with its interesting murals and graffiti, revealed a beating heart of young graphic novelists, unassuming, imaginative and undiscovered.

I had a rare opportunity to speak to one of them, Olivier Broyart.

The young Frenchman, face full of blondish hair, in many ways embodies the quintessential Bohemian artist of ones imaginings.

Born in Alsace, France, but living for the past few years in Belgium, Broyart didn’t easily speak candidly about himself.

Yet, as he spoke, the twinkle in his eye was evidence of his passion for a medium that he felt saved him during his difficult times as a young boy in school.

“I don’t remember a time when I wasn’t drawing.  I wasn’t very good in my school work, but as I got better at drawing, I became a more confident person.”

Always an artist

Broyart always saw illustration as his only career choice.  He couldn’t imagine doing anything else with his life.  The social aspects of drawing helped him get over his shyness.

A joining together of illustrators, colourists, inkers and writers, the creation of a graphic novel is often a large-scale project.  Broyart lately has functioned in all of these roles; however, he typically performs the writing and the illustration.

Broyart also collaborates with other artists on a regular basis; yet, he admitted that the early part of his process is usually a solitary one.

“I can’t let other people’s opinions influence my work at the start, or else I will not be able to continue.  There are sometimes, of course, technical reasons why I need to know what others think, and I enjoy collaborative projects.  But this is a different sort of thing.”

The graphic novel surfaces

© Broyart's "La fée et la chouette"

In recent years, graphic novels have surfaced from its subculture into mainstream view, by way of the publicity of film adaptations such as 300 and V for Vendetta.

While these films seem of interest to the especially initiated alone, they have certainly grabbed the attention of those larger audiences attracted to science fiction, fantasy and action films.

Also, comic books – often less lengthy versions of graphic novels – have gained new momentum in the world of film with an abundance of adaptations from Marvel and DC Comic book heroes such as Batman, Spiderman, Superman, Captain America, the Hulk, X-Men and the Green Lantern.

Yet, graphic novels seem to be in a class all their own, attracting evermore specialised interests with intense and often gothic story lines.

Finding the human within

Broyart tries to bring what he learns in life to his graphic novels, by finding the humanity in his protagonists.

Primarily in the genre of sci-fi/fantasy, Broyart is attracted by the way that a character might deal with circumstances that he or she doesn’t necessarily understand, by acknowledging that they still have to go through it.

Citing Shelly’s Frankenstein as one of his favourite books, Broyart believes that curiosity is often a compelling drive for characters in his stories.

“My characters are not tragic.  I try to put myself in their situations.  My characters are aware of the pointlessness of fighting against the inevitable – but still, they must try.”

Broyart admits that his story is often influenced by his own mood.

“If I’m feeling down, then so is my main character.  My characters are not machines or supermen.  They are human.”

Introducing colour

The illustrator/writer has collaborated with a colourist, Sophie Bihin.  This leap of faith boded well for Broyart, who humbly appreciated the different perspective that Bihin added to his work.  This has ultimately caused him to invest in equipment that allows him to do some colouring of his own.

Perhaps the most remarkable aspect of artists like Broyart is their older/wiser need to be true to their vision rather than the pursuit of commercial gain.

Though in Brussels, the market is satiated with artists without enough venues to show their work, the level of integrity of Broyart and his colleagues is refreshing.

Many may think that fans of graphic novelists may like to see the genre better appreciated, but in truth, most would just like to see some of the incredibly talented artists like Broyart get their due.

With comics being featured in film so much more readily in the past decade, it will be interesting to see in the years to come if graphic novels are brought out of obscurity.

Journalist Patricia Floric reported in a feature article last year that graphic novels are “not really respected and often misjudged” which unfortunately makes them specialty items in the UK that are often too expensive for their particular audience.

Yet, with the growing population of artists like Broyart, who are, at times, entrepreneurial and freelance, the integrity of the art need not fall into the realms of commercialism.

As people seek for something authentic to hold onto, graphic novels seem to maintain a sort of dignity that bolds well for the artistic future of la bande dessinée.