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I don't know about you, but I've always liked the short stories, either in prose or in comics - and even in films. There's something in the concentrated power of a ten-page prose story or a four- or five-page comic which is specific to that format. One can think of Edgar Allan Poe, David Leavitt, or the EC comics to realize what can be achieved in a few pages. Self-portrait from "Mind Riot"That's exactly what Maurice Vellekoop has accomplished. To my knowledge, his longest story is only 6 pages long, and on average, the other ones must be about 3 pages long. So, no From Hell, no Cerebus for this artist. And yet, his themes are easily perceived, his personal universe clearly defined. If his work has at first been published in various and often hard-to-find comics anthologies, diving in Vellekoop's visions is in fact not that difficult...

All the more as ninety percent of his comics work has been collected in what could be one of the most beautiful book ever issued by a comic-book publisher. Vellevision - what a title ! - is a 112-page softcover book filled to the brim with, you've guessed, comics and pictures, covering eleven years of work. This book is divided into chronological/thematic chapters.

The first one is "Beginnings". High school crushHere we find stories drawn in 1985-86. The style is very angular, and the stories are not particularly funny. Some of the themes dear to Vellekoop are already here, like unrequited love, night life or loneliness in the big city.
The second chapter, "Guilt & Fear comics", acts as a reprint for little-seen mini-comics of the same name published in 1986 and 1989. A housewife feels guilty about not doing anything for third-world countries ; a young guy who's been gay-bashed becomes paranoid about the dangers lurking in the streets : these stories and others, about the little things our lives are made of, already show the strengths of Vellekoop's work. He's very perceptive about the things most people would consider as trivial. What's important about a middle-class housewife watching too many starving African kids, one might think. Well, most of us Westerners - and I don't mean that we live in Heaven, ok - are like her : sheltered from war and destruction, we just send money when we feel too guilty - or when the media feel too guilty. The art is also quite interesting : in three years, we see Vellekoop's "mature" style develop, getting rounder, softer. Even his men get rounder, striking poses like the classic pin-up girls. That's another characteristic of Vellekoop's art : the post-50's or 60's feel of his stories, the pseudo-naivete of his themes. And his humor begins to appear, like in the one-pager on the right. But more about that later.

In the third chapter, "Music", we have a panorama of illustrations by Vellekoop on that theme. Music, and especially opera (did I say Vellekoop and Russell had nothing in common ?), plays a big part in Vellekoop's imaginative world. Look at this spoof of Alfons Mucha's posters for Sarah Bernhardt. I must admit I can't resist the combination of obvious love for the original work and the mischievousness towards the pompous titles and ads. For the French-impaired reader, let me add that "Malagauche" would mean something like "ill-at-left", the ad reads "sensual, lyrical, grandiose, tragical show in 9 acts", the title is "The Mad Queen of Byzantium" and "Houplas" sounds very stupid and funny for me. In this section, he also gives us the imaginary biography of a conductor, a few illustrations from famous operas, and a one-pager in which everyone should see oneself. Choosing colors to show after-images (or should I write "after-music" ?) is an elegant idea. The swirling sensations provided by music find a good equivalent in these receding colors which the outside world slowly but surely submerges. Once more, Vellekoop manages in a few panels to create a situation which most artists do not even notice.

Hairdoes from another planet.The fourth part, "Fabulous Babes", is also the title of two comics Vellekoop did with two of his friends. Warped sci-fi and gay melodrama, on display in this section, are here to stay in the queer arsenal of Toronto's oddest artist - wait, doesn't David Cronenberg live around there ? Anyway, Vellekoop's melodramas are another of his making 50's and 60's popular culture over into all-new romances which no straight artist would dare to tell anymore.
He smelt, but someone was watching over him. Happy-endings according to Vellekoop.He manages to use worn-out stories and, with his gentle humor, never mocks his characters, but rather the conventions of a genre beside which super-hero comics are a fountain of originality.

From another one-pager.

"Work" comes after "Music". Two one-pagers in this section are particularly beautiful : one is "Night Job", and the other "Waiting". In "Night Job", a few people clean offices late in the evening, and then catch a bus home. Once again, Vellekoop shows us the little moments in life, when nothing important is done, but which take so much of our time. His mastery of color is especially obvious in this strip and also in "Waiting". In the latter, the same spot in the city is drawn in each season, and the result is really beautiful. Peace and tranquility, not often found in cities, are here for everyone to enjoy, conveyed by a choice of simple but well-used colors.


The following chapter, "The World of Gloria Badcock", might be the weirdest, and maybe even the queerest, of the book. In these three stories, the longest he's done, the woman with the insulting name gets what she likes : sex. With men, with E.T.s, with tritons... In fact, we get an overview of human (and alien, too) sexuality. The great thing is that all this is drawn in the Vellekoop style, round and soft. None of his characters are bodybuilders, even if he knows how to draw a well-muscled man ; his E.T.s seem to have landed in the 50's, and the whole strips combine some porn situations with a gentleness in the characters which is totally unusual. We'll find that opposition again in his ABC Book.

Illustration for the Smart.

TheFrom the same issue of "Out". Not included in "Vellevision". last before one chapter's title is self-explanatory : "Illustrations". Illustration for the Smart.Vellekoop earns his life as a professional illustrator, and he's worked for numerous magazines all over the world, including Vogue, The New Yorker, Out, and other projects like a promo book for the Smart. These three illustrations are not included in Vellevision. See there for newer illustrations.


T is for "Trick, next morning". U is for "Uranian".

I want to be his Loïs.The last chapter, "Gay Life" probably includes some of the most personal work of Vellekoop. It opens with "Maurice's Fairy Alphabet", a funny, tender, and sexy version of our childhood books. Another high point is "Homoman", a very funny - but too short - take on the Man of Steel. But for me, the best story is "Side Door Lover", a totally unrealistic love story between a rich man and a salesclerk. With lines like "Oh darling, I didn't believe in angels 'till I met you.", and art less cartoony than usual, this story, strongly reminiscent of 50's love comics (Simon & Kirby, eat your heart out !), continuously navigates between kitsch and humor, but as I've written before, never does Vellekoop mock his characters. Maybe I'm a melo queen myself, but I must admit going "How cute !" when I read these tales - and at the same time, laughing at myself for thinking that. Maybe that's what Vellekoop wanted...

For me, Vellekoop's art is an antidote for everything that hurts in our cold-hearted world. It soothes and makes you smile, somehow like the classic Hollywood musicals. His stories are definitely not seen through pink glasses - no pun intended - but rather, with a gentle optimism which makes one think, even for a short moment, that everything could be alright with the world.


Addendum: A few pages from the book, from a bookshop's site which is selling the originals.



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