Books

Illustrated guide to a South African journey

Brent Meersman

Ever wonder who comes up with those extraordinary covers for the New Yorker magazine? Meet one of the creators: comic-book artist Jacques de Loustal.

Drawing on experience: Jacques de Loustal’s record of his trip.

He may not be well known in South Africa, but he is an exemplary figure for some South Africans, such as political cartoonist Zapiro and in particular Anton Kannemeyer of Bitterkomix.

One of the French contingent of Étonnants Voyageurs at this year’s Open Book Festival, Loustal undertook a 3 000km trek around the country during the winter of 2011. His pictorial account of that journey, the South African Road Trip sketchbook, won the Soleil d’Or award at the 24th Comic Strip Festival in France in August.

Loustal is a master. Unlike many comic-book artists, he has since his early years had gallery representation and exhibitions of his work.

But he comes from a military family. “My father was [a] general in the air force. My elder brother was in the special forces; the other in submarines,” Loustal said.

One of his martial ancestors made sketches for the military at the beginning of the century. “He was in China in 1905, Mauritania, Sahara. He made a lot of watercolours [for the military] and I have tried to collect them. The only artist in the family and he died on the first day of the First World War in a plane.”

Loustal studied architecture for eight years to avoid the army. Once qualified, he could enter the civil service instead. He was stationed in Morocco. “In the beginning I drew on site, because all my first travel sketches came from the pleasure of being in new places, somewhere I didn’t know. I used to travel a lot in the Mediterranean, find a place where I could rest and feel the atmosphere, sitting somewhere; maybe I would smoke a cigarette.

“So the first books were like that, but I realised I missed very strong pictures because I couldn’t stop and draw. But [then] that was an orthodoxy of the travelogue made on location.”

Things changed when he went to Norway and Iceland. It was too cold and impossible to draw in situ. These days Loustal makes notes and takes digital photos for reference.

South African Road Trip “is the seventh … It is more a collection of drawing inspired by travels.” The inspiration this time came primarily from the landscape.

“Wide open space; big country; big sky. I like to travel in such country. The basic thing is that when I look at my photo I draw like that, the first line.” He mimes the movement. “I don’t — as in illustration — sketch, erase, resketch. It has to be like writing. So it’s full of mistakes, but it is fresh. When you travel you are free, you don’t work for a publisher’s [brief]. You return to the base of the actions of drawing.”

Loustal said drawing is a “matter of shades, of graphic construction. I look at the balance and so on. You don’t necessarily have to look at the subject. Things are revealed by the way they are lit. For illustrations you have to answer a question graphically.

“Every time I read something or someone tells me a story, instantly I see it like a movie. And that’s a problem sometimes if it’s a horrible story! I am bulimic of pictures … too many pictures; from painting, comics, photos, movies, what I see. So you have a lot of impressions, and afterwards you have an over-pressure in your mind; so you need to express.”

Road Trip is a handsome volume that captures the beauty and variety of the South African landscape, from the Karoo and the coastal seascape to the golf course, where he whimsically imagines a rhinoceros on the green. People feature as little more than ciphers fo perspective.

“The purpose of the artist is to see things that maybe not everybody sees. So you translate it and you propose this to people. I realise all the artists I like, it is their eyes, the way they see things that impresses me.”

The exhibition is at the Alliance Française, Loop Street, Cape Town, until September 30. Jacques de Loustal’s South African Road Trip is published by Zanpano, 2012


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