Boerke, by Pieter De Poortere

Pieter De Poortere is a Flemish cartoonist, most famous for his internationally succesful pantomime comic 'Boerke' ('Dickie', 2000), about the mishaps of a generally unlucky moustached farmer. The series combines an innocent-looking graphic style with pitch black comedy. De Poortere is also known for his large crowd paintings. He is part of the new wave of the Flemish humorists, together with Kim DuchateauJeroomBart Schoofs and Nix.

Early life
Pieter De Poortere was born in 1976 in Ghent, Belgium. He enjoyed drawing as a child and ranks André Franquin, Lewis Trondheim, Louis-Michel Carpentier, Chris Ware, Hanco Kolk, François Bourgeon, Françoise Mouly, Ever Meulen, Jacques Tardi, Régis Loisel, Luc Jacamon & Matz, Brüno, Carlos Vermut, Joann Sfar, Christophe Blain, Joan Cornellà, Osamu Tezuka, Hayao Miyazaki, Matt Groening, George Grosz, Fernand Léger, Gustave Van de Woestyne and old Walt Disney cartoons among his graphic influences. Influenced by Urbanus, he drew similar nonsensical pantomime comics as a child, such as 'Pieter Pech', the duck 'Hooligans' and a comic strip about Jesus and Maria. Even in those days he already drew huge illustrations depicting crowds.

De Zichtbare Man by Pieter de Poortere
'De Zichtbare Man'. 

De Zichtbare Man
De Poortere studied printing, lay-out and drawing at the Viso in Mariakerke and illustration at the Sint-Lucas Academy in Ghent, where two of his teachers were Ever Meulen and Ferry. He also went to evening classes in drawing. Through Meulen, De Poortere was able to publish comics and cartoons in the magazine Humo. He was originally hired as a lay-out designer and cartoonist, but since he wasn't good with computer design he was fired within the same month. Luckily De Poortere still had a job at an advertising company and was allowed to continue publishing his drawings in Humo. His first series was 'De Zichtbare Man' ("The Visible Man", 1998) about a superhero who was never aware of what was going on around him. The gags were also made available in album format. 'De Zichtbare Man' was quite dialogue-heavy and quickly surpassed by a follow-up comic series: 'Boerke' (2000).

Boerke by Pieter de Poortere
'Boerke' comic. The bespectacled man with the black sweater in the final panel is a self-portrait of De Poortere.

'Boerke' (literally: "Little Farmer") is a pantomime gag comic about a well-meaning but extraordinarily naïve farmer. The drawings are reminiscent of those in a children's comic book, with simple round lines and bright colours. Gags usually start off rather innocently, but tend to end in very disturbing and cynical punch lines. Boerke is always victim of cruel accidents or heartless people who exploit his naïvité, and regularly ends up commiting suicide in the final panel. A first album appeared in 2001, which immediately won the Dutch Stripschapspenning. The same year De Poortere also drew a female version of 'Boerke' named 'Hoerke' ("Little Whore", 2001), which ran as a spin-off. In 2011 Boerke starred in his first long adventure story, 'De Zoon Van',  in which he appears to be the son of Adolf Hitler, a result of a fling with the maid. The story follows him as he reunited with his father and prepared to become the Führer's successor. 

Other special installments in the series are 'Boerke in Hollywood' (2010) and 'Prins Boerke' (2014), in which Boerke and Hoerke star in several well-known movies and fairy tales, respectively. Together with students in 3D animation of the Haute École Albert Jacquard in Namur, De Poortere made a short animated film called 'Once Upon A Time' (2012). On the occasion of the character's 15th anniversary, the 'Boerke Bijbel' was released by Blloan in 2014. It collected the first five albums in one huge volume with gold ink and a hardcover edition.

Prins Boerke
'Prins Boerke'.

'Boerke' also found a spot in the Dutch and Flemish magazines Zone 5300, Bizz, S-Magazine and Focus Knack. The lack of dialogue opened doors for foreign publications too. In France 'Boerke' appeared in Ferraille Illustré, Le Monde and Fluide Glacial. It was also translated in English as 'Dickie' and has been published in Spanish, Finnish, Hungarian, German and Italian as well. One of the book covers of the American translation had to be redrawn, though, because if featured a cow urinating like a man. Prudish American publishers claimed they had the impression the animal appeared to be masturbating. While De Poortere felt this was just overactive imagination, he nevertheless redrew the cover to show the urinating cow from the back. When this still was considered too risqué De Poortere redrew the cow while it entered an outhouse latrine. This design was accepted.

Joe de Eskimo by Pieter de Poortere
'Joe de Eskimo'.

Joe de Eskimo
By the time De Poortere wrote a fan letter to one of his idols, Lewis Trondheim, it turned out that the cartoonist had already heard about him. He asked De Poortere whether he would be interested in making a children's comic. The end result, 'Joe de Eskimo', features the adventures of an Inuit man but even the artist himself acknowledged that it was "far too cruel" for the target audience. The comic appeared in Trondheim's collection Shampooing at Delcourt, but it was published in Dutch by Bries in 2007. A sequel called 'Eskimo gaat op reis' was published in 2009. Since 2008, De Poortere makes  regular contributions to the sections 'La Gazette de Frémion' and 'Que Vous Êtes Joli ! Que Vous me Semblez Beau' in the French magazine Fluide Glacial.

Focus Knack cover by Pieter de Poortere
Cover for Focus Knack, 16-22 May 2007. The illustration is set at Cannes, during the film festival. The attentive viewer can spot references to films like 'King Kong', 'Superman', 'Tarzan', 'Star Wars', 'Godzilla', Charlie Chaplin, 'Jaws', 'The Seven Year Itch' (with Marilyn Monroe), 'E.T.', 'Pulp Fiction' and 'Titanic'. 

Graphic contributions
Pieter De Poortere also made the theater/comic play 'K.A.K.' in 2002, together with actor Han Coucke and composer Joris Schoenmaekers. The piece was an ironic satire of xenophobia. De Poortere provided the illustrations, which were also published in book form afterwards. For the Flemish human interest TV show 'Man Bijt Hond' De Poortere made some animated shorts in Flash animation, broadcast during the daily segment 'Zonder Handen' in which amateurs were allowed to do their thing for one minute straight. On 11 July 2011 De Poortere designed a comics mural in the Rue Euler, Paris, featuring characters created by Jeroen Janssen, Randall Casaer, Judith VanistendaelOlivier Schrauwen and Brecht Evens, to promote Flemish comic strips. He was one of several artists to make a comic strip for the booklet 'Building Bridges in Europe’ (2012), published by the European Association of National Builders’ Merchants Associations and Manufacturers (UFEMAT). In 2017 he also paid tribute to André Franquin's 'Gaston Lagaffe' in the homage album 'Gefelicitaart!' (2017). He was one of many artists to pay tribute to Ever Meulen during the 'Ever Meulen & Friends' exhibition in October 2017 in Brussels. In 2020 he joined 75 Dutch & Flemish comic artists to make a graphic contribution to the free collective comic book ‘Striphelden versus Corona’ (Oogachtend, Uitgeverij L, 2020). The book is intended to support comics stores who had to close their doors for two months during the lockdown at the height of the COVID-19 virus pandemic. De Poortere designed the cover. De Poortere has also designed the poster for the 2022 international Anima animation festival in Brussels. 

Activity spread for Spirou #3925 (2013)
Activity spread for Spirou #3925 (2013).

Crowd drawings
Apart from comics, De Poortere also enjoys making huge crowd drawings in the style of Martin Handford's 'Where's Waldo?'. Just like Waldo, readers are invited to look for Boerke ('Dicky') in a large, detailed illustration full with people and/or animals. Some of these "look-and-find" drawings are innocent pictures, full with pop culture references. Others are set in a macabre location, such as Nazi camp Auschwitz, or a beach about to be hit by a tsunami. 

Children's picture books
De Poortere has also created straightforward children's picture books, such as 'Poes Gaat Slapen' and 'Poes Is Jarig' for publisher Lannoo in 2011. The books also feature the little ghost Hendrik, who later starred in books with large crowd pictures, such as 'Hendriks Spookjesboek' (2011) and 'Hendrik Spookjescircus' (2012). Other picture books for children by De Poortere are 'De Regenboogstraat' (2013) and 'Thuis in theater' (2016). In 2020 De Poortere published a children's book in collaboration with the Museum of Fine Arts, entitled 'LAM' (2020). It was about Jan and Hubert van Eyck's tryptich 'Agnus Dei' (better known as the Ghent Altarpiece). In the story readers have to look for characters from Van Eyck's paintings, hidden in large crowd drawings. The book adds numerous cameos of well known comic characters and people from Ghent, while also depicting well known locations in the city. Later that year De Poortere published another comic book about Van Eyck, written by children's authors Frank Pollet and Moniek Vermeulen, titled 'Het Verdwenen Paneel' (2020). The story is based on the 1934 theft of the panel 'The Just Judges' of the Ghent Altarpiece. In 2005 the famous theft of this painting also inspired the plot of Merho's 'De Kiekeboes' album 'Tiznoland' (2005).  

Super Mickey
In 2019 De Poortere published 'Super Mickey' (Glénat, 2019), his own comic book interpretation of Mickey Mouse. The comic is drawn in his familiar pantomime style and with official permission of the Walt Disney Company. De Poortere said that drawing Mickey's ears and nose were more difficult than he expected and that he had to submit himself to Disney's strict regulations. Nevertheless he enjoyed the experience very much. The story is based on the 'Super Goof' character, invented by Del Connell and Paul Murry, which imagines Goofy as a superhero. In De Poortere's story Goofy suffers from a burn-out and can no longer be a superhero, so Mickey steps in to help him. Yet the mouse has no superpowers of his own, so he has to fight crime by using his intelligence. 

On 29 March 2021, De Poortere launched an animated TV series based on 'Boerke' ('Dickie'). The animation is produced in collaboration with TV production company De Hofleveranciers and animation studio Fabrique Fantastique, with music by Flip Kowlier (best known as a member of Het Hof van Commerce, alongside Serge Buyse). 'Boerke' is broadcast on Canvas, the second channel of the Flemish public television organisation VRT. Each episode is two minutes long and broadcast four times a week at 23.00h. Interestingly enough, while 'Boerke' is a pantomime comic, the animated adaptation does feature voice acting. The title character is played by Jos Dom. Female side characters are portrayed by Maaike Cafmeyer, while male side characters are voiced by Han Coucke.

In 2009 De Poortere was one of 20 Flemish comic artists whose work was exhibited during the 'Ceci n'est pas la BD Flamande' exhibition at the Comics Festival of Angoulême, France. A year later he won the Prix Saint-Michel in Brussels for "Best Dutch-language comic".

Other activities
On 16 June 2022 De Poortere was named president of the non-profit organisation for the Belgian Comic Strip Center in Brussels. 

Legacy and influence
Pieter De Poortere was an influence on Katrien Van Schuylenbergh.

Pieter de Poortere
Photo of Pieter De Poortere, taken by Bart De Poortere.

Series and books by Pieter De Poortere you can order today:


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