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 furthermore known for his large crowd paintings. He is part of the new wave of the Flemish humorists, together with  Kim DuchateauJeroomBart Schoofs and Nix.

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 and Matz, Brüno, Carlos Vermut, Joann Sfar, Christophe Blain, Joan Cornellà, Osamu Tezuka, Hayao Miyazaki, George Grosz, Fernand Léger and old Walt Disney cartoons among his graphic influences. Under influence of 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

He 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 he 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 super hero 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 comics 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 reminscent 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 furthermore 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

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 does 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

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. He 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. In 2009 De Poortere was one of 20 Flemish comics 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". He designed a fresco in the Rue Euler in Paris, a year later.

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

Apart from comics De Poortere also enjoys making huge crowd drawings in the style of Martin Handford's 'Where's Waldo?' where readers have to find his characters back, only in more macabere settings, such as a beach about to be hit by a tsunami or Auschwitz. More innocent are his children's picture books '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 crowded pictures, such as 'Hendriks Spookjesboek' (2011) and 'Hendrik Spookjescircus' (2012). Other picture books for children are 'De Regenboogstraat' (2013) and 'Thuis in theater' (2016).

Pieter de Poortere
Photo: Bart De Poortere

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