Translation: "It's always something ... in the past we had to save for the future... and now we have to pay ... for the past." 

Ian (earlier in his career Jan) is a Belgian editorial cartoonist, best known for his cartoons about Belgian politics. He was one of the house cartoonists of Knack magazine from the 1980s until 2010. Ian was notable for using sequential narratives and a recurring nameless couple in his political cartoons, making him a comic artist in everything but name.

Life and career
Jan De Graeve was born in Ghent in 1941. De Graeve debuted as a cartoonist in the 1980s, originally signing his work with his first name "Jan". Since this a very generic name in the Dutch language, he later respelled it as "Ian". Throughout the decade he designed posters for both the Flemish Socialist Party SP and the Communist Party KPB. His cartoons ran in many magazines and newspapers, including De Morgen, De Gazet van Antwerpen and Het Laatste Nieuws. He later also published in De Financieel-Economische Tijd, Trends, Mep, Doorbraak, Zeg, Neerlandia, Anderzijds, De Juristenkrant, Onze Tijd, Welzijn, Dietsche Warande en Belfort, La Libre Belgique and Jan Bucquoy's Spetters.

1981 cartoon depicting Flanders Fields, the graveyard for the fallen soldiers of World War I. The general says: "And by the way, it's about time that we bring some new blood in here." 

De Kiosk
In 1981 Ian published a compilation of several thematical cartoons under the title: 'De Kiosk. 100 Karikaturen uit het Jaar 2030'. The hundred cartoons imagined the then distant year of 2030, when Flanders has become a prince-bishopric. Ian imagined that only one magazine would remain - De Kiosk - read by only one person.

From the 1980s until 2010 Ian was most recognizable to mainstream audiences through his weekly page in the opinion magazine Knack. Originally titled 'Vijf voor zes', it was later retitled as 'De Week van Ian'. All his cartoons specifically focused on Belgian politics.

2010 cartoon depicting Belgian Prime Minister Elio Di Rupo. Translation: "As Prime Minister I could receive grants ... from Europe, while as Prime Minister I have ... to donate grants to Europe." 

Ian was a very minimalist cartoonist. When he worked in color he painted in simple water colors. He never used elaborate backgrounds or scenery. Most of the comedy is verbal. Characters usually stand in a white void and hold mono- or dialogues with dry observations of a certain problem, dilemma, crisis or situation. Most are one-liners with either a hidden pun, or switcheroos. Ian often used narrative sequences, minimally two panels, maximum four or six. His characters usually start a sentence in the first panel, which is carried on in the next, until the final panel delivers the punchline. This actually makes him closer to a comic artist than most editorial cartoonists, who usually limit themselves to one single drawing.

Another element that made Ian comparable to a comic artist was his use of two recurring self-created characters, namely a big-nosed man and a big-cheeked woman. They never received names, but are representations of the average man and woman. The anonymous couple stands out because all his other characters are caricatures of real-life politicians. Apart from the Flemish Lion and the Walloon rooster (symbols of their respective language communities in Belgium) this man and woman are the only fictional characters. The couple often completes each other's sentences, with the man delivering the punchline. The woman is always calm and unfazed, while her husband is visually frustrated and disillusioned about a certain depressing, kafkaesque or catch-22 situation.

Ian never took a strong personal opinion. His neutral viewpoints helped him get published in both left- and right-wing papers and magazines, but also led to accusations of being a hollow opportunist. In his book 'De Overspannen Jaren' (1996), Ian's colleague Gal defended him: "Quite some experts condemn De Graeve as a weather vane who turns with the ideological color of his client. I strongly disagree, in my opinion my graphic companion in Knack remains himself, despite the paper roof above his head. He has a completely personal approach of the goings in society. Jan is a nationalist who draws with Flanders in the back of his head, but at the same time he is the cool-headed analyst, of an almost Asian inscrutability. De Graeve takes advantage of the privilege that, as a parlementarian, he is able to witness the political arena as an eyewitness. The way he unravels the system is so secure that one has to be kind of initiated to appreciate cartoonist Jan for what he is really worth. Maybe he operates too inside, but he has my full support."

 Translation: "In Belgium ... necessary reforms are usually held off... because of... the elections." 

Book illustrations
Ian illustrated the novel 'De Wonderlijke Avonturen van Cies Slameur, Gentsch Koetsier en Soldaat' ('t Zal Wel Gaan, Gent, 1997) by Paul Kenis and Pierre Schoentjes. His cartoons have also appeared in 'Het is maar om te lachen. Hoe cartoonisten de wereld veranderen' (Polis, 2016), a book featuring interviews with Belgian cartoonists regarding controversy and censorship in the light of the 2015 terrorist attacks on the subversive French magazine Charlie-Hebdo.

Animation career
Ian has made an animated sequence for Robbe De Hert's film 'Zware Jongens' (1984), starring the comedy duo Gaston en Leo. In 1989 he and Geert Van Den Broele also made occasional animated intermezzos for the sketch TV show 'Oei!' on the BRT (nowadays VRT). For the same sketch show Brasser's cartoons were used as basis. 

Other activities
Ian is a permanent jury member of the Eurokartoenale cartoonists' contests in Kruishoutem.

Family connections
His son, Sam De Graeve, is a well known columnist, cartoonist and journalist. Between 2010 and 2011 he was chief editor of Humo magazine and from 2011 until 2017 he was creative director of the TV production company Woestijnvis. Ian's nephew, Bert De Graeve, gained fame as managing director of the Flemish public TV channel VRT (1996-2002).

2010 cartoon depicting king Albert II of Belgium and vice Prime Minister Johan Vande Lanotte. Translation: "The Flemings want to talk about money. The French speakers only about accents." (A pun on "centen" [coins] and "accenten" [accents].)

Series and books by Ian in stock in the Lambiek Webshop:


If you want to help us continue and improve our ever- expanding database, we would appreciate your donation through Paypal.