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. With Belgian politics as one of his main subjects, he was a house cartoonists of Knack magazine from the 1970s until 2012. Ian's political cartoons were notable for their use of sequential narratives and the recurring appearances of a nameless couple, making them comparable to comic strips.

Early life and career
Jan De Graeve was born in 1941 in Ghent, as part of a family with eight children. His father owned a small farm animal food (fodder) company in Avelgem. During the 1930s, father De Graeve was fascinated with the far-right movement Verdinaso. He wasn't a religious man, but De Graeve's mother was a devout Catholic. She was in fact so fanatic, that when in adulthood Ian told her he was an atheist, she refused to speak to him any longer! A Jesuit monk had to be called for mediation. His Flemish-nationalist and Catholic background shaped Ian's own convictions. Although he considers himself a Flemish nationalist, he is nevertheless neutral about ideologies and political parties. De Graeve studied German Philology and then Communication science at the University of Ghent. In terms of drawing, he was completely self-taught. In his spare time, he enjoyed making portraits of his college friends. His first job was writing brochures and organizing congresses for the textile industry. De Graeve also wrote for a liberal farmer's magazine and served as editor of Doorbraak, the party magazine of the Vlaamse Volksbeweging, a Flemish-nationalist think tank. This magazine also published his first cartoons.

Het Beknopt Verslag
De Graeve's introduction to professional cartooning came by accident. In the early 1960s, he was one of the editors of Het Beknopt Verslag, a service offering short reports of government plenary sessions. Originally, newspapers sent their own journalists to such meetings, often resulting in colored reports. Het Beknopt Verslag recruited independent journalists to take notes during the sessions. After a short exam, Jan De Graeve became part of the first group. During the long meetings, De Graeve often made sketches. These were noticed by columnist Karel De Witte, who introduced him to his newspaper, De Gazet van Antwerpen.

After becoming a regular cartoonist for De Gazet van Antwerpen, his cartoons spread out to other newspapers and magazines as well, including De Morgen and Het Laatste Nieuws. He later also published in De Financieel-Economische Tijd, Trends, Mep, Zeg, Neerlandia, Anderzijds, De Juristenkrant, Onze Tijd, Welzijn, Dietsche Warande en Belfort, La Libre Belgique, Pan and Jan Bucquoy's Spetters. Of all magazines, he liked the satirical Pan the best. For the rest of his career, De Graeve combined his cartooning with his job at Het Beknopt Verslag. Originally, he signed his drawings with his first name, "Jan". Since this a very generic name in the Dutch language, he later spelled it as "Ian". He also designed posters for democratic political parties of several different ideologies.  

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 released a compilation of 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 one single magazine would remain - De Kiosk - read by only one person.

From the late 1970s until 2012, Ian was most recognizable to mainstream audiences through his weekly page in the opinion magazine Knack. Originally titled 'Vijf voor zes' ("Five to Six"), it was later retitled as 'De Week van Ian' ("Ian's Week"). All his cartoons specifically focused on Belgian politics. In October 2012, Knack received Jörgen Oosterwaal as new chief editor, which motivated Ian to retire. At that point, his full weekly page was already reduced to half a page in the reader's section. Hearing from his plan, his publisher offered him a full page again, but Ian decided to quit any way. 

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 a hidden pun or switcheroos. Ian often used narrative sequences, varying from two to six panels. Usually, his characters start a sentence in the first panel, which is carried on in the next, until the final panel delivers the punchline. This makes closer to a comic artist than most editorial cartoonists, who usually limit themselves to one single drawing.

Another comic strip element in Ian's work was his use of two recurring self-created characters, namely a big-nosed man and a big-cheeked woman. They never received names, but represent the average man and woman. All his other characters are caricatures of real-life politicians, or existing symbols like the Flemish Lion and the Walloon Rooster, who represent their respective language communities in Belgium. Most of the time, the anonymous man and woman complete each other's sentences, with the man delivering the punchline. The woman is always calm and unfazed, but her husband is visually frustrated and disillusioned about a certain depressing, kafkaesque or catch-22 situation.

Ian never expressed a strong personal opinion. His neutral viewpoints helped him getting 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), the cartoonist Gal defended his colleague: "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." 

Other activities
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 Roel Daenen's '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. Ian also 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 made animated intermezzos for the sketch show 'Oei!' for BRT television (nowadays VRT). Several of the show's sketches were based on Brasser cartoons. Additionally, Ian is a permanent jury member of the Eurokartoenale cartoonists' contests in Kruishoutem.

Family connections
Ian's 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, 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:


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