Berlin by Pascal LefevreBerlin by Pascal Lefevre
'Berlin', experimental comic written and drawn by Pascal Lefèvre.

Pascal Lefèvre is a Belgian comic historian, journalist and theorist. A pioneer in comic research, he has written many articles, essays and books about comics, analyzing the medium from historical, artistic, economical and even scientific perspectives. Lefèvre also wrote history as the first Fleming to receive his PhD with a treatise about comics, in this case the newspaper comic 'Suske en Wiske' by Willy Vandersteen. Several of Lefèvre's writings have been translated in English, French, German and Portuguese. He was research assistant and scientific advisor for the Belgian Comic Strip Center in Brussels and contributed to numerous exhibitions, lectures and documentaries. Between 1998 and 2019, Lefèvre was also teacher at the Sint-Lucas Art Academies in Brussels and Antwerp, developing, along with Georges Braem, the first professional Dutch-language comics course in Belgian academic history. For his research, often paid out of his own pocket, Lefèvre travelled the globe and even went so far as to learn several languages. He is also one of the few comic theorists who also made some comics himself. He scripted the humor comic 'Oh, Dierbaar Vlaanderen…' (1985-1987), drawn by Katrien van Schuylenbergh, and wrote the narrative for the Hollywood-themed 'Layla' (1987), drawn by Bart Ramakers. Lefèvre also scripted an educational comic strip about Dutch-Flemish comic pioneer George Van Raemdonck, 'Gepeld Eike en Rode Tomat'/'Tomate Rouge et Crâne d'Oeuf' (2022), drawn by Greg Shaw. His only published self-drawn comic was the experimental 'Berlin' (1995), about a love affair in the German capital. The comic historian Pascal Lefèvre should not be confused with a Walloon politician and member of the city council of Sint-Pieters Woluwe (b. 1959), nor a French javelin thrower (b. 1965), nor an obscure Flemish cyclist (b. 1971) from Bruges. 

Early life and career
Pascal Lefèvre was born in 1963 in Tienen, a city in the Belgian province Brabant (nowadays Flemish Brabant). His father worked for the Belgian railroad company. Lefèvre grew up in a rural area with limited cultural infrastructure. The first comics he read as a child were from his mother's collection. At age six, when Lefèvre was bedridden for a couple of weeks with chronic kidney disease, a friendly neighbor gave him a year's subscription to Kuifje, the Dutch-language edition of the comic magazine Tintin. When the subscription ended, his parents lengthened it until he was well into his mid-teens. Thanks to his father's job, his family had easy access to free train tickets. This enabled Lefèvre to frequently travel to Brussels and discover comic magazines and series that were difficult to find in his region. He was particularly mezmerized by the adult comic magazine (Á Suivre) and comic information magazines like Stripschrift, ZozoLala and Les Cahiers de la Bande Dessinée. He admired Hermann and wanted to draw comics in his style. But since Lefèvre felt that he could never reach this kind of graphic excellence, he didn't continue drawing classes at the local academy. 

'Oh, Dierbaar Vlaanderen...' comic strip from student magazine Veto #1116 (drawn by Katrien van Schuylenbergh).

Instead, between 1981 and 1986, Lefèvre studied Social Sciences, with a specialization in Communication, at the University of Leuven (Louvain). After graduation, he also took a course in American Studies at the same university. Lefèvre was so passionate about comics that he devoted his master paper to the medium. His thesis, 'De Selekterende Stripuitgevers. Een Onderzoek Naar De Gatekeeping Bij De Grote Stripuitgeverijen Lombard en Dupuis' (1986), investigated the gatekeeping by Belgian comic publishers Lombard and Dupuis. In layman's terms: how publishers selected comics for publication in their magazines. At the time, this was completely unexplored territory in the field of academic research. Lefèvre also wrote an essay about a narrative in the early 20th century American newspaper comic 'Little Nemo in Slumberland' by Winsor McCay, in which Nemo's bed develops long legs and walks out in the night. This essay was translated in French by comic historian Thierry Groensteen for the catalogue of the 1990 Winsor McCay exhibition at the Comic Festival of Angoulême, France. Pascal Lefèvre couldn't attend this event himself, because his employer wouldn't give him a day off. 

After graduation, Lefèvre became a researcher for the Belgian public TV channel BRTN (nowadays the VRT), working there from 1989 until 1995. He mostly contributed to talk shows. For a few months, he also worked on the political election debate broadcasts with young adults present in the audience to ask politicians questions. Occasionally he was able to invite comic artists to talk shows or make short documentaries for the culture show 'Ziggurat' (1996-1997) about comic artists like Winsor McCayRodolphe Töpffer and Enki Bilal.

Oh, Dierbaar Vlaanderen...
Besides studying the medium, Pascal Lefèvre also worked on a couple of comic projects of his own. As a student in Leuven, Lefèvre was editor of the local student magazine Veto, for which he also scripted a comic strip, 'Oh, Dierbaar Vlaanderen...' ("O Dear Flanders", 1985), illustrated by Katrien Van Schuylenbergh, with whom he communicated by phone and by mail. The humorous comic started as a weekly serial on 17 January 1985, and continued in the ten following issues. It had a socially conscious undertone, criticizing pollution, political corruption and television. Lefèvre wanted to make a comic strip, but preferred to work with someone who could draw very well. Van Schuylenbergh desired to make a story in the style of André Franquin, so 'Oh, Dierbaar Vlaanderen...' mimicked this approach. Another comic artist who published in Veto in the mid-1980s was Evert Dierickx.

'Cobaye', drawn by Thierry Schiel.

While preparing his master paper about which criteria Belgian comic publishers use to pick out the comics they deem suitable for publication, Lefèvre wanted to test this practice in real life. He wrote the script for a short comic story, 'Cobaye' (1986) and sought somebody willing to illustrate it. After attending an exhibition with work by young artists, held in the Ancienne Belgique in Brussels, his eye fell on the work of Thierry Schiel. He contacted him by letter and soon enough Schiel adapted Lefèvre's script into a comic strip. The plot of 'Cobaye' is set in a dystopian society where a computer decides which people will serve as guinea pigs for scientific experiments for the "Greater Good". Lefèvre intended it as a criticism of how people conform to totalitarian systems "for the good of the people". After the artwork was completed, Lefèvre sent 'Cobaye' to the editors of the magazines Tintin and Spirou. Tintin's publisher, Lombard, wrote back to criticize the artwork, but said nothing about the script. Spirou's publisher, Dupuis, felt the comic resembled one of their own series too much, namely 'S.O.S. Bonheur', scripted by Jean Van Hamme and drawn by Griffo. They also commented on the character designs, but encouraged the artist to keep honing his skills. Nevertheless, Thierry Schiel later went into animation. Outside of Lefèvre's master paper, the 'Cobaye' story was never printed in a mainstream publication. In an email to Lambiek's Comiclopedia, dated 9 September 2022, Lefèvre also revealed that he had also written another comic script at the time, for a more magical-realistic story. He found a Dutch artist willing to illustrate it, but after sending his only manuscript to him, he never heard from him again. 

Through his interest in film, Lefèvre in 1987 found a job as film reviewer for the magazine Film Take One. This publication was attached to the Belgian videostore company Super Club, and intended to promote the latest video releases. Since Lefèvre felt the magazine was "too commercial" to his taste, he published under a pseudonym, Paliski. However, Film Take One was willing to publish a comic series by his hand in its pages. From the very first issue on, Lefèvre scripted 'Layla', a feature drawn by Bart Ramakers under the pseudonym Barst. The series ran from 4 March until 16 November 1987 and revolved around the investigation of a man who sabotages film sets in Hollywood. Lefèvre and Ramakers knew each other from their college days. Ramakers studied history, but when 'Layla' was serialized, he was fulfilling his military service, so he drew the comic in his spare time. In 1990, Super Club turned out be a business hoax, but through investments of Dutch multinational Philips the company managed to survive until collapsing in bankruptcy and business fraud in 1997. Lefèvre was lucky to have left Film Take One a decade earlier. Ramakers never made another comic again and instead became a well-known art photographer. 

Announcement for the 'Layla' strip, artwork by Bart Ramakers.

Although Lefèvre always dreamed of drawing comics himself, he felt he was better off scripting stories for other artists. In 1995, he found the courage to draw at least one comic personally. For suitable subject matter he delved into his past. When Lefèvre was a student, he once had a memorable love affair with a woman in Berlin. But afterwards he never saw her again. His experimental comic strip 'Berlin' (1995) was a form of therapy. The plot indirectly deals with his lover, without naming her, the German capital or any specific details about their bond. 'Berlin' has a few narrative sentences, but is mostly a visual experience. The story begins with the line "In the twilight of our first night she whispered ... memories", showing the statue of an angel. The sculpture is recognizable as the goddess Victoria on top of the Brandenburg Tor monument in the German capital. However, there isn't much victory to be found in Lefèvre's story. The female character has an alcoholic father, visualized through six panels that increasingly get blurrier, eventually turning black. The narrator mentions that she "couldn't bear it." In two panels we see pieces of hair tumbling to the ground. Lefèvre then reflects that he was moved and touched her. All dialogue ends there, with the panels showing a black blob in front of a face, while two hands touch each other. The next pages show a couple kissing and embracing, ending with an image of a tree losing leaves. In an email written to Lambiek's Comiclopedia team, dated 9 September 2022, Lefèvre wrote that 'Berlin' was partially inspired by the work of Edmond BaudoinLorenzo Mattotti and ancient Chinese paintbrush art.  

'Berlin' was printed in issue #4 of the French comic magazine Frigobox. Unfortunately, the editors messed up the order of the pages and even changed compositions of some pages. Lefèvre only found out when the comic was already published. While at the time this frustrated him, he had to admit that the mistake didn't completely ruin his story. Therefore he was still pleased with the end result. 'Berlin' also received more positive reactions than any of the previous comics he worked on. 

Corner in the Belgian Comic Strip Center dedicated to Jacques Martin's 'Alix' series, designed by Pascal Lefèvre.

Belgian Comic Strip Center
In 1989, the Belgian Comic Strip Center opened its doors in Brussels. As research assistant, Pascal Lefèvre helped design parts of the museum's permanent exhibition, particularly the section about (Á Suivre) magazine and the corner devoted to Jacques Martin, creator of the historical comic 'Alix'. Lefèvre was the first person to organize a conference in the museum, which happened in 1991 under the title 'L'Image BD'. The four speakers, Jan Baetens, Sylvain Bouyer, Thierry Groensteen and Philippe Marion, later became well-known names in comic research. In 1996, the 100th anniversary of comics was celebrated, taking the start of Richard F. Outcault's 'The Yellow Kid' as the "birth" of the medium. When the museum's public relations agent was diagnosed with cancer, Lefèvre replaced her for the festivities. When she later passed away, he became her permanent successor. Between 1996 and 1999, Lefèvre was also part-time scientific advisor to the museum. In addition, he gave lectures about comics and visual media at various art schools in Brussels, Antwerp and Ghent.

Although he was happy to have a full-time job devoted to comics, Lefèvre had a hard time getting the Brussels museum organized. They only had a small team, all with different opinions on how things had to be done. The equipment was limited and the museum continually accruied its debts. When the museum organized an exhibition about Marc Sleen, to celebrate the 50th anniversary of his signature series 'Nero', Lefèvre and Yves Kerremans wrote a book about the comic, '50 Jaar Nero. Kroniek Van Een Dagbladverschijnsel' (Standaard Uitgeverij, 1997). Much to their frustration, museum director Jean Auquier didn't want to sell it as a catalogue companion to the Sleen exhibition because it was only available in Dutch, without a French translation. Lefèvre felt this was unfair, since the museum had a far stronger focus on French-language comics than Dutch-language comics. His book about the history of comics in the 19th century, 'Forging a New Medium' (VUB Press, 1998), was also not sold in the museum. Such setbacks motivated Lefèvre to limit his work at the Belgian Comic Center to a part-time job. This enabled him to focus on more satisfying projects for more enthusiastic employers. In 1999 he left the museum altogether. 

Comic scholar
As a comic scholar, Pascal Lefévre has written many essays and books about comics. Between 4 July and 6 September 1987, art curator Jan Hoet organized an exhibition about European comics in the Museum for Contemporary Art in Ghent. The expo, 'Kunst en Grafische Vernieuwing in het Europees Beeldverhaal' ('Art and Graphic Innovation in European Comics'), featured original artwork by various European comic artists. Lefèvre was one of many writers who contributed texts to the catalogue. In 1990, Lefèvre wrote an article about the problematic cinematographic adaptation of comics, which in 2012 was also translated in Portuguese. 

Together with Jan Baetens, he collaborated on a book that approached the comic medium from a more literary and artistic perspective. In 1993, it was published simultaneously in Dutch ('Strips Anders Lezen') and French ('Pour Une Lecture Moderne de la Bande Dessinée') by Dutch publisher Sherpa in collaboration with the Belgian Comic Strip Center in Brussels. In 2014, two chapters of the book were selected for 'The French Comics Theory Reader' and translated in English.

In 1994, Lefèvre presented his paper 'Recovering Sensuality in Comic Theory' at the university of Hamburg, as part of the Arbeitsstelle für Graphische Literatur project. The text was translated in French, English and Portuguese, but only appeared in German in 2002. In Copenhagen in 2008, Lefèvre presented another lecture, this time about the crucial role of publication formats in the creation of comics. For an artist cooperative named SMart, Lefèvre and Morgan Di Salvia additionally co-wrote 'Strip en Illustratie in België. Een Stand van Zaken en de Sociaal-economische Situatie van de Sector'/'Bande Dessinée et Illustration en Belgique. États des Lieux et Situation Socio-Économique du Secteur' (PVCB-Smart, 2010), a treatise about comics and illustrations in Belgium and their social-economic dimension. On his personal website, Lefèvre compiled a comics terminology in eight languages. In 2001, he also published it in book form.

Lefèvre also delved into manga and analyzed the works of Japanese artists like Kiriko NanananKaiji Kawaguchi, Kazuo Koike and Goseki Kojima. A 2008 article written in collaboration with Xavier Hebert was published in Japanese. In 2009, he was invited to attend a comic conference in Kyoto, Japan. Lefèvre also travelled around in Europe, where he was introduced to local comic cultures, noticing interesting similarities and differences between them. To help him better understand the language and communicate with local researchers, Lefèvre took classes in French, English, Spanish, Italian and German. He also took introduction classes in Swedish and Japanese. 

'Forging A New Medium' and 'Pour Une Lecture Moderne de Bande Dessinée'. 

Forging A New Medium
Lefèvre went on a more historical route with 'Forging A New Medium, The Comic Strip in the 19th Century' (VUB Press, 1998), edited in collaboration with Charles Dierick. The book analyzes various 19th-century prototypical comic artists and how their picture stories gradually evolved into what modern audiences would recognize as a "comic strip". Each chapter focuses on a different country. Lefèvre received help from various comic specialists. For the section about Belgium he was aided by Patricia Vansummeren. Through his archive work for the folklore museum House of Alijn in Ghent, he was able to study some of their most ancient prints firsthand. He also attended a conference of the German print culture enthusiasts society Arbeidskreis Bild Druck Papier in Amsterdam, where he met Nico Boerma and Aernout Borms, who edited the most complete inventory of Dutch popular prints. In return he wrote a text for them about the importance of popular prints in comic history. It was included in Boerma and Borms' book  'Kinderprenten, Volksprenten, Centsprenten, Schoolprenten and Populaire Grafiek in de Nederlanden, 1650-1950' (Van Tilt, Nijmegen, 2014). Further foreign expertise for 'Forging A New Medium' was provided by David Kunzle (USA), Thierry Groensteen (France), Antonio Martin (Spain), Hans Ries (Germany), Paul Gravett (United Kingdom) and Nop Maas (The Netherlands). 'Forging A New Medium' went through several reprints and revised editions. Thanks to Lefèvre's research, the earliest serialized newspaper comic from Belgian origin was unearthed, namely 'Le Dernier Film' (1921-1926) in Le Soir by Fernand Wicheler.

In the late 1990s, Lefèvre considered making a website highlighting all the prototypical comics he had retrieved. He scanned hundreds of examples in high resolution. When he heard that Frédéric Paques, a student at the University of Liège, had a similar plan, he contacted him to combine their efforts. Despite an official contract between their universities, the project never got off the ground.

Apart from these general studies, Lefèvre and Yves Kerremans also compiled the book '50 Jaar Nero, Kroniek van een Dagbladverschijnsel' (Standaard Uitgeverij, 1997), a chronological study of every album in Marc Sleen's "Nero" series at that point, to commemorate its 50th anniversary. He wrote articles to celebrate the 50th anniversary of Willy Vandersteen's 'Suske en Wiske' (in 1995) and Morris' 'Lucky Luke' (in 1996) too.

Suske en Wiske in de Krant
In 1997, Lefèvre started a PhD program at his former Social Sciences faculty at the University of Leuven. He worked six years on a theoretical analysis of Willy Vandersteen's newspaper comic 'Suske en Wiske'. His thesis, 'Suske en Wiske In De Krant (1945-1971). Een Theoretisch Kader voor een Vormelijke Analyse van Strips', dealt with the newspaper publications of 'Suske en Wiske' during the period that creator Willy Vandersteen was still personally involved with the scripts and artwork. Lefèvre noticed that the format Vandersteen had to use (two strips a day) influenced his way of storytelling as much as his cultural and historical background. The thesis was extra notable as the first doctorate about comics in Flanders. Since Lefèvre was already too old for a student grant, he invested all his own time and money in the project, including to make high quality scans from the original newspapers. To make sure that the images would be presented in the best possible way, Lefèvre had his dissertation printed in an A3 format, mimicking newspaper pages. He originally wanted to publish his thesis in book format and release it at the time of his PhD defense. Much to his disappointment, the heirs of Vandersteen insisted that part of the author's fee should go to them for the use of the illustrations in the book, even though he claimed they had never given him access to their father's archives. A well-known collector of Vandersteen originals had also refused to let Lefèvre study his collection. Luckily, Lefèvre received more collaboration from the curators of the Suske en Wiske Museum, but still the whole affair angered him so much that he didn't sign the publisher's contract. All ended well when on 1 October 2003 his 'Suske en Wiske' thesis earned him his doctorate in Social Science at the University of Leuven. 

Cover of 'Beeld en Visuele Waarneming'. 

Visual Perception and the Brain
In 2018, Lefèvre published 'Beeld en Visuele Waarneming' (Lannoo, 2018) about the visual perception of images. He had read various books by art historian Ernst Gombrich and perceptual psychologist Rudolf Arnheim on the subject and enrolled at Dale Purves' Coursera course 'Visual Perception and the Brain' at Duke University in Durham, California. What interested him the most was the fact that line drawings play well into our natural brain system of edge enhancement. In Lefèvre's opinion, this would be an essential component of any art study. He set up an empirical test on how spectators interpret an evolving line drawing, with every drawing phase suggesting another interpretation. An inspiration to this technique was Pablo Picasso painting on camera in the documentaries 'Bezoek Aan Picasso' (1949) by Paul Haesaerts and 'Le Mystère Picasso' (1956) by Henri-Georges Clouzot. For the data discussion, Lefèvre collaborated with linguist Gert Meesters. In 2020, Lefèvre also participated with an empirical test on how spectators segment events of a film or comic. Some of his master students provided a comic version of a short music video, used in the experiment. 

Teaching career
In October 1998, Lefèvre became a part-time teacher at the Sint-Lucas academies in respectively Brussels and Antwerp. Having amassed a large collection of slides and being well-versed in the subject of comics, he and Georges Braem - head of the graphic design department of Sint-Lukas in Brussels - developed an entire course about the subject, complete with theory and practice. In the Dutch region such a comics program was still in its infancy, except for a workshop at Sint-Lucas in Ghent by Ferry Van Vosselen. Across the language border, at the French-language Saint-Luc Academy, such comic courses already existed since 1968. Among the pupils who once studied Lefèvre's course have been Conz, Ben Gijsemans, Olivier Schrauwen, Simon Spruyt and Judith Vanistendael. Lefèvre remained attached to Sint-Lucas until 2019. As much as he wanted to continue, his art school, in agreement with the University of Leuven, had decided to only support practice-based research, AKA research "in" the arts, which could only be done by artists theselves. Since his research about the arts fell outside this decisive criterium, it didn't count. Despite Lefèvre's productive output and a petition signed by various friends, colleagues and sympathizers all over the world, the decision wasn't changed. 

For the commission of the Flemish Secretary of Culture, Lefèvre also worked out regulations for subsidizing comics. These plans were discussed in a literary fund headed by scholar Jan Baetens, Belgian Comic Center artistic director Charles Dierick, journalist Patrick Van Gompel and artist Ferry Van Vosselen. Although the subsidies were never profitable enough to deliver a steady income for creators and publishers alike, Lefèvre was still grateful to have contributed to this project. 

Other activities
Apart from comics, Lefèvre also conducted a research project about broadsheets for Het Huis van Alijn, a folklore museum in Ghent. In 2007, he created the video opera 'Burning History' (2007). Since 2008 he was additionally an affiliated researcher at the University of Leuven. Lefèvre was a member of the international editorial board/consultative committee of six academic journals, namely Image & Narrative, International Journal of Comic Art, European Comic Art, Studies in Graphic Narratives (SIGNS), Journal of Graphic Novels and Comics and Mutual Images Journal. 

August 1914
In 2013, Pascal Lefèvre tried his hand a new comic project, writing the script for 'August 1914', a proposed educational comic story on how the German army during the First World War destroyed the Belgian city of Leuven. The story is told from four different perspectives, namely two Dutch journalists, a volunteer in the emergency hospital of the Philosophical Institute, an upper class family and a lower class family. The plot switches back and forth between these characters, as the German army slowly but surely tries to invade the city and eventually conquers it, leading to the loss of many lives and the burning of the university library. Some images would have been based on original photographs and drawn by Bart Ramakers. Other artwork would have been provided by Christian G. Mara, Jean-Luc Varenne, Ben Gijsemans and Alain Poncelet. Unfortunately the project was too complex to reach the planned deadline. None of the publishers Lefèvre contacted were really interested in the book, so it never went in production. 

'Gepeld Eike en Rode Tomat' (drawn by Greg Shaw).

Gepeld Eike en Rode Tomat
In 2022, Lefèvre also wrote the script for an educational comic about Flemish-Dutch comic pioneer George Van Raemdonck, titled 'Gepeld Eike en Rode Tomat. De Ingebeelde Brainstorm voor Bulletje en Boonestaak'. It was printed in Zandstraal/Le Dessableur, the bilingual magazine of the Belgian Comic Strip Center in Brussels. The French version was titled 'Tomate Rouge et Crâne d'Oeuf'. For his research, Lefèvre visited the A.M. de Jong Museum in the Dutch town Nieuw-Vossemeer, dedicated to 'Bulletje en Boonestaak' scriptwriter A.M. de Jong. He came up with goofy characters based on Bulletje en Boonestaak, named "Gepeld Eike" (literally "Peeled Egg") and "Rode Tomat" (literally "Red Tomato"). "Gepeld Eike" was a nickname for Van Raemdonck, and the tomato refers to the symbol of the Dutch Socialist Party, in whose party paper 'Bulletje en Boonestaak'  (1922-1937) was published. Originally, Lefèvre drew the strip himself, but chief editor Greg Shaw wasn't satisfied with the results. Instead, he used Lefèvre's drawings as storyboards to produce the artwork for the comic in his own style. 

On 17 September 2020, Pascal Lefèvre received a honorary doctorate at the University of Malmö, Sweden, for his comic research. 

Thierry Smolderen and Pascal Lefèvre at a comic conference in Cérisy-la-Salle (1988).

Series and books by Pascal Lefèvre you can order today:


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