El Messias by Wauter Mannaert
El Messias

Wauter Mannaert is a Belgian comic artist, illustrator and cartoonist, known for his graphic journalism and political cartoons in Brussel Deze Week/BRUZZ magazine. His fiction work consists of utopian worlds and contemporary fables, filled with politically-themed topics. Both his debut graphic novel 'Ondergronds' (2010) and his collaboration with writer Mark Bellido - the massive volume 'El Mesías' (2015) - dealt with politics, capitalism and ideals, while Mannaert's award-winning children's comic 'Yasmina en de Aardappeleters' (2019) humorously criticized the food industry.

Early life and youth work
Born in 1978, Wauter Mannaert received his Master's degree in film and animation in 2002, from the Sint-Lukas School of Arts in Brussels. In that year, he saw his first comic pages published in Ink., a comic magazine for Sint-Lukas alumni. After graduation, Mannaert spent seven years working for Imagica, a non-profit organisation that teaches young people how to deal with media language in TV and in cinema. When the organisation folded, he continued his work in media education at JES, a youth organization supporting children in the fields of leisure, education, work, training and well-being. For years, Mannaert worked with youngsters in one of Brussels' most deprived neighborhoods. For the thirtieth anniversary of JES, he created the satirical comic 'JES2044' (2014), presenting a future vision of Flemish youth work. As a hobby, Mannaert was active in music, performing with Game Boy consoles converted into musical instruments.

2013 graphic report by Wauter Mannaert and Eva Hilhorst about the European Motor Show Brussels ("Autosalon").

"Geslepen Potloden" studio
Nearly a decade after his graduation, Mannaert noticed several former Sint-Lucas students breaking through with graphic novels, including Judith Vanistendael, Olivier Schrauwen, Brecht Evens and Conz. This motivated him to make comics too. Apart from these contemporaries, his major influences are the French graphic novelists Christophe Blain, Joann Sfar, Kerascoët, Pascal Rabaté and David Prudhomme, as well as the Belgian political cartoonist Gal (Gerard Alsteens), who was one of his teachers at Sint Lukas. Mannaert joined comic artist Judith Vanistendael and architect Barbara Roosen in their studio in Brussels' Molenbeek district, before in late 2012 the team moved to a larger space in Schaarbeek. Nicknamed "De Geslepen Potloden" ("The Sharpened Pencils"), the Schaarbeek studio has been a homebase for many artists and graphic designers. Many Dutch and French-language creative souls came and went, with Mannaert remaining as the only original member. The environment motivated several fruitful creative collaborations.

Graphic journalism
After years of doing youth work, Mannaert felt he should incorporate his socially relevant experiences in his comics, instead of drawing "funny little men". With Eva Hilhorst - a Dutch expat and studio colleague - he ventured into graphic journalism for the Brussels news magazine Brussel Deze Week. From December 2011 on, Mannaert and Hilhorst collaborated on one-page comic reports of socio-cultural happenings or news events. Their choice of topic varied from suburban riots to festivals and parades. Since Brussels is the Belgian capital, Mannaert and Hilhorst tackled both local events as well as topics on a national level. At first, the two artists kept a neutral viewpoint, but eventually they drew themselves in their collaborative panels, adding some personal reflection and lightweight comedy. To the comic anthology 'Bruss. Brussels in shorts' (Oogachtend, 2013), Hilhorst and Mannaert contributed a story about the mirrored lives of a local Flemish woman and a Romanian immigrant.

Cover cartoon criticizing the discharge of editor-in-chief Anne Brumagne (BDW, 18 June 2015).

In August 2013 - by the time Eva Hilhorst returned to the Netherlands - Mannaert became Brussel Deze Week's house cartoonist. Since then, he has continued to make topical cartoons and comic strips for the news magazine, appearing since 2016 under the title BRUZZ. In his contributions, Mannaert doesn't hesitate to ventilate his anger. Following the June 2015 discharge of editor-in-chief Anne Brumagne - part of a controversial reform plan for the Flemish-Brussels media - Mannaert created a stingy cover cartoon about the sell-out of journalistic values. Mannaert's cartoon of Flemish nationalist politicians Geert Bourgeois and Ben Weyts as Tolkienian characters on a bridge was notable for stirring controversy. He depicted them protecting small-minded Flanders against the French language in Brussels. The cartoon was a direct reference to the planned construction of an extra Flemish cultural center in Ruisbroek, a town in the Brussels municipality. Mannaert received several angry letters and even death threats from Flemish-nationalists. For BRUZZ's children's supplement Zazie, Wauter Mannaert makes a monthly comic column about funny things that happen to him in Brussels.

Chaostheorie├źn by Wauter Mannaert
'Chaostheorie' for Zazie

Graphic novels
Apart from his weekly cartoons and graphic reports, Mannaert worked on fiction stories dealing with utopian worlds and social commentary. Together with journalist Pierre De Jaeger, he made his debut graphic novel 'Ondergrond' (Oog&Blik/De Bezige Bij, 2011), about an unemployed instrument maker in the United States of the 1930s, who ends up with a group of outsiders living in an underground coal mine. With a grant from the Flemish Literature Fund, Mannaert spent four years producing the black-and-white story. His tale was influenced by the works of French comic artist Christophe Blain and classic American cartoonist Roy Crane.

Ondergronds by Wauter Mannaert

Mannaert spent an equal amount of time on his next graphic novel, 'El Mesías' (Blloan, 2015). It features a complex story of nearly 300 pages long about a small Andalusian village. The community builds its own "isle of social justice, surrounded by the imperium of capitalism". The village tries to combat the system. The plot was written by Mannaert's former studio mate Mark Bellido - originally from the Andalusian region. He was inspired by the utopian Seville municipality Marinaleda, where the townfolk live and work in a self-managed agricultural cooperative. In 2017, the book was translated in English as part of the Europe Comics catalog. With another member of the "Sharpened Pencils" studio, Max De Radiguès, Mannaert made a comic book in greytones about New York street photographer Usher Fellig (1899-1968), AKA "Weegee". 'Weegee - Serial Photographer' (Blloan, 2016) was also published in French by Sarbacane and in English by Conundrum Press.

'Weegee - Serial Photographer' (2016).

'Yasmina & De Aardappeleters' (Dargaud, 2019) was Mannaert's first children's comic book, about eleven-year old Yasmina, who can do magic in the kitchen with solely biological products. When a new factory potato is slowly driving consumers mad, the brave foodie has to save the city. Ostensibly an adventure story with absurd elements in the Flemish humor comic tradition, 'Yasmina & De Aardappeleters' also gives sharp criticism of the recklessness of the food industry, herd behavior and the misuse of science. Following the success of the one-shot graphic novel in both Dutch and French language, Dargaud continued 'Yasmina' as a series, with the first two installments appearing in 2020 and 2021. In 2021-2022, Mannaert's 'Yasmina' also appeared in the comic magazine Maxix with monthly educational pages about food and environmental subjects.

'Yasmina en de Aardappeleters' (2019).

Graphic and written contributions
In addition to his own projects, Mannaert was one of several artists to contribute a comic strip to the booklet 'Building Bridges in Europe' (2012), published by the European Association of National Builders' Merchants Associations and Manufacturers (UFEMAT). He also paid tribute to André Franquin and his creation 'Gaston Lagaffe' in the 2017 celebration album 'Gefeliciflaterd!'. He additionally appeared with contributions in local Brussels anthologies like 'Bruss. Brussels in shorts' (Oogachtend, 2013) and 'Brussel in Beelden' (Stripgids, 2019). Mannaert was interviewed by Roel Daenen for 'Het Is Maar Om Te Lachen. Hoe Cartoonisten De Wereld Veranderen' (Polis, 2016), a collection of interviews with Belgian cartoonists about censorship, in the light of the 2015 terrorist attacks at the offices of the French satirical magazine Charlie-Hebdo. 

In 2011, Mannaert's book 'Ondergronds' was awarded the Belgian Prix Sint-Michel for "Best Dutch-language comic". Widely praised, Mannaert's first 'Yasmina' album was awarded the 2019 Willy Vandersteen Prize for Best Dutch-language album. Only one year after her graphic novel debut - on 8 October 2020 - Yasmina was included in the Brussels' Comic Book Route with her own mural in the Rue de Verdun/Verdunstraat. In 2021, the 'Yasmina' series also earned him the Prix Atomium.



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