Cartoon from 2000 depicting the Lernout & Hauspie corporate fraud scandal. 

Karl Meersman, who publishes under the pen name "Karl", is a Belgian illustrator, best known for his lavishly painted watercolour caricatures of politicians and media celebrities. He has been the house cartoonist of the Belgian society magazine Trends since 1987 and is since 2002 also a familiar artist in Focus Knack, the culture supplement of Knack magazine. Despite advanced computer graphics, he still works the traditional way, with pencil and brush.

Early life
Karl Meersman was born in 1961 in Temse. His parents were painters and illustrators and both taught at the Academy of Temse. His grandfather, Arthur Meersman, was a professional painter as well, and gave him his first drawing lessons. Naturally he inherited their talents and at age 13 he won a children's drawing contest after first been disqualified because the jury refused to believe that he drew his entry personally. Only when he showed them on the spot he received the 75.000 Belgian francs (1850 euro) prize. Among his graphic influences Meersman ranks Félicien Rops, Honoré Daumier, Gustav Klimt, Egon Schiele and Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec. Later in life, he also expressed admiration for Gal, Zak, Erik Meynen and Marec. Rather than finish high school, Meersman dropped out and in 1972 chose for a full-time artistic career.

Early career
Through his father, Meersman got a daytime job at a photogravure company, while taking evening courses in drawing to further hone his skills. Most of his early illustration assignments were done in the field of advertising. His father had his own studio, Meersman I.D., which became a family business over the course of decades. Both Meersman and his equally artistic siblings were employed there. In 1991 he and his brother succeeded their father as head of the studio. Since 1994 Karl leads this studio alone.


George W. Bush. Cartoon from 2003. 

Trends
Meersman's earliest freelance cartoons appeared in the newspapers De Standaard and De Morgen. In 1987 he worked as a street artist in Zaventem during Saturday afternoons. Under contract with a local IKEA store, the young artist made caricatures of passersby for money. He deliberately tried to make each one under five minutes. As luck would have it, one of the editors of the society magazine Trends happened to observe him. Soon Meersman made a weekly cartoon about Belgian and international politics and economy. He was only 25 years old at the time, and had to do some preliminary research about various economical phenomena. But he quickly got the hang of it and became their house cartoonist for decades to come. Two compilations of his work for Trends have been published: 'België in 30 Hoofdstukken: Over Economie en Politiek in de Jaren '90' (Roularta, 1990) and 'België: tekenend en getekend 1990-2000: Karl Meersman tekent tien jaar België' (Roularta, 2000), which also appeared in French under the title: 'La Belgique Traits Pour Traits 1990-2000: Karl Meersman Croque Dix Belges Années'.

Focus Knack
In 2002 Meersman also became house illustrator of Focus Knack, the cultural supplement of opinion magazine Knack. His weekly celebrity caricature always introduces the main cover story. He has made dozens of drawings depicting famous painters, sculptors, conceptual artists, cartoonists, actors, directors, TV hosts, journalists, novelists, poets and musicians. So far two compilation books of his caricatures for Focus have been published: 'VIPS: Very Important Paintings' (Roularta, 2007) and 'VIPS TOO: Very Important Paintings Too' (Roularta, 2010).

Because they both publish in Knack and each receive a full page to express lavishly painted caricatures, Meersman's work is often confused with Gal and vice versa. They are, however, easy to tell apart. Gal only appears in Knack, Meersman only in Focus Knack. Gal's cartoons revolve more around politics. In Focus, Meersman concentrates on media artists. Even though Meersman has made political cartoons for Trends too, his depictions tend to be gentle in style. Gal's work, on the other hand, is notorious for being biting. A final difference is that Gal's cartoons don't always focus on one page-filling caricature, while Meersman's drawings do.


Museum curator Jan Hoet, true to his nickname "art pope" depicted as such (left) and rock musician and pianist Nick Cave (right). 

Etappe
Meersman has additionally made covers and inside illustrations for the cycling magazine Etappe.

Book illustrations: non-fiction
Meersman's first illustrated book was 'Wat Een Jaar, Beste Spotliefhebber! : De Hoogtepunten van het Sportjaar 1988' (Roularta, 1988), a series of short articles about the sports events of 1988. The author was sports journalist Mark Uytterhoeven, who'd later become famous for his humoristic talk and sketch shows. Meersman was also responsible for the illustrations in 'De Nieuwe Collaboratie: Een Ondernemer in het Verzet' (Davidsfonds, 1997) by businessman Hendrik Seghers, and 'Wat Baten Kaars en Bril: Management in Spreekwoorden: Wat Je Op School Niet Leert' (Roularta, 2006) by former Barco manager Hugo Vandamme. In 2011 he illustrated Claude Blondeel's 'Coco & Co: Schone Vrouwen' (Davidsfonds, 2011), a series of short biographies about fifteen women who distinguish themselves through their talent and charisma.

Book illustrations: fiction
Meersman designed the covers of many novels by Dutch novelist Jeroen Brouwers, namely 'Bezonken Rood' (1981), 'Geheime Kamers' (2000), 'Bittere Bloemen' (2011) and the compilation works 'De Indiëromans' (2010) and 'De Jaargetijden' (2011). He did the same for Brouwers' non-fiction works 'Hamerstukken – Alle Polemieken en Korzeligheden' (2010) and 'Gezichten, Gestalten' (2011). He also livened up the pages of several books for children and young adults, including Ron Langenus' 'Het Geheim van de Zwarte Dame' (Davidsfonds, 1997) and 'Onder De Zwarte Heuvel' (Davidsfonds, 1997), as well as Gregie De Maeyer's 'Ach' (Davidsfonds, 1997) and 'De Koningste Koning' (Davidsfonds, 1997) and Jac Linders' 'Complot Tegen Jesse' (Davidsfonds, 1997) and 'De Derde Kans' (1999). His art also adorned Kolet Janssen's 'Wisselkind: roman' (Davidsfonds, 1997). Meersman also wrote and illustrated one book himself: 'Een Melkje Wolk' (Afijn, 2002).


'Lucky Luke', Piet Mondriaan-style

Album covers
Karl Meersman illustrated the cover of 'De Nieuwe Snaar' (2013) by Jan De Smet's band De Nieuwe Snaar, which spoofs the cover of the Beatles' 'Sgt. Pepper's' album. The group had parodied this Beatles LP before with a real photo collage on the cover of their album 'Neem Je Tijd' (1990).

Graphic contributions
In 2016 Karl was one of many Belgian cartoonists to make special cartoons for the book 'België, et cetera' (Van Halewyck) by Gilles Dal, a funny look at the history of Belgium in numerous thematically fitting cartoons and comics.

Theatrical tours
Since the 2010s, Meersman's cartoons have inspired various evening-filling stage shows. TV journalist and talk show host Ivan De Vadder hosted three theatrical shows, 'De Parabel van het Ezelsoor' (2014), 'Het Waterloo van Links' (2015) and 'BANG!' (2016) in which his cartoons were used to discuss the news events of that year. The shows were musically accompanied by Jan De Smet and both made available in book form by publishing house Vrijdag. From 2018 on similar theatrical shows followed: '3 Man en een Paardenkop' (2018) and 'Alles Goed?' (2019), again with De Smet's involvement, but this time hosted by comedian Bert Kruismans. These shows were also published in book format.


"Autumn in Doel". 2015 cartoon about the Flemish village Doel, known for its nuclear power plant. 

Other work
Meersman has designed various posters throughout his career, among others for the Museum of Modern Art in Ostend (Oostende). In 2008 eleven images of Belgian icons by his hand were made into official stamps under the title 'This Is Belgium'. They depict opera singer José van Dam, conductor Philippe Herreweghe & Collegium Vocale, jazz guitarist Philip Catherine, pop musician Will Tura, chansonniers Jacques Brel and Salvatore Adamo, rock bands dEUS and Vaya Con Dios and the Queen Elisabeth classical music contest, Il Novecento and Rock Werchter. In 2010 Meersman designed another special stamp celebrating the 65th anniversary of cycling legend Eddy Merckx. On 22 April 2010 a framed original of this stamp was given to Merckx. In 2019 the cartoonist designed the boxes for a new brand of chocolates, nicknamed "ballonpralines".

Recognition
Meersman's poster design for Unispace won a Unesco medal in 1982. The Belgian government awarded him a golden medal (1983), while in Beijing, China, he received the "Best Foreign Stamp" award (2006). Between 2016 and 2017 Karl Meersman was named Cultural Ambassador of the city St-Niklaas. Meersman won the International Cartoon Award at Knokke-Heist (1986) and twice the Karikaturale in Hoeilaart (1987, 1989). On 13 September 2001 his parody of Masaccio's 'Expulsion from the Garden of Eden' depicting fraudsters Lernout & Hauspie being chased away won "Best Cartoon", awarded by the Chamber of Commerce. Meersman's prophile drawing of a Muslim woman and islamophobic politician Geert Wilders won the Press Cartoon Europe Award for "Best Drawing" (2011). His cartoon depicting U.S. President Barack Obama with a key hole eye - in reference to the NSA spy scandal - won second prize at the 2013 Press Cartoon Belgium awards in Knokke-Heist. Meersman won the first prize during the same Press Cartoon Belgium festival in 2020 for a cartoon published in Trends. It depicts climate change activist Anuna De Wever surrounded by climate change denialists  sticking their heads in the sand. 

One of Meersman's celebrity fans and personal friends was former Belgian Prime Minister Jean-Luc Dehaene, who was known for collecting political cartoons depicting himself. He used many of them, including by Meersman, to illustrate his memoires. His favorite Meersman cartoon depicted him as an egg cup. The drawing is framed like the ending of a typical 'Suske en Wiske' story by Willy Vandersteen. The word "Ei Nde" ("the end") is a pun on both the Dutch word "ei" (“egg) and the word "haan" ("rooster") in Dehaene's name. In the original context, the drawing depicted the fall of Dehaene's government in 1999 over a major scandal involving dioxin poisoning in chicken food. But the politician still loved the drawing and actually wanted to use it on his official "in memoriam" card when he passed away. The cartoonist always assumed he was joking, but when Dehaene died in 2014 he actually stipulated it in his last will. As such, Meersman's egg cartoon appeared on the official funeral card.

In 2017 Meersman additionally had the honour of handing one of his drawings to Chinese conceptual artist Ai Wei Wei.

Exhibitions
Meersman's art has been exhibited several times, both in Belgium as well as abroad. They were part of a group exhibition at the Itabashi Art Museum in Taiwan (1997), the Belgian embassy in London (5 December 2001), Museum Miedzi in Legnica, Poland (2010) and Kassel, Frankfurt (2013). When his cartoons were exhibited in the Belgian consulate in New York City between 19 December 2006 and 2007 his caricatures of U.S. President George Bush Jr. were removed to avoid controversy.

Between 21 February and 1 April 2012 the Provinciaal Cultuurcentrum Caermersklooster in Ghent exhibited art by Félicien Rops, combined with parodies and graphic homages drawn by Meersman. The catalogue guide was published as 'Ave Eva. Vrouwen door de ogen van Felicien Rops en Karl Meersman' (Roularta, 2012), written by Tine Hens.

Recent activities
Karl Meersman is married to former TV journalist and host Lies Martens. He is a member of Marec's collective "The Cartoonist", through which Belgian cartoonists make their archived and new work available to the public. Their website provides information about future exhibitions, book publications and offers the ability to buy original art work.

Books about Karl Meersman
For those interested in his life and career, 'Karl Meersman: Een Getekend Wereldbeeld / Karl Meersman Traits Marquant Le Monde' (Roularta, 2003) by Ben Herremans is highly recommended. Another retrospective of his art is 'Karl Meersman. Portraits On Paper. Retrospective' (Roularta, 2015), which has a foreword by Dr. Paul Huvenne.


2016 cartoon depicting Fidel Castro's death. 

www.karlmeersman.com

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