Drawing for Humo #2500 (1988).

Ever Meulen is a Belgian graphic artist and illustrator who reached international fame and appreciation during the 1970s and 1980s. Together with Joost Swarte he was one of the re-inventors of the classic "Ligne Claire" and "Atomic Style" in the Benelux. Meulen's drawings were originally smooth and flamboyant, but later evolved to more sober and solemn art. His work is known for its cosy, nostalgic look, inspired by the feel good atmosphere of the 1950s. Recurring elements in his retro worldview are streamlined cars and jukeboxes, exciting rock 'n' roll, grandiose architecture, optimistic futurism and classic comics. However, Meulen's own career in comics was rather short. Most of it is concentrated between 1971 and 1975. His only real character-based series were the gag comics 'Piet Peuk' (1971-1975), 'Balthazar de Groene Steenvreter' (1971-1975) and 'Koene Karlos' (1973-1975), which were never collected in book format. Nevertheless, he remains one of the most versatile, influential and celebrated Belgian graphic talents worldwide.

Early life
Eddy Vermeulen was born in 1946 in Kuurne, West-Flanders. He always remembered his youth as carefree. The post-war years were an exciting period, with a generally optimistic outlook on the future. He adored the grandiose modern architecture of the 1958 World Exhibition in Brussels, when the Atomium was erected. As a true teen of the 1950s, he was excited by Hollywood glamour, early rock 'n' roll, jukeboxes, transistor radios and especially classy, streamlined cars and motorcycles. Motor-driven vehicles are a recurring theme in his work. Belgitude and Americana remain favorite topics too. Many of his illustrations are homages to the best both countries have to offer. Like many kids of his generation, he grew up with comic magazines. Meulen read Ons Volkske, Robbedoes (Spirou) and Kuifje (Tintin), singling out Hergé, Jijé, E.P. Jacobs, André FranquinWilly VandersteenMarc Sleen, Will, Raymond Macherot and Jean Graton as his main graphic influences. As a teenager and college student, Meulen expanded his cultural luggage with influences like Jack Davis, Robert Crumb, Saul Steinberg and the pop art of David Hockney and Roy Lichtenstein. But he also discovered the past masters Frans Masereel, Giorgio de Chirico, René Magritte, Josef Lada and Yakov Chernikhov. Meulen combined all these aesthetics into one uniform mix of the strict controlled "Ligne Claire" ("Clear Line") in Tintin magazine and the more lively and dynamic "Atom Style" in Spirou. In the 1970s, many Franco-Belgian artists revived these styles from their youth, with Meulen and Joost Swarte representing the Dutch-language world.

Cocktail Comix by Ever Meulen
Ever Meulen in 'Cocktail Comix' (1973).

Early work
At age 14, he made his first complete comic strip, 'De Test' (1960), a ten-page story about a boy who works as a gas station attendant. The unpublished story showed the influence of Jean Graton's 'Michel Vaillant', while another unpublished comic, 'Keesje Kat' (1962), was clearly inspired by André Franquin's 'Modeste et Pompon'. Meulen studied at the Provincial Technical Institute of Kortrijk (Courtrai) and between 1963 and 1969 graphic arts at the Sint-Lukas School of Arts in Ghent and Brussels. In 1964 he exhibited his first cartoons. Between 1966 and 1967 he illustrated De Stem van het Volk, the house magazine of the Belgian Christian Democratic party CVP. Most of his early work was signed with the pseudonyms "Eddy Flippo", "Ever" and, from 1968 on, "Ever Meulen", a contamination of the initial of his first name, combined with his full last name. 

After graduation in 1970, Meulen established himself as a professional artist. He made covers and illustrations for publications by Paris-Manteau. Meulen also provided doodles and sketches for the TV quiz 'Wie Weet, Wint' on the Belgian public channel BRT (nowadays VRT). Some of his drawings in the anarchist magazine Ding were noticed by the Dutchman Joost Swarte, who invited him to contribute to the underground comix magazines Cocktail Comix, Modern Papier and Tante Leny Presenteert. Here he introduced some of his earliest one-shot gag comics: 'Mammouth le Fortiche' (1970) and 'Koele Karlos' (1973-1975). His work also appeared in De Nieuwe, De Standaard, Het Volk, Piet Schreuders' Furore, Télé-Moustique, Mimo, Vingt Ans, Furore and Michel Deligne's Curiosity Magazine.

The magazine Meulen remains most associated with is Humo. Since 1969 this radio and TV magazine was run by a young and dynamic chief editor, Guy Mortier, who wanted to make the publication more playful and slightly subversive. One of his hobby horses was rock music. He devoted an entire section of his magazine to interviews, articles and reviews of pop stars, the latest records and tours. In 1971 Meulen applied for a job with Humo. When Mortier paged through Meulen's portfolio, he instantly noticed his caricatures of artists like Elvis Presley and Frank Zappa and hired him.

Cover illustrations for Humo issues #1722 (6 September 1973) and #2008 (1 March 1979).

Humo: TTT
Meulen was asked to create cartoons for Humo's rock section: the 'TTT' ('Tieners, Toppers, Treffers', roughly translated to "Teenagers, Toppers, Hits"). At first these were mostly caricatures of artists such as Elvis, Zappa, Mick Jagger, Robert Wyatt, Bryan Ferry, Stevie Wonder, David Bowie, Lou Reed and Belgian rock stars like Raymond Van het Groenewoud. In 1974 Meulen made a colorful poster depicting the band Roxy Music. A copy was later given to lead singer Bryan Ferry, who commented: "This is a beautiful drawing that captured the spirit of the time. It also captured the character of each band member perfectly. It is very amusing and very cool." A stylish caricature of David Bowie in a suit was given to Bowie by Humo journalist Serge Simonart after an interview. The rock icon complimented the artwork.

Apart from caricatures, Meulen also created a weekly one-panel (sometimes three) cartoon for the 'TTT' section. Each one had the initials 'TTT' hidden somewhere in the drawing, depicted in the shape of heads, limbs, missing teeth, picket signs, telephone poles, aeroplanes, flowers, trees, windows, etc. The artist came up with clever and complicated ways to depict the 20th letter of the alphabet. After 210 episodes, he ran out of inspiration and quit. But his work was so good that Humo frequently reprinted it in the following decades. Funny enough, some of these cartoons were even reprinted in other magazines, like Raw in the USA, where the lack of context made them all the more surreal. All of Meulen's TTT cartoons are available in the oblong-shaped book 'De Zaak TTT' (Carton, 1985, reprinted by Beeld Beeld in 2008).

Humo: front covers
Of all the artwork Meulen ever made for Humo, he is best remembered for his cover illustrations. This was where he really could shine. He tried out many different styles and techniques: airbrush, silk screen prints, gouache, collage... Many had a humorous approach and have become iconic. Among the best known are Belgian Minister of Defense Paul Vanden Boeynants portrayed as Israeli general Moshe Dayan (1972), cyclist Eddy Merckx with the crown of thorns (1974), satirical duo Van Kooten & De Bie inside a soccer ball (1978), Marlon Brando as a giant (1978), John Lennon as a classical composer bust (1981) and Pope John Paul II with the moustache of his fellow countryman and union activist Lech Walesa (1983). The latter cover won the Gold Award for "Best Magazine cover". Particularly his collage covers in Humo were directly inspired by the covers of the French satirical magazine Charlie-Hebdo. In those days, everything was done without computer, so Meulen had to personally cut-and-paste all images and make it look as slick as possible. But his only real complaint was the coloring, which not always looked the way he wanted in print. As he became more experienced, he learned how to keep it intact.

Uncensored version of Ever Meulen's cover illustration for Humo #2119 (16 April 1981)

Meulen enjoyed complete creative freedom. The few times he was forced to make changes were always under pressure of people outside Humo's realm. In 1973 he illustrated a serialization of a critical book about Zaïrese dictator Seko Seko Mobutu. Meulen made a collage where the epaulets on Mobutu's uniform featured the decapitated heads of some of his political victims. Since Mobutu was still considered a friend of the Belgian government, the artist had to remove the blood stains. A 1975 cover featured Annette Tison and Talus Taylor's 'Barbapapa', with the creature frowning at a kid blowing a 'Barbapapa'-like bubble gum bubble. Under pressure of the original creators, he had to make Barbapapa smile. In 1981, Meulen made a cover announcing an article about women talking about their breasts. The image showed an attractive nude woman holding a comic strip of a daughter, mother and grandmother, with the mother using a blow dryer to bring her flabby breasts back into motion. Censors objected to this tiny comic strip, so the nude woman eventually held a medical photograph of breasts instead.

Other than these minor incidents, Meulen's work received nothing than praise. Sometimes from unexpected corners. In 1978, Jerry Siegel & Joe Shuster's superhero 'Superman' was adapted to the big screen, starring Marlon Brando as Jor-El. Humo managed to interview Brando and therefore chief editor Mortier asked Meulen to advertize this on the cover, depicting Brando "as big as possible." Meulen took the request literally and drew the Hollywood legend as a giant in the presence of a mosquito-sized Superman. Andy Warhol, who happened to see the cover while being interviewed for the same issue, felt the cover was "beautiful". Meulen's Humo covers are still fondly remembered as some of the best to ever adorn the magazine. Even as they became less frequent from the 2000s on, his Christmas/New Year covers remain an annual tradition to this day. A selection of his covers can be enjoyed in the book 'Honderd Humo covers 1972-1992' (1992).

Cover illustration for Humo #2202 (16 November 1982).

Humo: other columns & events
Meulen also designed logos and headers for other weekly columns in Humo. Among them were the mail section ('Open Venster' and 'Uitlaat'), the TV reviews ('Dwarskijker'), film reviews ('Willem van de Fillem') and interviews with young celebrities ('Jonge Leeuwen', where the old man being kicked away by a young man in the image was designed by - ironically - his son Sander). He also designed logos, posters and awards for (bi)annual events organized and/or promoted by the magazine. The longest-running is the annual popularity poll 'Humo's Pop Poll', followed by pop festival Torhout-Werchter (nowadays Werchter), their musical talent contest Humo's Rock Rally and the literary prizes 'Humo's Gouden Bladwijzer' and 'De Gouden Uil'. Whenever the publication released a special book, poster or musical record, Ever Meulen usually provided the artwork, granted if he had the time.

Although he was only a freelance artist, he still became Humo's first house cartoonist. No other artist before him gave the magazine such visual identity, one that perfectly captured its humorous and rock 'n' roll attitude. Even while Humo had other house cartoonists in later years (most notably Kamagurka, Herr Seele and Jeroom) and Meulen's contributions became less frequent as time went on, he is still regarded as one of the people who built the magazine's reputation.

'Piet Peuk'. Translation: "Another plate of onion soup, Piet?" - "No... belch... Thanks, aunt... six is enough... I really have to go now." - "Well, see you and have the wind behind you!"

'Piet Peuk' and 'Balthazar de Groene Steenvreter'
The 'TTT' section also introduced Meulen's only character-based comics series: 'Piet Peuk' (1971) and 'Balthazar de Groene Steenvreter' (1971). Piet Peuk is a tall man with an odd, T-shaped head. His name "peuk" ("cigarette butt") refers to his chain smoking habit. Balthazar is a round, green monster that eats rocks. They appeared in several one-strip gags, most based on corny jokes. Yet at the same time, they also had a wacky, subversive underground comix feel to them. Most comics in Flemish magazines were family friendly. Meulen's Humo comics were gentle, yet occasionally depicted nudity and referenced rock music and marijuana. One memorable one-shot comic spoofed the children's comic magazine Ons Volkske, with Willy Vandersteen's characters Suske, Wiske and the Vrolijke Bengels ("Cheerful Rascals") joining Tintin and Spirou to smoke weed in their club house. As the pot smoking Tintin mutters "Groovy!", a humorous caption informs the readers to "read 'Tintin in America'". Meulen signed the comic with "Willy Vanderstoned". Through comics like these, Meulen appealed to youngsters and helped Humo reach a new demographic.

But Meulen was too perfectionistic to whip out entire panels on a weekly basis. He preferred working on one eye-catching illustration at the time. He also felt he lacked talent for writing dialogue and at one point considered hiring a scriptwriter. By 1975 he just quit making comics. He suggested Kamagurka as his successor in Humo, whose comics weren't as time-consuming and who had more ideas for verbal gags. Kamagurka's absurd and shocking cartoons also appealed more to teenagers and twens. Secure that Humo now had a new house cartoonist, Meulen reduced his work for the magazine to just occasional thematical illustrations, column logos and covers.

Spoof of Ons Volkske (Tante Leny Presenteert #17).

Ever Meulen's style can roughly be divided into two periods. During the 1970s most of his artwork was marked by curly, wavy, elegant line work with a lot of schwung. It almost jumped from the pages. He especially loved depicting men with large quiffs, elegant cigarettes or pipes, big suits and cars with large noses. His women have very long legs and prominent buttocks. Near the end of the decade, the maestro felt his elaborate swinging artwork was passé. Punk and new wave called for a more stripped down aesthetic. From the 1980s on, his explosive linework made room for less detailed and more stylized, flattened and hookier drawings. Meulen named the album cover of Joe Jackson's 'Look Sharp!' (1978) - featuring two pointy white shoes - his direct inspiration. Throughout his career, two things remained consistent. He always kept a cosy, happy, family friendly atmosphere and the elegant artwork follows complicated designs with controlled geometry. As effortless as everything looks, Meulen still spent hours doodling for good ideas. Once he had them, he used molds and templates to carefully balance everything out. Whenever he drew cars or motorcycles, he took pride in making sure every technical detail was correct.

'La Tour Prudente', flyer for La Fondation du Présent (Carouge, 1991).

International success
From the late 1970s on and especially during the 1980s, Meulen's global star rose. In 1978 he designed the logos of the weekly columns 'Losers' and 'Elpee Oase' in the Dutch music magazine Oor. His work also ran in Vrij Nederland, Libération, Surprise, Métal Hurlant, Nitro, The New Yorker, Raw and Little Lit. Parisian advertising agencies asked him to make exclusive designs, while he also made a calendar for the Japanese company Hyundai. He animated the opening titles of the rock TV show 'Génération '80' (1982) on the Belgian public channel RTBF and livened up countless music album covers.

Koele Karlos by Ever Meulen
'Koele Karlos'.

Automotive art
Vehicles remained his passion. In 1975 he made a silkscreen drawing, 'Baby, Can You Drive Our Car?', which featured a triplet with Elvis quiffs standing next to a gorgeous Oldsmobile. This trio, the Rocket Brothers, reappeared in several other of Meulen's car-related illustrations. However, 'Baby, Can You Drive Our Car?' remained his most popular and was reprinted all across the world. In 2010, an exhibition of Meulen's illustrations about cars was shown in the Champaka gallery in Brussels, for which he also designed his own favorite car, nicknamed "the Nisiov". Another exhibition was held in Autoworld, Brussels, in 2018. All of Meulen's automobile and motorcycle-related artwork is collected in the book 'Automotiv' (2013), which also features homages by Belgian and Dutch celebrities like François Schuiten, Herman Brusselmans, Will Tura, Rudy Kousbroek, Panamarenko and Jacky Ickx.

Album covers
Meulen illustrated the album covers of 'Golden Hits of the '50s' (1972) by The Hurricane Gang, 'Wild Cat Daddy' (1981) by Stroft, 'Hello Young Lovers' (1981) by Jean Blaute, 'Do The Standing Still' (1981) by The Employees, 'Cha-Cha-Cha' (1981) and 'Ik Ben De Man' (1990) by Raymond van het Groenewoud, 'Le Retour d'Ornicar' (1986) by Ornicar, 'Delirium in Hi-Fi' (1987) by André Popp, the tribute album to Will Tura 'Turalura' (1989), 'De Vierde Maat' (2000) by De Nieuwe Snaar, 'Electric Dreams' (2013) by Dan Lacksman and 'Twist à St. Tropez' (1978), 'More Than Distance' (1980), 'Neuro-vision' (1980), 'We Are All Getting Old' (1980), 'Soul Waves' (1980), 'Spike Jones' (1986) and 'Temporary Chicken' (1988) by Telex. He also drew each and every individual cover of the 20-part compilation CD series 'Belpop' (2005), which collects Belgian rock music of the 1980s and 1990s.

Award designs
Meulen designed the literary prizes Humo's Gouden Bladwijzer, the Gouden Uil and the annual Press Cartoon Europe Award.

Fragment of Meulen's fresco for the 'Belgian Comics: Frames of Reference' expo.

Graphic and written contributions
In 1983, after Hergé's death, Meulen made a special tribute cartoon in which Tintin thinks Hergé's death is "suspicious and wants to find out more", much to the annoyance of Snowy who "wants to take a rest". The cartoon was featured in Wordt Vervolgd's Hergé special and also exhibited at the 'Tintin in Barcelona' (1984) expo, including its catalogue. When the official chronological history of Belgium was published in 1986 ('Kroniek van België'/'Chronique de Belgique'), Meulen was one of many internationally famous and important Belgians invited to write a patriotic foreword. Together with Jan Vanriet, he was the only graphic artist to be granted this honor. Meulen also paid graphic homage to the Belgian cartoonist Gal in the book 'De Overspannen Jaren' (1996) and to Kamagurka and Herr Seele's 'Cowboy Henk' in a special issue of Humo on the occasion of the series' 30th anniversary (June 2010). Meulen was additionally one of several celebrities to pay collective tribute to Marc Sleen in 'Marc Sleen 90: Liber Amicorum' (2012).

In 1992, Meulen designed three stamps for the Dutch postal service PTT. For his own country's postal service he made two stamps about holidays at the coast and the Ardennes (2005), five for promotion of reading ('Wie Schrijft, die Blijft', 2007) and two to promote Belgian tourism ('Visit Belgium', 2012). He also designed the cover of Kris De Bruyne en Stijn Meuris' book 'Sire, dit is rock & roll - De 100 beste Belgische songteksten' (Dedalus, 1994). In 2009, Meulen made a large fresco for the exhibition 'Belgian Comics: Frames of Reference' at the Royal Museum of Fine Arts in Brussels, which paid homage to Belgium's rich comic history by bringing various images from classic 1930s, 1940s and 1950s comics together. He designed stained glass windows for SD Worx Brussels and the Ukologic Museum in Eeklo. Meulen additionally published 'Ever Meulen Brussels' (Louis Vuitton, 2021), a travel book with 120 drawings about Brussels. 

'Goede vrienden' (DS Magazine 2/11, 1994).

In 1983 Meulen's iconic 'Pope John Paul II with Lech Walesa's moustache' cover for Humo won the Gold Award for 'Best Magazine Cover'. Meulen received the Kuurnse Cultuurprijs (2009) and Henry van de Velde Award (2012) for his entire oeuvre. On 4 May 2019 he and Gal were given the Bronzen Zinneke, an award given to people who promote the Brussels region on an international scale.

Later years
Since 1993, Meulen teaches illustration at the Sint-Lucas School of Arts in Ghent. He launched the careers of four of his former students, namely Brecht Evens, Pieter De Poortere, Jeroom and Jan Van der Veken. His son, Sander Vermeulen, is also active as a graphic artist.

invitation for Ever Meulen expo 1994
Invitation for Ever Meulen's exposition in Kees Kousemaker's Gallery Lambiek in February-March 1994. Meulen also designed a letterhead for the Amsterdam-based comic book store/gallery.

Legacy and influence
Various graphic artists hold Ever Meulen in high regard. Apart from Joost Swarte, Kamagurka, Andy Warhol, Art Spiegelman, Jeroom and François Schuiten, he also received praise from Mathieu Laville, Johan De Moor, Charles Burns, Randall Caesar, Xavier Truant, Jan Van der Veken, Jeroen Los  and Daniel Torres, who consider him an important influence on their work. In October 2017 a special exhibition was held in Brussels, 'Ever Meulen & Friends', where various artists paid tribute to the maestro, including his own son Sander, Humo's Guy Mortier and former students Brecht Evens, Jeroom, Jan Van der Veken and Pieter De Poortere. But other Belgians paid homage too, namely Serge Baeken, Johnny Bekaert, Cecile Bernaerts, Jan Bosschaert, Randall Caesar, Luc Cromheecke, Reinhart Croon, Serge Dehaes, Phil De Kemmeter, Gerda Dendooven, Rika Deryckere, Lode Devroe, Johan Devrome, Goele Dewanckel, Gert Dooreman, Juan d'Oultremont, Jack & Laurent Durieux, Jean-Manuel Duvivier, Stijn Felix, Gal, Loïc Gaume, Philippe Geluck, Olivier Grenson, Alain Goffin, Josse Goffin, Eric Héliot, Hugoké, Mieke Lamiroy, Ivan Lammerant, Jean-Louis Lejeune, Pascal Lemaître, Sisca Locca, Jeroen Los, Dominique Maes, Gudrun Makelberge, Jean-François Martin, David Merveille, Steve (Steve Michiels), Nix, Albert & Eliza Pepermans, Patrick Regout, Olivier SaiveJean-Claude Salemi, Jean-Grégoire Savayan, Tom Schamp, Tom Schoonooghe, François Schuiten, Teresa Sdralevich, Bruno Seys & Filip Vandewiele, Irma Smeets, Frow Steeman, Luc Tegenbos, Frédéric Thiry, Max Tilgenkamp, Isabelle Vandenabeele, Brecht Vandenbroucke, Karolien Vanderstappen, Patrick Van der Stricht, Phil Van Duynen, Pieter van Eenoge, Peter Van Eyck, Benoît, Cis Verhamme, Jurgen Walschot, Jan Werkt, Peter Willems and Zak. Dutch homages came from Evert Geradts, Victor Hachmang, Max Kisman, Piet Schreuders, Joost Swarte and Teun van den Wittenboer. From France came tributes by François Avril, Charles Berberian, Pierre Bouillé, Laurent CilluffoSerge Clerc, Jochen Gerner, Emmanuel Kerner, LoustalEric LambéWalter Minus, Oxolaterre, Philippe Petit-Roulet, Piccolo, Etienne Robial and Bruno Rocco. There were additional homages from Italy (Lorenzo Mattotti), Spain (Arnal Ballester, José María Lema de Pablo, Javier Mariscal and Max), Canada (Alain Pilon, Luc Melanson), Germany (Rotraut Susanne Berner) and the U.S. (Robert Armstrong, Art Spiegelman and Chris Ware).

Books about Ever Meulen
For those interested in Meulen's graphic career, the books 'Feu Vert' (1987, Futuropolis) and 'Verve' (2006) are highly recommended. The latter book has a foreword by Art Spiegelman who complimented him with the often-reprinted line: "I wish I could live in the world of Ever Meulen."

Ever Meulen (on the right) with Lambiek's Kees Kousemaker at the opening of his Lambiek expo on 11 February 1994.

Series and books by Ever Meulen in stock in the Lambiek Webshop:


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