De schaduw van Verhofstadt by Erik Meynen
Cartoon depicting Belgian Prime Minister Guy Verhofstadt.

Erik Meynen is best known for his satirical gag comics about Belgian politicians, which became a full-time career from 1988 on. He gained notability with two comic book albums about stock market guru and politician Jean-Pierre Van Rossem in 1990-1991, scripted by the man himself. Later in the decade Meynen started making gag-based stories poking fun at Belgian politics. As of 2018 his comics have followed the trials and tribulations of six Prime Ministers, namely Jean-Luc Dehaene, Guy Verhofstadt, Yves Leterme, Herman van Rompuy, Elio Di Rupo and Charles Michel, but he lampoons politicians all over the spectrum, regardless of their party colour. He is furthermore the scripwriter of Dirk Stallaert's riddle comic 'Pakkeman & Poulet' (2006-2010) and several 'Suske en Wiske' stories for Studio Vandersteen

Comic from Gummi by Erik Meynen
'De palavers omtrent Kazimir Karton en Viktor Vlakgom' (Gummi #22).

Early life and career
Erik Meynen was born in 1957 in Kapellen. When he was 9, he drew his first comic series, 'Dave de Cowboy'. Contrary to most children of his age he had the patience and perseverance to make 14 comic book albums about this character. Meynen studied at the Royal Academy of Fine Arts in Ghent. He mostly grew up with Belgian comic artists like Hergé, Willy Vandersteen, Marc Sleen, Jef Nys, Pom, Morris and André Franquin as graphical inspirations. Other heroes are Charles M. Schulz's 'Peanuts, Hara-Kiri/Charlie-Hebdo, Pilote, Robert Crumb, Joe Matt, Georges Wolinski and René Goscinny and Albert Uderzo's 'Astérix'.


'Erik Meynen en de Zeynen'.

Early comics
In 1978 Meynen had a summer job drawing backgrounds for Merho's comic series 'De Kiekeboes', more specifically the album 'Kiekeboe in Carré', which is set in Amsterdam. A year later Meynen made his debut as cartoonist in Knack. Together with scriptwriter Pjotr (Piet de Rycker) he drew a photo gag comic named 'Erik Meynen en de Zeynen', in which he played himself. Karin van den Berghe was occasionally credited as co-scriptwriter. Meynen and Pjotr remained collaborators and co-created the cult comic series 'Tommy Gun & Marion Lee' (1980), which appeared in publications like Robbedoes and was collected in a book by Magic Strip in 1983. They also made 'De Terugkeer van Roxane', which was published in book format by Paul Rijperman the same year. Both men also made a photo comic for Jan Bucquoy's comics magazine Spetters, using the pen names "Protter & Zweynen". In 1989 Meynen illustrated a few stories by Kamagurka, which appeared in the comics series 'Lava'. Together with Gert Dooreman he created 'Tom Typhoon' (1988), which was prepublished in Humo.

Inspecteur Bob by Erik Meynen
'Inspecteur Bob' featuring Bob trying to get himself out of a sticky situation in the presence of Belgian king Baudouin/ Boudewijn, who in 1990 refused to personally sign the law legalizing abortion. From 'Brief aan een postzegel' (1990). 

Inspecteur Bob and other late 1980s works
In 1988 Meynen met Belgian cult novelist Herman Brusselmans, who'd become one of his best friends and most vocal admirers. Together they made a detective parody series, 'Inspecteur Bob Lost Het Bijna Op' (1988), written in Brusselmans' characteristic vulgar-ironic style. It was published in Panorama/De Post. One episode, where the assertive inspector meets Belgian king Boudewijn/ Baudouin, also livened up Johan Anthierens' anti-royalist book 'Brief Aan Een Postzegel' (1990). The same book also featured graphic contributions by Gal, Quirit, Peter De Roy, Jan Bosschaert, Zak, Benoît and Jan De Maesschalk. Another collaborative effort with Brusselmans and Geert Clarisse was the didactic album 'Een Bos op Zoek naar Bomen' (1988). This book was published in celebration of the European Year of Living Environment.

Jean-Pierre van Rossem
Jean-Pierre van Rossem - 'De Poenpakker'.

Jean-Pierre Van Rossem
Another controversial man with whom Meynen worked together was the infamous stock market guru and politician Jean-Pierre Van Rossem, who was arrested for fiscal fraud in 1990. A colourful media celebrity, Van Rossem had already inspired cameos in Marc Sleen's 'Nero' series (in the 1990 albums 'De Man van Europa' and 'Nerorock') before Meynen got the idea to make an actual comic strip about him. Despite being in jail at the time, Van Rossem wrote the scripts himself. The satirical series was prepublished in Panorama/De Post and later distributed by publishing company Loempia. Due to low sales only two albums were made.

Cartoon by Erik Meynen
Gag comic depicting Belgian politician Bart De Wever and party member/ former TV journalist Siegfried Bracke.

Comics about Belgian politics
Since 1990, Meynen is best known as a political cartoonist, though he mostly abandoned the one-panel format in favor of actual gag comics. His work was published in Panorama/De Post (later P-Magazine) until this magazine folded. It nowadays still appears in De Morgen, Het Laatste Nieuws and Knack. The cartoonist exclusively focuses on Belgian politics and keeps a light-hearted tone. Politicians are reduced to literal comic book characters, with exaggerated personality traits. Many episodes end in typical comic strip slapstick, running gags and mayhem. References to topical events are kept to the minimum level of what the average person in the street might know about them. Meynen refuses to do any deeper research, since it allows him to focus more on comical ideas. Thanks to Prime Minister Guy Verhofstadt's idealistic policies Meynen caricatured him as a naïve hayseed. Prime Minister Dehaene's reserved and condescending attitude towards the press led to him being depicted as an arrogant bully. Minister-President of Flanders Luc Van den Brande was downsized as his tiny sidekick, often beaten up by Dehaene. It might not surprise anyone that Van den Brande was one of the few politicians who strongly disliked Meynen's portrayal of him. One of the cartoonist's longest running gags is giving certain politicians a talking animal as advisor. Guy Verhofstadt was aided by a snake, in reference his political strategist Noël Slangen ('slang' means 'snake' in Dutch). Yves Leterme took advice from a goat, since the real-life politician had an actual goat for a pet. Politician Bart de Wever, who once dressed up as a panda for a media stunt, is always followed by a bamboo-eating panda, spouting Chinese aphorisms. 

While not always that flattering to them, many Flemish politicians have said that they enjoy Meynen's cartoons. Among them Bart Somers, Steve Stevaert, Freya Van den Bossche and former prime ministers Jean-Luc Dehaene, Guy Verhofstadt and Yves Leterme. Dehaene in particular felt that Meynen's caricatures "contained more truth than any newspaper article." Meynen compiles his best gags usually after a government term is finished. So far he published the books: 'De Jaren van Dehaene' (1999), 'De Plannen van Verhofstadt' (2003), 'Paniek in de Politiek' (2006) and 'Het Lijden van Leterme' (2009). Meynen's cartoons have also been featured in the weekly Flemish political debate and talk show 'Villa Politica' since 2002, often adapted into one-minute animated shorts.

Cover of De Plannen van Verhofstadt, by Erik MeynenPaniek in de politiek

Pakkeman & Poulet
As a comics writer, Meynen cooperated with Dirk Stallaert on several comics for Unizo and De Standaard, including 'De Mysterieuze Klant' (2002) and 'De Neuzen van Sniezo' (2003). When asked by De Standaard to make a comic strip about typical Belgian phenomena in the essay 'België Blootgelegd' ('Belgium Exposed', 2003), Meynen and Stallaert made a story about the French fries store of Jan Spier, a character from Marc Sleen's series 'Nero'. The two detectives in this strip, 'Pakkeman & Poulet', proved to be such fun characters that they became a monthly riddle comic, published in the civil servant magazine Fedra from May 2006 until December 2010.

Suske en Wiske
In 1999 Meynen began working for Studio Vandersteen as provider of ideas for the comic strip 'Suske en Wiske'. Together with Marc Verhaegen he was involved with the modernization of the series, which caused a lot of commotion. One of the most controversial aspects was changing the outfits Suske and Wiske wore for more than 50 years. After a public backlash they were forced to hark this idea back a little. Several albums were criticized for deriving too much from the original spirit of the series. 'De Koeiencommissie' (1999), for instance, with its countless rapidly dated allusions to Belgian politics in the late 1990s, felt closer to Meynen's political cartoons than a children's comic.

Recognition
In 1999 he won the Bronzen Adhemar, the official Flemish Community Cultural Prize for Comics.

Graphic contributions
His politician characters Guy Verhofstadt, Jean-Luc Dehaene and Louis Tobback visited the Kiekeboe family in Merho's one-shot album 'Bij Fanny op Schoot' (2005), where Fanny Kiekeboe interviews comics characters from different franchises. Meynen made a graphic contribution to 'Suske en Wiske 60 Jaar!' (2005), which celebrated the 60th anniversary of Willy Vandersteen's 'Suske en Wiske'. He also paid tribute to Marc Sleen in 'Marc Sleen. Een uitgave van de Bronzen Adhemar Stichting' (1993), 'Marc Sleen 80. De enige echte' (2002) and 'Marc Sleen 90. Liber Amicorum' (2012). He furthermore made a graphic contribution to 'Op het Spoor van Pom' (2011), which paid homage to Pom.

Erik Meynen

Erik Meynen on presscartoon.com

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