comic art by Pirana

Pirana is a Belgian cartoonist, well known for his raw and shocking comedy. Recurring themes in his work are torture cellars, blunt sex jokes and a love for Africa. A highly productive artist with a simple, roguish graphic style, Pirana's career spans over half a century and today he is one of the oldest active Flemish cartoonists. He broke the world record for the longest cartoon of all time eight times in total. While he is best known as cartoonist, Pirana also made various comics. His signature character is the bullying manwife Mevrouw Dallemans.

Early life
He was born in 1947 in Zele as Leon van de Velde. His father was a former professional cyclist who became a bicycle repairman afterwards. When this enterprise failed he became a mason and eventually a floorer. Van de Velde's mother had her own bar. Inspired by Marc Sleen the boy wanted to become a comics artist. At age 15 he drew a three panel gag using Sleen's character Bolleke, which was published in a 1962 issue of the Flemish comics magazine 't Kapoentje. While his mother was supportive of her son's artistic ambitions his father wasn't. Each time when little Leon was doodling instead of making his homework, he snatched his drawings away and threw them into the stove! Van de Velde tried studying at the academy, but failed in his first year. He decided to write a letter to Sleen for personal advice. While the spiritual father of 'Nero' did write back he coldly informed the teenager that other jobs earned much better. This encouraged Van de Velde's father to force his son to follow in his footsteps. Van de Velde felt highly discouraged and studying a profession he didn't like didn't help matters much. While he graduated succesfully as a floorer Van de Velde studied decorative arts at the Academy of Dendermonde where he obtained a diploma too. One of his fellow students there was future cartoonist Hector Leemans. Later influences on Van de Velde's work were the French cartoonist Jean-Marc Reiser, and the Americans S. Clay Wilson, Virgil Partch and Don Martin.

Comic by Pirana
'Mevrouw Dallemans'.

Cartooning
In 1966, during his military service, Van De Velde published his first drawings in the soldier's magazine Marsj! He also met Hugoké and visited him in his studio. Hugoké would have a significant impact on Van De Velde's career. He advised the young artist to work under a pseudonym, so Pirana named himself after the vicious fish of the same name. Hugoké also wrote an article about him in Het Nieuwsblad, where he called him "the revelation of black comedy". In the end it was the newspaper Het Volk who actually hired Pirana in 1967 to become their house cartoonist. At the advice of Dutch cartoonist EFBE, Pirana started sending copies of his drawings all across the world, which proved to be a very lucrative tactic. Soon he published not only in Flemish magazines such as 't Pallieterke, Het Volk, De Voorpost, De Zwijger and Panorama (later P-Magazine), but also in Penthouse and The Star and was read in countries such as France, Germany, Great Britain, the Netherlands, Yugoslavia and the USA. It allowed him to reduce his work as floorer to just accepting commissions and spend more time creating cartoons. Pirana illustrated weekly articles by Jo Van Damme in Panorama/De Post. After meeting notorious provocateur Jan Bucquoy he got the opportunity to publish in his underground magazine Spetters (1981-1982), which allowed him to be more sexually explicit in his work. Pirana's work also appeared in Bucquoy's even more outrageous magazine Dol/ Belge (1990-1991).

Style
Pirana was the home cartoonist of Het Volk and Panorama (later P-Magazine) for many years. Inspired by the French magazine Hara-Kiri (nowadays Charlie Hebdo) he indulges in vicious black and low-brow comedy. When he debuted such explicitness was still unheard of in the Flemish press. Many of his cartoons have a sadistic and bawdy streak. His earliest work often takes place in torture cellars. Later cartoons have an emphasis on offensive stereotypical depictions of women and black people. 

Mevrouw Dallemans
No character personifies Pirana's style better than Mevrouw Dallemans. Dallemans is a heavily built middle-aged woman who enjoys annoying, torturing or killing men, children and animals and always with a huge grin. She evolved from a mere background character to the star of her own gag comic. As the cartoonist's only recurring character it's not surprising that most of Pirana's comic books are titled after her. When 'Mevrouw Dallemans' ran in Jan Bucquoy's magazine Dol she was deliberately renamed 'Mevrouw Dollemans', as a pun. 

Cartoon by Pirana

Gag writing
In 1969 Pirana collaborated with Hec Leemans to create a gag comic about an incompetent circus boss. Pirana came up with the concept and wrote the first thirty strips, but it took until 1977 before Leemans revived the project under the title 'Circus Maximus' for the Dutch comics magazine Eppo. Pirana also wrote gags for stand-up or cabaret shows by Ivan Heylen, Jan Bucquoy and Jacques Vermeire.

Africa
Pirana's first longer adventure comic, 'Livingsteen', was prepublished in Jan Bucquoy's magazine Spetters between May 1981 and February 1982. It was inspired by Dr. David Livingstone's historic explorations and Jef Geeraerts' controversial literary cyclus 'Gangreen' (1968-1972), about the novelist's years and sexual adventures in Congo. In 1987 Pirana visited central Africa for the first time. Just like Marc Sleen he would become an enthusiastic safari tourist. Many of Pirana's comic books were inspired by his love for Africa, including 'Neushoorns' (1982), 'Zwarte Liefde' (1985), 'Oeganda' (1988) and 'Kenia' (1989). In 2015, Pirana published a book about his travel experiences called 'Afrika Dingens - Amusement van de onderste plank!'. It was his first real novel, even though he did put in a few personal illustrations here and there. 

John Massis celebrity comic
He also collaborated with Belgian acrobat and visual artist John Massis, who was a personal friend of his. In 1984 he drew a celebrity comic book about him too. When Massis tragically committed suicide in 1988 Pirana attended his funeral. 

Livingstone

Controversy
Pirana has always been a polarizing artist. His sexually explicit and graphically violent gags have shocked mainstream audiences, while critics consider them to be too random, low-brow and repetitive. He has sometimes been accused of sexism and racism too. Particularly his Africa-themed comics depict a very stereotypical version of the continent, with lots of black tribeswomen with large, floppy breasts and a huge sexual appetite. Nevertheless Pirana has been able to build a long and stable career. It should also be pointed out that his signature character Mevrouw Dallemans is a strong, independent woman, while men are always twits or helpless victims. And while the black people in his work may have a racially offensive look and behaviour, Pirana is by no means a racist. The cartoonist collects traditional African art, loves travelling to the continent and it's obvious that he finds black women very attractive. 

Guinness Book of Records
In 1975 Pirana broke the world record for the longest cartoon of all time, previously held by his fellow countrymen Hugoké and Punt. In one hour and 48 minutes time, he drew one long cartoon on a 10 metre long scroll. He would break this record eight times more and bring it to 206 metres, after which his wife felt that he proved what he wanted to prove and should stay home more often.

Mevrouw Dallemans

Recognition
Pirana has often won awards for his work during the annual international cartoon festival of Knokke. In 2014 he exhibited 10,000 of his erotic drawings in his hometown Zele. It was a huge success, despite the fact that there were only 1,000 of them. Several of these were caricatures of famous black female celebrities, which he had drawn in the nude. In 2016 he received demands for two extra exhibitions in Kruishoutem and even in Kumasi, Ghana.

Legacy and influence
Since 2002 Pirana is retired. He was a major influence on cartoonists Marec and Kim Duchateau.

Livingsteen, by Pirana

Series and books by Pirana in stock in the Lambiek Webshop:

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