Thomas Rindt by Erika Raven
Thomas Rindt - 'Moessonregens'.

Erika Raven is a Belgian comic artist. Her fame rose in 1987, when she became the first woman to win the Flemish comics prize the Bronzen Adhemar. Her work is characterized by socially conscious adventure stories set in exotic countries. Her longest-running series was the serious adventure comic 'Ripley' (1992-1995). During the same decade she also drew the weekly gag comic 'Erika' for the women's magazine Libelle. Raven established her own publishing company Studio Raven, which was another first for a female Flemish comic artist. Despite a promising start, she eventually left the comic industry again. She cited frustrating experiences with publishers and lack of sufficient promotion as major reasons. 

Early life
Erika Raven was born in 1963 in Halle, Brabant (nowadays Flemish Brabant), as Erika De Ceuckelaire. At age 11 she managed to get one of her comics published in the weekly amateur section 'Plant 'n Knol' of comic magazine Robbedoes (the Dutch-language version of Spirou). It ran in issue #1927 (20 March 1975). Raven studied drawing at the St. Lucas Institute in Brussels for three years. Her main graphic influences are Hugo Pratt, Renaud and François Walthéry

In 1983 Raven debuted in the magazine Kuifje/Tintin with the series 'Ripley', but was not pleased with the way her first story, 'Lotus', was published. In her opinion the coloring was bad, her story drastically shortened and the dialogues rewritten by someone who apparently couldn't spell nor write correct sentences. When 'Lotus' was published in book form she added her own original version and added the butchered, laughably bad version as an extra. 'Ripley' tells the tale of Maywood Ripley, a female helicopter pilot who operates in Malaysia, Borneo and Africa. Ripley works together with her two brothers and a photographer. When one of her brothers dies in a bomb attack, Ripley feels guilty for his death. The action-packed stories are notable for avoiding stereotypes about Africa, as well as predictable "good vs. evil" stories. Three albums were published by her own publishing company Studio Raven: 'Ripley' (1992), 'Kota Base' (1994) and 'Kentangau River' (1995). 

Zimbabwe, by Erica Raven

'Zimbabwe' (1984), a one-shot adventure story set in Africa, was serialized in Eppo/Wordt Vervolgd. The plot revolves around an aviator who flies to Zimbabwe. In this country he meets Ebbekopje, a black woman who fights alongside a group of rebels. She uses his experience as a helicopter pilot to rob a gold transport, but things go drastically wrong... The story caught the attention of the Flemish Independent Comics Guild (Vlaamse Onafhankelijke Stripgilde), who in 1987 awarded Raven the comics prize the Bronzen Adhemar. Since she was the first woman to win this prestigious prize she received a lot of publicity. A brand new publishing company, Den Gulden Engel, released  'Zimbabwe' in book format. Another one-shot comic by Raven, 'Spinrag' (1988), was serialized in Eppo/Wordt Vervolgd too. In 1993 Raven's own publishing company Studio Raven brought out 'Zimbabwe' again and added a sequel story: 'Ebbekopje'. 

Thomas Rindt
Together with scriptwriter Marcel Rouffa, Raven created the series 'Thomas Rindt'. The main characters are two war correspondents in Meotham, South East Asia, who gradually get involved in a local civil war. Two albums were published by Den Gulden Engel: 'Moesson Regens' (1987) and 'De Stad Van De Engelen' (1987). 

'Erika'. Translation of the first gag: 'Freedom depends on deals. It ends where it starts with another." - Man: "Ends?". Translation of the second gag: "Promises! Promises! That's all I get! I'd prefer you to keep them too." - Man: "Okay, I promise to never promise anything again." 

In the early 1990s Raven also had a weekly gag comic, 'Erika', in the women's magazine Libelle. The gags centered around the trials and tribulations of a young couple. The woman is a young artist, who searches for passion, both in her relationship as well as her work. Her husband is more pragmatic and laidback in his attitude. Since the title character shared Raven's first name, it was inevitable that some readers interpreted the gags as being autobiographical. In 1996 one compilation album, 'Elke Week In Libelle: Erika', was published by her own company Studio Raven. 

Raven's mystery thriller series 'Icebound' (1994) follows the exploits of two polar explorers in Antarctica. The second 'Icebound' story, 'Nan Madol', set in Polynesia, was in 2004 published as a webcomic.

Raven draws in a photorealistic style, which gives her work a cinematographic, at times almost documentary quality. Her drawings often make use of clair-obscur techniques. Many of her stories are set in exotic locations, like Africa and Asia. Raven's graphic skills are complimented by her talent for characterisation. Her protagonists lack the one-dimensionality of many comic characters. She also picks topics that aren't crowdpleasers. Her adventure comics may be action-packed and suspenseful, but she dares to bring socially conscious messages.

Icebound by Erika Raven

Graphic and written contributions
Erika Raven paid homage to François Walthéry's 'Natacha' (with a script by Erik Meynen) in the collective comic book 'Natacha. Special 20 Ans!' (Marsu Productions, 1990), published to celebrate the series' 20th anniversary. In 1993 she was one of several Bronzen Adhemar winners to draw a tribute to Marc Sleen in the book 'Marc Sleen. Een Uitgave van de Bronzen Adhemar Stichting' (1993). She also contrbuted to Yaack and WEgé's comic strip 'Suske Wiet' (1998) and co-wrote the script of Maarten Vande Wiele's graphic novel 'I Love Paris' (2008), a comic book about three young women who want to make it in the Parisian jet-set. She declined to contribute to the sequel, though. 

In December 1987 Erik Raven received the Bronzen Adhemar from the hands of animator Nicole Van Goethem. As of today, she and Judith Vanistendael (in 2022) are the only women to have won this prestigious comic prize. 

Retirement from the comic industry and later career
Unfortunately Raven's career was thwarted by several setbacks. Her publisher, Den Gulden Engel, cancelled its comic activities. As no other publisher showed interest in her work, Raven founded her own company, Studio Raven, in 1992. She republished all of her older titles and released her new albums all throughout the 1990s. Since her sales remained low she released her second 'Icebound' story 'Nan Madol' (2004) for free online. By the early 2000s Raven was so disillusioned that she retired from the comic industry. Her only new publications have been contributions to other artists' comics. Raven managed to reinvent herself as a novelist. In 2004 The House of Books published her controversial novel 'Het Kreng'. The plot revolves around a bitchy career woman and offers sharp criticism of radical feminism. 

Legacy and influence
Erika Raven has often erroneously been cited as "the first female Flemish comic artist". This is not true. The earliest known female Flemish comic artists whom we can identify by name were Tonet Timmermans and Kaja Grunwald (who published under the pseudonym Kari), who were both active in the 1950s. In the 1960s and 1970s women like May Claerhout, Greet Liégeois and Ann Van De Velde already drew comics too. What is true, however, is that Erika Raven was the first female Flemish comic artist to receive considerable media attention. As Jan Smet once wrote in his 2014 book 'Vlaamse Reuzen - De Complete Stripgids Interviews (1974-2001)': "Erika Raven may claim she paved the way for several other female comic artists in Flanders: Ilah, Judith Vanistendael, Ephameron, Shamisa Debroey, Inne Haine, Delphine Frantzen, Charlotte Dumortier... A small comfort, because predecessors only exist by the grace of those whom they predecess. Erika Raven deserves better."

Erika Raven
Erika Raven in 1993.

Erika Raven fansite

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