Erika Raven was the first notable female comics artist in Flanders. She had a promising start in the 1980s and received quite some press attention back then. Notwithstanding her talent in both fields of making comics (story and drawings) she was never allowed to actually blossom. Frustrating experiences with publishers and lack of sufficient promotion quenched what could have been a succesful career.
Erika Raven was born as Erika De Ceuckelaire in Halle. She studied at St. Lucas in Brussels for three years. In 1983 she 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 colorization was bad, her story was drastically shortened and the dialogues were 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 Africa and Borneo. Three albums were made, 'Ripley' (1992), 'Kota Base' (1994) and 'Kentangau River' (1995).
In 1986 Raven became an independent comics artist, illustrator and designer. The same year she drew 'Zimbabwe' (1987), a one-shot adventure story set in Africa, which was prepublished in Wordt Vervolgd. The book received good reviews and won her the Bronzen Adhemar in 1987, the most prestigious Flemish comics prize. She was the first and still the only woman to receive this award. It gave her a lot of publicity and the brand new publishing company Den Gulden Engel showed interest in bringing her first comic book on the market. 'Moessonregens' (1987) was the first story of her series 'Thomas Rindt', which was scripted by Marcel Rouffa. The story follows two war correspondents in Meotham, South-East Asia, who gradually get involved in a local civil war. In 1988 she drew a dark comic, 'Spinrag', which was prepublished in Wordt Vervolgd. In the early 1990s Raven also had a weekly gag comic, called 'Erika', in the women's magazine Libelle. The gags centered around the trials and tribulations of a young couple.
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 comics characters and are both believable and relatable to readers by their sheer humanity. Raven also deserves respect for choosing topics that don't always please the public. Her adventure comics may be action-packed and suspenseful, but she isn't afraid of bringing socially conscious messages.
Unfortunately Raven's career was thwarted by several disappointing experiences. Despite a promising start, Den Gulden Engel cancelled its comics activities by 1996. No other company showed interest in publishing her work. Fed up with waiting and bowing to the wishes of companies she founded her own publishing company, Studio Raven, in 1992. She quickly brought out her older work and drew a new 'Thomas Rindt' story, 'De Stad van de Engelen'. Her mystery thriller series 'Icebound' (1994) follows the exploits of two polar explorers in Antarctica. The second 'Icebound' story, 'Nan Madol', which was set in Polynesia, was published freely online in 2002, because even her own company, Studio Raven, generated low sales.
Disillusioned by the entire comics industry, Raven refused to have anything to do with it anymore. She focused on writing novels instead. In 2004 she published her controversial novel 'Het Kreng', published by The House of Books. The story centers around a bitchy career woman and was a sharp criticism of radical feminism. Ironically enough, her first straight book brought her back into the world of comics when Maarten Vande Wiele asked her to write the script for his graphic novel 'I Love Paris' (2008), a comic book about three young women who want to make it in the Parisian jet-set. Those who hoped for a comeback were disappointed again, as Raven declined to write the sequel, passing the pen to Peter Moerenhout instead.
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 comics 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."