Joost Swarte: Is That All There Is? (4 stars)

Compendium of the Dutch cartoonist’s satirical alternative comics

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Joost Swarte: Is That All There Is?

Apparently so. Or almost so. Is That All There Is? collects virtually all of the Dutch cartoonist’s alternative comics from way back in 1972 to the present day, translates them into English and assembles them, under Joost Swarte’s own supervision, in this handsomely mounted hardback edition from Fantagraphics. This is a collection that’s been a long time coming to English language readers.

But for those who are unaware of the man’s work, Swarte is, in addition to being an excellent cartoonist, a designer, architect, stained-glass artist, publisher, founder of Holland’s international comic convention Stripdagen and all-round advocate of comics (who was knighted for his services to the industry by the Queen of The Netherlands in 2004). His clear line style pays homage to and subverts Tintin creator Hergé’s distinctive illustrations and Swarte’s satirical short stories have been published in adult magazines throughout Europe (such a Metal Hurlant, the French edition of Heavy Metal), crossing the Atlantic to make their American debut and find a new audience in the 1980s in counterculture cartooning mag RAW.

The stories, most of which feature either dopey hipster Jopo de Pojo (think Mickey Mouse with a quiff) or oddball scientist Anton Makassar, are relatively simple gag strips underscored with satirical humour and/or explicit adult content, usually a mix of sex and booze. The real joy of Swarte’s work, however, is the architectural elegance of his illustrations and his fine ability to colour them using everything from watercolour to retro duo-tones. Looking at Swarte’s mostly 20th century work now, what’s also – and tangentially - interesting is the retro-futuristic look of it: the settings are near-future, but everything’s styled circa the 1940s, much in the same way Ridley Scott imagined the future in Bladerunner.

For sheer design swagger you need to check Swarte out.

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