This write-up on my trip to The Netherlands in early September 2011 is a long time coming. Upon my arrival back home I was backlogged with books that needed to be completed, which required my focus and prevented me from sharing photos and stories earlier. Finally, I have a brief respite and can write about what was possibly one of my best trip / convention combination experiences. Click on all photos for a larger view.
Mark Schultz, William Stout, Gary Gianni, Craig Elliott and myself all travelled to The Netherlands for a little vacation, to attend my first Flesk event, “An Evening with Flesk Prime” and exhibit at the Strip Festival Breda 2011. Local artist Petar Meseldžija joined us once we arrived.
Before I begin, I would like to extend my most gracious thanks to our sponsors and friends Mark Theloson and De Stripspecialist store owner, Guido de Bue, for being our local contacts. They played a huge role in organizing the trip and making sure we were taken care of while there. Having these two gentlemen tend to our every need for one week, as well as have their responsibilities to the Strip Festival show, is something the entire Flesk group appreciates. One more person I want to point out for his help is Fons von Erp. He is a great guy who we were all grateful for his time.
I flew in a few days early so I could adjust to the time zone and spend some personal time with my family, Petar Meseldzija and his wife Anita, and see some of The Netherlands before the events began. I’m glad I did this as it allowed me not only the time to adjust (it always takes me a few days), but also to shake off all of the lingering work that I left behind. I was roughly 2-3 days away from finishing the Bruce Timm book. Once I was on the plane I accepted the fact that I was heading towards a fun adventure and had to put my life and work back home on pause.
Upon landing we happened to bump into Craig Elliott at the baggage area. He also opted to arrive early. He wanted to visit some galleries before we met up in Breda on Wednesday. Petar, Mark Thelosen and Guido were there to provide a hearty welcome and transport us to our respective destinations. Petar guided us to his home for a two day stay.
Enjoying the hospitality of Petar and Anita for a few days was a delight. We toured Amsterdam, visited the Artis Royal Zoo, walked the streets, ate great food, enjoyed the Dutch culture and had long talks. Sure, Petar is an artist I have published, but our friendship goes beyond the professional courtesy. I find we have much in common and we can have all sorts of discussions about random topics that roll from one to another. We never seem to get bored or at a loss of words when we are together. He’s both serious and seriously funny.
On Wednesday afternoon I met up with the five artists in Breda in preparation for “An Evening with Flesk Prime” on Thursday night. I’ve documented this in detail in a previous blog post with pictures that you can read here.
Jumping forward to Friday, it was a day to relax and enjoy the downtown area of Breda. As with my previous trip to Breda in February 2010 with Schultz, I found the locals to be extremely friendly and warm. The overall pace was much slower than I am accustomed to. I tend to work at a fast (I’ve been told) and focused pace. This is just my pace, and I am comfortable with it. I found myself constantly holding myself back and doing my best to slow down to match the local speed limit. It took me a few days, but I started getting used to it. I rather enjoyed it actually. (That didn’t stop me from hitting the gas when I got back home though.) My point here is that if you want to relax and have some kind people to talk to, then I would recommend visiting Breda.
Saturday and Sunday were spent at the Strip Festival in Breda. We had a large Flesk Publications stand courtesy of the event, and Mark T. and Guido. Guido did a remarkable job in having the booth completely set up prior to our arrival. We had an area for our entire line of books and a space for each artist, Schultz, Elliott, Gianni, Stout and Meseldzija, to sit. Once they arrived the crowd formed quickly and never diminished throughout the two days. Having all five artists together was quite remarkable.
An interesting aspect is our placement was next to large windows. I have never exhibited at a show with natural light before. It was a welcome pleasure to not depend upon artificial lighting. I found it helped the mood overall.
As I mentioned before the local people are exceptionally outgoing and friendly. There is one difference between the U.S. shows when compared to our Breda experience. It seems like many people expected free sketches, whereas in the U.S. people expect to have to pay for them. Also in the U.S. many artists do not sketch. Each artist handled this differently in Breda. They all have plenty of convention experience to know how to handle this expectation. Most fans are excellent and were able to work with the artists to get what they wanted in a reasonable fashion. I did, however, see a few highly aggressive individuals try to get the best possible sketch out of each artist for absolutely nothing. Now, I’ve been to a lot of shows with artists and seen first-hand all the tricks and stunts people play to try and get a freebie, but a few things I saw in Breda were new to me. Rather than point out what happened I would like to share my thoughts on the matter.
An artist is a working professional. Their artwork is not only a passion and something they love to do, but also their income. Just like whatever anybody else does for a living is an income. I don’t think it is fair to ever expect an artist to give you a free drawing. Is it right to ask any professional, for example, a dentist, doctor, lawyer, computer tech, car mechanic, plumber or any other person with a specific skillset for their services for free; Especially if you don’t even know that person? Where does the assumption that an artist owes you a free drawing come from? Let’s use some common sense here. That sketch can be worth a lot of money. I’ve seen people who beg, or use unsavory tactics or get highly aggressive, who may get a sketch then flip the art on Ebay. The artists know this. Here’s a simple rule. Be prepared to pay, and ask and don’t expect.
If you really want to support an artist give them payment for their services. I want to reiterate that the people who I am talking about are very few. The vast majority are understanding and gracious. It’s those few that were the cause for much discussion after the Breda show and they can affect the situation for the whole.
Another aspect of the expectation of free sketching that I feel can hamper an overall fan experience is that when artists are sketching full time it makes a handful of people really happy, but a potentially large group is unable to squeeze in and get a quick signature or say hello for a few minutes, or even be introduced to the work for the first time–especially when considering a sketch can take 15 or minutes to produce. If you are third or fourth in line, that’s a lot of wait time just to get a signature or meet someone. That’s it from me on this topic.
On another subject, due to Guido’s efficiency in setting up the booth and his unwavering energy level and assistance in getting helpers at the Flesk stand, it freed me up to actually relax and do other things at the booth. One thing I managed to do was film each artist while drawing. I have roughly four hours of sketching footage that I will begin posting on the Flesk Publications website once the new video friendly site goes live. I also took a lot of pictures, a few of which can be found on this blog. I also got about an hour long interview with Petar about The Legend of Steel Bashaw and many other subjects. I can’t wait to share it.
The show ran very smoothly. I was happy to see both Geoff West of The Book Palace and the many exciting projects he is working on, as well as Nick and Arno from Alca in Paris. I was also happy to see many familiar faces from the “An Evening with Flesk Prime” event that was held a few days prior. What a great group of people.
On the Saturday night of the show the event organizers invited Stout, Schultz, Gianni, Petar, Elliott, myself and our families that came along to an exclusive private dinner with all of the show guests and their invitees. It was a memorable evening of lively discussion and exceptional food. On behalf of all of us, we were all grateful for the invitation and had a wonderful time. We are all touched by the hospitality and kindness of the organizers and all they did for us over the course of the weekend.
A bonus for me was seeing Paul Renaud again this year. Paul was also at the dinner on Saturday evening and we had the chance to catch up, share our thoughts on the industry and discuss all of our likes and dislikes in an open discussion that stimulated my perception of certain subjects. I always feel like I’ve come away more enlightened after talking to Paul.
The show ended up being very successful in that we all got to spend an intimate time together in a lovely country. It was like being on a vacation together and no part of the journey felt like work. Usually at shows like Comic-Con in San Diego, we all might spend five days together, but we are so swamped with work, talking to people and running the booth that we don’t get to interact that much. I don’t know how many times Schultz and I have stood side by side for two or three days, then called each other after the show is over just to get a chance to talk. Strip Festival Breda was unique in that we could give the fans and patrons time and we still had time for each other. This was definitely a plus.
On Monday, Schultz, Gianni and I all met up at the Rijks museum to see the Rembrandts, among other masterpieces. Going to a museum with an artist is always an educational experience. They appreciate certain qualities of the art that I am not aware of, or even think about, and communicate them to me in a fascinating way.
Later that evening we all went out to dinner with Petar and Anita before going our separate ways. Afterwards, I spent another few days at Petar’s home. We had long discussions, and I viewed many of his originals, then talked some more. Petar read aloud his first draft of his new illustrated story “The Giants” and showed me many of the drawings he has worked up for it. I had a great time.
Then, before I knew it, I was back home; The trip being a pleasant memorable dream. I jumped right back into wrapping up the Bruce Timm and Craig Elliott books, both of which are being printed right now.
Text and photo © 2011 John Fleskes