South African artist, Willem Samuel has delivered his full version of a six-part graphic novel, Mengelmoes (mish-mash), and we’ve reviewed part 1 for you.
Part 1 of Mengelmoes is appropriately entitled the Schoolboy and follows a day in the life of a Grade 7 (about 13-year-old) Willem in 1997. This is post-Apartheid where South Africa was still in the honeymoon phase of democracy. But as the title suggests, part 1 of this graphic novel series focuses more on the struggles of being a hormone-induced teenager who is trying to figure out who he is, what life is about and how to do his trigonometry homework.
The book starts off with a journal entry from our main character. This immediately sets the tone of almost brutal honesty and openness given to the reader by the writer. You’re transported into 1997 where pimples and braces were the worse things that could happen to you and your mind was filled with fantasies about being a crime fighter’s friend and losing your virginity.
We’re invited into Willem’s real world and fantasy world and he shares very intimate moments with the reader. He let’s you dwell in his room and look at his Jimmi Hendrix and Blur posters. We get a peek at his tape collection which includes 90s gems like Parklife and Pearl Jam. His room is filled with the usual things most white teenage boys would’ve had in their rooms in the 90s which includes a few “naughty” items like cigarettes and a stash of Playboy magazines under his mattress.
Right from the start Willem is able to perfectly sum up the insecurities, awkwardness and pressures that come along with those formidable teenage years. But at the same time he manages to capture the excitement and hope possessed by many teenagers as well. Willem loves to escape into his creatively cool fantasy world, leaving behind mundanities like traffic or maths. These fantasies are at times completely hilarious and you’ll laugh out loud at the honest and raw sense of humour of a teenage boy, especially when he makes fun of his teachers.
The book is a bit of a “mengelmoes” of ideas and moments. We’re transported through a schoolboy’s morning routine, then we’re introduced into the routine and boredom of school life and then we’re suddenly at a chaotic taxi rank in the centre of Cape Town. We’re slowly introduced into the “New South Africa” which will probably play a bigger role as the series progresses. But it all ties in together to give you an idea of what it was like to grow up during such a transformative time in South African history, while you’re struggling with the changes in your own teenage life.
Apart from the story, Willem’s drawing style is insanely cool and the amount of detail he delivers will have you starring at each of the frames for ages, trying to find all the easter eggs he’s hidden. He’s creative and has a keen memory to be able to so accurately recreate 90s South Africa.
We’re excited to see what the next book, entitled The Matric, has in store for us. This time around we join Willem Samuel in his final year in high school.
Willem Samuel is an artist who has dedicated much of his work to visual commentary. He has published prolifically in the comic scene, locally and abroad. His work has featured in Laugh it Off Annual, Bitterkomix, Die Swart Kat, Rolling Stone magazine, among others, and Supa Strikas – where he was also Art Director. He is currently based in the UK where his serialised graphic novel, Mengelmoes, is being published and working as a freelance artist in his spare time.