South African artist, Willem Samuel has delivered his full version of a six-part graphic novel, Mengelmoes (mish-mash), and we’ve reviewed part 2. We rejoin Willem Samuel as he’s growing up in post-Apartheid South Africa. This time around Willem is in his final year of high school where he is on the brink of graduating and entering the real world.
The book starts out in the same intimate and personal way as part 1: The Schooboy. We read a page out of Willem’s journal and find him sleeping in his single bed in his messy room. 18-year-old Willem has had his heart ripped out by his first love, which is so graphically portrayed on the cover.
We’re shown a boy entering manhood who has lost his first love. Willem is every one of us who was head-over-heels for someone in our hormone-induced teenage years – vulnerable, angry, intense and yet somehow hopeful.
As you go with Willem and his first love on a date you’re sure to be taken back to your awkward first days of dating. Everything seems like a big deal, even the silence and you’re kind of cringing through most of it. Willem still escapes into his cool and creative fantasy world and accurately captures the heightened emotions felt during your teenage years. Willem explores teenagers’ intense need for freedom and independence against the backdrop of a country which was well post-Apartheid at the time but not much change had been seen
Willem is more of the narrator this time around, making you feel like he is a bit spacey and uninterested. Or perhaps he is more contemplative in Mengelmoes part 2, with the character having regular musings about deep topics like institutionalism and religion. It is clear that Willem has grown up and is exploring existential questions and trying to find his way. This is a darker boy from the 13-year-old we were introduced to in part 1. That Willem made fun of his teachers during assembly, this Willem broods over life’s complexities during assembly. But his thoughts aren’t always that deep and we’re sometimes starkly reminded that Willem is a relatively average 18-year-old who is heartbroken and horny.
Willem delivers a more complex view on the struggles of growing up and finding yourself. His drawings are hauntingly dark as the main character is going through a particularly glum period in his life. His artistic style is exquisitely detailed and as before you’ll spend a good amount of time staring at each frame to make sure you don’t miss anything.
South African history is another central theme and coincides with Willem’s reflective state of mind as he navigates his final days in school. Here is where Willem shines with his drawings, with him even recreating the iconic picture of Hector Pieterson’s lifeless body being carried during the Soweto uprisings.
If you didn’t know much about South Africa or its history then this is a fantastic way to learn more about our troubled past. You’re also cleverly taught South African words, swear words and slang terms, making it feel truly authentic.
Mengelmoes part 2: The Matric was a darker and deeper experience than part 1. You’re introduced to South African history and the state of a nation struggling with its coming of age, much in the same way the narrator (18-year-old Willem) is. The character is creatively developed and the story starts to draw you in and where you can’t wait for the next issue.
Next we join Willem Samuel in second year of varsity in part 3: The Nouveau Flat Complex.
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.