South African artist, Willem Samuel has delivered his full version of a six-part graphic novel, Mengelmoes (mish-mash), and we’ve reviewed part 3. In Mengelmoes part 3: The Nouveaux Flat Complex we’re immediately thrusted into Willem’s post-school life where he is still hung up on his high school sweetheart and continues his exploration of existential questions.
In the previous instalment, The Matric, Willem starts to seriously question religion and from the start of Mengelmoes Part 3 the tone is set for the reader to go down a dark exploration of religion and the existence of a god. Willem is now in his second year of university at the University of Stellenbosch in 2003. 20-year-old Willem lives in a flat, but his room is as messy as it has been in the two previous instalments and the details of each frame never disappoint. Willem does not leave out anything and includes even the smallest objects like an empty cigarette box or CDs.
Willem cleverly and creatively introduces us to all the flatmates/bandmates and the living situation in the flat. We’re also introduced to the new, adult Willem who is seriously into drugs, art theory and postmodernism. He is also in his own Afrikaans band called Swambal. He is filled with student euphoria and hopes to be part of a new revolution in South African history.
Willem leads us through different parts of Stellenbosch and shows us what it was like being being a student. Although Willem is 20 years old, he can’t even convince his parents to increase his allowance. While he is at times hopeful, he also struggles with sad feelings like that his life has no real meaning and that he is a massive failure.
He is disappointed yet again by the mediocracy and classist behaviour of the upper-middle class of South Africa. He dreams of a society where intellectuals converse about deep and meaningful things. Instead he is left with jocks and other mundane stereotypes. Willem proclaims dramatically that once again he is “alone in his alternativeness“. We’re introduced to someone who is a mish-mash of emotions, shifting constantly from an arrogant narcissist to an insecure but sweet soul.
Teenage Willem hated authority and the institution, but grown up Willem detests any form of control or abuse of power. Willem’s fantasy worlds are amplified by his increased drug use together with his artistic and mental development. These fantasies form a cool part of this book in the series where Willem questions everything and dabbles with dark and brooding feelings towards his future. But again in a complete contrast, the main character (as a white privileged Afrikaans male) gets irritated by the poor and scared in “non-white” areas. He wears an ANC shirt, but then tries to hide it from certain people from seeing it then.
Music almost becomes an entire character in Mengelmoes part 3 as most university students get exposed to new and different types of music all the time. The South African band, Fokkofpolisiekar, features throughout the comic as Willem explores punk rock music. It’s a time to learn about different cultures, music, food and have cool experiences. Willem embraces music as a way to express ideas and believes and feels that punk perfected non-conformism.
The “mengelmoes” theme develops nicely through part 3 and we’re constantly pulled from one extreme to the other. Willem wants to let go of conformities but at the same time wants the usual things like a family and a nice job.
The next issue of Mengelmoes, The Exhibit is the first issue in the six part series that has been done in colour and we’re totally stoked to see how Willem’s illustrations come to life with colour.
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.