South African artist, Willem Samuel has delivered his full version of a six-part graphic novel, Mengelmoes (mish-mash), and we’ve reviewed part 4.
We rejoin Willem at the University of Stellenbosch. The year is 2005 and Willem is in his final year of studying art. We learn immediately that his band, Black India, is a huge part of his current existence, but he is also consumed with the weight of his final year art exhibit.
Throughout the book we’re shown pieces of Willem’s final art exhibit, which he describes early on:
My work is basically autobiographical. I’m focussing on my daily life, hoping that through it I can address bigger issues through using personal anecdotes as a departure point. I work in a comic style, combining words and pictures while trying to retain…umn yeah. My work rocks as hard as my band!
Although he sounds confident, maybe even cocky, we’re shown his true and vulnerable side. He is a an artist who is completely questioning everything in his life and second-guessing his own talents.
He also takes us through the (sometimes tortured) process he had to go through to decide whether to focus on art or on music. He cleverly captures these frustrating pulls through the comic strip he is presenting as his final presentation. Willem realises that he will soon have to make money to survive and the thought of a conventional career crosses his confused mind.
He sometimes goes off on a bit of a ramble through these comic strips and you’re invited into the dark dwellings of a tortured final year art student. It seems Willem (the character) has many decisions to make from what to present as his final art exhibition to what he will do with the rest of his life after university. The hopes that his band will go far and sustain him while he’s doing something he digs seems to be slipping away and his is almost stubbornly not making solid decisions about anything.
There’s again these stark contrasting ideas about religion and what’s wrong and right. We a see a more religious Willem in Mengelmoes part 4 who goes to church even though he tries to hide this fact from his friends and band mates. He is also conflicted in whether he is good person who doesn’t sin, but he has a need for porn, drinking and drugs. He acknowledges at some point that he isn’t happy even though his life is going so well. One night he does coke for instance and then wants to go to church in the morning.
In terms of artistic style, Willem the artist has grown immensely since part 1 and the characters and environments come to life really come to life in this instalment. We love that the character Willem also exhibits a comic strip and these are interjected through the book. You have a comic inside a comic and the attention to detail and authenticity is really remarkable. The different drawing styles and method of comic book storytelling meshed together perfectly reflects the “mengelmoes” theme.
Mengelmoes part 4: The Exhibit was a more dramatic experience than the previous iterations. The mish-mash of ideas and ideals are at times almost overwhelming and you’re given a glimpse into the tortured and overwhelmed mind of a 21-year-old artist, student, band member, boyfriend, etc. The cover sets the tone of the different masks Willem has to wear and his frustrations with trying to figure out what the future should hold for him and which path to choose.
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.