art: magazines: comics

The world of indy-magazines on paper has become a very small one. In the music line the disappearance of huge numbers of independent record stores has meant a reduction in the number of zines available almost to vanishing point.

Here we look at a different field - comics! Zone 5300 is produced in the Netherlands with a little government help and a lot of love and labour from the fifty or so people who make it happen. Here we talk to the editor-in-chief, Marcel Ruijters, and one of the contributors, Marijn van der Waa.

Intro from Marijn van der Waa

... I had the first batch of questions, relating to the magazine answered by Marcel Ruijters, who is editor-in-chief of Zone 5300, and a comic artist as well. He really knows way more about the Dutch comics market. And he's one of the best in the Netherlands, in my opinion. You can see some of his work at:

Part 1, about Zone5300 and the Dutch comics scene/market Answered by Marcel:

You are part of the team that puts together a paper magazine in Holland for the pure joy of it ... indy media in spades! Please tell us about the magazine and its purpose.

How many people are there working on it?

There's nine people on the editors' board, including Tonio van Vugt and myself (Marcel Ruijters) who work as editors-in-chief. Most of us are also comic artists. Then there is a core group of writers, critics and artists (comics/illustrations/cartoons) of about two dozen, and a group of non-regulars. Then there is a small group of us that supply content and/or maintain the website, our accountant, and last but not least the graphic designers... It may vary, but 40-50 people are involved.

We started out 15 years ago. Our goal was to bring together interests of ourselves and our peers, which may sound self-indulgent in these market-obsessed times, but we are still around, while so many other mags has since long folded.

So what do we like? Comics, to begin with. In the early 1990s, a new generation of Dutch comic artists found themselves without opportunities to get out of the small press getto. So we provide a stage for new talents. About 60% of the content consists of comics. The rest has news, reviews of films, books, comics and music. Then there's feature articles on art and novelties, plus interviews with writers, bands and so on.

Do you think the magazine has a general world view? What is it?!

Most of us have leftist leanings, but we seldomly cover political issues. Our main incentive is to share discoveries that we are excited about. If we have a philosophy, it is that the world is full of things waiting to be discovered.

Are there many magazines in Holland that are similarly produced?

There are, and always have been comics magazines, but they are far more mainstream-oriented and solely devoted to comics. We have been longer at it than any other recent title, however.

Is Holland a particularly friendly place for doing this?

We used to have a healthy comics market over here up into the 1980s. Then things turned sour and many gave up while others decided to go on, accepting the fact that there was little or no money to be made. Zone 5300 is not a commercial enterprise, we are partially dependent on subsidies. Our position has become like that of the Dutch art scene: there is a small market, but a fair amount of governmental support. We are poor, but we are free.

Until the 1980s, there was probably no other country that had so many specialized comic stores. As a result, regular book stores did not have to -and still don't want to- deal with comics. What we see is that is very hard to get our foot in the door. Still, I believe that the future of comics (graphic novels) lies there. The last few years were hard, but things are looking up for us. More governmental support has been provided this year, including a comics-oriented education section at one of our art schools. (This follows the Flemish/Belgian example.)

Does Holland have a graphic novel tradition? This seems very big in France with the Bande Designee but not so big elsewhere.

We sure do have a long and rich tradition, for which I should refer to for a complete overview. Not many titles were translated, though. Me personally, I am puzzled to be one of the few exceptions who are looking abroad for opportunities. (My latest books 'Sine Qua Non' and 'Inferno' were published in France and Hungary respectively)

In other countries the main problem is semi or totally monopolistic distribution. Is that true in Holland?

Unfortunately, yes. Two big distribution firms, Aldi Press and Beta Press, control the Dutch market and decide which mags hit the news stands. Which does not include us. This -factually illegal- situation continues since many years.

... continues below ...

Part 2: Answered by Marijn van der Waa:

As a graphic artist, is your work for the magazine mostly in the way of cartoons or do you do general illustrative things as well?

Well, I'm actually a cartoonist and illustrator. I also make animations, and dabble around in a lot of other related disciplines. That involves a bit of graphic design, but I have, for instance, also designed my own font - which I use in my cartoons. But most of my time is spent illustrating. For Zone 5300 I make a three-panel comic about a slightly cynical and stubborn owl called 'Hibou'. He's a bit of an alter ego, I guess.

You have a graphic design practise too I think. What sort of projects are you working on now?

I do all kinds of things. I have a weekly cartoon in one of the biggest Dutch broadcast magazines, the 'Mikro gids'. Recently I have illustrated some educational projects for the Dutch Science Centre Nemo. And one of the ongoing things I have too little time for is making interactive animations, a few of which can be found on my site. Something else I love to do is making animations for vj-related work. Together with Arianne Hinz I have work on semi-live animations for the Silent Disco - a very special mobile disco which uses wireless headphones. For them we have vj-ed on the Dutch festival Lowlands. That was pretty special, especially because as an illustrator you don't often get into contact with an audience.

Are there people you particularly admire in this field? In the cartoon field? (maybe there's a better word than cartoon!)

An impossible question :-) I actually finished art school as a painter, but only started to make cartoons after I had encountered Gary Larson's work. Not that I make similar stuff, but looking at his work always make me happy. When I was young I devoured comics though. My older brother had a lot of alternative magazines lying around. It took me a bit longer to get my English up to scratch, so when I was ten I couldn't really understand it, but I looked a lot at Robert Crumb, but also Vaughn Bode. later on I had my Moebius-phase, but after that the infatuations kind of stopped.

Thanks to all!

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