Coming from a family of (mostly) farmers, Brecht Vandenbroucke’s upbringing lacked any discussion on the topic of art. Instead, Brecht would watch television and observe the characters found on cereal boxes for inspiration – the birthplace and trigger for a life filled with creativity. So much so that he studied art in his teenage years and pursued illustration at St Lucas in Ghent, leading him to successfully publish an abundance of work since 2007.
“I was always interested in stories and telling jokes, so my first idea was to study film or animation,” Brecht tells It’s Nice That. “But I’m not super social and movies are definitely a group effort, so I worked really hard on learning how to paint and finding my own hand and personal voice to make stories of my own. I always knew exactly what I wanted to create, so with drawing and comics there’s always the advantage of having full control, in comparison to making a movie.”
The thing is, Brecht’s work is deceptively dark. We last wrote about the Belgian illustrator way back in 2016 and, even though his style has become more refined, his themes still remain very much the same. “I love to think about scenarios,” he explains. His previous work depicts the wit and playfulness of more serious topics such as sexuality, music, art and technology. “I’ve changed a lot personally; I think I focus now, even more than before, on jokes,” he says.
Toying with humour with dark undertones of societal issues, his comics are a complete shock to the system. For one, Jurassic Park (or ‘Kawasuraki Park’) serves as a point of reference, but instead of a dinosaur there’s a giant baby storming towards the characters – later provoking an educational love-making scene on how to make a baby. A further illustration sees a tattoo artist hunting and covering whoever walks past in body art, another sees its characters worshipping a ‘skip ad’ sign, and another sees the art world behind closed doors.
As twisted as it is imaginative, Brecht’s work is inspired by everything. “It always starts from looking around, thinking and asking questions: ‘Who am I in relation to this subject, or how do I feel today, what is my individual perspective?’” After acknowledging his emotional state and the environment in which he stands, he then lets the sketching commence, figuring out exactly what it is that fascinates him or what he thinks is funny. “I don’t really look at other illustrations and comics anymore,” he admits. “I did that more when I was studying and trying to find my own voice.”
This approach can create “some weird self-referential thing” that’s often found within the illustration realm today – where “everything looks a bit the same and incredible personalities are hidden behind acceptable styles.” Tossing this aside, Brecht’s personality unashamedly shines through within his work and he is by no means shy when it comes to putting pencil to paper.
“You can copy visual styles but it’s harder to copy an idea or tell the same story or joke and get away with it,” he continues. There are some reference points that he adheres to, such as film directors such as Alfred Hitchcock, Stanley Kubrick, Steven Speilberg, and James Cameron. But what’s most important is that he keeps an open mind, making sure that his work never becomes stale. “I am still growing and changing every day, but I am seeing more and more that the greatest and strongest change comes from within, by investigating my own shortcomings instead of finding answers or input from outside,” he says.
Satire filled with parody and metaphors are the winning ingredients to Brecht’s illustrations. Right now, he’s particularly interested in making work about doubt, as well as utilising his process as a means of opening up a dialogue about the reason for our existence. A deep dive into the philosophical meaning of life might give you some answers as to why he does what he does, but for now, we should just have a little laugh.