The cover of Viktor Hachmang’s Bestiarium gives an impression of one kind of story, but the reality is very different
Full of twists and turns, the latest comic by the acclaimed The Hague-based artist and illustrator marks a departure from his previous style.
- Jyni Ong
- 7 July 2021
Viktor Hachmang is known and loved for his sleek illustrative style which effortlessly slides between genres of comics, graphic design and printmaking. It has earned him clients in The New York Times, Bloomberg Businessweek, MIT Technology Review and Wired, to name a few. Heavily inspired by the Edo-era, Japanese woodblock prints – Ukiyo-e – as well as the European Ligne Claire tradition of comic strips, Viktor creates books that combine traditional printmaking techniques with digital. We’ve explored a range of The Hague-based artist’s work previously, delving into the visual storytelling of Twin Mirrors and Landmark Editions. But today, Viktor returns to the site to tell us about his latest book, Bestiarium.
The premise of the book kicked off back in March 2020 when lockdown hit The Netherlands. “I felt it was set to become an important tipping point,” Viktor tells us, “both personally and for society at large.” He wasn’t wrong, and as time lapsed (and social distancing, self-isolating and face masks became the norm) Viktor waited for cabin fever to set in. During this time, Viktor set out documenting this period of turmoil, “but in the loosest way possible,” which for Viktor, meant through improvisational comics. “I wanted to make something that was both hyper-personal and (hopefully) universal, super-figurative yet also abstract at the same time.”
Viktor is one of those artists who can easily slip into a myriad of styles while maintaining an essence that is fundamentally true and original to himself. Bestiarium is an example of this, where the illustrator demonstrates a wide arsenal of techniques and storytelling tricks which pull the viewer into the page. From March last year through to February, he worked solidly on the comics that would make up this latest publication. What arose from the unique experience that will forever be remembered in 2020, is an amalgamation of “strange fragments from seemingly distant places, polar opposite shards of stories that organically formed a whole”.
There are traces of Viktor’s signature aesthetic peppered throughout the spreads. For one, the explosive fluorescence of colour achieved through Risograph printing gives an edge to the more abstract works. On the other hand, stark monochrome lines highlight razor sharp tales told through a distinctly clearer point of view in other comics. “These comics don’t reference Covid in a literal sense,” explains Viktor, “but to me, the pandemic is all over the place.” In this way, the structure of Bestiarum follows suit. The book has dramatic shifts in genres which flit from sci-fi to realism to meta-horror and more. “It’s also full of time shifts – to me, the whole book plays in the past, present and future simultaneously,” says the illustrator; an apt reflection of his pandemic experience which surveyed initial fears of death, apocalyptic premonitions and occasional mild existential dread, boredom, complacency, and back again.
Viktor jokingly told people that he’d already been “in lockdown” for ten years due to his solitary lifestyle and career. That being said, he found that keeping a visual diary helped structure the days and focus on process. It’s not a new idea for Viktor, as in his 2018 Fragments, the illustrator explored the idea of the dream journal, putting down a story which attempted to make sense of his worldview without scripts or storyboards. “With Bestiarium,” says Viktor, “I wanted to explore these possibilities again.” This latest book came out of a sense of momentum and urgency. Created without deadlines or pressures, he was totally free to play with the structure and storyline in a creative way.
He doesn’t want to give too much away on the storyline, but he does hint to this: “the cover gives the impression that the main story is some sort of post-apocalyptic manga opus, but the reader soon find out it actually isn’t at all.” On the contrary, it’s a set-up for a filling scene in a bar where an illustrator tries to pitch a sci-fi story to an art director. With twists and turns ensuing, we soon find out that a crucial part of the pitched narrative is missing. Bestiarium also includes an interlude piece in the form of a short comic, The Sheumorph, originally published as a web comic in 2018 which explores the troubles of technology; “it’s negative by-products and nefarious undertones.”
While Viktor’s previous work heavily features flat planes of colour which focuses on the exact line work while avoiding texture, Bestiarium marks a departure from this, opting for a style that better resembles Viktor’s sketchbooks: drawings which are looser and more scratchy. Embracing a natural drawing style, he organically incorporates traditional drawing techniques such as crosshatching, stippling and other kinds of making texture. “I tend to go into a direction now that is more true to life, but not exactly realistic either,” Viktor finally goes on to say. “In Bestiarium, I really wanted to explore this type of drawing and see what happens when these heavily textured drawings are printed in a day-glo and metallic colour palette. I feel this less-stylised, more natural drawing style really heightens the sense of realism that offsets the fantastical passages in the book.”
Currently in a place which feels more “natural, open and free” creatively for Viktor, he feels he still has much more to learn as he is “still a student of drawing”. As his craft continues to grow, so will his style and interest. Something we will keep a keen eye on as he continues his collaboration with a major fashion brand (he can’t reveal much about it, but we will see the first product at the end of the year when it’s released). Aside from that, he’ll continue to work on short illustration stints, pushing for more autonomy and draw more comics. “Even though it’s hard work, as a form of introspection, it’s so rewarding!”
GalleryViktor Hachmang: Bestiarium (Copyright © Viktor Hachmang, 2021)
Viktor Hachmang: Bestiarium (Copyright © Viktor Hachmang, 2021)
About the Author
Jyni joined It’s Nice That as an editorial assistant in August 2018 after graduating from The Glasgow School of Art’s Communication Design degree. In March 2019 she became a staff writer and in June 2021, she was made associate editor.