The Rise of Comics Industrialist SGF Spruyt

Posted by on January 20th, 2011 at 4:24 AM

SGF is a smart satirical look from the inside of the comics industry. Seducing the daughter of Dargaud, writer and artist SGF Spruyt quickly abuses his power as inheritor of this publishing empire to launch himself to the top. Obliterating anyone and all who stands in his way – even that ridiculous beast some Man call the Graphic Novel – he rises to a godlike level, viewing the world solely in terms of his comics and his artistry. Conquering and enslaving the world through the power of the ninth art. Oh and his deal with the devil doesn’t hurt either.

SGF is a straightforward tale chronicling the rise of artist/writer S.G.F. Spruyt and its subsequent comics publishing imperial in the industrial area. Formerly a down on his luck alcoholic comics wannabe, he sells his soul to the devil who grants him a publishing empire that crushes all the other players, overshadowing even the success of the … serious *snicker* graphic novel.

SGF is one big ego maniacal look at the comics industry. Writer and artist Simon Spruyt brings to the stage his alter ego S.G.F. Spruyt and uses his from-zero-to-hero premise to display a variety of styles as he sees fit coupled with some self-indulgent meta-commentary on the industry itself.

SGF is a dark parody highlighting the greed and jealousy of Man and the comics industry. S.G.F. Spruyt is an comics entrepreneur working and scheming his way to the top of the comics scene by literally controlling the direct market and blackmailing any artistic threats that threaten his empire. On the way to fame, he seduces the daughter of Dargaud, the largest comics publishing giant in comics, uses child labour to increase profits and raises his own chain of bookstores to sell his own comics.

What is SGF by Simon Spruyt about? Well, beats me … Should I be intimidated or flabbergasted? I don’t know but I’m definitely awed. It is a bit of all off the summaries above. It is a comedy that is dark and straightforward and contains meta-commentary and is ego maniacal at the same time. It has its roots in the studio system of comics making that has been a staple of not only Will Eisner or Timely Comics but also such Belgian greats as Willy Vandersteen‘s Studio Vandersteen and Hergé. Wrapped in its parody package though, it’s hard to say whether Spruyt – the artist/writer, not the character – is condemning it or just satirizing it. His take on the realisation of the capitalistic dream literally spares no-one; even children and the dead (as Chinese hopping vampires) are enlisted to expand his industrialist empire as wage slaves.

Winner of a comics contest, it was originally serialised page by page in the weekly national news magazine Knack and at the time – me not being a weekly follower of the magazine and more of a sporadic reader – I condemned SGF as gibberish. Read in one chunk though, it is quite ingenious and I would heartily recommend it for experienced readers since it is definitely for the in-crowd. Spruyt’s many verbal and visual allusions, shifts in drawing style, straight up references and in-jokes require a quite large knowledge of the industry (not just necessarily Belgian but it helps for context) to make them work and that’s why SGF will never make it on any ‘best of‘ lists of 2010.

Not only the story is impressive, art-wise every page holds some visual eye candy. Subtly switching art styles between chapters, coupled with big splash pages, Spruyt’s smooth brush work is punctuated by some truly exquisite dry brush lines. Not just switching his drawing style; typography and layouts also change between chapters and he incorporates many graphic design elements whenever the story demands it, smoothing over the rough spots where a brush isn’t simply enough.

His characters breath atmosphere coupled with a historical aspect, mired in bande dessinée and even though the different line works and styles of drawing are not always necessarily a reference in itself, you often get the impression that it is. Maybe it is just another of Spruyt’s ways of making fun of the industry? In Seth’s Wimbledon Green, the intense navel-gazing and ‘nerd level’ inherent in the industry makes for easy cannon fodder but Spruyt plays a more devious game, having the comics reader search for meaning and reference where there maybe is none is a most devious game that could easily turn the tables on the artist but he makes it work. I did start to doubt my faculties and my ‘comics knowledge’, thinking that maybe I did have some essential gaps in my internal comics database but the more I think about it, the more I suspect I’ve been had (believe me, I would be the first to admit that my knowledge of the field of comics is not would it should be).

SGF by and featuring Simon Spruyt is  ‘A trivial comedy for serious people.’ as Oscar Wilde said about The Importance of Being Earnest and the adage certainly applies here. A whimsical look at the comics industry, a criticism of capitalist entrepreneurship, an ego trip down the rabbit hole of the artist/writer? Read it and find out for yourself, just prepare your eyeballs for a visual tour de force!

SGF by Simon Spruyt is published by Silvester. It is a full colour hardcover and retails for € 19.95.

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