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Authors' Spotlight: Aimée de Jongh

13 April 2024

Aimée de Jongh is an award-winning animator, comics artist and illustrator from the Netherlands. She published her first comic aged 17, before going on to study animation. She has since created work for children's books, TV shows, music videos and art installations, alongside numerous comic book series. Her animated film Aurora was screened widely in the Netherlands, and Janus, a video installation she created with the L.A.-based artist Miljohn Ruperto, was exhibited at the Whitney Museum of American Art. The Return of the Honey Buzzard, her first graphic novel, won the Prix Saint-Michel, and her 2021 graphic novel Days of Sand was a two-time Eisner-nominee.

The 14th of April is Uppsala Comix festival, and (thanks to some generous assistance from the Dutch Foundation for Literature) we'll be there with multi-award-winning comic artist and animator Aimée de Jongh!

So, we decided to finally have a proper conversation with Aimée all about her unique journey from webcomics to daily strips to critically acclaimed graphic novels and animations.

SelfMadeHero: Before
Return of the Honey Buzzard (2014/16), which earned some major acclaim (and a film adaptation), you started out with a regular strip in the Netherlands’ Metro newspaper that ran from 2012 to 2017. Can you tell us more about it, and what it was like working on other graphic novels at the same time?

Aimée de Jongh: I've published comics online for a long time before I got into graphic novels. After I graduated from my Animation studies in Rotterdam, an editor from a Dutch newspaper had seen my comics online. I was asked to develop a daily comic series and I was lucky to have this job for the next 5 years. I wasn't only doing these strips, but also animation on the side and, a few years later, that graphic novel. I enjoyed everything. I mean, it was a lot of work and I struggled to have any free time left – but all these things gave me joy. Having that daily strip gave me a certain speed in drawing, a certain recklessness too, because you need to simply deliver a strip every day. Good or bad. I believe it really helped me further as an artist – I'm still quite quick when I draw.

SMH: Your next book after
Honey Buzzard was Blossoms in Autumn (2018/19), which was your first author-illustrator collaboration, with Belgian author Zidrou. How did you find the transition into that from a more solo-act creative process?

Aimée: I learned so much on that project. When working alone, you become such a hermit. It's you and your project against the world. But this time I had a partner and we had to make this book together. I learned to communicate my thoughts, my vision, my visual choices. He also pushed me to draw scenes that I would never have chosen. For example the supermarket scene. I HATE drawing supermarkets - all the shelves and products and all that perspective. But when Zidrou wrote that scene and explained the importance of it, I had no choice but to do it. He took me out of my comfort zone and that's never a bad thing!

SMH: We at SelfMadeHero had the pleasure of bringing both of those titles to the English-speaking monolinguals, as well as
Days of Sand in 2022 (which we’ll discuss more later). Have you been struck by any differences in how your work has been received abroad as opposed to at home?

Aimée: Interestingly, there are differences in the audiences I meet at festivals. In the Netherlands and Belgium, where I lived and studied, I hardly see young people, or women, LGBTQI readers. I miss that sometimes. When visiting other festivals around the world, it's sometimes the opposite, which is so interesting. The comics culture in each country has had different waves and origins, and I can almost see that history by just observing the crowds. The same goes for the reception of my books – they are read by different ages, genders, backgrounds. It's been a joy to discover that.

SMH: The international theme leads us into 2019’s Taxi!. What inspired this foray into the autobiographical? Was it anything to do with your previous books making their way out into the world?

Aimée: Yes, absolutely, it was inspired by the trips I made during promotional tours for my books. When doing such a tour, I would always start at a train station or airport and I'd have to take a taxi to my hotel. A few times, in Washington D.C. and Jakarta, I'd spent more than an hour in that car because of traffic. Then there's a point where you just start a conversation. And these conversations were wonderful. I know taxi drivers have a bad reputation – so with this book I wanted to share these moments, and perhaps change people's view a bit.

And from that we finally reach Days of Sand (2021/22), your first Eisner-nominated title, along with plenty of other accolades! Your works seem to have naturally expanded in terms of mediums, place, and subject matter. The research trip to America you took for this book based on an American historical figure – do you look back on it all as the height of that international motion?

Aimée: Definitely! I still think back of my research trip in Oklahoma as one of the best times in my career. I had no idea what to expect then – I had just sent out a bunch of emails to researchers in American libraries, museums and historical societies. Meeting these people there and talking about the subject of the book was incredible. Everyone was so enthusiastic about the graphic novel project. I drove from Oklahoma to California on the route that the migrants in the book would've taken. In California I was invited to a traditional "Okie BBQ" with historians, and I visited the migrant camp where John Steinbeck and Dorothea Lange wandered around, two of the biggest inspirations for the book. I thought at the time: even if nobody ever buys this book, at least I'd have the richness of that trip – and it would've been enough for me.

Another Eisner nomination came soon after for Sixty Years in Winter (2022), and this year your new adaptation of Lord of the Flies is on its way! One book about an older woman on the move, another famously about children trapped in one place… Is there a kind of symmetry (or asymmetry) to that?

Aimée: I never thought of symmetry in my work too much, because all these books have different origins (Sixty Years in Winter was written by Ingrid Chabbert, and roughly based on her friend's life). But I think 'change' is a recurring subject in all my books. Sometimes the characters choose to change something themselves, sometimes the change is forced upon them. But without change, there is no story... For example, I ride my bike to my studio and I pass the same vegetable stall every day, where an old guy sells his greens. One day, the stall wasn't there. And immediately I started wondering what had happened. Did he die? Did he decide to retire? That's a story. And basically all it is, is change, I think.

SMH: Alongside all of this, you’ve worked in both (graphic) journalism and animation, and you’ve also taught. So, especially considering today’s world demands more multidisciplinary work than ever, what do you want budding artists to learn from your own career?

Aimée: That's a difficult one to answer. The more I teach, the more I find out that every student is different and that there isn't one single path for everyone. My career was partly driven by luck, too. Being at the right time and the right place, and so on. I believe that if I'd been 21 now, it would've certainly been harder. I hope budding artists will have confidence in their work without needing to compare it to others. We're all individuals with a story to tell. Some things only you can say, so go on and use your work to say it. We need more voices. It's the only way we'll understand other people.

If you fancy meeting us and Aimée in Uppsala (with some events in English!), email for tickets info while you still can!

And head here to read more about Aimée's life and career, and to see more of her work!