This three page
feature / review article by Catherine Larner appeared in the
Cambridge-based 'Suffolk Journal' (January 2008 issue). Here's the full
"How many of us long to take a break from the nine to five and follow
For 15 years one Ipswich man has managed to juggle a salaried part-time
job at Suffolk Libraries, to support his wife and three children, with
his real passion for illustration, working as a freelance on a series
of educational books, magazines and journals.
'In essence I have two dream jobs," he says. However, recently he was
using his little remaining free time, holed up in the studio conversion
at the back of his modest town centre terrace house, dedicated to a
project which he sees as the culmination of his life's work.
The Bart Dickon Omnibus is a graphic novel constructed from numerous
images 'borrowed' from various sources, cut and pasted together in an
'I did a huge amount of work on adult comics as well as magazines and
advertising work in the 1980,' says the author. 'A lot of that work has
been reworked and republished in the Bart Dickon book with chapters and
a through-written story.'
An acquired taste, it has to be acknowledged, the book has been
self-published, working with Five Castles Press in Ipswich, and
displays a dark and bizarre sense of humour. Not something you would
associate with the author on meeting him.
'The book will appeal to people looking for the unusual, people who
aren't afraid of comic strip panels and people who like the quirky, the
surreal and hopefully like a good laugh,' he says and goes on to
explain that the lead character spends most of his time with his head
severed from his body.
There are more acceptable references to Greek mythology, and the
drawings gain their inspiration from Victorian steel engravings,
children's annuals, American advertising copy, and the golden age of
line illustration. The characters' names are subversions of the radio
light entertainment programme Dick Barton Special Agent.
'The book doesn't fit into any particular category, it's a bit special,
it's a bit different, says its creator, Borin Van Loon.
Yes, an unusual name which has a colourful etymology if you are to
believe the family history on his website (www.borinvanloon.co.uk).
But, as with much of this puzzling man, all is not as it seems.
So, Borin Van Loon has been accepted by all his clients and colleagues.
Indeed his name and the work he produces seem very much at odds with
his professionalism and creativity, his sense of fun, and his gentle,
quiet, friendly and unassuming nature. So how did it all start?
'When I was quite young, my brother brought home a couple of horror
comics imported from America. One of those stories was about a wall of
living flesh in the basement of this old castle. I was fascinated about
the the whole notion – at that age I was very impressionable. So
my book contains a tribute to that kind of concept.'
Surrealist art as a whole has always intrigued him. 'I remember going
to the Tate Gallery with a school friend. We went all the way round and
ended up at Dali and Magritte. I stood in front of Autumn
Cannibalism, the Dali painting and was transfixed by it.'
Until that point he hadn't pursued art at school, although he had
produced posters for events of clubs he had belonged to because no one
else wanted to do it.
'I was looking at communications, graphic imagery and visuals and
realised I enjoyed doing it. I painted psychedelic posters, which were
emerging around that time. I fell in love with that form.'
Still experimenting with painting and illustration, Borin continued his
studies at Birmingham in a librarianship degree. But once qualified the
jobs offered to him didn't appeal so, now living in Suffolk due to
family connections, he signed up to the foundation course and then a
graphics course at Lowestoft School of Art.
'When I left there, I pursued freelance work,' he says. 'My wife had a
full-time job and I was able to combine my illustration work with
looking after my adopted teenage son and later, our two young children.'
Adult comics were hugely popular at that time, on the back of the
success of Viz, and Borin found he was in great demand. In addition to
these 'comics for grown ups', he produced model-making books, a mural
for the Health Matters Gallery at the Science Museum, and various book
illustrations. But freelance work can be a switchback of too much or
too little work.
He joined a group of other freelance artists and writers to provide
mutual support. A not-for-profit organisation, Freelance meets monthly
in Ipswich, and Borin has been its chairman since 1988.
They share problems and successes at regular meetings, organise special
events and visits, publish a newsletter and run a website with
galleries of members' work (www.creative-freelance.org.uk).
"As a group we worked together on the '/blankpage' project for Ip-art
2004 and produced a large bound book as a work of art with original
pages of paintings, collage, illustrations, glass, wax and knitting.
This went on show at Christchurch Mansion, Ipswich, with a supporting
exhibition and the book is now part of the archive at Suffolk Record
When a lot of work Borin had relied on dries up during the recession,
he went back to his career in librarianship with a part-time job at
Ipswich specialising in sound and vision. He juggled this with
continuing assignments producing illustrative material for the
Beginners [later Introducing] series of books.
'They are documentary comic books published by Icon Books in
Cambridgeshire. They cover a whole range of subjects, from Hinduism to
genetics, mathematics to psychotherapy. The books are a varied mix of
collage and cartoon with the aim of making difficult subjects
accessible. We support bitesize information with big pictures, thought
bubbles and jokes, and they are great books for people wanting an
introduction to a topic, or for students.'
He hopes his love for this art form and genre will reach a wider
audience through his new book.
'To ask questions which disturb and amuse in equal measure: that is
what I am about, I think,' he says.
''Because if you ask the questions, you can make people start to think;
things can happen in someone's mind when they otherwise might not have
done. It could be that people just say "that's horrible" but you might
have people who don't. With any art form, if you open yourself to it
you can soon decide whether it's for you or not, bt taking that first
step is the crucial thing.'
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