Portrait n°9: Fabienne Anthes

Please introduce yourself.

My name is Fabienne Anthes, I am 34 years old and I come from Ludwigshafen am Rhein, a town in South-West Germany not that far from Alsace. I currently work as a graphic designer and layout designer for the German tattoo magazine TätowierMagazin. Originally I studied visual communication with a focus on illustration and book design. I am also very lucky that I have been connected to the underground comics scene for more than twelve years now. I used to work for a comic festival in Switzerland and I still do freelance jobs for two publishing houses several times a year. This way I can keep myself updated with the comics scene.

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I also work freelance for an animation festival once a year, so over the last three years I started getting more and more interested by animation, which is to me a complementary art form. Although my biggest passion has always been music as my parents were involved in bands and therefore I grew up with Rock, Blues and Jazz. My taste in music is very broad but if I had to choose a favourite style I would say progressive Death Metal because I feel connected to the metal scene in an idealistic way. I just love to go to gigs and festivals and to feel the energy of bands playing live and the response of the crowd.

© CŽline Aieta

Tell me a little more about how you got into comics?

As a child I grew up in a house with all Carl Barks stories about the Duck family, the adventures of Asterix by Goscinny & Uderzo, Hägar the Horrible by Dik Browne and several other comic strips from the sixties, seventies and eighties. There were also lots of art books, German satirical magazines like Titanic and Pardon and tons of awesome artsy child books at my parents house and in my surrounding, so I got pretty used to good illustration from a very early age. As a teenager I used to read everything from Shakespeare to Keruac and I guess around the age of maybe fifteen I discovered my first underground comic book. That opened a completely new universe to me – it was « Maus. A Survivor’s Tale » by Art Spiegelman.

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The fact that someone told such an intense serious story about the Holocaust in form of a graphic novel changed everything for me. I immediately realised the possibilities of this medium which I never had thought about before. I started to read more and more comic books by American independent publishers and that’s how I discovered comic artists like Charles Burns, Daniel Clowes, Dave McKean and Bill Sienkiewicz. I got more and more into this subject area and I also started to read books from artist and comics theorists like Scott McCloud, Will Eisner, Klaus Schikowski, Andreas Platthaus and Andreas C. Knigge covering comic history and theory.

After getting in touch with the comic scene by taking a practical course during my studies at the studio of the Swiss publishing house Edition Moderne and the comic magazine Strapazin I got really into European comic stuff and the more experimental and progressive illustration styles. These days I appreciate a wide range of comic artists, some because of their storytelling, some because of their scenario and some because of their drawing skills. To finally name some I would recommend are the works of Olivier Schrauwen, Kerascoët, Thomas Ott, Ruppert & Mulot, Blanquet, ATAK, Joann Sfar, Chester Brown, Gipi and Nicolas Mahler.

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Why is it important for you to be involved in the comics scene ?

I feeldeeply connected to these people and I really feel passionate about the wide range of amazing illustration styles and diversification in story telling. ​I am thankful​that I get so much support from some of the artists who I have become close friends with over the last ten years. It allows me to work on comic fairs and comic related events. I am a privileged guestand I value that.I had the possibility of gaining experience in very different sectors whether it’s print production or designing and building exhibitions. Obviously I would love to work full time in the comics industry one day.

I remember you telling me you had a hard time finding the right tattoo artist.Is there any specific link between Piet du Congo‘s work and comics ?



Piet‘s illustration style is very unique, variable and would definitely be very interesting for a graphic novel too, because he always focuses on delicate details and the drawings therefore become very narrative. He is very open minded and spontaneous so he is able to give each design a special twist and he is not copying older drawings he did before. Besides that Piet developed also a very extraordinary typographical style, which allows him to incorporate letters, words or sentences in his drafts and tattoos. Similar to most underground comic authors he directly deals with inspiration of books, music and movies along with things he sees in his daily life or while he travels and he immediately processes all this input into his drafts and flash. He is interested in almost everything and you can always see his deep passion in his drawings and tattoo designs. So in the end I would say there is definitely a link between comics and Piet’s work for me, but we should ask him too, it would be interesting to hear what he says about that.

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I first came up with the wish of having a huge tattoo when I was nineteen. I already got a tiny one when I was fifteen, but I wanted something bigger and conceptual like a back piece. I had no idea what kind of style it should be so I started looking around for years and even if I liked some stuff I did not feel like it would suit me. So I started getting more and more interested in the tattoo art form and looked around from time to time without any hurry. When I was 26 I randomly found the Belgian tattoo studio La Boucherie Moderne on Myspace. Yes, in these days Myspace was the shit… (laugh)

I was really impressed by the tattoo work by Kostek and Jef Palumbo. I checked it out for a few days in a row and liked it more and more. At the time Piet started tattooing in the surrounding of La Boucherie Moderne and they had a link to his Myspace page where he mainly promoted his music. He is a singer, shouter, VJ in an electronical noise project by the way. But he also had some tattoo related pictures on his page. The moment I saw this it was clear to me that this was exactly the tattoo style I wanted to have on my body. It was unconventional, radical, rough and also humorous, detailed and packed with plenty of clever links to pop culture that I was totally overwhelmed with.

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I immediately wrote him a message to let him know I wanted to get tattooed by him. He told me he thought it was funny since he just started tattooing and only tattooed his mom and some friends at the time. Of course I knew that he was not technically outstanding yet but I did not care. I trusted him completely. He said he could work at at La Boucherie Moderne since he was close to Kostek and Jef and therefore if I wanted to come to Brussels he would tattoo me. I went there and got tattooed in a freezing basement during winter time. That was the first time I met Piet and his girlfriend Doro. We immediately liked each other. Since then I have been visiting them several times a year for almost eight years now, not only to get tattooed but also to spend quality time with them. I am very lucky we developed such a great friendship.

The tattoo concept you and Piet built is quiet unusual and interesting.

The whole idea of my strange kind of bodysuit came up after the second tattoo session with Piet. I went to Brussels twice and it took me pretty much four and a half hours to get there and as much on the way back. I was still a student at the time and I couldn’t afford staying at a hotel. So the second time Piet and Doro offered to let me stay with them. Therefore Piet could tattoo me over two days and I wouldn’t have to travel between the sessions.

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After I came back from this session I dreamed I had the whole left side of my body tattooed by Piet. In my dream there were different stories happening on my body. Scenes happening on earth, some in heaven and hell and dispatched regarding the body parts. When I woke up I was heavily impressed about how intense this dream was and how much I liked the concept. I remember I told Piet about it during our third session. He laughed. At the time he had no idea I would come back during so many years to make this weird body project come to life.

The basic concept of the « bodysuit » is the several themes like heaven, earth and hell and the pieces are packed with lots of little stories and cross-references from literature to art history, from music to pop culture andeverything that´s interesting to me and Piet. So in the end the tattoos represent dozens of stories. I usually come up with a basic idea of a motif and make a very raw scribble related to the body part where I want to put it. I explain itto Piet and he creates a design. When I come to his shop we usually change the design again, blueprint it on my bodyand then change details again and again directly on my skin. During this intricate process the design develops constantly and gets more and more weird details.

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What about the cultural references of your tattoos? You mentioned they are linked to pop culture and history.

In my little universe of tattoo motifs you can find links to my past and to my present, to my interests and to everything that moves me, and also to my fears and to my hopes. For example in my arm sleeve you can find a three-eyed lamb and on the spot, where his hoof touches the ground there are some acorns. This is an element that you can find in early Netherlandish painting, so it´s a link to my love for Europeanart history. Next to the lamb there are tattoos of a sperm whale and a bowl of petunias. These are two figurines out of « A Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy » from Douglas Adams, a science fiction comedy book which I adore for its inventiveness, cleverness and black humor. The sperm whale and the bowl of petunias appear in this novel in a very short but exclusive sequence that summarizes everything about evolution, human existence, personal doubts and the search for the meaning of life within maybe two pages. It is written in such delicate timing and has such a philosophical depth that it impressed me much as a teenager. Also these two elements became some sort symbols well known in nerdy pop culture communities.

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On my stomach you can find the numbers 1, 3, 7 and 5. These numbers are part of song lyrics by the Norwegian avant-garde metal band « The Shining » and this shows how passionate I am when it comes to music. The cute Baphomet on my right calf is also a reference to music scene, a kind of humorous approach to the heavy metal/black metal scene. So you see – every little element on my skin has one or several meanings, and with Piets help I get totally lost in details. I can tell you a few more examples very quick, but you get the idea that I could talk for hours about the tattoos and what they mean to me – that is also a reason why this whole bodysuit is growing constantly but not very fast.

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There are so many ideas and stories in every design. The Cerberus on my right thigh is directly linked to my past. It’s a three-headed hellhound which guards the entrance of the underworld in Greek and Roman mythology which is based on the fact that I used to go to a Latin school as a teenager and learned this language for eight years. Or the war scene on my torso and left thigh just as all the crosses and Christian elements on my skin link to my fear of pain and death.

I know you want to keep your tattoos asymmetrical. Is it also a way to preserve some body parts?

In my dream only half of my body was covered. But this is also the concept. I decided to have my left sleeve done and my right leg, to have everything asymmetrical as you say. For me there are several reasons to do so: first, I think something asymmetrical always has more movement and power than symmetrical artwork. The second reason is that I think a completely covered body in most tattoo styles ends up looking blanketed. The viewer is almost lost and can’t separate the motifs anymore and this way tattoos loose their power instead of strengthen each other. Also the body gets a bit lost too, because you only focus on the multi-coloured skin. The third reason for me is that I want to keep some parts natural, so I can experience my body getting older with and without tattooed skin.

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So basically it means committing to the same artist for a lifetime…

I know that may sound strange but I started it this way and it feels right to me to do so. I am not even sure Piet understands that or likes it.​Meanwhile I discoveredsome other tattoo artists which​I adore like Marcin Aleksander Surowiec​and I also came in contact with some of them because ofmy daily job, so it would have been easy to get a tattoo appointment, but I don´t want to « destroy » the concept of being just covered with one huge storyby one tattoo artist.

We might be done in a couple of years, when I’ll feel it looks complete or maybe when I am fed up of being in pain and then I’ll just stick on coming back to Belgium only to visit these wonderful people. Or everything I say today is bullshit and I can’t stop until I am completely covered, Piet refuses to tattoo me or one of us dies…We shall see… Also I realised that my body image became better​ the more tattoos I got, because I was exposing my own body in a different way and as you said I added something to it that I like. I started by getting tattooed on my torso so it was not visible to the public that I had many tattoos until I started to get my arm sleeve. The reaction of the public is still sometimes very surprising to me, cause I don´t feel like I am heavily tattooed at all.

Interview & Pictures by Céline Aieta – Video by Grégoire Dyer

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