Francisco Sousa Lobo:
The Dying Draughtsman
Like a Kafkaesque ‘K’, ‘Francisco Koppens’ is the metafictional persona of the London-based Portuguese artist and writer Francisco Sousa Lobo (above in his photo entitled ‘Booby Trap’). Everything around Koppens seems to be dying: his marriage, his drawing skills, his job prospects, his body, his faith. For him God has changed into a bristly clownface, grinning from the moon or a pitch-black painting. With Portuguese fatalism, Koppens seems ready to end it all, but holds back because he can’t find the style or method to ‘write that goodbye note’.
His solitary, secret compulsion is to draw comics telling ‘stories of sex and violence, where the hero undergoes a dreadful tribulation, at the mercy of strong women’. But these instil such shame in him that he draws over them, obscuring and censoring them until they become almost solid black, like a dark monochrome painting. Some of these strips he posts to the Pope, most he tears to pieces. The scraps where the corners of four panels meet form crucifixes, echoing the cross looming over the couple’s loveless double bed.
It seems that comics finally provide Koppens, and his creator Lobo, with the style and method to write that postponed suicide note, as the remarkable graphic novel The Dying Draughtsman (Associação Chili Com Carne, Lisbon, 2013). Lobo based his multi-layered, self-reflective construction on events and feelings he lived through. He draws every area of black in it not quite solid but built up from repeated lines, all-obscuring, as if they cover up some shameful other comic, hidden beneath.
As a widely exhibited artist, Lobo sees comics as increasingly central to his expression. From the outset he intended The Dying Draughtsman to be launched in an art gallery, as reflected in ‘Private View’, his new Strip for ArtReview magazine below, which offers two self-contained snapshots into the art world and artistic life. Lobo explains, “The first page features the uncomfortable status of comics in the midst of fine art. The foreignness of comics is still felt in commercial galleries, and their untapped potential is mostly ignored. The private view here is the humble launch of The Dying Draughtsman, where its unstated autobiographical threshold is the main cause of anxiety.”
The second page features snippets from a large interview Lobo made with his his friend and fellow Portuguese artist Hugo Canoilas at a non-public exhibition in the Workplace Gallery, London. “The private nature of this show allows for the comic to be that window into a larger audience, and for Canoilas’ ideas and works to be open and read in the comic itself.” Once again, those black expanses recur on these pages. For Lobo, “the sign of the monochrome appears both as something that deals with silence, the extinction of images, as well as something to do with renewal.”
Lobo has two further graphic novels out this year. A Desert God records the week he spent in a remote Carthusian monastery, and The Care of Birds (click to see pages in progress on his website) is a fiction about an Irish birdwatcher who reflects on how the fear of pedophilia has made it impossible to tell the story of a friendship between an adult and a child. Lobo’s own artistic renewal through comics continues.
This article first appeared in the May 2014 issue of ArtReview magazine.