Judith Vanistendael

Portrait Judith Vanistendael
© Ali Ghandtschi

Judith Vanistendael was born in 1974 in the Flemish town of Leuven. She studied art in Berlin, Ghent, and Seville and also attended the Sint-Lukas comic school in Brussels, where she now works as a lecturer.

She illustrated children’s books and wrote a number of short comics before presenting her two-part debut »De Maagd en de Neger« (2007; Eng. »Dance by the Light of the Moon«, 2010) at the same time as her university thesis. In it, Vanistendael describes an autobiographical love story between the Belgian Sofie and Abou, a political refugee from Togo. In simple black-and-white drawings and pointedly ironic dialogue she depicts the prejudice and seemingly Kafkaesque bureaucracy with which the young couple are faced. Vanistendael’s father, the novelist Geert Van Istendael, had already used the actual events of the story in a narrative. In an interview she said that the comic was, in part, an attempt to reclaim her own history. For this first novel the Festival international de la bande dessinée d’Angoulême nominated her for its Grand Prix in 2008 and 2009. Her volume »Toen David zijn stem verloor« (2012; Eng. »When David Lost His Voice«) is a touching family portrait, in which the eponymous protagonist is diagnosed with cancer and given little chance of survival. Once again, the book was enthusiastically received by international critics. The »Guardian« wrote that it was »a book full of unexpected consolations and a valuable addition to the canon of graphic jewels«. In contrast to its predecessor, Vanistendael has illustrated the story in color; the night scenes are particularly nuanced. Individual and realistic, Vanistendael proves that the medium of the graphic novel is in no way inferior to other narrative art forms in the representation of complex emotions. In addition to her own graphic stories Vanistendael has worked with writer Michael de Cock on the multi-volume children’s book series, »Rosie and Moussa«. She also provided the illustration for »Mikel« (2016; Eng. 2019) by Mark Bellido, the story of an Andalucian idealist who moves to the Basque Country to work as a bodyguard for politicians to protect them from ETA separatists. Vanistendael’s latest graphic novel »Penelope« (2019) tells the story of a surgeon who saves lives in Syria while her daughter is struggling with puberty at home. In the gruesome reality of war, it is becoming increasingly difficult for her to reconcile her job with her family.

Vanistendael lives in Brussels.