A father who draws and a son who writes. With this formula for success, father Jeroen de Leijer and son Boris created the graphic novel "To Texas and Back" in 2022. A comic book about their joint trip to the United States, to experience the American elections up close. But for Jeroen also an attempt to drag Boris out of his bed and behind his phone.
We are sitting at the dining table in Jeroen's living room in Tilburg. The room is full of drawings, projects and a maquette of Jeroen, and behind us is a large bookcase with comics that Boris can talk about in great detail. Although he now has a student room in Arnhem, when he is not studying, Boris can always be found in Tilburg. And after studying Creative Writing at ArtEz, he will definitely come back again: "Las Vegas was also a desert village in the middle of nowhere at first. I'm not saying Tilburg should become Las Vegas, but I do see that potential." Something Jeroen can agree with: "What attracts me to Tilburg is that it's not finished yet, so you have to make it yourself."
Like father, like son
We know Jeroen de Leijer as the spiritual father of Eefje Wentelteefje. A cartoon character born during his studies at the St. Joost art academy in Breda. His work has a broad orientation: "With me it always starts with drawing, and then it can become anything. It starts with an idea on paper and then grows into a book, film, performance, or radio program."
Jeroen's 24-year-old son Boris is a writer, but only since about four years. "I started writing fairly late, but I think that's also just fine. I was home for a very long time. I was out of compulsory education, didn't do any schooling, did try to find a job with a job coach but very little came of it. Until my dad had to give a workshop at a community center; the guy who was supposed to write about it was sick and I went along instead. That's where the ball started rolling. I started writing more for myself, short stories, anecdotes, that sort of thing. Through word of mouth, I signed up for Creative Writing. It's quite a detour, but that's okay too you know."
"What attracts me to Tilburg is that it's not finished yet, so you have to make it yourself."
A slice of life
In "To Texas and Back," Jeroen and Boris each describe their own experience of traveling to the United States. At the time, Boris is stranded in education and has not attended school for three years. He is at home mostly lying on his bed, glued to his phone. Because Jeroen wants to make a pictorial report of the American elections, they travel together - and with some reluctance on Boris' part - from motel to motel to see for themselves how Americans are experiencing this election campaign. "It's really, as Boris calls it, a slice of life," Jeroen says. "Nothing happens, and a lot happens. Just like life."
The graphic novel was father and son's first joint project. Before that, they did things together, but it was Jeroen who took the lead. "We wanted to make his part in this as big as mine," Jeroen says. "He challenged me tremendously in drawing and I challenged him to write things. We really kept each other on our toes." In the book, we see cartoon drawings by Jeroen with his own storyline in large letters, interspersed with long stretches of text in small handwriting belonging to Boris. "The book has become five times thicker than intended," Jeroen says. "It was originally intended that his text be next to my drawings, but because we experience the same things, it would be duplicate. With this form, we solved this. It really became a dialogue between us."
The process of working together was not a challenge for them. "Especially the conversations we had about it were difficult," Jeroen says. "It's a very personal book, and for us it means a lot. The fact that we really saw ourselves as characters in the book made it easier to talk about the difficult things. It did bring me a lot. Because you discuss everything you go through over and over again, you are engaged in a kind of processing."
However, Boris does not see the book as a kind of therapy or outlet: "It rarely just comes naturally. If art is easy to make, it's not right - it has to really take something from yourself."
"What I found most intense was that I hadn't changed the situation by going on the trip," says Jeroen. "First he was in bed here, and then he was in bed there. Someone even then said to me, you only moved his bed. But also the turning point in that ... Because who does that matter to?" Boris laughs. "And that's also kind of an American fantasy. Of yes, you go on a trip and then suddenly everything is all right. That's not how it works in real life. If you go on a trip and your situation at home is shit, you just take that with you."
"If art is easy to make, it's not right - it has to really take a part of yourself."
A Nightmare on the Besterdring
After Boris graduated, they want to write another book together. And Boris already knows exactly what it will be about: "A horror story, a sort of anthology with the common thread that it all takes place in Tilburg." According to Boris, the city is perfect for these kind of stories. "Tilburg is one of those places where you walk on the streets at night and think, something is going on here. You really get that gut feeling that something is not right. It would be cool to write about that."
Presley Paranoia Freak Show
First, Jeroen and Boris have something else on their agenda: LunaLunaLuna, a theater festival from July 26th to 30th (during the Tilburg fair) in Wilhelminapark. They will present the Presley Paranoia Freak Show there, a traveling picture cabinet of Elvis Presley that Jeroen made during his studies. They previously presented this work together at the theatre festival De Parade and the Zwarte Cross, and years ago at the Tilburg fair. "The reactions from fair visitors were disappointing back then," Jeroen laughs. "At LunaLunaLuna, people have a rough idea of what to expect," Boris adds. "You're not surprised that there's no roller coaster." Jeroen and Boris secretly dream of taking the Presley Paranoia Freak Show to Memphis, where Elvis lived the last part of his life and is now buried. But that might be difficult due to the strict regulations in the United States. Boris says, "There, you can't even take a peaceful piss on a festival without people asking what you're doing and if you're allowed to do that."
Want to meet Jeroen and Boris themselves? Come to LunaLunaLuna from July 26th to 30th! Discover the Presley Paranoia Freak Show and get your own copy of 'Naar Texas en terug' (To Texas and Back) right away! More information about the LunaLunaLuna program can be found at www.lunalunaluna.nl.