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CHRZ, Stefan van Dinther
posted June 16, 2005


A true story from TCAF.

Tobias Schalken and Stefan van Dinther, the Dutch duo responsible for Eiland, had a day to kill in a new city while recuperating from jetlag. Finding downtown Toronto reasonably dull (it is, as they say, New York run by the Swiss), they ventured into the subway system and chose to get off at a randomly chosen station to see what would be there. In this spirit of adventure, they chose Don Mills -- thinking (erroneously) that there would be mills there. Instead they found themselves in one of Toronto's most boring suburbs, surrounded by retirement condos and golf courses. Not wanting to admit defeat, they secured lunch from a convenience store and sat down to eat it by a stream, unknowingly, on a golf course. Seeing something in the water, they waded in, finding a golf ball. Spurred by this discovery, they spent the entire afternoon fishing golf balls out of the water -- more than five-dozen in all. These they dutifully lugged back downtown, and on Sunday, at the festival, people buying a book received in addition a free golf ball.


To my mind, this says so much about Schalken and van Dinther, particularly about their quest for the unknown and the unusual, and their ability to take a small experiment and turn it into something greater.

imageIf you bought a book from Stefan van Dinther at TCAF, you'd have probably picked up CHRZ (Bries), the final version of a story that he had previously serialized in Eiland. The book's cover features a fly -- one of the main characters -- with a reticulated eye capturing a vast number of the scenes from the story. This notion of the multiplicity of viewing possibilities is central to CHRZ, a story told in a most unusual fashion. The book, which is wordless, follows a number of interweaving stories, generally featuring themes of love, loss, violence, alienation and loneliness. What is most striking about the work, however, is its formal complexity and adventurous spirit. Panels flow into other panels in unusual and highly complex manners. Van Dinther works to present simultaneity through sequentiality, and the book is constantly referencing its own narrative strategies. It is not enough to say that everything folds back onto itself in CHRZ, instead we have book that is complexly prismatic, a structure suggested by the point-of-view of the housefly that moves through the pages.

Over the past ten years or so, comics have begun to enter a self-consciously "difficult" period. One need look no further than the work of OuBaPo, Chris Ware, Dan Clowes' Ice Haven, and the books published by Fremok (who produced the French edition of CHRZ) for proof of this. This is an interesting, and to my mind, welcome, development. Based on CHRZ, it is clear that Stefan van Dinther has tossed down a gauntlet, producing a slick, smart, beautiful, but above all, difficult work that requires contemplation. Take it to your nearest golf course, and think on it for a while.

Cover and a related print from CHRZ.