‘People laugh but think twice’: Belgian cartoonist tackles plastic pollution | Belgium

Belgian cartoonist Pieter De Poortere tried to do his part for the environment: eat less meat and diligently sort his waste – glass, paper, plastics. He realized that was not enough. “I thought if we sorted all of our waste, then everything would be recycled, everything would be fine, then we would do just fine. But in fact, that’s not true,” he said, pointing to the problems of the global waste industry, where plastic from rich countries can be thrown away or burned on open fires in countries. poorer.

So he put his best-known character to work, as part of an international art project launched in April, aimed at bringing attention to the problem of plastic production.

Pieter De Poortere, creator of Dickie. Photograph: Jennifer Rankin/The Guardian

Dickie, a chubby anti-hero with a bristly mustache, is a perpetual loser, whether as a farmer, astronaut, fairytale hero, or biblical character. “I always try to imagine what’s the worst thing that can happen to Dickie,” De Poortere said of the character he created nearly two decades ago, which now has a permanent home at the Museum of comics in Brussels.

Known as Boerke in the original Flemish, the series is drawn in a childlike style, but with sharp dark humor aimed directly at adults. It has won awards in Belgium, a country where comics are celebrated as high art.

After years of mishaps, Dickie is now wreaking havoc on the environment – striking a disastrous deal with “Plastics Inc”, or shooting a kangaroo in a misguided attempt to reduce packaging waste. “A lot of my work is very ambiguous,” said De Poortere. “Dickie is sometimes bad, sometimes he’s good, sometimes he’s a loser, sometimes he’s really greedy, he’s selfish, he uses people… People start reading him and they laugh, but often they have to think twice, is it really happening?”

Camille Duran, founder of the Sweden-based Cosmic Foundation, the organization behind Magnify, the art project featuring De Poortere’s work, said the project’s aim was to attract people’s attention to the production of plastics, not just the consumption. “Although demand will start to decline as policy becomes more ambitious, more [petrochemicals] installations are allowed worldwide.

Earlier this year, 173 countries pledged to develop a legally binding treaty by 2024 to end plastic pollution. The deal, which will include measures to tackle plastic production, has been described as the most important multilateral environmental agreement since the Paris climate accord. Yet, according to current trends, plastic production is expected to double over the next 20 years and by 2050 could account for 15% of the global annual carbon budget.

Duran, who hopes to expand the project to other parts of the world, started by choosing three artists near some of the world’s biggest petrochemical hotspots: Louisiana, Taiwan and Antwerp.

The Boerke comic strip.
“There is tragedy in this myopia, but also the basis of a lot of humor.” The Boerke comic strip. Photography: Nanuq for De Hofleveranciers.

Organizers hope the Dickie Pages will help galvanize opposition to a giant plastics factory in Antwerp, planned by British petrochemical company Ineos. Activists have launched a legal challenge to Antwerp’s decision to grant Ineos a permit to build a chemical facility to make ethylene from fractured US shale gas.

Campaigners say the project will fuel single-use plastics and falls short of EU climate targets. Ineos counters that the facility will be the greenest of its kind and help produce sustainable plastics used in technology and healthcare.

De Poortere’s sequence on plastics is broadcast throughout May in the Dutch-language weekly Knack. The artist plans to include the pages in a 50-page book covering other environmental emergencies, including global warming, to be published in 2023.

De Poortere, who was born in Ghent, knows Antwerp well, but has chosen not to situate his work in a particular place, to preserve a universal message.

“It’s important to get this message out to the public – and not in an annoying way – but through art, through humor, trying to convince people, just to make them think. I want to show a little absurdity Humans, he added, can’t stop doing “stupid things that will harm us. There’s tragedy in this myopia, but it’s also the basis of a lot of humor.”

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