Happy Anyway

For an average woman with an average life, Barbara Stok is really rather successful. She already has seven collections of autobiographical comic strips to her name, and she won the most important Dutch comics prize for her body of work: the Stripschapprijs. The Van Gogh Museum also entrusted her with a very special commission: to produce a graphic novel on the life of Vincent van Gogh.

Graphic novel
Barbara Stok
Original title
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In Happy Anyway, we follow the process as the artist draws this story. Barbara wants to present an honest portrait of Vincent, rather than the usual caricature of a poor, tragic artist. His letters show that he also experienced moments of great euphoria, such as when he was painting in and around the city of Arles.

Meanwhile, we also get a peek into Barbara’s everyday life, with her husband Ricky and her dog Wisky. She drums, undertakes her first major sailing expedition across the IJsselmeer and enjoys her vegetarian fennel soup. Some- times she’s plagued by doubt. Even though she uses energy-saving lightbulbs and eats lots of organic food and she only goes on holiday once a year at most – and not by plane – is it enough to prevent the Irreversible Climate Catastrophe? Physical decline is also an issue: ‘Even if I stand two metres away from the mirror, I can still see my wrinkles. That’s how deep they’ve got!’ ‘Then you still have good eyes,’ Ricky consoles her.

After three years of constant work on the project, Vincent is published. This biography in the form of a graphic novel is Barbara Stok’s international break- through. She gets invited all over the place to sign books and to give interviews. She’s happy with the book’s success, but… ‘It has a downside,’ comments Vincent, who turns up in her life on the final pages. ‘Have you heard about the fireflies in Brazil?’ he asks her. ‘They give off so much light that the ladies pin them in their hair at night.’ And he concludes philosophically, ‘Fame is to an artist what that hairpin is to those insects.’

Happy Anyway offers an honest and refreshing perspective on success and is a moving meditation on living authentically.

Tellingly, crossing the IJsselmeer in a sailing boat proves to be the source of just as much stress and euphoria as an international tour with Vincent. It is precisely this sense of perspective that is Stok’s greatest strength, ensuring that her minimalist style of storytelling remains captivating. Even when there’s an apparent lack of major drama or the supposed climax has been reached, there are new adventures waiting.

Dagblad van het Noorden
Barbara Stok
Barbara Stok (b. 1970) briefly studied at the Fotoacademie school of photography in The Hague and worked as a journalist before becoming a cartoonist and illustrator, working for newspapers and for a children’s TV show. Her early work was autobiographical in nature, constantly questioning the meaning of life and right and wrong, always with a light touch.
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