Cartoon by Gal
Cartoon depicting South African Prime Minister and apartheid proponent Johannes Balthazar Vorster

Gerard Alsteens is one of Flanders' best-known political cartoonists and graphic artists, who signs his work with GAL. He has been making his sharp and biting political work since 1960, making him the oldest and longest-running cartoonist in the Flemish press. A socially conscious artist, Gal has actively protested in the streets for many decades and designed posters for countless humanitarian causes. His cartoons often caused controversy and even censorship. Gal distinguishes himself from most of his colleagues by constantly trying out different graphic styles and not being out on a trivial punchline but actual thought-provoking messages. His powerful and dynamic work has often been awarded and exhibited numerous times.

Born in 1940 in Oudergem as the son of a grape cultivator, he studied painting and graphic arts at the Sint-Lukas School of Arts in Brussels, where he later became a teacher in model drawing until his pension. He had his apprenticeship with the Jesuit weekly magazine De Linie, and remained with the publication until 1964, when it was forced to close down on orders of the Vatican. Gal joined the progressive magazine De Nieuwe, where he enjoyed relative creative freedom and became a household name among readers. Twenty years later Gal heard that Volksunie politician Hugo Schiltz would finance the indigent publication. Refusing to work for a party magazine he resigned. Since 1984 he is home cartoonist of the weekly magazine Knack. His cartoons have additionally appeared in Humo, De Zwijger,  Panorama/De Post, De Morgen, Vrij Nederland, Tijdschrift voor Diplomatie and Le Nouvel Observateur.

Mandela cartoon by Gal
Cartoon celebrating Nelson Mandela's release from prison

His work shows great versatility, both in art style as well as subject matter. Gal is inspired by many painters, sculptors, photographers and artists. He holds Pieter Bruegel The Elder, Francisco De Goya,  Pablo Picasso, Louise Bourgeois, Maria Elena Viera da Silva, Frida Kahlo, Saul Steinberg, Tomi Ungerer, André François, Bosc, Chaval, Roland Topor, Peter Van Straaten, Hara-Kiri magazine, Jean-Jacques Sempé, Keith Haring and Andy Warhol in particular high esteem. These influences are reflected in his work, which often switches from style to style. He makes both simple stylized cartoons, as well as fully fledged colour paintings with a photo realistic look. Regardless of his techniques Gal's work shows immense compassion for the common man and woman, often exploited by governments and business people. He is less of a cartoonist cracking jokes about news events and more of a journalist who wants to make a powerful accusation about an issue that touches him. 

Comic by Gal
Cartoon from the early 1980s, depicting Belgian Minister of Transport Herman De Croo.

Not content to stay home safely behind his drawing table, the man has actively joined public demonstrations against war, the extreme right, racism, apartheid, corruption, environmental pollution, nuclear testing, and other social injustices. He has made posters for Amnesty International, Oxfam, the ICFTU (International Confederation of Free Trade Unions) and Unesco, but also illustrated books and novels, both fiction and non-fiction. He was one of the contributing artists to the book 'Il était une fois... Les Belges'/'Er waren eens... Belgen' (1980), a collection of columns and comic pages published at the occasion of the 150th anniversary of Belgium. In 1985, Gal made cartoons for Belgian novelist Hugo Claus' poetry book, 'Een weerzinwekkend bezoek', which criticized the Pope's visit to Belgium. Along with Benoît, Quirit, Peter De Roy, Jan Bosschaert, Erik Meynen, Zak and Jan De Maesschalk he was one of the cartoonists who made a graphic contribution to Johan Anthierens' anti-royal book 'Brief aan een postzegel' in 1990. Gal also appeared in Benoît Lamy's documentary 'Cartoon Circus' (1972), a Belgian documentary about cartoons and comics, in which he was interviewed alongside Siné, Picha, Roland Topor, Cabu, Jean-Marc Reiser, François Cavanna, Professeur Choron, Georges Wolinski, Willem, Joke and Jules Feiffer.

Cartoon by Gal

Some of his cartoons have been victim of censorship and were withheld from publishment. Two of the most notorious depicted Belgian Prime Minister Wilfried Martens and Minister of Foreign Affairs Leo Tindemans as sex offenders, literally raping the Belgian public opinion by allowing American nuclear missiles to be installed in Belgium in 1981. Another one, from 1990, criticized King Baudouin of Belgium's refusal to personally sign the legalization of abortion by depicting him and his queen amidst several horribly disfigured babies with a portrait of Pope John Paul II in the background.

Cartoon by Gal
Homage by Gal to the 1960s, parodying 'Freedom Leads the People' by Eugène Délacroix. From left to right one notices astronaut Neil Armstrong, The Beatles, Eddie Adams' famous photograph of Nguyễn Ngọc Loan executing Nguyễn Văn Lém in Vietnam and Brigitte Bardot carrying a socialist flag and a sign with the May '68 slogan "It's forbidden to forbid", while her tummy reads the pro-abortion/contraception slogan "Boss In Own Belly". To her right Che Guevara raises his guns high. In the background we can spot the monk Thích Quảng Đức protesting against the South-Vietnamese government by burning himself to death. Below him we see a crumbling Christian cross, symbolizing the growing secularization during this decade. At the centre left we see South-African doctor Christian Banard holding the first heart transplant in history. In the left corner below one can spot a small fragment of Roy Lichtenstein's painting "Hopeless", next to John F. Kennedy's corpse holding a photograph of Marilyn Monroe in his hand. In the right corner we notice a defeated French president Charles De Gaulle with his left shoe reading "U.S. go home" next to Andy Warhol's Campbell soup can. Martin Luther King's lifeless body lies next to a Mai '68 poster. In the right corner we can see Brasilia, the architectural complex erected by Oscar Niemeyer in 1960.

Gal has experienced the power of his often controversial work in other fields as well. Once he saw a news broadcast about a house in South Africa that had been victim of a racist bomb attack. On the wall of the severely burnt building he saw one of his anti-apartheid posters. In 1995 Gal was invited by Belgian television to show some of his cartoons in the Flemish parliament. Despite not being allowed to bring in cartoons criticizing the extreme right party Vlaams Blok, Gal showed these drawings nevertheless, causing all the party members to leave the room in protest. A 1982 cartoon caused outrage for deconstructing the iconic photo of Nazis arresting Jewish citizens in the ghetto of Warsaw by changing the Jewish boy in the center into a Palestinian and the soldiers into US president Reagan and Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin. Some magazine readers even withdrew their subscription. In 1993, after the death of Belgian king Baudouin, Gal drew Baudouin as an angel in the sky worrying what will happen to his country? To his surprise many readers took offense because the beloved monarch was shown in a nightgown. 

Cartoon by Gal

While sometimes angrying readers and politicians Gal has also won several awards. In 1967 he won the First Prize at the International Cartoon Festival of Knokke-Heist for a cartoon depicting US president Lyndon B. Johnson reading newspaper articles about the Vietnam War and the Black Power movement, while his thinking wrinkles gradually grow along with the length of the articles. Gal was Belgium's selection for the 1980 Biennale in Venice. He designed a sculpture depicting U.S. President Jimmy Carter's smile, with a toothbrush made out of nuclear missiles. In 1988 Gal received the Prize for Graphic Arts, selected by the Flemish Community, and the prestigious Ark Prize for Free Speech in 1994. In 2003 he won the Press Cartoon Belgium award for a cartoon depicting the power shortage in the USA that year: it shows a man strapped to an electric chair, whose illuminated smile lightens up the darkness around him. In 2004 Gal also received the BeNe Cartoon Award for best Belgian-Dutch political cartoon. His winning work dealt with the Nobel Peace Award for the Iranian activist Shirin Ebadi and showes a peace dove flying out of a woman's burka, who immediately shits on the head of an Iranian cleric. The same year Gal also received the annual Human Rights Award from the Belgian Human Rights League.

Cartoon by Gal

A cartoon depicting a common worker with a globe for a head, crying next to an empty wallet may be his most widespread work. It first appeared in De Nieuwe in 1981, but was also used on the magazine covers of the Unesco, United Nations Educational and Scientific and Cultural Organisation. 

Cartoon by Gal

Gal's artwork has frequently been exhibited and received praise from people like Georges Wolinski, Paul Jamin (despite not sharing his ideology), painter Luc Tuymans and novelist Hugo Claus. Widely admired and respected in his home country his style is nevertheless hardly imitated. As a result Gal remains a unique artist. Even suffering from an eye embolism in 2004 hasn't slowed him down. Two of his former students, Johan De Moor and Judith Vanistendael, would later have an active comics career. Compilations of cartoons by Gal are 'Gal: de Overspannen Jaren' (Epo, 1996) and 'Gal, een halve eeuw op het scherpst van de snee' (Van Halewyck, 2011).


Self portrait of Gal, created in December 1992 for the magazine Markant to anticipate the upcoming New Year. The original drawing was in black-and-white.

Series and books by Gal (BE) in stock in the Lambiek Webshop:

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