Dutch comics, a brief survey

Bulletje & Bonestaak were one the first comic characters who appeared in Dutch newspapers during the 1920s. Twenty years later, newspapers were still the most important medium for the distribution of comics. During the forties and fifties most Dutch comics were still published without balloons. The most notable comic is Ollie B. Bommel by Marten Toonder, an undisputed classic and also praised for it’s elaborate style of writing. Colour came finally in the sixties and seventies. Sales were up. Albums could sell up to a hundred thousand. Those were the days. With the introduction of alternative leisure activities such as video games, sales plummeted.

The introduction of comics for adults and later the graphic novel did not bring a new readership for comics. The funnies, still published in newspapers, are still the most popular genre in the Netherlands. It’s characters are all, without exception, grumpy and get out of bed on the wrong side – every morning. But there is still a lot of talent. Some of those talented artists find their way to commercial studios; others choose to work as an individual artist, writing and drawing their own books, without anyone interfering. Sales of the best examples vary between five hundred to ten thousand copies. In style there are not many similarities between these books.

If there is anything like a Dutch School, it must be because of it’s clarity. Joost Swarte, Peter van Dongen, Theo van den Boogaard and Erik de Graaf draw in a very clear line, “ligne claire”, Barbara Stok has a clear and plain style, Hanco Kolk has a very elegant line and Sam Peeters draws winding but also clear lines. Marcel Ruijters’ drawings are like medieval illuminations, but they look fresh too – and clear. There are a few who stand out. Guido van Driel paints a dark and baroque world, Peter Pontiac has stuck to his underground style he started with forty years ago and Typex is a gifted draughtsman and illustrator who sometimes hides his talents beneath a layer of photoshop masks. Erik Kriek’s drawings are inspired by classic American comics from the fifties.

If you look at what inspires the artists you find it easier to distinguish similarities. There are a few topics that prevail. These
topics are also inspiring Dutch film makers and Dutch writers. In short, everybody in the fiction department. These topics are:
theirselves, sex, music and the Second World War. There are examples of books who combine all these themes. The autobiography is one of the most current categories. With the growth of social websites as
Facebook and the Dutch version Hyves, it is completey normal and it can go without further explanation to talk about yourself. The good autobiographies, such as the ones by Barbara Stok, tell a particular story with a general meaning. Others stuck with shallow notions about private trouble.

In their work comic artists can apply for government funding. The Netherlands Foundation for the Visual Arts, Architecture and Design supports an artist after he or she has shown work of a reasonable standard and has presented a coherent plan. In the last years over a hundred applied for a grant, over 50 per cent got the grant which is at most six times (six months) 2500, though you can apply a second time for the same project. To further stir up the comics scene, a comic strips promotor was appointed. To find a new audience for comics the Foundation started projects with Dutch museums. Within the next years there will be biographies of famous Dutch painters as Rembrandt van Rijn, Vincent van Gogh, Jheronimus Bosch and Piet Mondriaan. These books will also be translated and promote Dutch comics abroad. The Foundation also started off three projects with other foundations which summed up Dutch literature, Dutch history and Dutch cinema. Each project had a high publicity value. The last project, about Dutch cinema, will be published in March 2012, but has already started a discussion in newspapers and on television.

In afore mentioned projects a lot of young comic artists were asked to participate. A new and talented generation of artists is now
graduating from art school Expectations run high for the future. Tim Enthoven graduated from the Design Academy in Eindhoven in 2010, his critically acclaimed debut Binnenskamers (Inside) is an outstanding presentation of Dutch design and has excited interest of foreign editors. He is working for the New York Times as an illustrator. And there is more. The time that albums sold by ten and hundred thousand are over. Digital publishing will change the market and opportunities for comic artists. Their assignment for the coming years is to find their way to a readership, to art-dealers and –buyers.

Gert Jan Pos

Nordicomics and its projects are funded by Nordic Culture Point, Nordic Children's and Youth Committee – NORDBUK, and the Finnish Comics Society. All images are the copyright of their respective owners.