Sunday, May 25, 2008

Dutch treat

I have known the Dutch newspaper strip artist Peter de Wit for the better part of my life. We actually attended the same high school only one year apart, but we didn't meet there. He was one year above me (which makes him fifty this year) and although I was quite visible in several school activities we managed to escape each other's attention.

I met Peter when I found an early issue of the fanzine Striprofiel in the local library. Peter had set up this cheaply printed fanzine with his friend Gerard Aertsen as an extension of their hobby. According to his biography, Peter knew he wanted to be a comic strip artist when he was fourteen, so this probably was a fun way to learn more about it and meet professionals. I had always loved comic books and periodicals and had decided when I was twelve that I was going to be a writer. Finding a new fanzine, which looked unprofessional enough for me to try and join was a great find. I contacted Gerard and was invited along to one of their interviews with dutch artist Martin Lodewijk. Meeting Martin Lodewijk was a huge moment in my life... he had walls full of comic books and collections, which impressed me so much that my private room now pretty much looks like his did back then. He also introduced me to Pogo and lend me part of his collection of early sixties Mad magazines. Three years later I was writing the rough version of the American Comics chapter of the first Dutch Comic Book Encyclopedia.

I joined the monthly meetings of the Striprofiel editors and became one of their core group of writers over the next ten years, interviewing such greats such as Will Eisner, Jeff Jones and Jean Giraud when they visited Holland. Peter de Wit left Striprofiel when I joined it, to concentrate more on his career as a comic artist. For a year or so, I did meet privately with Peter at his parents farm half an hours bike ride from my house. I don't know why we struck up a friendship or why it ended after that year, but I guess we felt a connection, which we still did when we met up again a couple of years ago. Maybe it is true that you share more than a common language with those who are born close to you. We do seem to have a similar outlook on life.

Peter introduced me to B.C. and the Wizard of Id and together we tried to do something similar. He had already tried to set up a gag strip set in ancient Egypt, possibly about Cleopatra. At one point I had a whole sheet of sketches he did for that, but seems to have been lost in time. I suggested a series in ancient Greece with Odysseus as the main character. I don't know if he ever did any actual drawing for it or if it was just something I liked myself. Strange thing about my memory is that I have a better recollection of places than of the things that happened. I can still tell you how to bike from my parent's home to his... or how the inside of their farm looked. But I am fuzzy about how many times we met or what we did.

Anyway, Peter went on to immediate success while I struggled on to find my path in life ten years later. He joined the staff of the Dutch comic weekly Eppo and did a great number of successful strips for them, as well as a lot of specialty drawings. He developed a quick cartoony style, varying between his own version of the Hart/Parker school and a rounder Mort Walker inspired style. At one point he had a successful short story strip which was drawn in a variation of Don Martin's style. All 'modern' cartoon styles I like to cover in this blog.

Finally, he started a newspaper strip of his own called Sigmund, about a diminutive cantankerous psychiatric. He has been doing that the last fifteen years with enough success for him to not have to do anything else. Which is quite an achievement in a small country such as ours. When I decided that I wanted to show the work of a couple of Dutch artists on this blog, I knew he had to be the first one. I have translated and badly lettered a couple of Sigmund gags. Sigmund has his own website, where you can even see some more strips translated into English... but I like my own selection and translation better.

The last year Peter has had a lot of succes with a series of strips about his Burka Babes. A book of gags about burka wearing women sold out several printings. Religion is the last remaining taboo and hot button subject in comedy (as John Stewart and cartoonists all over the world will confirm). Those who believe are always good for a laugh.

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