200 years of dutch comic strips
Exhibition from 28 september 2013 through 2 march 2014
Discover the power of visual storytelling here. Enjoy two centuries of Dutch comic strips, and discover how they evolved from popular illustrations into a fully developed art form. You can hear from experts and find out about their favourite comics. And you can draw your own comic strip, or turn yourself into a comic strip character in our theatre.
[Room 1] The birth of the comic strip
Everyone knows what a comic strip is: a story told in pictures and text. The first direct ancestors of comic strips are popular illustrations. The earliest one on record was drawn almost five hundred years ago! Since that time, there has been an increasing demand for books filled with drawings and plates, mainly for children and for educational purposes.
Around 1920, the comic strip became a mass medium. Because education was compulsory in the Netherlands, most people were literate. They also had more money and spare time than ever before – enough to buy books and read them. Yet most comics were still intended for children.
Around this time, the first newspaper comic strips appeared in the Netherlands. This trend came from America, where the ‘funny papers’ were hugely popular. Comic strips attracted a growing group of readers. Many businesses took advantage of this new wave of interest, including comics in their promotional magazines.
[Room 2] Comics come of age
The first Dutch comic strip for adults was Dick Bos. Published during the Second World War, it caused a sensation because comics had always been a medium for children. The postwar years were a golden age for children’s comics in the Netherlands, with more and more Dutch comic artists producing longer, more colourful comic albums. They pioneered new genres of comic strip, such as historical comics and science fiction.
Comics pages in newspapers reached new heights of popularity, with the help of talented artists who had learned their skills in comic book drawing studios. The leading studio was run by the famous cartoonist Marten Toonder, who transformed comic strips into a truly literary medium.
In 1948, the Dutch education minister spoke out against comics, calling them ‘depraved’ and claiming that they made children lazy readers. This was an enormous blow to comics magazines for children.
Around 1970, the number of Dutch-made newspaper comic strips gradually decreased, as papers merged and faced competition from foreign comics artists. This period also saw the rise of underground comics, which accelerated the growth of comic strips into a fully developed genre. Campaigns to change the image of comic strips led to a more positive view of visual storytelling. Comic book shops sprang up, comic book magazines appeared, and old comic strips were reprinted. Comics had come of age.
A new image
In the 1970s, comic strips became widely popular among Dutch readers, who encountered them mainly in comics magazines and weeklies.
It was the publishing industry that breathed new life into Dutch comics. At first they mainly published comics magazines, which played a formative role in comics culture. Later, they began to publish albums – wellproduced collections of comic strips from the most successful series.
Over time, the album format became increasingly influential. Idealistic new publishers specialised in attractively designed albums, intended primarily for adult readers. These publishing houses introduced the public to a new generation of comics creators, often motivated by artistic passion or social engagement.
The new image of comics was apparent throughout the Netherlands. Publishers began producing reference works about comics: biographies, bibliographies, yearbooks, and catalogues. There were comics conventions, comics awards, and popular television programmes about comics, such as Wordt Vervolgd (To Be Continued).
[Corridor] Hans Matlacomic Comics lover
Hans Matla has been collecting comic strips since the age of six.
His collection includes some 70,000 comics albums and graphic novels, 100,000 issues of comic magazines, hundreds of comic strips from daily newspapers, 10,000 original cartoon drawings and paintings, 1,000 silkscreens and posters, thousands of secondary printed works such as postcards, puzzles, and shop displays, hundreds of curios ranging from silverware to key fobs and sculptures, all magazines on the subject of comic strips, all standard reference works about comics and visual narrative, and hundreds of prose novels illustrated by Dutch comics artists. The leading international comic strips are also included as source material: for example, Matla has 500 Rupert Bear books, as well as major international comics series such as Le Petit Vingtième, Spirou, and Pilote.
1970: opening of Matla’s second-hand comics shop, Stripantiquariaat Panda
1974: founding of his comics publishing house, Uitgeverij Panda
1976: first edition of his reference work Stripkatalogus
1980: opening of his gallery for comics art, Stripgalerie Panda
His wish: to put his comics collection in the hands of a museum, so that everyone can access and enjoy it.
[Room 3] Comics are art
Since the late twentieth century, comics have been recognized and valued as an art form. More and more people are noticing and harnessing the combined power of text and images. Some comics artists have taken a literary turn, telling autobiographical stories or creating comics based on well-known books, such as Gerard Reve’s De avonden (The Evenings). This type of publication is called a graphic novel, a term that emphasises its literary qualities. The educational system has discovered the appeal of comics as an educational tool.
Meanwhile, children’s comic books are gradually losing ground, and comic book shops are barely surviving. But the Internet is a new forum for comics artists, and e-publishing offers a range of possibilities. The genre is branching out into new forms, such as webcomics and apps.
Makers of comics journalism have also discovered the potential of the Internet. For example, the online platform Cartoon Movement brings together some of the finest comics journalists and editorial cartoonists. One recent trend is crossing the borders of the genre, using comics as a springboard into other art forms. Comics artists now design buildings (Joost Swarte), make films (Guido van Driel), and report on court cases (Aloys Oosterwijk).