Patrick Rosenkranz, American publicist, movie expert and author of a forthcoming book on the history of the movement of the "Underground Comix" of the 60's and 70's in the USA and Europe, gave us gracefully permission to post his chapter on the Dutch underground comix on our web-site.
You can reach the author at : RosenPat@aol.com



COMIX in the NETHERLANDS



The Netherlands experienced a comix movement that paralleled the American undergrounds, but with several cultural differences.
Although the Dutch underground comix were considered a part of the counterculture, many of the cartoonists were as influenced by Donald Duck comic books as they were by the American undergrounds, and also found inspiration in architecture, music, and European art traditions.
Dutch underground publications often took the form of tabloid newspapers and comic books, but some alternate publications preferred to experiment with printing and layout and binding techniques, and their publications changed size and appearance with each issue.
When the early Zap Comics made their way to Amsterdam bookstores in 1968, several Dutch members of the Underground Press Syndicate traded subscriptions with their American counterparts, and kept their readers abreast of the latest Furry Freak Brothers adventures.
The UPS free exchange policies were used to justify several unauthorized reprints of underground strips by publisher Steve Davidson including Om Homemade Comix and Gung-Ho!





Real Free Press

In November 1968, the first issue of Real Free Press Illustratie was published by Martin Bremmer and R. Olaf Stoop, a former Provo pamphleteer.
Provos, the Dutch equivalent of hippies or Merry Pranksters or Diggers, shared a common interest in sex, drugs, music, and confronting the bastions of authority.
The Real Free Press was the "lost connection for solid facts" according to Stoop, who ran the operation from a hole in the wall shop on Oude Nieuwstraat in Amsterdam.
RFP also imported American comics, and reprinted classic comic strips from Europe, Asia, and North America, including Will Eisner's The Daily Spirit, Chao Hung and Chien Hsiao-Tai's Monkey Subdues the White Bone-Demon, Gustave Verbeek's The Incredible Upside Downs, and Wally Wood's Witzend.
RFP Illustratie was a tabloid sized newspaper printed on white paper, with whole pages of hand lettered text by Stoop, an labor of love that went above and beyond what any other underground paper ever did.
Six issues appeared between 1968 and 1974, loaded with comic strips and ads for other alternative publications, from Horseshit to Nostalgia Press.
There were in-depth profiles of Robert Crumb, Ron Cobb, S. Clay Wilson, Gilbert Shelton, Spain Rodriguez, as well as articles on marijuana cooking, scientology, the Plaster Casters, Tijuana Bibles, Vietnam oil fields, the history of matches, and an illustrated version of Terry Southern's "Red Dirt Marijuana."
RFP also published two issues of Wipe Out, a comic book in English, with Joost Swarte covers.Swarte also did covers in the style of George Herriman for four issues of reprinted Krazy Kat strips and one book of collected "Bringing Up Father" strips by George McManus.





Tante Leny Presenteert



In 1968 Evert Geradts started drawing a funny animal comic strip called "De Diertjes" for the weekly magazine Hitweek, which later changed its name to Aloha, and became an underground newspaper.
Geradts, an avid collector of American comics and jazz records, was inspired by Pogo and Donald Duck strips, he said.
"I have always been a comics fan, but since 1968, when I started making them myself, I devote almost all of my time to them. When the American comix became known in Holland, we started a Dutch comic like that, which is Tante Leny."

Several other Aloha contributors, including Harry Buckinkx and Marc Smeets, were also invited to contribute to Tante Leny Presenteert. Their first issue appeared in January 1971, and quickly sold out. They got right to work on the next issue, producing six more before year's end.
Geradts' wife, Leny Zwalve, was the namesake for the comic book, but the invention of the Aunt Leny persona expressed a certain Dutch sensibility, he said.
"We wanted to have a real cozy, comfy name, because everything in Holland is like that. Life happens in the living rooms of the family. Aunts are the limit of coziness, they remind you of thick friendly women who visit you when your birthday is, give you presents and candy."

Another homegrown comic appeared almost at the same time as TLP, called Modern Papier, which was edited by art school dropout Joost Swarte.
This comic book was launched more as a personal showcase than to make money, said Swarte.
"I decided to make my own platform as my comix production was bigger than the demand."3
After he left the Academy of Industrial Design in Eindhoven in 1968, Swarte's work appeared in small magazines, including Uit de Kunst and De Andere Krant.
In December, 1970 he and a group of like-minded artists began publishing Modern Papier, producing ten issues before calling it quits in 1973. Swarte started an 11th issue, but decided to merge it with the 13th issue of Tante Leny Presenteert, which carries both covers, one inside the other.
Swarte had been drawing comic strips for Tante Leny from the first issue, even while he published Modern Papier, and Geradts had also done some strips for Swarte's magazine.
Both men held jobs and took other assignments while they laboriously produced pages and pages of intricate, innovative artwork.
"I didn't consider it work," said Swarte. "It made me feel good and brought me contacts with other comic artists with the same interests and drive."4


Their sales potential was limited to a Dutch speaking audience, so they were predestined to remain small. Sales in neighboring countries was nearly non-existent. By comparison, the English reading market for comic books was much bigger. Only a small handful of the Dutch cartoons were ever reprinted in American underground publications.




"The Dutch underground scene was different from the American one," said Swarte. "How can you categorize what Harry Buckinkx did or what Mark Smeets did? Graphically, it was a hotchpotch in a distinctly European context. These people were individualistic artists and we certainly stimulated each other. Seeing other people's work in these magazines, yeah, that's encouraging. My contact with Evert Geradts has been of great importance to me. Geradts was a comics fan, he had a bookcase packed with comic books. When I started, I owned three albums." Joost Swarte's diligence and talent speedily transformed his artwork from goofy to gorgeous, perfecting a personal style of realistically rendered cityscapes and stories of psychological fears coupled with trenchant social satire. "Irony is part of my nature; it has always been there," said Swarte. "I learned that I felt much more affinity with anarchic ideas, and that is something that has never changed."5 He became widely admired for a clean and clear art deco style, which became known the "Clear Line" method. Perspective was suggested by placement of lines and planes in the picture, instead of by shading.



Geradts' grasp of comics lore is evident in his work, which borrows its rhythms from Carl Barks, its plasticity from Tex Avery and its lust for life from Al Capp. His insightful, revealing stories about the enticements of love use slapstick and sex as equal partners. Jan Zeiloor, a character with eerie similarities to his creator, has a roller coaster relationship with Susie, who alternately adores and torments him. His most breathtaking work used cartoons to delve deep into the places many of us would rather not know about ourselves. In TLP #18, the wackiness gets ugly, when a lynch mob mistakenly accuses Jan of molesting and murdering children. As they go to work with knives and clubs, Susie rides in on her bicycle to rescue him, but also falls victim to the vigilantes. The story ends with their bloody bodies hanging from lamp posts. Two issues later, we finally learn that they survived, but Jan has been permanently transformed from a rubbery cartoon character.



The other regular artists in TLP included Art Clerkx, whose early work eerily resembled Crumb, but soon evolved into his own style. Harry Buckinkx drew highly detailed stories that starred Titul and Titula, siblings who inhabit a landscape blending modern and medieval elements. Marc Smeets' pages were done as sketchbooks rather than stories, peopled with characters as varied as Bronze Age warriors to modern city dwellers. Bill Bodewes drew crudely humorous sex stories about desperately horny women and impossibly endowed men, in a guilt free cartoon land. Peter Pontiac, who got his start drawing rock and roll posters and album covers, produced dark melodramas about sexual politics and drug addiction, tempered with gallows humor and American slang. Another occasional contributor was Willem, who was born in Holland as Bernard Holtrop, whose extreme depictions of corruption and abuse of power made him one of the boldest critics in the political arena.



In 1972, Robert Crumb, S. Clay Wilson, Kim Deitch, and Skip Williamson joined the TLP crew, but only in reprint. "Our Dutch importers only did business with distributors that handled Crumb's stuff, and very little else," said Geradts. "Because of my contacts with Jay Lynch and Denis Kitchen I was able to print Crumb's Homegrown Funnies and Bijou #6. Anything with Crumb in it is a sure success, and anything without it will surely sell slowly. That's why we are going to push Tante Leny a little by printing Crumb's "Jumping Jack Flash" in #8."6 Following the example set by Bijou Funnies, TLP also began to carry ads for other Dutch publishers and importers of American undergrounds, as well as fan publications about comics, like Spruit, Inkt, and Stripschrift.

Geradts and Zwalve, who were publishing Tante Leny from a corner of their living room, thought that including American underground strips might help boost their circulation, which hovered around 2000 copies. "A lot of Dutch comix fans think that any U.S. comic is better than any Dutch comic, so we always have to hear, ‘It's funny, but Crumb is better,' which we can't deny. Crumb is indeed the greatest. Dutch people in general are really anti-chauvinistic. There is even a proverb that goes, ‘Things coming from far away are delicious.'"7 Turning the expression around, Geradts began shipping his artwork to America, and his strips appeared in Projunior, Felch, and in six issues of Snarf, including the cover for Snarf #4.





Tante Leny was a not for profit artist collective, and paid only a small stipend to the contributors of each issue. Most of the revenues were reinvested in production costs, like high quality paper stock and color separations. The printer explained to the editors that he could print eight pages at a time on two sides of a large sheet of paper, so that three sheets of paper would give them a 24 page comic book. Then they could print the color covers two at a time on a sheet of slick paper, with black only on the back side. For a little more money, they could print four different color pages on slick paper and then insert the second color page inside the comic and have a 32 page book. For issues #12 and #13 in 1973, Geradts created three color covers, using the three process colors but no black. TLP #19 started the switch to a larger format, with a tall thin book that told four stories simultaneously.



After he retired Modern Papier, Swarte has hired to edit an album sized magazine of Dutch and French artists called Cocktail Comix for Tango, a publisher who would, it was hoped, turn Dutch comix into a paying proposition. Only one issue was published, however, and Tango also abandoned its plans to publish anthologies of eight American underground cartoonists.





In November, 1975 the Rotterdamse Kunststichting mounted an exhibition of comic art. Work by ten Tante Leny artists made up the show, which ran for a month. Each artist was given an option to create a room-sized, three dimensional space to display their work. Some chose rectangles, but other configurations included an Arabian oasis, a nomad's tent, a camper and giant sketch book. Video monitors showed the history of the magazine and its contributors, and large paintings lined the windows above the museum's entrance. The comic strip fanzine Inkt did a catalog of the exhibit, which was given to visitors, and a deluxe, large size, color comic edition, Tante Leny Presenteert #20 was published for this occasion. The art didn't stop at the display walls, as there was production work going on during the show. The magazine Furore put out their first issue from a functioning office in Art Clerkx' display space. Leny Zvalve reproduced the entire TLP office space from her home in Den Haag, which is actually only part of one room, but it was transported and reassembled in exact detail to the Rotterdam museum.



"It was a big success," said Zvalve. "Everyone could come in for free there. It was near a lot of shopping centers. There were a lot of little boys and fathers and mothers and old ladies --- everybody came."



"It drew more visitors than any other exhibition they had up to that time," added Geradts.



By the mid-1970s, the comix movement had slowed down in Europe as well as America, and the publication schedule for Tante Leny became more sporadic. After the 25th issue was published in 1978, the cartoonists called it quits. Geradts then edited two issues of Talent, a large format comic magazine similar to the American Arcade, which included letters to the editor, articles and interviews, as well as comic stories. "I guess all the old TLP artists go through the same malaise these years," said Geradts. "You know, the questions: ‘Must this go on forever?' ‘Shall I switch to commercial art?' ‘Where is my youthful naivete?' and so on, and so on. I'm trying not to think too much about these things, because the only thing they'll do for you is kill your creativity.8 The French publisher Artefact published an album, Reves de Grandeur in 1979 that collected Geradts' "Jan Zeiloor" stories, as well as two albums of Tante Leny Presente.



Swarte also broadened his horizons, moving from comic strips to commercial and industrial design projects. "The world of comics is far too isolated, too closed," he said. "People actually spend a lot of time navel-gazing. When you ask a comic artist what his sources of inspiration are, he is often going to name other comic artists. But take a look at Impressionism and Romanticism, or at Dadaism and Surrealism -- they existed in music, in painting, in literature. The thing is, as an artist, sure, you are on the lookout for kindred souls. But it really doesn't matter which field of art you‘re working in. Within the world of comics, things are different, though. Comic artists stick together, they hang out together all the time, as if there were no common ground between comics and visual art, literature and film. I think that's a mistake. You ought to move in all directions, get yourself out into the world."9

His work now included comics for children, wine labels, record covers, posters, shopping bags, magazine covers, furniture, and garbage trucks. He began producing a two panel strip for Vrij Nederland (Free Netherlands) in 1977, called "Niet Zo, Maar Zo" (Not This Way, But That Way). He did commissions for personalized bookplates, and made a set of comic strip commemorative stamps for the Dutch postal service, PTT in 1984. Six of his stories from the French magazine Charlie were translated into English and collected in a comic album, Modern Art, by Real Free Press. Futuropolis also published several collections of Swarte art, including Swarte Hors Serie in 1985 and Le Tour du Monde de Ric et Clair in 1988.



In 1982, Gilbert Shelton reprinted some of the Dutch comic strips in Rip Off Comix #11 and asked Geradts to write an introduction to the work. "Everybody has a lot of worries these years and young people think that it will always be like this, or worse, and they paint on their clothes that they have no fun and even that there is no future at all. So every time they see a hippie in the street they spit on his sandals, as they think the hippies have stolen all the fun and the future. The young people think this because the hippies are always smiling so they must have more fun than other people. Of course young people do not know that these hippies smile because they remember the comix from the sixties and the seventies, where the characters used bad language and fucked and died with much blood and had no morals at all, which made the readers laugh very loud."10