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Comic Creator

Marten Toonder

(2 May 1912 - 27 July 2005, The Netherlands)  Netherlands

Marten  Toonder

Tom Poes en de Superfilmonderneming by Marten Toonder
Tom Poes en de Superfilmonderneming

Marten Toonder may well go down in history as the most important Dutch author of comics. Undoubtedly, there is no comic artist who has put his mark on the Dutch comics scene like Toonder. His creations have been published in dailies and periodicals all over the world. His most famous series was 'Tom Poes en Heer Bommel' ('Tom Puss and Mr. Bumble'), which ran virtually non-stop for nearly 45 years. Toonder has received a great many awards and honorary distinctions for both his illustrating skills and the quality of his literary output.

Bram Ibrahim, by Marten Toonder
Bram Ibrahim

When he was 19 years of age, his father, a captain in the Dutch merchant navy, offered him passage aboard his ship which called at various South American ports. In Buenos Aires, Toonder got acquainted with Jim Davis, an animator who worked with the well-known Argentine artist Dante Quinterno. Quinterno's creations impressed him to such a degree that he decided to become an artist himself.

Doris en Daantje by Marten Toonder
Doris en Daantje (Extra Magazine, 1935)

Upon his return to Rotterdam he joined the local Art Academy for a short spell, and after fulfilling his military service he commenced his career by drawing the short-lived comics 'Bram's Avonturen' (or 'De Lotgevallen van Bram Ibrahim') for dailies like De Nederlander and 'Tobias' for the periodical Ideaal (both in 1933).

Japie Makreel, by Marten Toonder
Japie Makreel (from Doe Mee)

In October 1933 he found employment with the Nederlandsche Rotogravure Maatschappij, a printing and publishing house in Leiden, as an all-round illustrator. In that capacity he produced a great many gags, drawings and paintings as well as the comics 'Ukkie Wappie' (also known as 'Uk en Puk'), 'Fik en Fok', 'Dikkie en Dunnie' and 'Jim en Soe' for weekly magazines like Unicum and Het Rijk der Vrouw. He was also present in Cinema en Theater with 'De Avonturen van Bello' and comic stories starring Laurel and Hardy. He also took over the story 'Doris en Daantje' from Phiny Dick in Extra Magazine, a magazine published by store chain Jamin.


Fik en Fok (ABC, 1933)

In his own time he designed the adventures of the white bear 'Thijs IJs', which were written by this brother Jan Gerhard and ran from March 1934 till October 1938 in the daily Nieuwsblad van het Noorden and in some affiliated newspapers. In 1939 he decided to set up for himself, and apart from the artwork which he continued producing for his former employer, he started designing full-colour book covers and pen-and-ink illustrations for various publishers.

Uk en Puk by Marten Toonder
Uk en Puk (Unicum, 1935)

In 1939 he began an association with Diana Edition in Amsterdam, the agency of the Austrian Fritz Gottessmann. Initially Toonder was assigned to ghost some comics by Austrian artists, with whom the agency had lost contact due to the German occupation (William Timym's 'The Boss', and Erwin Barta's 'Hannibal'). When Gottesmann, who was a Jew, went in hiding in 1941, Toonder continued the firm on his own. He co-founded Geesink-Toonder Produkties in Amsterdam, with Joop Geesink, producing comics and animated films for companies like the Dutch Railways and Philips. The company also commenced working on a feature film starring 'Tom Puss', financed by the German film company Degeto. Although the film was never finished, it proved an opportunity to secure several artists from forced labour in Germany. The collaboration with Geesink lasted until 1943, when Geesink began to devote himself to puppet animation.

De Koning van het Oerwoud, by Marten Toonder
De Koning van het Oerwoud (Bravo, 1940)

A few months after the German occupation of the Netherlands, Toonder drew two comics for weekly publication: 'Jim en Soe' (for Bravo!) and 'Japie Makreel' (for Doe Mee!). Together with Anne Auke Tadema, he filled most of the comics pages of the Dutch Bravo! in the early 1940s. Among the stories he created for the magazine are 'Dikkie en Dunnie' and 'De Koning van het Oerwoud'.

Tom Poes, by Marten Toonder (June 1941)

His workload became such that he engaged a young but promising artist, Wim Lensen, to assist him. About a year later, on 16 March 1941, his cartoonstrip 'Tom Puss' made its first appearance in Holland's biggest daily, De Telegraaf. Toonder's wife Phiny Dick (herself the author of various childrens' books) wrote the captions for its initial six publications, but then left it up to her husband to provide both texts and illustrations.

Tom Poes en de Meesterschilder, by Marten Toonder (1944)

The first adventure of 'Tom Puss', in which the "baddies" were depicted as a gang of marching, booted robbers, proved to be very popular with the readers but less so with the occupying armed forces. After these had checked out Toonder's credentials, he was allowed to proceed with new 'Tom Puss' stories, provided they were non-controversial. In his third adventure Tom Puss was joined by a new character: 'Mr. Oliver B. Bumble' ('Olivier B. Bommel' in Dutch), who soon proved to be indispensable and who was to become the key figure in the 174 stories to follow. Their success caused an increasing demand for merchandising products such as picture postcards, puzzles, toys, calendars among others. Toonder had to engage additional artists and soon found himself heading a studio.

Tom Poes, by Marten Toonder

In the meantime he had developed a keen interest in the production of cartoon films. The careers and creations of men such as Pat Sullivan ('Felix the Cat'), Max Fleischer ('KoKo the Clown', 'Betty Boop', 'Popeye') and Walt Disney ('Mickey Mouse') fascinated him: they had succeeded in making cartoon characters come alive. During 1942 he expanded his studio in order to produce cartoonfilms, but when electricity was cut off, food became in short supply and the 'hunger winter' of 1944/45 set in, all production was stopped. Since the management of De Telegraaf was taken over by a member of the German SS, Toonder decided to halt the publication of 'Tom Puss'. Instead he turned his hand to falsifying documents for the resistance and to providing illustrations for the underground periodical, Metro, for which he was a co-founder.

Tom Poes - Horror de Ademloze (ep. 754), by Marten Toonder

When the War was over, the Toonder Studios came to life again, slowly but surely. The national and international demand for comics was such that new series were started up. Toonder created 'Cappy' ('Kappie', whose adventures ran from 1945 till 1972) and 'Panda' (1946-1988), his wife wrote 'Olle Kapoen' (1945-1955) and supplied its illustrations for the first 16 stories.

Tom Poes en het Lijm Teem (ep. 942), by Marten Toonder

In March 1947, 'Tom Puss and Mr. Bumble' reappeared - not in the daily De Telegraaf, but in newspapers such as de Volkskrant and De Nationale Rotterdamse Courant (NRC Handelsblad, as it is called now). Publications in Belgian, Danish, English, Finnish, French, German, Indonesian, lrish and Swedish dailies and weeklies followed - which was no mean feat: Toonders captions under the illustrations had to be translated as well as possible, and these columns of text took up the space of an "ordinary" balloon-strip.

Cover of Tom Poes Weekblad

Originally the Tom Puss comic was aimed at a young readership, but as Toonder found out, older generations were enjoying the stories as well. So he allowed the plots to become more complicated and the texts to mature. They never lost their fairy tale appeal, but the characters became increasingly archetypical, the adventures centred more and more around science fiction elements, sociological, philosophical and ecological topics without ever becoming too realistic. The author highlighted the frictions between the individual and the masses, between nature and technology and, ultimately, between good and evil.

First appearance of Koning Hollewijn in 1954
First appearance of Koning Hollewijn in 1954

In early 1954 Toonder designed a new series: 'Koning Hollewijn' which appeared in the reborn De Telegraaf until June 1971, and which also found a market in Denmark, Sweden and France. Its semi-realistic pen-and-ink drawings differed markedly from his other work and were reminiscent of the political cartoons he produced during and just after the war.

Tom Poes, by Marten Toonder (1985)

Up until 1965, Toonder discussed the basic plots with his scriptwriters (such as the prolific Lo Hartog van Banda). Artists like Carol Voges, Ben van Voorn, Ben van 't Klooster, Dick Matena, Terry Willers, Fred Julsing and Piet Wijn provided the pencilled and partially inked drawings in accordance with his scripts, but the final outcome was Toonder's. In the course of said year Toonder left the ownership and management of the Toonder Studios to others and emigrated to Ireland, enabling himself to fully concentrate on the 'Tom Puss and Mr. Bumble' saga. From then on the stories were the products of his personal imagination and he took on the full inking himself. The overall quality of the series became such that their publication in paperbacks (in addition to their daily appearance in the papers) resulted in 44 best-sellers.

In addition to 'Tom Poes', Toonder began the gag strip 'De Goeroe' in De Telegraaf in the 1970s, together with his son Eiso and the Irishman Peter Hoye, using the joint signature of Peter Abel.

Self-portraits by Marten Toonder

In 1985, at the age of 72, Toonder decided he had told all he had to tell, and on 20 January 1986 the papers published the last installment of the last story (aptly titled 'Mr. Bumble and the End of Endlessness'). The event received nationwide coverage and public sentiments were running that high that the NRC Handelshlad decided to republish a great many of the stories. Twelve years later the newspaper finally replaced the adventures of 'Tom Puss and Mr. Bumble' by a quite different comic, despite protests by its readership plus an outspoken condemnation of this decision by Holland's leading captains of industry. Note that Sweden's leading daily, Dagens Nyheter, commenced publication of Tom Puss's adventures in February 1946. Fifty years later the newspaper was still re-running the series.

The Grand Old Master of Dutch comics was living at the Rosa Spier Huis in Laren, The Netherlands, when he died in his sleep in the early hours of 27 July 2005. He will be greatly missed.

Self-portraits by Marten Toonder

Bommel statue
In honor of Marten Toonder's 90th birthday,
the city of Rotterdam erected this six-meter
public monument on Friday, 12 July 2002,
featuring several characters from the famous
Toonder comic 'Tom Puss and Oliver Bumble'.

Toonder and Dutch comics during World War II
in the Dutch Comics History
Toonder Studios and Dutch comics after World War II
in the Dutch Comics History
Marten Toonder in De Nederlandse Stripgeschiedenis
(in dutch)
Toonder Studio's in De Nederlandse Stripgeschiedenis
(in dutch)
Algemene Bommel Concordantie available
from Les Éditions Lambiek
De Makers van de Tom Poes dagstrip
(in dutch)

Additional info: Eiso Toonder, Marten Toonder's Autobiography
Last updated: 2014-04-18

Series and books by Marten Toonder in stock in the Lambiek Webshop:

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