Comics History

Dutch Comics around WW II

Conversation with Hitler, by Paul van Reen, 1935
Conversation with Hitler, by Paul van Reen, in De Notenkraker, 1935
After four hours: "We Germans are fervent friends of freedom..."
After six hours: "That's why we need the biggest army, the biggest fleet, the biggest airforce..."

The Netherlands, situated next to Germany, has always been keen to keep the relationship stable with their big neighbor to the east. Holland was able to remain neutral during the First World War. During the Interbellum, fear of a rising Germany inspired a generally pro-German politic. Some Dutch comic artists, however, saw what was coming. A few politically engaged magazines, most notably De Notenkraker and De Groene Amsterdammer, vented their opinions in words and pictures, as early as 1933, when Hitler came to power.

Cover of De Groene Amsterdammer by Leendert Jordaan, 1937Many artists, such as Albert Hahn Jr., George van Raemdonck, Peter van Reen, Albert Funke Küpper and Gerrit Rotman contributed poignant strips and illustrations to these magazines. Especially the covers Leendert Jordaan made for De Groene Amsterdammer remain vividly in the memory of many.

The Netherlands proximity to Germany and having desirable ports on the North Sea, became involved in the second World War in May 1940 when it was invaded by Germany. After fighting for only five days, Holland surrendered, and during the next five years it was occupied by the Germans. As with everything else, the war and forced occupation had a big impact on dutch comics.

Once the Germans had taken Holland, they started to impose their rules and regulations on Dutch political, social and cultural life. They formed a Kulturkammer (a Chamber of Culture) to which all artists had to subscribe, or else they would not get any work. The Kulturkammer made sure all art was in furtherance of the Arian spirit and did not criticize or ridicule the German regime, nor favorably depict their despicable foes, England and America.

Nearly all dutch artists became a member of the Kulturkammer. Only those who could fend for themselves in their own livelihood had a chance of staying independent, and even then they were closely watched in case they created any unfavorable propaganda.

Battle for Rotterdam, German propaganda
'Battle for Rotterdam', some German propaganda about the assault

As far as pro-German propaganda goes, there was a lot of it going around. Shown above are two panels from 'Kampf um Rotterdam', the 'Battle for Rotterdam'. This was made as a promotion for the Wehrmacht, about the bitter struggle for occupation of the city of Rotterdam, which was heavily bombarded. Underneath the panels, ran this text, in loose translation:

The enemy may have fought bitterly,
but his stronghold now lies slain,
slain are England's vassals!
The 'fortress Holland' has fallen.

The resistance was in vain
The city, the ships are all on fire
Who seeks to ally himself with England
will find death by Germany's weapons.

The creator of the popular comic 'Dick Bos', Alfred Mazure, was asked to make his main character a nazi officer, which he refused. Henk Backer had to quit his comic 'Adolfus', to make sure it didn't make fun of that other Adolf. While some artists made comics mainly to entertain, and were able to stay neutral, others willingly promoted the oppressor's regime in their children's comics, such as 'Hansje, Ansje en de Meeuw', in which the main character proudly put on his Jeugdstorm uniform.

Hansje, Ansje en de Meeuw, by Beekman

'Koenraad van den Arbeidsdienst' ('Conrad of the Workforce') by Kees Koekoek was a blatant example of pro-German propaganda. The valiant Conrad joined the collaborating Workforce and was meant to be an example for dutch youth. Instead, many secretly made fun of this ridiculous character.

Conrad of the Workforce, by Kees KoekoekConrad of the Workforce, by Kees Koekoek

A rather more subtle form of propaganda was the comic book 'Flits de Herder en Bull de Dog', signed Matho, which told the story of the young German shepherd Flits, who had to watch as mice with suspiciously characteristic hook-noses ate from his bowl, and his father was chained by the English bulldog, the French goose and American(?) mule (see pictures below). This booklet should have been distributed in all dutch schools, but most teachers refused to do so and made it mysteriously disappear, which makes it a very rare item nowadays..

Flits de Herder en Bull de DogFlits de Herder en Bull de Dog

Over all, Dutch comic artists could continue their work during the war. A few Dutch comic magazines who used to carry American strips such as 'Popeye' and 'Mickey Mouse', had to drop the import, probably in favor of original dutch comics. The Kulturkammer stated that, due to lack of paper, the strips in newspapers should be of sufficient quality:

"It is very important that text and illustrations supplement each other harmonically and contain elements that appeal to different ages and understandings. An illustration should be such, that if one looks at it without the story, it is pleasing to the eye."
(By C.R. Stoelmann Leysner, 1942)

Comics that did pass the test were 'Tom Poes' (and generally all strips by the Marten Toonder Studios), 'Tripje en Liezebertha' by Henk Backer, 'Bruintje Beer' by Marten Toonder and 'Broeder Bastiaan' by Charles Boost.

Tom Poes, by Marten Toonder, was first published in 1941
Tom Poes, by Marten Toonder, was first published in 1941

Marten Toonder created the comic characters of Olivier B. Bommel and his smart side-kick Tom Poes in 1938, but it took until 1941 until their first adventure was published. They quickly became the most popular newspaper strip characters ever created in Holland. The Toonder Studios employed several comic artists who worked on the 'Heer Bommel en Tom Poes' ('Oliver Bumble and Tom Puss') stories, but Toonder always stayed the main man on the series.

In 1942 Marten Toonder and Joop Geesink founded the Toonder-Geesink Studios to produce newspaper strips, comics and animations. In 1943, Geesink moved on to found his own animation studio, leaving Toonder to focus on comics and strips. The Toonder Studios went on to become one of the most important institutions to foster comics in the Netherlands.

Paard Witsok, by Hugo Lous'Paard Witsok', by Hugo Lous

Other comics that appeared during wartime were newspaper strips such as 'Het Paard Witsok' ('The Horse Whitesock') by Hugo Lous, 'Sneeuwvlok' ('Snowflake') by Wim Meuldijk and 'Broeder Bastiaan' ('Brother Bastian') by Charles Boost. Sometimes these comics featured hidden allusions to the occupation - Horse Whitesock had a deep yearning to leave the country; Tom Poes got involved in the war between the Wooden Shoe Giants and the Boot Giants. Also in 'Horse Whitesock' an English-like mock-language was introduced which became so popular that people started using it in the streets, much to the chagrin of the Germans.

Brother Bastiaan, by Charles BoostThe Adventures of Brother Bastiaan, by Charles Boost

Bim, by Piet van ElkA rare edition of the comic 'Bim' by Piet van Elk, which also appeared during wartime.

When Holland was liberated, artists celebrated their freedom by publishing all kinds of parodies, ridiculing Germany (often the date of publication was claimed to be before 1945, to add an impression of bravery...).

De Sprinkgermanen-plaag, by John C. Kennis
"Uncle Brommy, with his funny hat and the wheel-of-adventure on his arm, puts his arm up between the mosquitos."

The ABC of the Nazi Regime, drawn by Herman VosA very interesting post-war publication is 'ABC van het Naziregiem', drawn by Herman Vos. It has a little rhyme for each letter of the alphabet. You can see the complete translated book if you click on the image.

The second World War inspired an enduring anti-German sentiment in the Dutch. The prohibition of American comics, the scarceness of printable paper and the general after-war shock left its traces in the dutch comics history for a long time.