Blook, by Johnn Bakker
Blook - De Ruimtereiniger (1969)

Johnn Bakker was a Dutch comic artist and musician from The Hague. He was a leading figure in the Hague pop scene of the 1960s, but in comics circles he is best known as the artist of 'Blook' and 'Dan Teal', which he drew for Pep in the 1960s and 1970s. He is also most likely the author of the political 'Suske en Wiske' parody 'De Keizerkraker' (1982). Although he has not become a household name like his Pep contemporaries Fred Julsing, Dick Matena, Daan Jippes, Peter de Smet and Martin Lodewijk, Johnn Bakker is regularly regarded as one of the prominent representatives of the so-called "Pep school".

Johnn Bakker was born in 1947 as the son of two divorced circus performers from The Hague. After a turbulent childhood, he took a course in house painting from the crafts school. He then enrolled at the Hague Academy of Fine Arts, but didn't stay long. He spent several years sailing the seas, and became well-known in the local The Hague music scene upon his return. He played in the notorious local pop group The Kick, who often played only one song during performances ('Mystic Eyes' by Them), which they would stretch for several hours. The group was under contract by the shady businessman Adje Lagerwaard, who later became known as the swindler "Diamanten Adje". Bakker subsequently formed the blues duo The Subterraneans with "Down Boy" Jason (Henk Jantzen), using the artist's name "Sleepy" Johnn Bakker. Bakker played guitar and harmonica, while Jantzen played guitar and performed lead vocals. Reinforced by bass player Robby de Rijke, bongo player Brian Ura, drummer Beer Klaasse and washboard player Freddy Haayen, the group released one single and an LP record ('Down to Earth' in 1967). One of the band's own compositions was 'Mr. Judge', an attack on the Amsterdam mayor Gijs van Hall.

Toppie Tien, by Johnn Bakker (1969_
Toppie Tien (1969)

While members of The Kick and The Subterraneans later moved on to play in nationally known acts like Shocking Blue and Q65, Johnn Bakker eventually tried his luck with drawing. As early as the mid 1960s, Bakker and Frantzen were making sex comics together for pocket books under the pen name "Otis Space". They also regularly hitchhiked to the French cities Cannes and Nice, where they lived the beatnik life and earned some cash with drawing assignments. Frantzen eventually opened his own book shop, and Bakker went to work on semi-autobiographical comic stories starring the character 'Mod'. This project has remained unpublished, though. By 1968, he was making the psychedelic gag strip 'Toppie Tien' for music magazine Muziek Express. As Otis Space, Bakker was also present in the sci-fi magazine Morgen with the stories 'Ruimtegevangene op de Plunderplaneet' (1971), 'De eindeloze planeet' (1971), 'De diamant' (1972) and 'De mist die niet mocht optrekken' (1972).

Blook by Johnn Bakker
Blook en de robots (Pep #12, 1972)

He presented his work to the Belgian publishing houses Dupuis and Lombard, but without success. He had more luck with De Geïllustreerde Pers in Amsterdam, the publisher of the Dutch comics magazine Pep. His first and best-known creation for this magazine was the soft superhero 'Blook', which parodied American superhero comics. Blook (to be pronounced as the English word "bloke") obtained his super powers by eating a "super molecule" constructed by his father. Only when his father belittled his achievements did Blook lose his powers again. Bakker worked on the strip in cooperation with the scriptwriters Lo Hartog van Banda and Dick Matena from 1969 to 1974. Hartog van Banda penned the first five stories, while Matena wrote the final two. In 1972, when the Olympic Games were held in Munich, Germany, one shorter Olympic-themed story of only four pages in length was made. The first 'Blook' story was also published in French as 'Supermax Contre La Supermolecule'.


The scene from Dan Teal that triggered the conversation about troika rides (Pep #48, 1970)

Another comic by Bakker for Pep was 'Dan Teal' (1970-1971), a story based on Dante Alighieri's classic poem 'La Divina Commedia'. In the comic Dan Teal is the obvious surrogate for Dante, while his guide Vergielje is a nod to poet Vergilius who guides Dante in 'La Divinia Commedia'. Full of numerous cultural and political references, 'Dan Teal' was considered far too complicated for the average Pep reader to understand. As a result only one album was made: 'Het Maanvirus'. The comic was written by a certain Geo Staad, a pseudonym for none other than the famous Dutch poet and comedy singer Drs. P (Heinz Polzer).


The looks of Vergielje were based on Drs P, while Dan Teal was a caricature of Bakker himself (Dan Teal in Pep #50, 1970)

Drs. P enjoys cult status in the Netherlands for his rather archaic use of language and black comedy, which no doubt played an effect in why 'Dan Teal' failed to appeal to its young readers. While 'Dan Teal' remains a mere footnote in comics history, the series did have an indirect effect on Dutch music history. Discussing a scene in which Dan Teal was attacked by blood thirsty frogs, Bakker and Drs. P came to talk about the dangers of troika rides. This inspired Drs. P to write a song about a family travelling by troika in Siberia. Halfway their ride they are suddenly chased by hungry wolves and forced to throw each of their children out of the vehicle in order to stay ahead of the animals. The end result, 'Dodenrit' (1974) would become one of Drs. P's biggest hits and his signature song! 

Jab en de Groene Bol by Johnn Bakker
Jab en de Groene Bol (Pep #24, 1974)

On his own, Bakker made the science fiction stories 'Jab en de Groene Bol' and 'Smock' in 1974. When Pep and Sjors merged into the magazine Eppo (1975), Bakker put an end to his comics career and became a commercial designer and painter for the rest of his life. Or so it seems, because in 1982 another comic book came out which closely resembled his style. The comic in question, 'De Keizerkraker' (1982), was a parody of Willy Vandersteen's popular series 'Suske en Wiske' and signed with the pseudonym "Willy Dondersteen". In this spoof the famous Belgian characters go to Amsterdam, where they join the squatters' movement. Lambik becomes a drug dealer, Tante Sidonia a prostitute and Suske and Wiske are kidnapped by real-life Dutch criminal Pistolen Paultje (named Pistolen Pietje in the story).

De Keizekraker by Johnn Bakker
Suske en Wiske parody De Keizerkraker, signed Willy Dondersteen, but most likely by Johnn Bakker

Yet Bakker always denied being the creator of this comic. This might have something to do with the fact that the very same year another Dutch comic book parody of 'Suske en Wiske', 'De Glunderende Gluurder' (1982) by Ben Jansen and other members of Studio Arnhem, hit the market and the two books were promptly sued by Vandersteen's publisher: Standaard Uitgeverij. In 1984 Standaard Uitgeverij lost the case, because the judge ruled that both books were clearly a parody and therefore not plagiarism. Bakker nevertheless still refused to admit he was the creator of 'De Keizerkraker'. In an appeal, the judge did rule in favor of the plaintives, and the books were pulled back. Later in his career he also made some comic strips for street newspapers, but earned most of his money by painting signs and logos for bars and car dealers.

Johnn Bakker was somewhat of a colorful character, as well as a remarkable storyteller, mainly about his own life. According to his Subterraneans partner Henk Jantzen (in an interview with NRC in 1999), Bakker said he was born in a caravan as a circus child, then started sailing at age fourteen. He ended up in Singapore and spent two years to return to the Netherlands by foot. He similarly built a myth around his pop group The Subterraneans, claiming that he wore out one harmonica a day. He was proud to be "the first beatnik in The Hague", who, according to beat newspaper Kink, had "the longest hair in the Netherlands." Other interesting stories about Bakker also went around. Legend has it that he drove an old Pontiac with a self-painted bird on the hood. When a picture of it appeared in Pep magazine, the Pontiac brand bought the rights and from then on featured Bakker's bird on their Pontiac Firebirds line. The artist also liked to tell stories about his alleged criminal activities, from forging old paintings in a carbon test proof way by mixing his paint with dust from medieval churches, to plain robberies and conflicts with the Hague underworld. When several original comic pages by Bakker and other Pep artists were stolen from an exhibition in 1971, everyone immediately suspected the unconventional Bakker. Years later, the artist admitted to Martin Lodewijk that he indeed was the culprit in an effort to rake in the insurance money. When Lodewijk asked if he could at least have his own pages back, Bakker reluctantly confessed that he had burned the pages on the same night as the burglary. In 2001, Bakker planned to forge paintings by the recently deceased Herman Brood, jokingly commenting "because you get your Bread from the Bakery!" ("Brood" means bread in Dutch, and "Bakker" means bakery).

Johnn Bakker passed away on 16 September 2006 at the age of 59. His musical friends bid him farewell with a tribute in Hotel 't Centrum in The Hague, starting with a performance of Chuck Berry's 'Johnny B. Goode'.


Johnn Bakker draws himself as the character 'Mod' for Stripschrift #19 (1970)

Johnn Bakker in Lambiek's Nederlandse Stripgeschiedenis

Series en boeken door Johnn Bakker op voorraad in de Lambiek Webshop:

X

If you want to help us continue and improve our ever- expanding database, we would appreciate your donation through Paypal.