'De Verborgen Goudschat - Nieuwe Avonturen van Donny en Ronny' (De Graafschapper, 15 October 1946).

Albert van Beek is a Dutch illustrator, painter and cartoonist, whose early career included work in the comic and animation industry. During the 1940s, he made comic strips and painted backgrounds for animation through the Toonder Studio's, Joop Geesink Producties and Piet van Elk's Stripfilm studio. Among the newspaper comics he worked on during this period were 'Frank Duffard' (1945), 'Naar Zee' (1946-1947), 'De Avonturen van Donny en Ronny' (1946-1947) and 'Baron Bluff' (1948-1949). He also illustrated children's books for the Amsterdam publishing house Mulder & Zoon, including the series about 'Petertje Poes'. Together with his wife Hennie, he ran a design and printing firm for sausage skins, while also producing handicraft columns for the magazines Ouders Van Nu and Knip. Later in life, the couple lived alternately in the Netherlands and France, where Albert van Beek focused his artistic talents on painting.

Self-portraits from 1950, 1974 and 2009.

Early life
Albert van Beek was born in 1927 in Amsterdam. His father was a cab driver, while his mother supplemented the family's scarce income by doing all sorts of cleaning chores. As a child, Albert showed an early talent for drawing, entertaining his friends with chalk drawings on the streets of his Amsterdam-West neighborhood. At age 10, he had already seen the Walt Disney animated feature film 'Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs' (1937) six times. It left a lasting impression on the young artist, as did comic strips like Hal Foster's 'Prince Valiant', Alfred Mazure's 'Dick Bos' booklets and Marten Toonder's early comics. At age eleven, Van Beek was trained in house painting at the local technical school, where one of his classmates was his future Toonder Studio colleague Frits Godhelp. One year later, Van Beek did his first assignments for an advertising agency, while taking courses in drawing from models, making his first nudes at age twelve. With his artistic ambitions fully supported by his parents, the teenage Albert van Beek became part of Amsterdam's artistic circles, hanging out in bars and at literary gatherings with the city's fine artists, writers and illustrators.

Toonder Studio's
Life got harder during World War II: Van Beek's father was largely out of work. Trying to make living, Albert van Beek replied to a newspaper ad for apprentice draughtsman at the Geesink-Toonder Tekenfilmproducties, an Amsterdam studio producing both comic strips and animated films. Marten Toonder and his business partner Joop Geesink eventually parted ways, after which the company continued as solely the Toonder Studio's. Hired as a fifteen-year old in 1942, Van Beek later recalled he had almost sixty teachers at the studios. Henk Kabos and Cees van de Weert learned him the finer points of watercolor painting, while Frans van Lamsweerde showed him techniques for drawing backgrounds and Hans G. Kresse gave him tips about human anatomy. With animator John van der Meulen, he carefully studied reels of animated film, for instance of Walt Disney's 'Pinocchio'.

'De Avonturen van Pip en Berry', unpublished sample strip for the Toonder Studio's (1945).

Working for the Toonder Studio's also gave Van Beek and the other studio workers permission to stay in the Netherlands, instead of being sent to Nazi Germany to work in the war industry. Earning three guilders a week, Van Beek was drawing Marten Toonder's 'Tom Poes and Olivier B. Bommel' ('Tom Puss and Lord Bumble'), probably for merchandizing purposes, and participated in the production of 'Das Musikalische Auto', an advertising film in commission of the German production company UFA. In early 1945, Van Beek developed his own comic strip for the Toonder Studio's, 'Pip en Berry', starring a mouse and a bear. The comic however never went in circulation.

Friendship with Henk Albers
At the studio, Albert van Beek quickly became good friends with Henk Albers, another recently hired youngster. Together with fellow errand boy Joop Koopmans, they were mainly tasked with cleaning film cells and paint trays, preparing paper and poking up the stove. Outside working hours, the two formed a group of friends with the artist Willy Kuyper and the future singer Willy Alberti. In their spare time they were involved in the illegal trade of potatoes, bread and surrogate cigarettes, while doing occasional chores for the resistance. They also attended the judo school of Gé Koning. Young and rash, they bragged they could make Koning an animated film to promote his school. They managed to actually produce a film of 42 seconds, made with cells that Albers had "borrowed" from Toonder-Geesink's animation department. During one of his nightly break-ins to steal new film cells, Albers was caught by studio artist Jan Dirk van Exter, who reported him to Marten Toonder. Later accounts have exaggerated this story to dramatic proportions. Some hinted that Toonder considered to shoot the boys, as their act could compromise the studio's illegal wartime activities. Albert van Beek later refuted these claims as ridiculous. He said the entire Toonder crew had even watched their film and applauded them afterwards. The theft however did get Henk Albers fired, while Van Beek remained with the studio.

Albert van Beek and Henk Albers continued to work together up until 1950. At one point they shared a studio on the Amsterdam Muntplein. Already during World War II, they illustrated picture books for the local publisher Mulder, intended for publication after the war. Mostly written by Hans Nije, these pictures books have however never seen print. During the final months of World War II, the Toonder Studio's were closed, and Van Beek joined his uncle in going from door to door to sell herbs and spices. Shortly after the Liberation, Van Beek briefly worked for Joop Geesink's puppet animation studio, designing flyers and posters.

'Frank Duffard' (1945).

Stripfilm team
By 1945, Van Beek and Henk Albers found employment with Piet van Elk's Stripfilm studio. Van Elk wanted to make an animated film based on his character 'Bim'. To warm up the public for the upcoming film, he launched a magazine called Stripfilm. Five issues were published between 15 October and 23 November 1945. While Albers provided Stripfilm with Disney-influenced humor comics, Albert van Beek contributed the realistic adventure feature 'Frank Duffard'. Van Beek additionally tried to sell his strip to newspapers like Het Parool, but with no luck.

Unfortunately, the post-war Netherlands were not ready for a full-blown animation industry. Despite the efforts of Van Elk and his team to produce a 'Bim' film - Van Beek had contributed some watercolor-painted background drawings - the film project was never completed. Instead, Van Elk's company turned to producing comic strips, syndicated by the Persbelangen agency to Dutch regional newspapers. Besides serving as occasional fill-in artist for Piet van Elk on the 'Dokie Durf' and 'Terry and Berry' strips, Albert van Beek also tried his hand at creating his own comic strips.

De avonturen by Topsy by Albert van Beek
'De Avonturen van Topsy' (Cinderella, September 1946).

Van Beek's longest-running feature was the text comic 'De Avonturen van Donny en Ronny' (1946-1947), of which two stories were made. In their first adventure, starting in newspapers like De Graafschapper on 10 May 1946, the two kid friends Ronny and Donny go on a treasure hunt. In October, serialization started of the second episode, in which the two boys accidentally end up on a ship sailing to Africa. There, they team up with the detectve Mac Brekum to search for the missing explorer Iksie Wajijnisie. For the women's magazine Cinderella, Albert van Beek made the obscure comic strip 'De Avonturen van Topsy' (1946), about a little dog. Between 5 December 1946 and 21 August 1947, Van Beek's comic serial about 17th-century cabin boys, 'Naar Zee', ran in the newspapers.

During this period, Van Beek lived in with the Stripfilm scriptwriter Eddie Bayer. In secret, and without paying the artist for it, Bayer sold Van Beek's comic strips to Belgian newspapers. Van Beek didn't find out about this until decades later, when his collector friend Ernst Slinger uncovered their Belgian publications. Bayer had told him the stories were stolen. The Belgian paper Het Nieuws van den Dag, for instance, ran the two 'Ronny en Donny' stories: first, between 18 February and 6 April 1947, 'De Verborgen Goudschat', and then, from 2 until 24 November 1948, 'Avonturen van Ronny en Donny'. Between 5 December 1946 and 21 August 1947, 'Naar Zee' ran in Ons Kindervolkje, the children's page of the Flemish newspaper Ons Volk.

'Heer Bommel en de Hollebosser Knol'.

Return to the Toonder Studio's
Around 1948, Van Beek returned to the Toonder Studio's, although this time as a freelance artist. He participated in the artwork of Marten Toonder's newspaper comic 'Kappie' (specifics unknown), and also worked on a balloon comic with Toonder's signature character, Olivier B. Bommel (Lord Bumble). Written by Waling Dijkstra, Van Beek made the drawings for the story 'Heer Bommel en de Hollebosser Knol'. Serialized in Tom Poes Weekblad (25 August 1950-2 March 1950), Ons Vrije Nederland (27 August 1949-28 January 1950) and Kleine Zondagsvriend (19 January-22 June 1950), this is the only 'Bommel' story without Tom Puss, a character Van Beek hated dreadfully.

'Baron Bluff' comic by Albert van Beek for Tom Poes Weekblad volume 2 issue #37. Even though the feature was made anonymously, Van Beek signed his contributions with a subtle "A".

Along with Frits Godhelp, Van Beek also drew episodes of the gag feature 'Baron Bluff en Bartholomeus' (1948-1949) for Tom Poes Weekblad, about a not-so-smart baron and his butler. These strips were signed "Marten Toonder". Apart from Tom Poes Weekblad, the 'Baron Bluff' gags were also syndicated to the Belgian publications Kleine Zondagsvriend and Het Laatste Nieuws. In the early 1960s, another feature with the name 'Baron Bluff' was drawn for the Toonder Studio's by Jan van Wensveen, and printed in several regional newspapers. Besides the title, it was unrelated to the original 'Baron Bluff' strip.

De Zwarte Ruiter - 'Don Carlostro' (Wild West Serie #6, 1948).

Comics and illustrations
In the early years after the Second World War, Van Beek steadily enlarged his client list, often with help from Henk Albers. In 1947, he joined his friend at H.A.T.E. (Hoenderopse Algemene Tijdschriften Exploitatie), one of several publishers of so-called "beeldromans". The market for these digest-sized pulp comics blossomed in the wake of Alfred Mazure's success with 'Dick Bos'. While Albers created the masked vigilante 'De Kat' (1948), Albert van Beek succeeded Willy van Dael on the western series 'De Zwarte Ruiter' (1947-1948). Taking over from issue #2, Van Beek worked on six issues until he was drafted for his military service. The final issue of 'De Zwarte Ruiter' was finished by Henk Albers. In 1949, Van Beek also worked for the Rotterdam comic paper Ketelbinkie Krant, making editorial illustrations with Wim Meuldijk's comic characters Ketelbinkie, Sneeuwvlok and Piet Palet. Among his other work from this period were illustrations for Avrobode magazine, large coloring pictures for Radio-bode and much advertising work, for instance painting movie announcements for cinemas through the Rabach agency.

Illustration with Wim Meuldijk's characters for Ketelbinkie Krant.

Picture books
In 1950, Van Beek left the field of comics, and switched to more financially rewarding children's book illustration work. He renewed his association with publisher Mulder & Zoon, for which he illustrated countless fairy tale books, picture books and Saint Nicolas (Sinterklaas)-themed booklets. Among his most successful work were the illustrations for the funny animal book series 'De Avonturen van Petertje Poes' (1962), written by his wife, Hennie Peters (AKA Vera Rose, Tante Tsylla). The four booklets were translated and published in ten languages, including English ('Pussy Peter') and French ('Petit Minet').

Family business
In addition to illustration, Van Beek also ventured into designing and printing packaging for the food industry. To print the plastic skins of liver sausages for the Kips factory, he constructed his own screen printing machine, using electric motors from old washing machines. Within no time, he expanded his clientele to several butcher's businesses, as well as the KLM airline company, for which he printed the illustrated packages of small sausages and cheese. During the holiday weeks, Van Beek got assistance from Hennie Peters, a fashion student from Amsterdam's Arts and Crafts School, who initially helped with cutting sausage skins. Shortly afterwards, Albert van Beek and Hennie Peters got married, becoming an inseparable couple in all their artistic activies. After the birth of the children - son Jeroen and daughter Mirjam - Hennie van Beek's talent for crafting home-made textile clothing was noticed by the editor-in-chief of Ouders Van Nu, a magazine for young parents. Hennie van Beek got her own monthly textile section in the magazine with tips and instructions, for which Albert van Beek made the illustrations or photographs. At the same publishing house, she later also worked for the handicraft magazine Knip. In addition, Albert and Hennie van Beek designed, crafted and sold hand puppets.

'Petertje Poes in de Winter' (1962), one of the popular funny animal picture books by Albert and Hennie van Beek.

In his spare time, Van Beek had been making paintings since the 1950s. Back then, he lived with the portrait painter Piet Jabaay in the Veluwe countryside, where he made his first oil paintings. After their marriage, Albert and Hennie van Beek spent thirteen years living in Amsterdam, before settling in a farm in the rural town Zuiderwoude. In 1987, the couple bought a home in Durfort-et-Saint-Martin-de-Sossenac in the South of France. The French scenery offered enough inspiration for Van Beek to fully focus on painting. He experimented with different styles, genres and techniques, doing (self-)portraits, abstract works, street scenes and thematic pieces based on bullfighting and the carnival. In their downstairs gallery, the Van Beeks exhibited Albert's paintings and Hennie's handicraft works, which included knittings, puppets and self-made bags. Since 2000, the Van Beek couple divided their time between their French house and the Dutch apartment in Purmerend. By 2021, Albert and Hennie van Beek were back in the Netherlands for good, since most of their artistic friends in Durfort had passed away.

As one of the last remaining veterans of the Toonder Studio's early years and a pioneer of Dutch comics, Albert van Beek was awarded the 2017 Bulletje & Boonestaak Plate by Dutch comics appreciation society Het Stripschap. The award ceremony was held during the Stripdagen comics festival in Rijswijk on 4-5 March 2017, where the veteran cartoonist received the award from Toonder Studio expert Jan-Willem de Vries.

Albert van Beek in 2016 (Photo: Ernst Slinger).

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