Sjef van Oekel

Theo van den Boogaard is a Dutch comic artist often regarded as The Netherlands' first underground comix artist. Among the various comics in the genre he drew in the 1960s and 1970s, 'Ans en Hans Krijgen De Kans' (1969) stood out for its uncompromising sexuality. It even attracted attention outside his country. Later Van den Boogaard adapted a different graphic style, influenced by Hergé's "Ligne Claire" ("Clear Line"). He used it for his signature series 'Sjef van Oekel' (1976-1994, 'Mr. Ponsford' in English), written by Wim T. Schippers and based on a character from Schippers' TV series 'Van Oekel's Discohoek'. Just like the TV character the 'Sjef van Oekel' comic strip was highly controversial. It tackled numerous taboo topics all realistically portrayed by Van den Boogaard's elegant pencil. Amazingly enough for a celebrity comic strip 'Sjef van Oekel' managed to keep running (and selling!) for almost 20 years. This makes it the longest-running Dutch celebrity comic of all time and the third longest-running in the Dutch language. Even more astounding is the fact that 'Sjef van Oekel' was equally popular in translation, despite being based on a local TV show unknown outside the Low Countries. Theo Van den Boogaard has remained in the public eye by illustrating various advertisements, books and graphic novels.

'Een avontuur van Mark - Boter bij de vis'.

Early life and career
Theo van den Boogaard was born in 1948 in Castricum, The Netherlands. His father was head of an advertising distribution company, and the young Theo drew his first comic stories on pieces of quatro paper from his father's office. Among Van den Boogaard's main graphic influences are Hergé, André Franquin, Willy Vandersteen, Hans G. Kresse, Carl Barks, Mad Magazine (particularly Wallace Wood, Will Elder, Jack Davis and Mort Drucker) and Robert Crumb. As a youngster he also devoured books about art, while developing an interest in blues music, movies and theatre. He was only 15 years old when his first comic strip, 'Mark, Boter bij de Vis' (1964), was published by De Kennemer, a local publisher in Velsen-Noord. Drawn in a Franco-Belgian comics style, the story dealt with butter smuggling in Belgium. The comic earned him 1,000 guilders (450 euros).

By the time he was 17 his work was published in the Dutch underground and pop music magazine Hitweek. The youngster was still in high school at that point! Immediately after graduation Van den Boogaard left his hometown and settled in the more free-spirited Amsterdam. One of his columns in Hitweek was the 'Striptease' series, which visualized song lyrics to provide them with social commentary. His posters of rock legends like Jimi Hendrix and Bob Dylan were equally popular.

'Striptease'. The trampled woman is singer Nancy Sinatra who had a hit with 'These Boots Are Made For Walking' at the time. The man in black suit is TV comedian Dick van Dyke while in the lower right corner we recognize Elvis Presley. 

Together with Jan Donkers, Van den Boogaard drew the comic strip 'Witje' (also known as 'Witje en Gert', 1968-1969) for Hitweek. The work is historically important as the first Dutch underground comic. It stars an attractive white-haired woman who always walks around in the nude. However, no one in her environment seems to notice this, not even her (dressed and more straightforward) boyfriend Gert. The artist drew a couple of new episodes with his two characters when Tango released a first landscape format-shaped book collection in 1973.

Jan Cremer and other comics
In a pop art style Van den Boogaard also drew the 'Jan Cremer Strip' for the sole issue of the Jan Cremerkrant (1967), written by the subversive Dutch novelist Jan Cremer. The paper sold exceptionally well, but local police forces confiscated all copies within a hour. In 1968 Van den Boogaard also drew the comic strip 'Pinokkio' for the official KRO network magazine Studio. What started as a simple adventure story took a controversial turn when Van den Boogaard's hero had a different kind of adventure under the shower. Angry letters and the comic's cancellation were the result... During the same period, Van den Boogaard drew the gangster comic 'Al Kapsones' (1968) for the Bruna pocket book Pulp,  and he worked with scriptwriter Martin Lodewijk on a promotional comic for the fashion brand Sturka, called 'Het Sturka-Mysterie' (1969). 

Ans en Hans
When Hitweek changed its name into Aloha in 1969, 'Witje en Gert' continued for a while. But the most remarkable comic strip was 'Ans en Hans Krijgen De Kans' (1969), which was later published in the sex magazine Chick as well. 'Ans en Hans' was quite provocative for the time. It features the young student Hans and his girlfirend Ans, who engage in sexual experiments. The strip perfectly captures the sexual freedom of the 1960s and quickly gained a cult following. It also stands out in terms of graphics. Compared with other erotic comics Van den Boogaard could actually draw anatomically correct bodies. His explicit artwork is swift and dynamic and makes even Ans and Hans' weirdest sex positions look convincing. Interestingly enough Van den Boogaard was gay, but as he put it rather bluntly: "I might be a queer, but I'm quite good in making horny heterosexual drawings." He also remembered he had to turn in his artwork as quick before deadline as possible, so the printer had no time to intervene. 'Ans en Hans' gained international notoriety when the U.S. pornographic magazine Screw wrote an article about it. German comics critic Andreas Knigger praised Van den Boogaard as "the greatest European underground comix artist" and felt his work should be "mandatory reading at every school." Perhaps the most telling sign that Van den Boogaard had arrived was the fact that 'Ans and Hans' was bootlegged. A German publisher compiled all episodes together, translated them and then published them illegally. Not all Germans at the time were fond of 'Ans and Hans', though. In the province Bayern the series was considered "dangerous for the youth" and banned. In The Netherlands, P.J. Muller was the first to collect the sexual exploits of Ans and Hans in book format in 1970. This album was reprinted by the literary publisher De Bezige Bij in 1972.

'Ans & Hans'.

Jan Alleman
Between 1970 and 1971 Van den Boogaard drew 'Jan Alleman' for the Amsterdam-based countercultural magazine Gandalf. The comic strip stars an average Joe, literally named that way, in stories which provide social-political commentary. The hopeless and lonely protagonist struggles through life, and constantly represses his fantasies. Darker in tone than Van den Boogaard's previous comics, this painful document of social isolation was collected in the book 'Jan Alleman kan d'er wat van'  (De Bezige Bij, 1972).

Abe, Een Hotshot van een Voetballerina
Subsequently, the magazine Voetbal International ran Van den Boogaard's 'Abe, Een Hotshot Van Een Voetballerina' (1972), which illustrated scripts by sport journalist Nico Scheepmaker. The comic strip revolves around a Frisian girl, Abigail, from the village Pingjum. She turns out to be a goal wonder and signs a contract with association football club Ajax. Yet because of her short cut hair, everyone mistakes her for a man. Several players feel attracted to her and assume they are gay, which satirizes the taboo of homosexuality in the world of sports. 'Abe, Een Hotshot Van Een Voetballerina' is loaded with references to sports events and celebrities who were famous in the 1970s. Since it was published in a special interest magazine, most readers would instantly understand the allusions. If one isn't a football fan or familiar with 1970s Dutch pop culture 'Abe' will probably be somewhat incomprehensible to modern-day readers. De Bezige Bij also collected this comic in a book in 1973.

'Abe, Een Hotshot Van Een Voetballerina'.

Further work of the early 1970s
In the 1973-1974 period, Theo van den Boogaard worked on several one-shot comics within the realm of underground comix. In expressive realism, 'Arme Jimmy' (1973) tells the dull life of a young, depressed gay man in his saddening modern apartment. Equally expressive, but with more MAD influences, is 'De Ideograaf' (1974), about a bored-out comic artist who invents a machine which instantly executes each idea. While the story was created in 1974, it wasn't published in book format by Espee until 1980.

Witje en Gert

Wim T. Schippers
In the late 1960s and early 1970s conceptual artist Wim T. Schippers (co-)created a series of highly controversial and subversive TV shows. The experimental 'Hoepla' (1967) was the first show to present a naked woman on Dutch television: Phil Bloom. Schippers came up with a series of equally shocking shows, starring Harry Touw, IJf Blokker and Dolf Brouwers as respectively the characters Fred Haché, Barend Servet and Sjef van Oekel. Van den Boogaard was asked by Dutch broadcasting company VPRO to illustrate a couple of stickers based on these shows. 'De Fred Haché Show' (1971-1972), 'De Barend Servet Show' (1972-1973) and 'Van Oekel's Discohoek' (1974-1975) all had had a seemingly dignified TV host presenting various musical numbers, comedy acts and reports. The hosts were treated as if they were real-life people instead of actors, which confused quite some older viewers. In fact, if one unknowingly tuned in it all looked like a normal variety show. 'Van Oekel's Discohoek' (1974-1975), for instance, was a parody of 'AVRO's Top Pop', but nevertheless featured real-life Dutch and foreign pop musicians playbacking their songs, among them Donna Summer and Captain Beefheart. Yet there was always some controversial staged incident during which one of the three hosts panicked, cursed or got mad. Nudity, blasphemy and lèse-majesté frequently caused scandal. Schippers' shows pushed the boundaries of what was possible and acceptable on television.  

Sjef van Oekel on TV
Of all three characters, Dolf Brouwers' Sjef van Oekel has left the most lasting impression. The character was an elderly gentleman, who talks in very old-fashioned language. Van Oekel was completely out-of-touch with the modern world and overly sensitive. Whenever something unexpected happened he tended to bellow in a melo-dramatic tone. Brouwers' expertise as a operetta singer came in handy for this. Like all characters created by Schippers, Van Oekel had his own catchphrases: "als het ware" ("as it were"). He used the word "reeds" ("already") in odd grammatical sentences and frequently announced: "Ik word niet goed!" ("I'm starting to feel sick!"). In a 1974 Christmas evening episode Van Oekel's unstable health eventually got the worst of him, as he threw up in a bicycle bag. The barf wasn't real, merely a mix of bread, soup and protein, but it sure looked disgusting. Many viewers felt such a scene was inappropriate on such a joyous and pacifist holiday occasion. But it elevated Sjef van Oekel to cult status...

Van den Boogaard's first drawn version of Sjef van Oekel (and Barend Servet), announcing a comics event in 1973.

First appearance in comics
Theo van den Boogaard was immediately captivated by the expressive mannerisms of Sjef van Oekel, as performed by Dolf Brouwers.  Right from the start he begged Schippers to allow him to create a comic strip based on his characters. In fact, without consent of their creator, he had already used both Sjef van Oekel and IJf Blokker's Barend Servet in a gag page promoting a comics event for a 1973 issue of Stripschrift. He later reused Van Oekel in a strip presenting the 'Abe' comics album. Eventually, Van den Boogaard received permission for an official celebrity comic. Schippers personally wrote down gags and stories, which allowed him to keep creative control. 'Sjef van Oekel in de bocht' was published in 25 episodes in magazine Nieuwe Revu in 1976-1977, yet still drawn in a cartoony version. Quite labour-intensive, Van den Boogaard couldn't keep this comic up on a weekly basis and quit drawing comics for a while. During the next five years he focused on illustration and commercial assignments.  He made ironic cartoons about relational problems for articles in magazines like Mensen van Nu, Ouders van Nu, Sextant and Avenue. His erotic drawings appeared in the American gay magazine The Advocate, while he became a sought-after artist for advertising and communication campaigns.

'Van Oekel in de Bocht'.

Return to comics
By 1980, Ger van Wulften's publishing house Espee had released new book publications of 'Ans en Hans' and 'De Ideograaf', while Paul Rijperman published 'Sjef van Oekel in de bocht' in book format. It was released simultaneously as 'Julius Patzenhofer haut auf die Pauke' by the German Volksverlag, and as 'Léon van Oukel s'en tire toujours' by Magic Strip in Brussels, Belgium. The positive response and his acquired self-confidence, prompted Van den Boogaard to restart the comic in Nieuwe Revu, while less controversial episodes also ran in the Dutch children's magazine Sjors en Sjimmie Blad from 1988 on. Schippers was back on board as scriptwriter, although Van den Boogaard had an equal say over the content. Schippers only insisted that all dialogue was kept as written. As for the visualisation Van den Boogaard felt something was off about his earlier, cartoony version. In a 2010 interview with Michael Minneboo he said that it occurred to him that Schippers' jokes would work better if they were portrayed in a realistic and recognizable environment. Therefore he switched to more detailed and realistic drawings, inspired by the "Ligne Claire" ("Clear Line") of Hergé, which experienced a renaissance at the time thanks to artists like Joost Swarte and Ever Meulen. The comic often makes use of huge panorama shots. In many images little jokes are hidden. Since the artist is fond of trains Van Oekel often walks through railway stations. All backgrounds are clearly recognizable as Amsterdam. The fashions betray the era in which the series was created, but Van den Boogaard didn't mind since 'Sjef van Oekel' is not a topical work. He compared it with Laurel & Hardy, whose movies are clearly set in the 1930s, yet timeless entertainment to this day. To help him create all these stunning but time-consuming backgrounds Van den Boogaard was assisted by Paul Schindeler, Hilbert Bolland and Michel Custers, while former Hergé assistant France Ferrari took care of the coloring. Books were published by Oberon from 1982 onwards.

Sjef van Oekel by Theo van den Boogaard
'Sjef van Oekel Raakt op Drift' (1985).

Van Oekel's character in the comics
Most 'Sjef van Oekel' episodes are either one-page gags or short stories. Just like his TV version Van Oekel is a clueless and unwordly simpleton. Yet the comic strip puts less emphasis on Van Oekel's catchphrases and more on his odd reactions and interpretations of the world around him. He tends to suddenly go berserk without any logical reason. Other times he says or does abnormal stuff that surprises, shocks, embarrasses and/or enrages people. While they understandably get upset Van Oekel remains rather unmoved by it. A running gag is the character's tendency to interpret figure-of-speech literally. For instance, when a waiter tells him: "Telephone!" Van Oekel replies: "Yes. That's a telephone. But could you put it back on the hook? I'm expecting a phone call, see?" Apart from Brouwers, Van den Boogaard was also inspired by his own father, who was also quite square and formal.

Sjef van Oekel
Sjef van Oekel - 'Een nieuwe bril' (1982).

Another major difference between the TV series and the comic strip were the gags. Schippers and Van den Boogaard could actually portray the character in situations that TV budgets and censors would never allow. The series is a delightful, if somewhat explicit, satire of Dutch society. It attacks two stereotypical images of Dutchmen and - women. The first target are the sober-minded people who feel that "everyone should act normal, which is already crazy enough". Van Oekel often encounters high society, civil servants, police officers, churchgoers and people just doing their job. He always throws them out of their comfort zone with his strange sayings and behaviour. Yet the authors are equally vicious towards the tolerant people who claim "everything should be allowed in Holland." Van Oekel repeatedly stumbles upon religious fanatics, prostitutes, exhibitionists and lewd perverts. In his naïvité he sees nothing out-of-the-ordinary about their behaviour. Many of these scenes are quite risqué and would nowadays have more trouble appearing in print than back then. In one story, for instance, Van Oekel enters a store where a creepy man tries to make a child pornography video with a kid preparing to undress in his changing room. Both the boy and Van Oekel are completely oblivious about the man's actual intentions, though Van Oekel still thwarts his plans by sending the boy home.

International success
'Sjef van Oekel' was also published in Flanders, where it appeared in Panorama/De Post. The character was even given a cameo as cooking chef Chef van Ouquelle in the 'Kiekeboes' album 'De Anonieme Smulpapen' (1983) by Merho. While most comics based on a popular TV show or media celebrity don't last long 'Sjef van Oekel' ran for 18 years straight! It kept the character in the public consciousness long after Brouwers quit portraying him on the small screen. As a result 'Sjef van Oekel' is the longest-running celebrity comic in the Netherlands, as well as the third longest-running Dutch-language celebrity comic series after Willy Linthout and Urbanus' 'Urbanus' (in print since 1982) and Hec Leemans' 'F.C. De Kampioenen' (since 1997). Even internationally it ranks as one of the longest-running comic strips based on a celebrity. Only around comedy duo Laurel & Hardy and Mexican wrestler El Santo have more comics been created. Though in their case mainly by different artists, while both 'Sjef van Oekel' and 'Urbanus' were always made by the same team.

'Sjef van Oekel' is also a rare example of a very local celebrity comic which nevertheless experienced international success. The comic strip appeared in English ('Mr. Ponsford'), French (as 'Léon Van Oukel', 'Léon le Terrible', 'Léon-La-Terreur'), German ('Leo, Der Terrorist', 'Julius Patzenhofer'), Danish ('Vakse Viggo') and Spanish ('León El Terrible'). By the late 1970s and early 1980s 'Sjef van Oekel' and Van den Boogaard's earlier comics appeared in Libération, Humanité Dimanche and L'Écho des Savanes. All this while nobody outside the Netherlands and Flanders had any idea of the character's TV origins. But in all fairness the comic strip can be easily enjoyed without preconceived knowledge. After a decade Schippers and Van den Boogaard were so respected that they were once seriously considered to create a replacement comic for Marten Toonder's 'Tom Poes' in NRC Handelsblad. This classic comic had ran in Dutch papers for more than 40 years. To fill in the void the men were asked to create a comic strip about an archetypical reader of the paper, but the project was discontinued because their suggestion resembled Van Oekel too much.

Court case by Dolf Brouwers
Meanwhile the man who actually resembled Van Oekel, Dolf Brouwers, started to regret his comic strip. At first he supported the project, but he had never foreseen that the series would last so long. He'd already retired from performing the character and wanted to do other things. But since the comic strip kept running he could never escape from its shadow. Even worse, it harmed his own public image. As he complained in an interview: "Many people now think that I, Dolf Brouwers, do all these things in real life too!" To add insult to injury he didn't even receive a dime of the earnings. In 1989 he took the case to court. Two years later the judge ruled that Brouwers' likeness was no longer allowed to be portrayed in "obscene or pornographic situations." In 1992 Brouwers, Schippers and Van den Boogaard settled a financial agreement out of court. It is often believed that this killed the series, but in reality 'Sjef van Oekel' kept going for another two years. The creators didn't see the lack of obscenity as a drawback and actually favored more jokes about Van Oekel's odd reactions to perfectly normal questions and remarks. Unfortunately, most readers wanted more sex jokes, while Van den Boogaard's assistants wanted to start a solo career. This effectively ended the series in 1994, halfway a story even. A planned animated film about Van Oekel was scrapped too. When Dolf Brouwers passed away in 1997 it put the series on a hiatus for decades. It took until 2011 before Schippers and Van den Boogaard published a compilation album called 'Wordt het toch nog gezellig...' (Dutch Media, 2011).

Trainstation Amsterdam-Lelylaan.

Graphic contributions
Van den Boogaard illustrated album covers of songs by Sjef Van Oekel and comedy and musical records based on other radio and TV shows by Schippers, such as 'De Lachende Scheerkwast', 'Ronflonflon' and 'Opzoek Naar Yolanda'. But he also used his talent for other projects, like a graphic contribution to Paul De Leeuw's CD 'Stille Liedjes' (1991) and Joost Prinsen's record 'Een Kop Die Je Zelf Niet Bevalt' (2003). He made illustrations for magazines like Vrij Nederland, HP/De Tijd, NRC Handelsblad and Playboy, alongside adverts to promote Adformatie, the Amsterdam Municipal Transport Company GVB, the Dutch Ministry of Health, Welfare and Sport and most notably the Dutch Railways. The artist illustrated railroad timetables, and has made detailed drawings of a great many Dutch railway stations. In 2012 he made an illustrated glass-in-lead window for the Bakenesserkerk in Haarlem. Since 2013 portraits of Dutch jazz legends can be seen at the Oude Binnenweg in Rotterdam, drawn by Van den Boogaard, Jan Kruis, Wouter Tulp, Louise Lagerwij and Martin Valkhoff.

For those interested in his railway-related artwork 'IJzeren Lijnen van Theo Van den Boogaard' (2005) will suit their fancy. People who enjoy his graphic depictions of Amsterdam should definitely check out 'The Amsterdam of Theo Van den Boogaard' (2011), which collects numerous city scapes illustrated by the maestro. Van den Boogaard furthermore illustrated Bart Drenth's 'De Kunst Van Het Volgen' (2005), a book on how to deal with following commands, and the cover of Hafid Bouazza's novel 'Niets dan Zonde' (2012).

Later comics and cartoon work
Van den Boogaard kept drawing comics too. In 1991 he made a graphic contribution to 'Les Aventures du Latex - La Bande Dessinée Européenne s'Empare du Préservatif' (1991), a Swiss educational comic which promotes condom use. The same year he published the comic book 'Joost Mag Het Weten En Andere Verhalen' (1991), which collects various erotic short stories, though not exactly to arouse readers. Some of the topics, several of which told through the innocent eyes of a young kid called Joost, poke fun at bestiality and paedophilia. Another taboo topic, mortality, is tackled in 'Theo Van den Boogaard Tekent De Dood' (2003), featuring drawings about death and the Grim Reaper. During the same decade Van den Boogaard published 'Kenschetsen' (2006) in De Volkskrant, a series illustrating people's individual characteristics through combined objects. Among his commercial comics were a series of educational comic pages about the weather starring Dutch forecaster Peter Timofeeff, published in newspapers like Metro and Spits (2003-2004).

'Kenschetsen' portrayal of a workman's mate, and a morphed portrait of TV producer Joop van den Ende and Dutch Prime Minister Jan-Peter Balkenende as Joop van den Balkenende (From: 'Streken van een Serialtekenaar').

The 2000s brought misfortune to the artist's personal life. In 2000 his longtime partner Karel passed away. Seven years later Van den Boogaard was diagnosed with intestinal cancer and arthritis. He recovered from the cancer, but the arthritis stayed. While his grip around the pencil isn't what it used to be he still manages to create new work. In 2010 he published 'Streken van een Serialtekenaar' (De Vliegende Hollander, 2010), which collected his older 'Kenschetsen' drawings, but also new cartoons, illustrations and comics which all poke fun at current affairs, advertising campaigns and celebrity culture. It also marked the return of 'Witje' in a couple of new jokes. Three years later he created 'Bob Dylan Illustrated', a book which illustrates six Bob Dylan songs. It was published under the pen name Theo Bogart. The artist has always been a Dylan fan. The same year he also released a cover album, 'Theo Bogart Sings Bob Dylan' (2013), which he recorded with Jakob Klaasse. In 2015 Van den Boogaard was asked to create his own version of Edgar P. Jacobs' signature comic strip 'Blake and Mortimer', but Dargaud eventually refused his try-outs. The honor of being the first Dutchman working with these classic Franco-Belgian characters was eventually shared by Peter van Dongen and Teun Berserik. 2016 was a busy year. Van den Boogaard designed the street sign for the Leylandstraat in Haarlem and was asked by American TV chef Anthony Bourdain to create illustrations for his book 'Appetites' (2016). The same year the artist's life was subject of a documentary by Nathalie Crum: 'De Vier Winters van Theo van den Boogaard'.

'Bob Dylan Illustrated'.

Recognition, legacy and influence
Theo van den Boogaard's work has often been exhibited and awarded. On 29 October 1989 he received the Stripschapprijs from comic appreciation society Het Stripschap. The same year a retrospective book about his career was written by Martijn Daalder: 'Theo van den Boogaard in vogelvlucht' (Oberon, 1989). Two years later other compilations were published: 'Taal en Teken' (Oog & Blik, 1992) and 'De Jaren 60 en 70' (1992). His work was an inspiration to Kamagurka and Herr Seele's 'Cowboy Henk', as well as Pieter Zandvliet and André Gerrits.

Lambiek will always be grateful to Theo van Den Boogaard for illustrating the letter "A" in our encylopedia book, 'Wordt Vervolgd - Stripleksikon der Lage Landen', published in 1979.

Dolf Brouwers and Theo van den Boogaard signing in Kees Kousemaker's comics shop Lambiek (27 December 1980).

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