Archie de man van staal, by Bert Bus (Sjors #3, 1974)
'Archie de man van staal' (Sjors #3, 1974).

Bert Bus was a Dutch comic author with a career spanning from the late 1940s throughout the 1980s. Most of his series appeared in the comic magazine Sjors and its successors Eppo, Eppo Wordt Vervolgd and Sjors & Sjimmie Stripblad. Bus' career can be called unique in the Netherlands. He was the only Dutch artist who spent over 40 years working on his own comic creations as a staff artist and not on a freelance basis, securing him of a steady income and retirement pay. His series alternated between science fiction and history, and include such creations as 'Olaf Noord' (1953-1957), 'Theban, de eerste wereldreiziger' (1957-1959), 'Cliff Rendall' (1963-1965)', 'Stef Ardoba' (1975-1982), 'Malorix' (1983-1985) and 'Russ Bender' (1986-1989). Bus is furthermore remembered by an entire generation of comic fans for his locally produced version of the British comic 'Archie the Robot' (1971-1974). Bus ranked the American artist Alex Raymond ('Flash Gordon') among his main influences for his sci-fi work, while Hal Foster ('Prince Valiant') was an example for his historical comics. His passion for history also came to blossom in his activities as an amateur archaeologist in the Velsen region.

Stef Ardoba by Bert Bus
Stef Ardoba - 'Opdracht in het verleden'.

Early life and career
Bert Bus was born in 1931 in the town of Santpoort, near Haarlem. His education was interrupted during the war years, and after the Liberation the young man had difficulties keeping his mind on his lessons, since his interests drifted elsewhere. By reading books about ancient Egypt and novels by Jules Verne Bus had developed a passion for both science fiction and history. In 1947 the 16-year old artist presented himself at the offices of the Haarlem-based publishing house De Spaarnestad. After a first proof of competence, Bus was hired as an assistant artist at the publisher's art studio at the Nassauplein in Haarlem. It was the beginning of his long career with this publishing house, which later became part of the company VNU. The studio provided illustrations, restaurations, lettering and other production art to De Spaarnestad's magazines like Libelle, Katholieke Illustratie and Panorama. Bus initially worked under supervision of studio chief Jacques Bouwman, who was later replaced by Frans Piët and then by Ab Schatorjé. Other early artists were Jan Giling and Nico van Dam; the latter became his friend for life. The team was later joined by Ben Bulters, Ruud Looman and especially Harry Balm. The trio of Bus, Van Dam and Balm became VNU's longest serving staff artists, who remained employed until their retirements in the 1980s and 1990s.

Olaf Noord, by Bert Bus (1954)
'Olaf Noord' (Rebellenclub #36, 1953).

Olaf Noord
Bert Bus' first job were drawing patterns, puzzles and illustrations for the women's magazine Libelle. He took evening art classes on the side to further develop his drawing skills. After fulfilling his military service from 1950 to 1952, Bus returned to the Spaarnestad Studio, where he now started working on comics for the children's publications. The first of these was about space traveler 'Olaf Noord', which began publication in Panorama's supplement Rebellenclub. It was continued in Sjors, the successor of all De Spaarnestad's children's supplements (Rebellenclub, Grabbelton, Tombola), from September 1954 until 1957. 'Olaf Noord' was about an American aviator who is abducted by Venusians and ends up in all kinds of space adventures. Bus had developed the comic at home, and initially made it in his spare time. He eventually got the opportunity to produce his comics during daytime at the studio. The series consists of four stories with lengths varying from 30 to 90 pages. It is one of the first Dutch science fiction comics; although it must be said that it was Auke Tadema who introduced the genre in the Netherlands in the 1930s.

Skokan by Bert Bus

In addition to 'Olaf Noord', Bert Bus produced a gag strip about a know-it-all cave kid, called 'Skokan, een slimmeling uit het jaar nul'. 37 gag strips were published in Sjors in the 1955-1956 period. The strip had both speech balloons and text captions, the latter written by editor Lou Vierhout. Bus also did occasional fill-in pages of 'Sjors van de Rebellenclub' for Carol Voges. By 1957, 'Olaf Noord' was deemed too difficult for the young readership of Sjors magazine, and Bus decided to try his luck with a historical series.

Theban by Bert Bus

Theban, De Eerste Wereldreiziger
This became 'Theban, de eerste wereldreiziger' ("Theban, the first world traveller", 1957-1959), a mix of history, mythology and fiction. The story of 104 pages tells the adventures of Theban, a Doric Greek who lived about 1000 years before Christ. The hero travels to the then-known spots of the world, where he encounters all sorts of dangers, from sea monsters to the Minotaur. The series ran for two years until Sjors magazine restyled itself. The artist later expressed some shame over the historical inaccuracies in this comic. In his later historical comics he used more research and always kept an eye on the educational value of his work.

'Cliff Rendall' (Sjors #22, 1964).

Cliff Rendall
In the following years Bus made three independent stories: 'De Brug in het Oerwoud' (1960-61), an experiment with the Clear Line style, and the historical adventures 'De Gouden Kraag' (1962) and 'De Slavenkoopman van Pompeï' (1963). He returned to science fiction for two long adventures of 'Cliff Rendall' (1963-1965). Compared with 'Olaf Noord' Bus had clearly grown in his ability to create a plausible sci-fi series. Fans praised the comic's detailed drawings of technical equipment, and its focus on the human element. 'Cliff Rendall' was furthermore notable for giving a female character, Shena, an equally important heroic role. At the time this was still a rarity in most comics. 

Lance Barton by Bert Bus
'Lance Barton' (Sjors van de Rebellenclub #12, 1967).

Later comics
'Cliff Rendall' was followed by a comics adaptation of Mark Twain's 'Huckleberry Finn' (1965-1966), and then by yet another science fiction series, the epic trilogy 'De banneling van Nimmorac' starring the hero 'Lance Barton' (1967-1968). While nearly all of Bert Bus' own creations were in the realistic genre, he also wrote the children's comic with the two gnomes 'Woep en Wap' for his friend Nico van Dam for many years. It ran on the back cover of the women's weekly Rosita from September 1958 to March 1966.

Nancy Drew by Bert Bus
'Nancy Drew' (Tina, 1969).

Nancy Drew
Bert Bus furthermore holds historical significance for being the first local artist to appear in the girls' magazine Tina, which was by then still a translation of the British magazine Princess Tina. His first serial was a text comic based on the American children's book series 'Nancy Drew' (1969) by a collective of ghostwriters under the name Carolyn Keene. His second and final comic for the magazine was the science fiction story 'Jola en de Ruimterace' (1970). Tina's focus on original comics material increased in the 1970s, when authors like Andries Brandt and Patty Klein became prominent contributors.

Jola by Bert Bus
'Jola en de ruimterace' (Tina #22, 1970).

Archie the Robot
He returned to Sjors in 1971 to draw a modernized version of the originally British comic 'Archie the Robot' by E. George Cowan en Ted Kearon. The comic had appeared in Sjors under the title 'Archie, de Man van Staal' since 1963. The Dutch version (1971-1974) was launched after Archie's British homebase Lion had cancelled the strip. Bus worked on ten action-filled adventures with the man of steel, his two human companions and their time travel tower. It was initially a joint production by Bus, Van Dam and Balm, while most of the plots were still based on later-day British stories. Bus later made the comic all by himself, the latter two stories in cooperation with Tina editor Fenna Ridderbos. A book collection of two of Bus' stories was published under the Amsterdam Boek imprint in 1973. Oberon released the artist's entire run on the series in nine books between 1980 and 1982.

Archie by Bert Bus
Archie - 'De terugkeer van Kruls'.

Stef Ardoba
Bert Bus' final creation for Sjors magazine was 'Stef Ardoba' (1975-1982), a series about a journalist, with a strong focus on time travel. Bus could now combine his two fields of expertise and create stories set in both the past and in the future. Main inspirations were the popular science literature of the time, including the hypothetical works about extraterrestrial influences on early human culture by Erich von Däniken and Peter Kolosimo. 'Stef Ardoba' was continued in Eppo magazine, the continuation of VNU's comic magazines Sjors and Pep. By now, the studio at the Nassauplein had been dissolved, and Bert Bus was working at the offices of the company's comics division Oberon. The final two stories of 'Stef Ardoba' were written by Eppo editor Kees Vuik.

Malorix by Bert Bus

Malorix / Russ Bender
For his new historical series 'Malorix' (1983-1985), Bert Bus turned to the Frisian region (nowadays the provinces of Frisia and North Holland) as part of the Roman Empire during the early days of the Christian era. This "well-founded fantasy" or "romanticized history" tells the story of the battle between the Romans and the Frisians around the Castellum Flevum near Velsen. The artist got most of his inspiration from his work as an amateur archaeologist in the Velsen region, and did his best to give an historically accurate depiction of clothing, landscapes and buildings. Unfortunately Bus suffered an accident in 1985 and was unable to work for several months. He returned to the pages of Eppo Wordt Vervolgd, and then Sjors & Sjimmie Stripblad with the 'Russ Bender' sci-fi trilogy (1986-1989), about a fighter pilot of the American Navy. The artist spent the final years of his employment working from home.

Russ Bender by Bert Bus
'Russ Bender' (Sjors & Sjimmie Stripblad #17, 1988).

On 22-23 October 2004, during the Stripdagen in Alphen aan de Rijn, together with his former studio colleagues Harry Balm and Nico van Dam, Bus was awarded the Bulletje & Boonestaakschaal in 2004 for his contributions to the Dutch comics field. On 29 April 2010 Bus and Van Dam were knighted in the Order of Orange-Nassau for their archaeological work, and Bus also for the educational value of his comic 'Malorix'.

Final years and death
Bert Bus is furthermore known for the painted cover illustrations he made for the Dutch editions of the British comic series 'Trigan Empire', which was drawn by Don Lawrence. The artist went into early retirement in the beginning of 1990, partially because of a reorganization of Sjors & Sjimmie Stripblad. Thus came an end to his career as a comic artist of over forty years. His only venture outside of the Spaarnestad/Oberon magazines was his contribution to the science fiction magazine Essef, which was edited and published by Raymond Donkersloot. Under the pseudonym Max Mutesius, Bus made the erotic comic 'De Vechters van Shar-Yaban' (1977-1979).

'De Vechters van Shar-Yaban' (Essef #8).

When Oberon launched its black-and-white comic book collection in 1976, most of Bert Bus' earlier series were finally published in book format. The publishing house De Lijn released one volume of a 'Bert Bus Bibliography' in 1984, collecting his 'Olaf Noord' stories. Post-retirement reprints of 'Malorix' and 'Russ Bender' made him a frequent guest on comic festival signings.  Since their retirement, Bus and Van Dam have devoted most of their time to the Archaeological Study Group Velsen. The two were closely involved in the excavation of the Roman Fort Velsen. The 1998 book publication of 'Malorix' by Big Balloon in cooperation with the Archaeological Museum Haarlem, as well as the editions published by Amor Vincit Omnia in 1996, 2008 and 2011, have been frequently used in schools as teaching material.

Bert Bus passed away in the night of 27 and 28 August 2017 at the age of 86.

Lambiek will always be grateful to Bus for illustrating the letter "O" in our encylopedia book, 'Wordt Vervolgd - Stripleksikon der Lage Landen', published in 1979.

Nico van Dam en Bert Bus
Nico van Dam and Bert Bus, while working on 'Woep en Wap'.

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