Billy Cam was an artist for d'Orient, a family magazine from the Dutch colony of the Dutch Indies (now Indonesia) in the 1930s. He was the author of the popular gag series 'CAMouFLAGES', which gave a good view on life in the Dutch colony in the 1930s.
Little is known about the artist, whose real name was William Thomas Campbell and who lived a reclusive life. But thanks to the investigations of Dutch researcher George Mulder, much has come to light. Billy Cam was originally from the USA, where he was born in 1891 in St. Louis, Missouri, to parents of Irish descent. On later documents Campbell's listed birthyears vary from 1892 to 1894. According to the 1910 census, he saw himself as a landscape painter. Campbell was drafted for World War I, but it is unsure if he ever fought in the trenches. By 1920, he was married and had moved to Los Angeles.
He had taken correspondence courses in art, but had a hard time finding assignments. He was therefore eager to accept editor Albert Zimmerman's offer to work for d'Oriënt in the Dutch Indies. He settled in Batavia, where he commenced working on 'CAMouFLAGES' in December 1935. The strip was a great success, and because of Cam's resemblances to the main character, he was recognized wherever he came.
Cam couldn't withdraw from the prevailing colonial morals of the time. Where the Indonesian woman was described as a graceful "queen of Sheba" in the first strip of 24 December 1935, she was devaluated to colonial level several episodes later, in which Cam calls his female servant not too smart, slow and lazy.
Billy Cam lived and worked in Batavia for four or five years. According to a newspaper article, Cam returned to the States on the Norwegian motorliner Roseville of the Klaveness Line on 22 February 1942. Cam apparently had a studio in South Broadway upon his return in the States in 1942. He passed away in Los Angeles on 25 April 1962.
Billy Cam (right) with the head of photostudio Fotax in Soerabaya