Comic strip for NRC Handelsblad by Remco Campert
Comic strip by Remco Campert for NRC/Handelsblad (1979).

Remco Campert is one of the Netherlands' most famous and popular writers. He became a household name through poems such as 'Niet te Geloven' (1961) and his signature novels 'Het Leven Is Vurrukkuluk' (1962), 'Het Gangstermeisje' (1965), 'Tjeempie! Of Liesje in Luiletterland' (1968) and 'Somberman's Actie' (1985). Many magazines have published his witty, ironic columns. Throughout his career he received many awards and prizes. A little known fact is that he also published cartoons and comics.

Early life
Remco Wouter Campert was born in 1929 in The Hague. His father, Jan Campert, was a journalist and poet, while his mother, Joekie Broedelet, was a theatre actress. Both would become more famous later in life. Jan Campert is nowadays best remembered as a resistance member during World War II and the author of the iconic poem 'De Achttien Doden' (1941), about the execution of 18 resistance members. He too was eventually shot in camp Neuengamme in 1943. After the war Joekie Broedelet became a well known face in various Dutch TV series, such as 'Sesamstraat', 'Van Kooten en De Bie' and 'Medisch Centrum West'. Campert never knew his father well, as his parents divorced when he was only three years old. Due to his mother's stage career he was mostly raised by his grandmother and an adoption family. Campert loved reading and was strongly influenced by poets like Paul van Ostaijen, W.C. Williams, Hans Lodeizen and Lucebert and novelists like Theo Thijssen, Fritz Steuben, Charles Dickens, Gerard Reve, Ernest Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Vladimir Nabokov, Raymond Queneau, W.F. Hermans and J.D. Salinger and columnists like Art Buchwald, Robert Benchley and James Thurber. The young boy also devoured The New Yorker, where he admired the work of the aforementioned Thurber, Constantin Alajalov and especially Saul Steinberg , whose graphic style he tried to mimick.

Early comics
As a student at the Amsterdam Lyceum, Campert wrote articles and drew comics for his school paper HALO. He had a column, 'De Lyceumkroeg', in which he created illustrated poems which he signed with the pseudonyms Erce (based on his initials), Vincent Moreno and Klungel (literally "clumsy", but also a pun on Simon Carmiggelt's pseudonym "Kronkel"). In October 1946 he drew a comic strip titled 'Snuf Snuffel', inspired by Siem Praamsma's 'Jochem Jofel'. As one might expect from such early works they were quite amateuristic. A reader's poll in the paper pointed out that few readers liked his corny comics. Later Campert reflected on his early try-outs: "I only drew for about half a year, without any knowledge about the construction of comics characters and just started tracing them to get used to the style." He mused that he only went to school to make contributions to this paper. Most of his other time went to writing, drawing and visiting libraries, cinemas, jazz clubs and pubs, rather than attend classes. In 1948 he dropped out of high school, but still remained HALO's chief editor for three months extra.

Between 1948 and 1952 Campert's cartoons also appeared in more professional magazines such as Mandril - a Dutch monthly comparable to The New Yorker -, Alles Mag and the newspaper Het Parool. In 1952 Campert married Freddy Rutgers, who left him two years later for another well known Dutch poet: Gerrit Kouwenaar. In 1957 Campert remarried with poet and artist Fritzi Harmsen van Beek, the daughter of comics artists Eelco Harmsen van Beek (of 'Flipje van Tiel' fame) and Freddie Langeler. Working together from Fritzi's infamous Villa Jagtlust in Blaricum, Remco and Fritzi made a series of modern fables which appeared in Elseviers Weekblad under the title 'Fabeltjes Vertellen' (1958). He wrote the stories while she illustrated them. In 1968 these were made available in book format too. Fritzi also created a comic strip, 'Rampoo & Zizi', for her own publication Jagtlusttijd, which featured a couple based on them. Nevertheless Campert and Harmsen van Beek’s marriage only lasted a year. He would remarry again in 1961 and 1996, having various relationships in between.

Comic for Mandrill by Remco Campert
Comic for Mandrill (1949).

Poetry career
After dropping out of high school Campert got a diploma in typing, which helped him earn a living as a translator and writer of advertisements. Some of the books he translated over the years were Loriot's 'Der gute Ton' (as 'Zo hoort het eigenlijk', 1958) and Guy Peellaert's 'Pravda' (1968). Together with a fellow student, Rudy Kousbroek, the young translator founded the literary magazine Braak (1950-1951) which, along with Simon Vinkenoog's magazine Blurb, became a home for the literary movement De Vijftigers. This was a loosely connected group of Dutch and Flemish poets who wanted to create spontaneous poetry. To avoid overthinking they omittted punctuation, rhyme or any traditional poetic format. Campert surfed along on the wave, but was nevertheless not as bold in his literary experiments as the others. Yet he did cause controversy with his poem 'Niet te Geloven' (1961), of which the line: "alles zoop en naaide" ("everything boozed and fucked") offended many people. On 27 May 1964 a broadcast of the literary TV show 'Literaire Ontmoetingen' was cancelled because the hosts wanted to read this particular poem without omitting the provocative line. This tripled the poet's fame. Another line by the author, 'Poëzie is een daad van bevestiging' ('Poetry is a deed of acknowledgment', 1955), has also become iconic.

Columns
General audiences know Campert best for his humoristic columns in newspapers and magazines like Algemeen Dagblad, Elsevier, De Groene Amsterdammer, Haagse Post, Haarlems Dagblad, Maatstaf, Het Parool, Podium, Rails, Tirade, De Volkskrant and Vrij Nederland. Together with poet Bart Chabot and former association football player and columnist Jan Mulder he toured in theaters between 1989 and 1995, reading from their own work. Between 1996 and 2006 he and Mulder co-wrote a column in De Volkskrant under the collective pseudonym CaMu. From 2014 until 2018 Campert launched another column under the title 'Somberman', based on a literary character he created in 1985. He delighted readers of Elsevier with his editorial 'Dagelijksheden', between 2016 and 2018. In Flanders Campert's columns could be enjoyed in Humo and Het Laatste Nieuws. Readers love his playful, ironic style, full with puns and lack of traditional spelling. It breathes a tremendous air of freedom and gave many young writers a hint that great literature could be lightweight too. Compared with his more heavy-handed colleagues of the Vijftigers movement his work was far more accessible and therefore often been reprinted. In 1976 Ate de Jong, Otto Jongerius, Paul de Lussanet and Orlow Seunke adapted several stories from Campert's book 'Alle Dagen Feest' (1955) into a film, but it became a box office flop.


Illustrations for 'Tjeempie' by Joost Roelofsz (1976).

Novels
In the 1960s Campert gained extra fame through his humoristic novels. His signature work, 'Het Leven is Vurrukkulluk' (1961) is a tragicomic reflection of the intertwined lives of several characters over the course of one day. The book is notable for its frivolous language and rather explicit depictions of drinking, smoking and sex. In 2018 it was adapted into film by Frans Weisz, featuring Campert in a small cameo. 'Het Gangstermeisje' (1965) is a metafictional story about an author who suffers from writer's block but finds inspiration in a series of holiday events he'd better stay away from. A year later Weisz adapted it into a movie as well. Campert's third best known novel, 'Tjeempie! Of Liesje in Luiletterland' (1968), is a parody of pornographic novels and the "free love" ideals of the hippie movement, and appeared under the phonetic spelling of his name, "Remko Kampurt". The work was illustrated by Joost Roelofsz for the 1976 reprint by De Bezige Bij. For a long while during the 1970s, Campert suffered from writer's block. In 1979 he found new energy, which resulted in his novel 'Somberman's Actie' (1985). In March 2018 Campert announced his retirement from all his writing activities.

One of Campert's short stories, 'De Jongen Met Het Mes', was adapted into a comic by Dick Matena for a Christmas issue of HP/De Tijd in 2012.

Comic strip by Remco Campert
Comic strip by Remco Campert for NRC/Handelsblad (1979)

Later comics
In the 1970s Campert made some drawings for Haagse Post and in April 1979 he published six experimental comics in the Saturday supplement of NRC/Handelsblad. Inspired by James Thurber he used a similar loose approach. In her biography 'Een Knipperend Ogenblik', Mirjam van Hengel describes these comics as starting off very well, but after a few weeks devolving into just another average newspaper cartoon. Predictably Campert quit his comic strip soon after.

Recognition
Throughout his long career, Campert received the Reina Prinsen Geerligsprijs (1953), Jan Campertprijs (1956), Anne Frank-prijs (1958), Prijs van de Amsterdamse Kunstraad (1960), P.C.-Hooft-prijs (1976), Cestoda-prijs (1987), Gouden Ganzenveer (2011), Gouden Schrijfmachine (2014) and the most prestigious Dutch literary award: Prijs der Nederlandse Letteren (2015). He also won both the Poëzieprijs (1955) as well as the Prozaprijs (1959) handed out by the city of Amsterdam. Since 2017 part of his poem 'Betere Tijden' (1970) can be seen on the wall of a building in the Van Miereveldstraat in Amsterdam. The artwork was designed by Lucas de Groot, Erwin Slaats and Serge Verheugen.

Books about Remco Campert
For those interested in Campert's life and career Mirjam van Hengel's book 'Een Knipperend Ogenblik. Portret van Remco Campert, De Bezige Bij, 2018) is highly recommended.


Self-portrait by Remco Campert

Remco Campert in Lambiek's Nederlandse Stripgeschiedenis

Series and books by Remco Campert in stock in the Lambiek Webshop:

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