Canary Pete's famous IKEA cartoon (redrawn version).

Canary Pete is a Belgian cartoonist, best known as the house cartoonist of the Antwerp newspaper De Gazet van Antwerpen since 1998. 

Early life
He was born in 1952 as Sus Damiaens in the hospital of Hasselt, although his parents actually lived in Bree. His father was a metal worker who wrote humorous speeches for the local carnival festivities in Limburg. Damiaens' mother was a theatrical actress. As a boy, Damiaens enjoyed drawing. So much in fact that he once scribbled on the official child support documents, which made the local office wonder whether the papers were still valid? It comes to little surprise that his artistic dreams weren't encouraged much by his parents and teachers. Damiaens therefore studied accountancy and got a job as an employee at the union. Even there he kept doodling on official documents. One of his colleagues, an art critic in his spare time, suggested to follow his creative ambitions. Damiaens followed his advice and went to the Academy of Hasselt to study graphic arts. Among his graphic influences are Willy VandersteenBrasser and Gerrit de Jager.


Cartoon depicting global warming. 2 February 2019.

Professional debut
He published his first cartoons in the union magazine Raak, where Brasser was house cartoonist. The veteran encouraged him and provided him with several useful tips. Around this time Damiaens took a pseudonym, Canary Pete (a pun on the Dutch word "kanariepietje" to describe a little canary), which was based on an inside joke among friends. He had several other artistic names as well, but since the cartoons signed with "Canary Pete" got picked up in the press, he kept it. He often thought of changing his pseudonym, particularly when people complained that it was "such a silly name." But for convenience sake he stuck with it, reassuring himself that if it annoyed so many people it was at least memorable.

Clients
In 1997 Canary Pete won first prize at the International cartoon contest Euro-Kartoenale in Kruishoutem with a cartoon about energy. A year later a shocking news story broke out which had the plus side of launching his cartoon career. In the spring of 1998 notorious Belgian criminal Marc Dutroux escaped from prison, but was recaptured the very same day. Canary Pete drew a funny cartoon about this tragic topic and was promptly asked by newspaper Gazet van Antwerpen to publish in their pages. Since then he is their house cartoonist, alongside Quirit. Canary Pete's cartoons can also be read in Het Belang van Limburg, the Dutch-language medical journal Medisch Contact, the chemist magazine De Apothekerskrant, the fruit grower magazine Fruit, De Nieuwe Koerier, the website politics.be, the e-zine Balzak and publications like De Nieuwe Tijd and Eigentijds. He has furthermore designed greeting cards and advertisements for the Christian mutuality, the nature center of Opglabbeek and Flam fireplaces. Canary Pete additionally illustrated the cover of Jaco Cuypers' poetry book 'Chile Con Jan' , and is also active as a sculptor.

One of Canary Pete's most famous cartoons depicts a job interview at IKEA. It was originally published in Gazet van Antwerpen on 3 January 2004 and a redrawn version has since then become an online hit. It was even published on the official site of the New York Public Library and shared on Twitter by author Richard Shotton (most famous for the book 'The Choice Factory').


The original IKEA cartoon (2004).

Controversy
Canary Pete's cartoons have occasionally offended readers. Some of his cartoons in Gazet van Antwerpen which ridiculed the extreme-right party Vlaams Blok (nowadays Vlaams Belang) irritated some of their voters. A 2005 cartoon in Medisch Contact depicting a blood transfusion center in Malawi where people are literally dismembered to give blood led to an angry letter accusing him of racism. Once Canary Pete made a cartoon for Medisch Contact which actually managed to offend its chief editor, Ben Crul ! Based on the news story that "women who talk with their doctors have a higher libido" Canary Pete drew a doctor having sex with a female patient while she moans: "Oh, doctor!!! It sure works quick!" It prompted Crul to write an official apology in his editorial in the next issue.

Between 16 May and 10 July 2013 he was one of several Flemish comic artists to exhibit original artwork during the 'Wereld van de Strips in Originelen' ('The World of Comics in Originals') exhibition in the Flemish Parliament in Brussels. The exhibition, organized by art critic and museum curator Jan Hoet and politician Dany Vandenbossche, later gained controversy when N-VA politician Jan Peumans objected to a French-language speech balloon on the official expo poster. Since the posters were already printed, the speech balloon was simply blanked. Numerous participating comic artists protested against this censorship, with several, including Canary Pete, asking to have their own cartoons and comics to be removed from the expo. 

In September 2015 a cartoon by Canary Pete printed in Het Belang van Limburg depicted an Arab toddler decapitating a teddy bear, in reference to news about Muslim terrorists. It offended so many readers that chief editor Indra Dewitte printed an official apology afterwards. 

Recognition
In 2010 Canary Pete won the award for Best Belgian Press Cartoon for a cartoon ridiculing U.S. President Barack Obama winning the Nobel Peace Award. It depicts a U.S. soldier in Iraq receiving the news over the phone, but being unable to hear it because of the constant explosions and gunfire. Five years later Canary Pete won second prize at the same contest, this time for a sequential cartoon contrasting a Belgian boy and a Middle Eastern boy who are both carried home by their fathers after "playing in the rain". Only in the Belgian boy's case it's literal rain and in the Arab boy's case he died after being bombed. And in 2018 Canary Pete won first prize again at the same contest, for a cartoon depicting a suicide terrorist setting up a time bomb, only to be confused about the impending daylights saving time. 

Since July 2014 Canary Pete has his own Twitter account. 

Legacy
Canary Pete's work is admired by Vejo


Gazet van Antwerpen, 14 July 2014.

www.canarypete.be

Series and books by Canary Pete in stock in the Lambiek Webshop:

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