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.

In 2013 a exhibition of comics and cartoons was organized in the Flemish parliament. One of the members of the Flemish-nationalist party N-VA felt the need to change a French-language speech balloon in a drawing by François Schuiten into Dutch. This sparked protest from several cartoonists who participated, among them Canary Pete. Other artists who complained were Jeroom, Kamagurka, Marec, Nix, Quirit, Zaza, Vincent Baudoux, Cécile Bertrand, Emiel de Bolle, Clou, Cost, Vincent Dubois, Frédéric Dubus, Josse Goffin, Paul de Groeve, Jacpé, Kanar, Karl, Kroll, Jean-Louis Lejeune, Philippe Moins, Johan de Moor, Olivier Saive, Herr SeeleNicholas Vadot, Vejo en Xavier Zeegers. Kamagurka even went so far to ask for the removal of his own cartoons.

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. 


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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