'New Comic Strip Scandal 000'.

Jan Cremer is a Dutch novelist who gained cult fame with his adventurous but mythomaniacal "autobiography" 'Ik, Jan Cremer' ('I, Jan Cremer', 1964). In this work the author presents himself as a free-spirited rebel living on the edge. At the time the novel caused scandal, but was a bestseller nevertheless. It was translated across the globe and captured the imagination of many impressionable youngsters. Whether fact or fiction, 'Ik, Jan Cremer' is still regarded as a cultural cornerstone of the golden sixties. The author remains in the center of publicity today, having written, painted and travelled, among other activities. In the margin of his busy life he once co-wrote and drew a pornographic and satirical comic strip, 'New Comic Strip Scandal 000' (1962), with painter Rik van Bentum. While very obscure, amateuristic and only published in 1965, after Cremer became famous, this particular work could be considered the first Dutch underground comic

Early life
Jan Cremer was born in 1940 in Enschede, the Netherlands. World War II shaped his personal outlook. To him life has always been a "one-man guerrilla". His father was an electro-technical engineer who loved to write and travel. After getting involved in a bar brawl he died from his wounds when Jan was only two years old. The boy spent his youth in various orphanages while his mother fulfilled several low-life jobs in order to survive. Considered "troublesome" Cremer was kept under close watch by the juvenile rights movement Pro Juventute. After the Liberation he and his mother were suspected of being Nazi sympathizers, or at least Germans, because she was from Hungarian descent and had a strong accent. They were beaten, shaved bald and jailed for three weeks. In this hostile environment reading and drawing comics were one of the kid's few escapisms. Cremer distinctively remembered reading the magazine Robbedoes, Loek van Delden's 'Smidje Verholen' and Eelco Harmsen van Beek's 'Flipje uit Tiel'.

Jan Cremer is congratulated with his 13th anniversary in comic magazine Robs Vrienden.

Through a sympathetic neighbour, Cremer learned how to draw and paint. At age 14 he left high school and took a Saturday afternoon course at the local art academy, followed by a daily course at the Academy of Arnhem from 1956 on. The fifteen-year old published his own magazine De Tukkerbode and managed to get his stories and poems into other magazines as well. Inspired by the Danish-Belgian-Dutch abstract-expressionistic art movement Cobra Cremer made his own paintings, lithos, linos and sculptures in this style. After earning money with a variety of low-paid jobs he left his hometown and started travelling through Italy, France, Algeria, Ibiza... At one point he joined the Dutch marine, but was laid off again for being too disobedient. In 1960 he made a painting, 'La Guerre Japonaise', which he tried to sell for 1 billion guilders. The outrageous offer made national headlines, but even when a rich businessman offered the sum Cremer refused because the billionaire asked him a counteroffer: to quit painting for a decade. Around the same time the artist shocked his fellow Dutchmen by boldly stating on TV: "Rembrandt? Who's that? I know nothing about sports." He disrupted the prestigious Boekenbal convention by honking his motorcycle outside. Through these publicity stunts Cremer gained a reputation for being a non-conformist. He made many anti-intellectual and anti-conventional statements, always with the intention to provoke. He claimed that most novelists were "boring" to him and that he never spent more than five minutes in a museum. When asked what his favorite books were the provocateur boasted: "I don't read. I am read."

'New Comic Strip Scandal 000'.

In 1963 Cremer collaborated with artist Rik van Bentum on a pornographic comic strip named 'New Comic Strip Scandal 000'. The comic was inspired by the then current sex scandal revolving around British Minister of Defense John Profumo and call girl Christine Keeler. As Keeler counted a Russian ambassador among her clients the intrige thickened, since the suspicion rose that she might have been a Soviet spy. The comic strip is set in London. In the first panel a nigh unrecognizable Big Ben is drawn. A woman named "Bloody Mary" takes a shower when someone wants to draw her in the nude. As the phone rings the nude woman assumes its "John" (Profumo) and wants to answer the call. Later in the story the trial against Profumo and Keeler is depicted, including the "original tapes of their conversations" and snapshots of the British Royal Family having sex. Overall the story is filled with sex and violence, though so crudely written and drawn that it is somewhat chaotic to follow. In this regard the work can be compared with similar amateuristic comics by Dutch celebrities such as Remco Campert, Herman Brood, IJf Blokker and Wim de Bie.

from Ratio, by Jan Cremer

Cremer and Van Bentum alternated on drawing the comic's pages. They wanted to produce a very limited print-run of 50 copies, but Cremer later admitted that they made only 4 or 5. By lack of interest the comic strip wasn't officially published until Cremer became famous. In March-April 1965 some samples of the comic appeared in an issue of the literary magazine Ratio, despite the fact that the Profumo affair was already old news by then. Interestingly enough the magazine printed only five strips by Cremer ("the least unpublishable ones", as the editorial stated). Van Bentum's involvement wasn't even mentioned at all.

First underground comic?
Yet Cremer and Van Bentum's comic strip also holds historical significance. Its political, sexual and gruesomely violent content broke new ground in Dutch comics. They wanted to provoke readers and succeeded, given that it took two years before this controversial comic found publication. And even then it only appeared in a niche magazine, no mainstream publication. All these elements combined make it the strongest candidate for the title "first Dutch underground comic". Yet in terms of actual impact Robert Olaf Stoop's 'Roza's Lotgevallen' (1966) was a far more significant Dutch underground comic strip. Stoop actually had his own publishing company, Real Free Press, to distribute U.S. and Dutch-language underground comix, helping to popularize the genre in the Netherlands. It's therefore safe to say that Stoop is the real godfather of Dutch underground comix, while Cremer and Van Bentum's comic strip is at least even more underground by being more obscure. 

Ik, Jan Cremer
On 28 February 1964 Jan Cremer published his first novel, 'Ik, Jan Cremer' ('I, Jan Cremer'). The book describes the author's life through a series of spectacular events, many involving crime, violence and explicit sex scenes. He presents himself as a rebel who lives by his own rules. In 1966 a sequel came out, 'Ik, Jan Cremer, Tweede Deel' ('I, Jan Cremer, Part II'). His editor and good friend Hans Sleutelaar more or less forced him to write it. He hired a room in the Chelsea Hotel and had him whip everything out in a matter of three weeks, barely sleeping in between. All the while Sleutelaar guarded the door, afraid Cremer might run away. When the manuscript was finished Sleutelaar personally corrected it by adding interpunction where Cremer had neglected it. Both books were a huge literary scandal at the time. Mostly because of the content, but also since everything was written down in everyday speech, without sugaring the words. Many critics slashed it down, calling it "vulgar", "pornographic" and even "fascist". When the magazine Trouw gave the book a bad review, publisher Geert Lubberhuizen tried to receive a right to reply, but was rejected. Instead he sued the paper and won his case. Only some renowned novelists, Hubert Lampo, Hugo Claus, Remco Campert, Gerard Reve and W.F. Hermans, praised the novel. Certain libraries and schools banned it. On 19 May 1964 a policeman raided all copies from a local book store in Hengelo because he considered it "pornography". Even in the Dutch parliament questions were asked whether such filth should be tolerated? Farmer's politician Hendrik Koekoek argued for a ban, despite admitting he hadn't even read it. For a while hooliganism was dubbed "Jan Cremerism" in the Netherlands. Cremer received a lot of hate mail, sometimes boxes with turds. His mother's house was set on fire. TV host Mies Bouwman even told viewers to "leave Cremer's family out of this."

Naturally all the outrage made 'Ik, Jan Cremer' a cult novel among the youth. It was the quickest Dutch-language bestseller of all time. The work was translated in English, German, Danish, Spanish, Italian and Japanese. West Germany on the other hand banned it "for being a bad influence on the youth." Many teenagers and twens were swept away by the author's badass attitude and exciting lifestyle. More level-headed readers wondered how much of it was true? While presented as an "autobiography" the book is closer to a semi-autobiographical picaresque novel. Nevertheless it captured the imagination of many. Much of the myth was created by Cremer himself. The iconic book cover shows him posing behind a motorcycle, dressed in black leather with a sailor's cap, which mimicked Marlon Brando in 'The Wild One' (1953). He once ordered a plane to fly across a beach with a banner, promoting his book. Using various pseudonyms he also wrote letters to several papers pretending to be people who either loved or hated the book. Cremer also tended to exaggerate both his fame and sales outside the borders.

By the mid-1960s Cremer was one of the most talked about Dutch celebrities. When the Beatles performed in Amsterdam in 1964 Cremer was in the audience. He recorded his own music single, 'Boom Boom / Good Morning Little Schoolgirl' (1964) with Jan Cremer & the Jazzmen which hit nr. 33 in the Dutch hitparade. In 1966 another single followed, 'De Flipstand', produced by Johnny Hoes' Ojee label. Both singles were boycotted by the radio. He was subject of an episode of Wim T. Schippers' experimental TV show 'Hoepla'. In 1967 he once against caused uproar when the city of Amsterdam gave him their Proza Award. Many literature fans felt this downgraded the prize. The same year a newspaper was published - the Jan Cremer Krant - which sold exceptionally well, but local police forces confiscated all copies within a hour. Cremer and comic artist Theo van den Boogaard made a comic strip about the rebellious novelist for the paper in a pop art drawing style. In 1978 the paper was relaunched, this time lasting about 10 issues.

Meanwhile the author spent his days in the USA. For about a year he was chief editor of Hullabaloo, one of the bestselling rock magazines. It allowed him to meet celebrities like writer Frank O'Hara, painters Willem de Kooning, Andy Warhol and rock legends Lou Reed, Jim Morrison and the Rolling Stones. He had relationships with German singer Nico, Finnish model Eija Pokkinen and French-Brazilian countess Anita de Marguenat. Cremer also claimed to have had an affair with Hollywood sex bomb Jayne Mansfield, though in reality they were just good friends. But Mansfield did read 'Ik, Jan Cremer' and called it a "wild and sexy masterpiece." Cremer additionally acted in a few low-budget films, among them 'Galaxie' (1966), and produced the movie 'The Long White Trail'.

Jan Cremer and Jayne Mansfield.

Later life and career
Despite being a bestseller author Cremer considered property "an anchor which gets you stuck". He didn't save money, but spent it directly, leaving him with frequent lack of cash. He nevertheless managed to travel the world and visit Canada, Sweden, Siberia, Greenland, Mongolia, Hungary, Switzerland and Germany. In 1970 he wrote the plays 'Oklahoma Motel' and 'The Late Late Show', which were adapted into an audio play record: 'De Stukken van Jan Cremer' (1976). The record featured the acting talent of people like Jenny Arean, Kees Brusse, Piet Ekel, Ischa Meijer, Albert Mol, Carry Tefsen, Carola Gijsbers van Wijk and Ramses Shaffy, among others. Cremer too voiced some parts. The most notable aspect, however, was the cover, where the author could be seen posing with some women, among them a half-nude girl dressed in a Nazi uniform. In 1985 'Ik, Jan Cremer' was adapted into a rock musical by Lennaert Nijgh and Gerard Stellaard, but wasn't a success. His birth town Enschede organized a Jan Cremer Festival in 1998 which attracted a lot of visitors. In 2000 the city was victim of an explosion in a fireworks factory. He made a silkscreen drawing about the disaster and used the profits to help its victims. On 28 November 2000 Cremer was knighted in the Order of the Dutch Lion. Eight years later he wrote another sequel to his signature novel, 'Ik, Jan Cremer, Derde Boek' (2008), which deals with his life after the books' success. In 2013 the author auctioned most of his personal memorabilia, manuscripts and artworks.

Legacy and influence
Cremer has frequently been accused of being a misanthrope. During his frenetic life the novelist rarely stayed in one location for long, burning so many bridges that he left few friends and relatives behind. His partners couldn't tie him down and he rarely saw his offspring. He wasn't even sure how many children he had and left their upbringing in hands of their mothers. In 1990 one of his sons, Clint Cremer, was murdered by a psychopath, while his other son Clifford lost a leg while joining the marine. In interviews Cremer stated liking animals more than people and respecting police and army officers more than artists.

The legend around 'Ik, Jan Cremer' guaranteed Cremer never-ending publicity, but also made it difficult to escape its shadow. Even though he wrote about other topics like his monumental trilogy 'De Hunnen' (1984) about Mongolia critics felt he had nothing interesting to say. To some he was merely a piece of 1960s nostalgia way past his relevance. His abrasive and self-important behaviour have made him far from beloved too. Several of his personal anecdotes have been debunked as publicity stunts, like the supposed affair with Jayne Mansfield and the 12 million sold copies of 'Ik, Jan Cremer' worldwide. He also claimed he reanimated Warhol superstar Edie Sedgwick in the Chelsea Hotel in 1967. He bragged that Bob Dylan wanted to use one of his paintings as the album cover of 'Blonde on Blonde' (1966) and that he inspired its title. Naturally he was also present during the recording sessions. The novelist claimed to have met Francis Ford Coppola, Stanley Kubrick and Oliver Stone to discuss a possible film adaptation of 'Ik, Jan Cremer'. His most unbelievable claim was that Fidel Castro had read his book, which he heard from novelist Harry Mulisch during his visit to Cuba. According to him it was even the first thing Castro said after Mulisch told him he was Dutch.

Despite everything 'Ik, Jan Cremer' will remain a cult classic and Cremer's life a source of general interest.

Jan Cremer, in Thom Roep and Co Loerakker's 'Van Nul Tot Nu'.

Jan Cremer in pop culture
As mentioned earlier Theo Van den Boogaard made a celebrity comic about Cremer for the 1967 edition of the 'Jan Cremer Krant'. But he was far from the only one who was inspired by Cremer's colourful personality. Remco Campert satirized Cremer in his novel 'Tjeemie! Of Liesje in Luiletterland' (1968) as the aptly titled character 'Roofdier' ('Predator'). In 1977 the jeans company Levi's brought out a vinyl record, '10 jaar lang Levi's. Spijker-goed', to celebrate their 10th anniversary in the Netherlands. On the cover illustration Cremer can be spotted in the background. Thom Roep and Co Loerakker included a still image of 'Ik, Jan Cremer' in their series 'Van Nul tot Nu' in a section about the 1960s. Cartoonist Willem also copied the famous photo of Cremer on his motorcycle in the chapter 'The Netherlands' in his book 'Euromania' (1992). Dick Matena made concept art for an animated film about Cremer which has not yet been produced, though part of the drawings did appear in print in 'Jan Cremer de Onverbiddelijke' (Scorpio Press, June 2017). Last but not least: in one gag of Matt Groening's 'Life in Hell' where Bongo the bunny calls his father "fascist" while sulking in his bedroom full with luxury, a copy of 'I, Jan Cremer' can be seen on his book shelf.

Books about Jan Cremer
For people interested in Cremer's life, Hans Dütting's 'Jan Cremer Documentaire' (Signature Utrecht, 2005) is a must-read.

Image from the graphic novel 'Jan Cremer the Inexorable'. © 2017 Scorpio Press. Written by Ruud den Drijver, art by Dick Matena (ISBN 9789082654905)


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