'Belgman'.

Hugo de Kempeneer, better known under his pseudonym hugOKÉ, was a Belgian editorial cartoonist, caricaturist, painter, book illustrator, animator and theatrical designer. A prominent appearance in the Flemish press from the late 1950s until the late 1970s, his work featured left-wing progressive political-social satire, drawn in a loose style. Throughout his career, hugOKÉ also made a couple of satirical one-shot comics. Together with literary "enfant terrible" Hugo Claus, he made 'Belgman' (1967), a comic mocking the bilingual troubles in Belgium. hugOKÉ also made a satirical newspaper comic about cycling champion Eddy Merckx ('Eddy Sterk Wint... De Spelen', 1972-1972) and - with Paul Claes as scriptwriter - a modernized version of the medieval poem 'Reynard the Fox' ('Reinaert de Vos', 1973-1974). He was also known for designing the 1960s "Even geduld" cards that appeared on Belgian television during technical malfunctions.

Early life and career
Hugo de Kempeneer was born in 1938 in Vilvoorde, a city in the province Brabant (nowadays Flemish Brabant). He studied art at the Sint Lucas Institute in the Brussels Schaarbeek suburb and the Institute of Terkameren. One of his teachers was Luk Verstraete, who also was tutor of other famous Belgian post-war cartoonists, such as André Sollie, Gal and Ever Meulen. Among his main graphic influences, hugOKÉ ranked Saul Steinberg and André François. In 1952, he applied for a job at Tintin magazine, but was rejected. The editors advised him to first train his skills by making sketches from objects in his direct environment.


Cartoon by hugOKÉ, 1964. 

Cartooning career
In 1957, De Kempeneer began his career as an editorial cartoonist. As a pseudonym he used hugOKÉ - also written as Hugoké or HugoKé - taking his first name and adding "KÉ" to make the last part sound like "O.K." His earliest cartoons ran in the newspaper De Standaard, but eventually hugOKÉ's drawings appeared in many other Flemish magazines, such as De Linie, De Maand, De Post, and De Spectator, and also both the Dutch- and French-language edition of the official railway service magazine Le Rail/Het Spoor. His drawings also found their way to French- and German-language publications. In 1959, the first of several compilations of his cartoons was published under the title 'Agentleman'.

Throughout the 1960s and 1970s, hugOKÉ was most notable as one of the house cartoonists of the left-wing weekly De Nieuwe. Just like his fellow cartoonists Gal, Joke and Picha, he made drawings criticizing capitalism, racism, sexism, prudence, the Catholic Church, U.S. imperialism, the Vietnam War and modern life in general. hugOKÉ didn't limit himself to cartoons alone. A 1967 cartoon criticizing the Vietnam War, for instance, was a photograph of a toy military helicopter with a plasticine caricature of U.S. President Lyndon B. Johnson's head attached to it. hugOKÉ also designed posters to gather crowds for public demonstrations and protest marches.

In the early 1970s, hugOKÉ made a huge drawing at the beach of Ostend. The image was shoveled in the sand and depicted the famous Brussels icon Manneken Pis urinating in the sea. When viewed from the sky it appeared as if the little boy was peeing the high tide. The tide eventually washed away this temporary sand drawing, but the event was filmed by Louis Goyvaerts - AKA "Loewie". Black-and-white silent footage can be viewed on YouTube.


1966 collage poster to celebrate International Workers' Day on 1 May. The clenched fist references the socialist salute. Inside the hand factories, machines and flames are kept under tight control of the worker.

Belgman
In the 1950s and 1960s, the Dutch-language literary world was shaken up by the provocative novelist and poet Hugo Claus (1929-2008). Claus was widely praised as a talented author, but was at the same time controversial for openly writing about sex and criticizing the Church. In Flanders, the younger generation quickly saw him as a spokesperson, shaping his counterculture image. Besides writing, Claus was active in many creative disciplines, including plastic arts. When in 1967 hugOKÉ wanted to make a satirical comic book in collaboration with a celebrity writer, Hugo Claus was his first choice. Even though at the time Claus was filming his directorial debut, 'De Vijanden', he accepted the cartoonist's offer and - in his spare time - penned 'De Avonturen van Belgman' ("The Adventures of Belgianman", 1967). For both men their first attempt at a comic book, the story is a satirical fairy tale written in rhyme, ridiculing the centuries old struggles between Belgium's Dutch-language and French-language communities. The Dutch-language people, or Flemings, are depicted as little goblin-like creatures named "Vlammetjes". The narrator describes them as devout and laborious, mocking the stereotype of Flemings being obedient Catholics and diligent workers. The French-language people, or Walloons, are named "Walletjes" and portrayed as laidback and sexually liberated, referring to the Flemish prejudice that Walloons are lazy scroungers. The Vlammetjes are drawn with a black upper half and yellow lower half, while the Walletjes have a yellow upper and red lower torso, in reference to the three colors of the Belgian national flag.


'Belgman'. Drawing with photo collage effect.

In this allegorical story, the Vlammetjes feel exploited by the Walletjes, mirroring how the French-speaking elite oppressed the use of Dutch in Belgian society. The Vlammetjes demand an iron tower, referring to the Yser Tower monument, a symbol of Flemish nationalism. But, as the narrator explains, "the soothing or threatening words of Cardinal Merci" suppress their voices. Cardinal Merci is a stand-in for cardinal Désire-Joseph Mercier, who used his clerical power to resist the Flemish movement. The Vlammetjes eventually fight back, inspired by three "Big Men with Beards", all based on iconic  Flemish activists. The first is Hendrik Conscience, author of the romanticized historic novel 'The Lion of Flanders', that popularized the Battle of the Golden Spurs (1302) as the official Flemish national holiday. The second name is 19th-century Flemish composer Peter Benoit, and the third politician Staf De Clercq, leader of the Flemish-nationalist VNV party, who collaborated with the Nazis during World War II. The Walletjes get reinforcement from Marianne, the national personification of France, while the Vlammetjes bring in 17th-century painter Peter Paul Rubens and Heinrich de Mof ("Heinrich the Kraut"), a caricature of German emperor Wilhelm II. This references the First World War, when the Flemish Movement collaborated with the German army in the hope that the invaders would be more willing to meet their demands than the Belgian government. The tale concludes with a Walloon raping a girl named Tineke van Heule, a nod to the song of the same name by Flemish poet and World War I collaborator René De Clercq. When Tineke becomes pregnant, Cardinal Merci forces the rapist to marry his victim. Their son is a partially Flemish and Walloon boy, named "Belgman".


'Belgman'.

'Belgman' was published in the Dutch student magazine Propria Cures, and released in a landscape-format booklet by Standaard Uitgeverij. Although Claus and hugOKÉ hinted at a sequel, their plans were thwarted by Antoon Sap, head of the publishing house. He claimed the book's sales were too low to warrant a sequel, but it is believed that - as a Catholic Flemish nationalist - Sap couldn't enjoy the book's political-religious satire. Years later, writer Hugo Claus collaborated with another Belgian cartoonist, Gal, on an illustrated poetry book criticizing Pope John Paul II ('Een Weerzinwekkend Bezoek', 1985).


'Eddy Sterk Wint... De Spelen' (Het Laatste Nieuws, 1972).

Other comics
In the following decade, hugOKÉ worked on a couple of other comic projects. On 24 June 1972, the first episode of 'Eddy Sterk Wint... De Spelen' was published in the newspaper Het Laatste Nieuws. hugOKÉ's celebrity spoof was clearly based on Belgian cycling champion Eddy Merckx, who participated in that year's Olympic Games. The story satirized the sports industry and the way Merckx was exploited by advertisers. He is depicted as a Popeye-like hero, also getting his strength from a vegetable, in his case Brussels sprouts. hugOKÉ also gave the Belgian Royal Family and athlete Gaston Roelants guest appearances. In real life, Merckx indeed won a gold medal at the 1972 Olympics by breaking the world hour record. In 2019 the complete 'Eddy Sterk' comic by hugOKÉ was published in book format for the first time by Uitgeverij Bonte. Another celebrity comic about Eddy Merckx published in the early 1970s was 'Les Fabuleux Exploits d'Eddy Merckx' (1973) by Yves Duval and Christian Lippens.

With novelist and translator Paul Claes as scriptwriter, hugOKÉ created another satirical newspaper comic, 'Reinaert de Vos' (1973-1974), based on the folkloric character Reynard the Fox. It ran between 20 December 1973 and early 1974 in the newspaper Het Laatste Nieuws.


'Reinaert de Vos' (1973-1974).

Book illustrations 
Besides comics and cartoons, hugOKÉ became equally noted in other forms of graphic art. In the 1960s, he illustrated Gaston Durnez' humorous poetry books 'Wiltzang' (1961) and 'Hooikoorts' (1962), while designing the cover of Ward Ruyslinck's satirical novel 'De Karakoliërs' (Manteau, 1969). He also livened up the pages of Viktor Christen's novel 'Spiel mit Strich und Schnipsel' (Stalling, 1970) and E. van Zandweghe's 'Het Kleine Vogeltje en Het Grote Bruine Paard' (1975), a book celebrating the 25th anniversary of the Christelijke Mutualiteiten health insurance fund in Brussels.

Theatrical sets and posters
hugOKÉ additionally designed many sets and posters for plays produced by the Koninklijke Nederlandse Schouwburg ("Royal Dutch-language Theater") in Antwerp. In 1961, he became the official poster and set designer of the Koninklijke Vlaamse Opera (Royal Flemish Opera) in Antwerp. For both institutions, he made colorful and stylish designs, that modernized theatrical poster art in Flanders. Once, hugOKÉ had the opportunity to stage an opera with the famous singer Jacques Brel, titled 'Le Voyage Á La Lune' ("Voyage to the Moon"), but their planned collaboration never saw the light. The cartoonist nevertheless teamed up for a second and third time with novelist Hugo Claus, designing the posters for 'Het Leven en de Werken van Leopold II' (1970) - Claus's satirical play about the life of King Leopold II - and 'De Spaanse Hoer' (1970), a translation of the Fernando de Rojas play 'La Celestina'.

Album covers
hugOKÉ also designed album covers for the Brussels-based music label De Nederlandse Pocketplaat, that carried Belgian folk singers. In 1961 and 1962, he designed the covers of two self-titled albums by Kor Van Der Groten; the first one with a collage depicting the artist's name, the second with a man hitchhiking to get into a woman's bed. More hugOKÉ drawings were made for two self-titled EP's by another Flemish folk singer, Hugo Raspoet. The 1962 release shows a man with huge legs lying in the grass, and the 1964 record features the letters of Raspoet's name in the shape of a flower.


"Technical difficulties" card for Belgian television (1960s).

Television career
During the 1960s, hugOKÉ was one of the designers of 'Even Geduld' message cards for the Flemish public TV channel BRT (nowadays VRT), that appeared whenever there were technical difficulties. Two other cartoonists who made similar intermezzos for the broadcasting corporation were Buth and Ploeg. hugOKÉ also directed animated shorts like 'De Grote Verzoeking van St. Antonius' (1971), 'Troubles' (1974), 'Eva' (1981) and 'Morsdood' (2000). One of the animators contributing to 'Eva' was the the comic artist Marc Verhaegen.

Recognition
In 1969, hugOKÉ won the Grand Prix at the Salon International de la Caricature of Montreal, Canada with a cartoon satirizing the Soviet oppression of the Prague Spring uprising in Czechoslovakia. In 1980, the cartoonist represented his home country at the annual Biennale di Venezia (Venice Biennale) art festival. Between 27 November and 17 December 2009, a selection of hugOKÉ's oeuvre was exhibited in the Brussels Raad van de VGC building, homebase of the Dutch-language representatives of the Parliament of the Brussels-Capital. In October 2016, his drawings were also on display in the town hall of Schaarbeek.

Death
Hugo De Kempeneer, AKA hugOKÉ, died in Ostend in 2021, at age 82.


Cartoon for the poetry cartoon book 'Wiltzang' by hugOKË and Gaston Durnez (1961).

Series and books by hugOKÉ in stock in the Lambiek Webshop:

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