Guido van Driel is a Dutch comic artist, illustrator, painter and filmmaker. One of the most original graphic novelists in the Netherlands, he was among the first in his home country to use a more literary approach to the comics medium. Van Driel's books 'Vis aan de Wand' (1994) and 'Mijnheer Servelaat Neemt Vakantie' (1996) appeared years before the graphic novel boom of the 21st century. In later works, he combined his painting and narrative skills for his depictions of the calvinistic and diverse Dutch society. Van Driel's settings are familiar to all Dutch people: from typical suburban residential areas in 'Toen we van de Duitsers verloren' (2002) and the two-parter 'In Hollandia Suburbia' (2019, 2021) to historical cities in 'Om Mekaar in Dokkum' (2004), 'De Ondergang van Amsterdam' (2007) and 'Gasten' (2012). They serve as the backdrop for surreal and alienating plots, which on the other hand seem instantly recognizable. The movements and dialogues of Van Driel's characters are inspired by real-life observations, and free from traditional comic book stereotyping. People on the fringes of society were also the focus in the movies he wrote and directed: 'De Wederopstanding van een Klootzak' (2013) - an adaption of his Dokkum graphic novel - and 'Bloody Marie' (2019).

'Toen we van de Duitsers verloren'.

Early life
Guido Alexander van Driel was born in 1962 in Amsterdam. He spent the first nine years of life in the Buitenveldert neighborhood, before moving to an average Dutch housing estate in Zaandam. Even though these residential areas are generally considered dull and without much character, the neighborhood offered him a happy childhood. Even more, it has served as the setting for one of his future graphic novels. While other artists seek inspiration in exotic locations or a more colorful locale, Van Driel likes to tell his stories from common, everyday surroundings. On 14 July 1976, the local newspaper De Typhoon devoted some attention to a comic strip called 'Moppsob en Wabbelob', that the thirteen-year old had made with his pal, the future painter Peter Vlot. Later, the two friends made portraits of girlfriends posing in the nude. But it would take a while before Van Driel's artistic career really took off. And it would take even longer before Van Driel and Vlot joined forces again: in February 2020 work by both artists - a series of moody paintings of Amsterdam - was exhibited in the Amsterdam gallery Studio Bloem­Dwars.

Early illustration career
In the 1980s, the two friends tried to enroll at the Rietveld Art Academy, but were rejected because, allegedly, they were "not passionate enough". Van Driel then studied History at the University of Amsterdam, but, with a deviation, found his way back to the arts. By 1986 he was the regular illustrator for Folia, the university's weekly newspaper. It was his first paying client, and the experience refuelled his ambition to become an illustrator. He finished his studies, but had already decided he didn't want a career as a historian. His work expanded to newspaper De Volkskrant, for which he illustrated the 'Dag in Dag uit' section. Later he could also rank Het Parool and NRC Handelsblad among his clients.

2002 painting by Guido van Driel.

Painting came on Van Driel's path by accident. Around 1990 he worked in the Amsterdam book store Pegasus. The owner asked him to make a painting for the store window on the occasion of the annual Book Week. This first effort was noted by a local art dealer, who offered Van Driel the opportunity to exhibit and sell his work in Gallery Het Magazijn. Trying to learn the trade, the inexperienced artist made a series of lightweight, decorative works in bright colors, which were quickly labelled as "Fun Art". Within a couple of years, he had however found his trademark style. Out were the bright, superficial tableaus, in came surreal, gloomy scenes full of melancholy, outsiders and Amsterdam scenery.

Guido van Driel's experiences as a painter also drifted him back to comics, and he began working on a sequential story in colored ink drawings. The self-taught artist found inspiration in the coloring and graphic styles of Jacques de Loustal and Lorenzo Mattotti. But Art Spiegelman, Daniel Clowes and Chris Ware have served as influences too. Closer to home, he has expressed his admiration for Fiep Westendorp and Jaap Vegter. A visit to the Amsterdam comic book store Lambiek called in the third stage of Guido van Driel's career. Owner Kees Kousemaker advised him to present his story to publisher friend Hansje Joustra, owner of the Oog & Blik imprint. Joustra was impressed, but didn't dare a full-color book release by an unknown artist. Therefore Guido van Driel's first graphic novels were published in greytones.

'Vis aan de wand'.

Graphic novel debut
His debut 'Vis aan de Wand' ("Fish on the Wall", 1994) is set in Amsterdam during the famous Beatles canal cruise of 1964. The protagonist is a timid office clerk who climbs high buildings to make panorama photos of the city. It offered the author ample opportunity to capture the spirit of 1960s Amsterdam with almost hallucinogenic perspectives. The strange plot of the story, involving the mysterious death of a former conductor, revealed Van Driel's sense for the surreal and his tendendy towards a non-chronological narrative. His next book, 'Mijnheer Servelaat neemt vakantie' ("Mister Cervelat goes on a Holiday", 1996) was equally disturbing. Again, the protagonist is a rather colorless office worker, this time of a factory for peas in blister packs. His awkward holiday in a dull apartment in a nameless city illustrates the theme of repressed memories and living in a fantasy.

'Mijnheer Servelaat neemt vakantie'.

The two books received a critical praise. 'Vis aan de Wand' won the 1994 medal for "Best Album", awarded by comics appreciation society Het Stripschap, while 'Mijnheer Servelaat neemt vakantie' earned him the De Leeuw Prize of the Belgian Comic Strip Center in Brussels. But despite the positive reviews, the traditional Dutch comic collector had to warm up to this new type of comic book. In an interview published in Stripschrift issue #290 (June 1996), Van Driel recalled the time he was interviewed on stage at the Breda comic festival. Even though he had just received his medal, the hall was almost empty. It wasn't until the new millennium before the "graphic novel" fully established its spot in the Dutch comic scene.

De Fijnproever
In the meantime, Van Driel continued to paint and make illustrations, as well as an occasional comic. In the mid-1990s he made a comic strip called 'Kiddo' for a magazine of the funeral organization AVVL. In 1997 he adapted the short story 'De Bovenman' by Cherry Duyns into the comics format for the 250th issue of the literary magazine Bzzlletin. Amsterdam's Red Light District was the setting for Van Driel's next book, 'De Fijnproever' ("The Gourmet", 2000). Main character Nico Bodewes is a saxophone repairman who regularly visits prostitutes, and based on an actual friend of the author. Van Driel was inspired by his friend's philosophies about prostitution, and turned them into a documentary in text comic/diary format. It honorably covers Nico's friendly relationship with two of the prostitutes, whom he treats on a three course dinner. It was Van Driel's first full-color graphic novel, painted with acryl on black paper. This technique would become his trademark.

Toen we van de Duitsers verloren by Guido van Driel
'Toen we van de Duitsers verloren'.

Toen we van de Duitsers verloren
With a grant from the Fund for Visual Arts, Design and Architecture (Fonds BKVB), Van Driel created his next graphic novel, 'Toen we van de Duitsers verloren' ("When we lost to the Germans", 2002). A moral drama about the disappearance of a little girl, the story takes place shortly after one of the biggest traumas in Dutch soccer history: the defeat from the Germans during the 1974 World Cup. The story focuses on two teenage boys who spend the day making mischief. Set in the then-new Zaandam neighborhood Hoornseveld - where the author grew up - the book offers its fair share of 1970s nostalgia. The furniture, playing in the sand of the upcoming new housing estate, blowing berries through PVC pipes, living in large, unpersonal flats... all interlaced with true to life dialogues and subtle character traits. The book was a joint production of the publishers Oog & Blik and De Harmonie, and was festively presented in Gallery Lambiek on 7 November 2002. In 2016, a German translation appeared at Avant-Verlag under the title 'Als wir gegen die Deutschen verloren haben'.

Om mekaar in Dokkum by Guido van Driel
'Om mekaar in Dokkum'.

Om Mekaar in Dokkum
While 'Toen we van de Duitsers verloren' took four years to make, Guido van Driel had only one year to complete his next graphic novel. For the inauguration of the new town hall of Dongeradeel (nowadays part of Noardeast-Fryslân), Van Driel was commissioned to make a graphic novel about the "identity" of the Dongeradeel region. It was intended by the city council as a promotional gift. Dongeradeel was a municipality consisting of the historical city of Dokkum and 28 surrounding villages. Dokkum is best-known as the location where, in the year 754, Saint Boniface was murdered by the Frisians for taking down their holy tree. Van Driel took this event as a leitmotiv, but otherwise turned the story into one of his most socially committed works yet. The book's two seemingly unrelated storylines follow a traumatized Angolese refugee seeker who is about to be deported on the one hand, and on the other hand two criminals searching for the culprit of a failed assassination attempt. Added to the mix are a local waiter with a sick cat and a couple sharing a great grief. All their roads lead to the city of Dokkum, where they coincidentally help each other out. The book title 'Om Mekaar in Dokkum' ("For Each Other in Dokkum") refers to the slang lyrics of a song by Annie M.G. Schmidt from the TV show 't Schaep met de 5 Pooten': "We benne op de wereld om mekaar, om mekaar, om mekaar, om mekaar te hellepe, nietwaar" ("We are on the world to help one another, one another, one another, one another, aren't we?").

'Om Mekaar in Dokkum' (Oog & Blik, 2004) was released both in the Dutch and Frisian language, to much critical praise. The city council and the local cultural foundation were so pleased with the end result, that part of the book's imagery was incorporated as 27 tile pictures on the walls of the new town hall in late 2004. But not everyone was amused. In the chitchat and philosophical ponderings between the criminal Ronnie and his depressed bodyguard Janus, the author had used a lot of swear words. Very realistically indeed - and reminiscent of the dialogues in Quentin Tarantino movies - but Dongeradeel's Christian political parties were strongly opposed to further distribution of the book. In the end, 'Om Mekaar in Dokkum' received even more press coverage than before, and the first print run was quickly sold out. The council eventually stopped with actively handing out free copies to their relations, and only offered the book when asked for.

'De Ondergang van Amsterdam'.

Amsterdam graphic novels
After these excursions, the author chose his hometown Amsterdam as the location for his next two graphic novels. 'De Ondergang van Amsterdam' (2007) was also originally a commission. The opinion magazine Vrij Nederland asked Van Driel to make a comic about Rembrandt on the occasion of the classic painter's 400th birth year. It was serialized in two parts in the issues of 1 and 8 July 2006, and then published in book format by Oog & Blik. In the Rijksmuseum, the house painter Titus is captivated by Rembrandt's painting of the prophet Jeremiah mourning the destruction of Jerusalem. It is the instigator for a story about climate change and the moral and ecological decline of the Dutch capital, fuelled by the prediction of Titus' colleague "Robuuste Robbie" that Amsterdam will be flooded within twenty years. 'Gasten' ("Blokes Abroad", 2012) portrays the city through the eyes of two British tourists. Starting off as a typical spree filled with booze, vulgarity and magic mushrooms, the story eventually shifts towards the tragic reason for the trip. In both books, the author brings his observations of Amsterdam's population and character through hallucinogenic and spiritual journeys. 'Gasten' appeared in French as 'Les Visiteurs' (L'Agrume, 2014).

'In Hollandia Suburbia'.

In Hollandia Suburbia
Because of other projects, it took seven years before the release of Guido van Driel's next graphic novel. 'IHS - In Hollandia Suburbia' (2019) turned out as one of the most alienating entries in the author's body of work. Against the backdrop of yet another Dutch suburban residential area, a Beatlesque band is confronted with strange events. One band member is found dead in the bushes, another one loses his arm after being hit by a piece of metal falling from the sky. The utterly dreary setting is in sharp contrast with the colorful characters and the strange appearances of UFO's and the Virgin Mary, who silently witnesses all the mayhem. Feeling that "people should dare to believe in miracles", the author leaves much of the explanations for the events to the imagination of the readers. The first volume of 'In Hollandia Suburbia' was released in 2019 by Concerto Books, a new imprint managed by former Oog & Blik publisher Hansje Joustra. On 1 November 2019, the book was presented in comics shop Lambiek, where several of Van Driel's original paintings for the book were on exhibit. In 2021, Van Driel released the second volume of 'IHS- In Hollandia Suburbia'. 

By the early 2000s Guido van Driel also ventured into filmmaking. His first attempt was 'U spreekt met Frank Laufer' a documentary about a local houseboat dweller and do-gooder. It was broadcast as part of the VPRO TV show 'Waskracht!' in 2000, followed in 2006 with the short fiction film 'Groen is toch de mooiste kleur voor gras' ("Green turns out as the best color for grass"), also for VPRO television. Co-writer was Van Driel's good friend Rob Spierenburg, who also played a role in the film. Van Driel's feature film 'De Wederopstanding van een Klootzak' ('The Resurrection of a Bastard', 2013) was an adaptation of the graphic novel 'Om Mekaar in Dokkum' with a screenplay by Van Driel and Bas Blokker. Van Driel also served as the director, while Yorick van Wageningen, Goua Robert Grovogui and Juda Goslinga had the starring roles. With Blokker, Van Driel subsequently scripted the short films 'Mosaic' (2016).

Actor Jan Bijvoet appeared in 'Bloody Marie' with one of Lambiek's plastic bags. Guido van Driel made this painting at the occasion of the store's 50th anniversary in 2018. Both Guido van Driel and Lambiek's owner Boris Kousemaker also appeared as extras in the film.

Bloody Marie
His next feature film had an original plot, written and directed in cooperation with his regular camermaman Lennert Hillege. Like in his graphic novels, Van Driel picked a familiar setting and a troubled leading character. The boozing comic artist Marie Wankelmut (played by the German actress Susanne Wolff) wanders the Amsterdam Red Light District in search of meaning in her life. She runs into one conflict after the other, until a horrific event at the next door neighbours forces her into a drastic change of course. The comic art used in the film was created by Guido van Driel and Dace Sietina. The film debuted on the International Film Festival Rotterdam on 28 February 2019, and was later screened in several movie theaters. While it was no box office hit, it received raving reviews in the USA. In July 2019, it was shortlisted as one of the nine films in contention to be the Dutch entry for the Academy Award for Best International Feature Film at the 92nd Academy Awards, but was not selected.

Publisher Hansje Joustra appears as a counter clerk in 'Om Mekaar in Dokkum'.

With his relatively modest oeuvre, Guido van Driel has developed a personal and highly original style. Both his films and his books are sharp observations of human nature, with a focus on loners and social outcasts. The witty and seemingly casual dialogues carry an underlying philosophy, which never becomes too cynical. Van Driel portrays real people; and is averse to the stereotypical characters of most mainstream comics. He rather takes his inspiration from the raw and honest street photography by Ed van der Elsken than from polished public images or archetypes. He however doesn't shy away from supernatural phenomena or hallucinogenic dream sequences. As a graphic novelist, he works without full plots, making up his stories while drawing. Adding to the realism are the use of typical Dutch surroundings as vehicles for covering global themes like child abuse, immigration and climate change. For his cast of characters he stays close to home as well. Friends and colleagues often serve as models. One of the gangsters in 'Om Mekaar in Dokkum' has the looks of Van Driel's friend Rob Spierenburg, while the book's goofy counter clerk was the spitting image of publisher Hansje Joustra, who also performed the role in the movie adaptation. The climatological defeatist "Robuuste Robbie" in 'De Ondergang van Amsterdam' was based on comic artist Erik Kriek.

It shall be no surprise that the narratives in Guido van Driel's graphic novels reveal strong cinematographic influences. And as he generally paints his comic panels with acryllics on black paper, the author has combined three art forms in one.

Guido van Driel in comics shop Lambiek, during the presentation of 'IHS' on 1 November 2019.

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