Gaston Ebinger was a Belgian illustrator, greeting card designer and advertising artist who blossomed between the 1920s and 1960s. After World War II he made an educational pantomime comic, 'De Lotgevallen van Rik en zijn Veiligheidschef' (1947-1955), for the safety instruction magazine Doe Het Veilig. He also worked as a cartoonist for the newspaper Gazet van Antwerpen. For a few weeks in 1958 he filled in for Pom, creator of 'Piet Pienter en Bert Bibber', who'd suffered a burn-out. Ebinger's replacement comic was a humoristic detective story titled 'Intermezzo voor Detectives' (1958) which started just as abruptly as it ended.

Early life and career
Gaston Désiré Ebinger was born in 1901 in Antwerp. As a child he already enjoyed drawing. In 1914 the First World War broke out. The 14-year old boy and his family managed to flee to the United Kingdom, where they started a new life in Kings Langley, Hertfordshire. Ebinger studied art at the Academy of London. As an adult he ranked Norman Rockwell as one of his main graphic influences. He once sent him a letter to express his admiration, to which the U.S. artist sent him an encouraging reply with a personalized message: "Greetings to Gaston Ebinger. It is a pleasure to me to send you my book and I look forward with pleasure to your new book. Cordially, Norman Rockwell."

After the war the family returned to Belgium, where 17-year old Ebinger continued his art studies at the Academy of Antwerp. He became a close friend of Albert Van Dyck, who later became a well known painter. After graduation in 1922 Ebinger fulfilled his military service and married Gabriella Hansen on 27 August 1923. They stayed together for half a century until his death. Ebinger worked as an advertising illustrator in the suburban neighbourhood Kiel, outside Antwerp. He made many illustrations for companies like General Motors, Imperial, Chevrolet, Fort, Parein, De Beukelaer and De Meli. Many of his designs also appeared on plates and cookie boxes. In 1940 World War II broke out and Ebinger was called back into military service. While stationed in Brittany in Northern France he made journalistic drawings of the chaotic events and war atrocities. When Belgium surrendered, Ebinger returned to Antwerp, where he earned his bread during the Nazi occupation illustrating books, newspapers and magazines, including the magazine Ons Land. In 1945 a V2 bomb destroyed most of the Berendrechtsstraat in Kiel, including his house. Luckily both he and his family survived.


Drawing for the Expo 1930 in Antwerp.

Greeting cards
Ebinger was perhaps best recognizable to general audiences as a greeting card designer. For the "Provinciale Commissie voor Kunstambachten en -Industrieën" ("Provincial Commission for Art Crafts and Industries") he designed postcards depicting Antwerp city life. During the World Exhibition in Antwerp (1930) he made picturesque crowd drawings of people having fun at this event. After the Expo they were sold as a souvenir. When Belgium was liberated from the Nazis in 1944, Ebinger created several post cards about the happy event. They depicted U.S., Canadian and/or British soldiers in comedic situations, or mocked Hitler and his unavoidable defeat. Funny dialogue was written in English underneath each image, since the cards were intended as souvenirs for Allied soldiers. They were available in black-and-white as well as colour, the latter a bit more expensive. The initiative sold well among the target audience. Between 1945 and 1948 Ebinger also drew humoristic cartoons about the post-war circumstances, often with cameos of Antwerp mayor Camille Huysmans. They were sold as Christmas and New Year cards and/or posters. Ebinger kept making holiday season cards on an annual basis until the 1960s.

Rik en zijn Veiligheidschef
During the 1940s Ebinger worked for the Veiligheidsmuseum in Antwerp in the Kolveniersstraat nr. 16 (since 1954 located in the Jezusstraat 28 under the current name "Provinciaal Veiligheidsinstituut"). The museum and its institute were preoccupied with instruction guides regarding safety measures. Ebinger designed posters for the museum and illustrated its booklets. Between 1947 and 1955 the institute published its own magazine, Doe Het Veilig, with Ebinger as main illustrator. These illustrations were mostly cartoons and little comics to warn people what would happen if they neglected certain precautions and procedures. The magazine ran a three-page pantomime comic series by Ebinger titled 'De Lotgevallen van Rik en zijn Veiligheidschef'. The comic strip features a dumb worker, Rik, and his only slightly brighter safety chef. Usually Rik does something wrong in the first panel, which is corrected by his chef in the second panel, only to become victim of an unforeseen accident in the final panel.


'Intermezzo voor Detectives'.

Intermezzo voor Detectives
After the war, Ebinger became a cartoonist and illustrator for Gazet van Antwerpen. The paper also serialized Pom's humoristic adventure comic 'Piet Pienter en Bert Bibber'. Between 1955 and 1958 Pom recycled old stories originally published in Ons Zondagsblad, but redrew them in an improved graphic style for publication in Gazet van Antwerpen. However by 1958 this source had dried out and he was now forced to come up with an actual new 'Piet Pienter en Bert Bibber' story. Pom, who'd always been notoriously cranky, found it increasingly difficult to write and draw everything out on a daily basis. He got so fed up with it that he suffered a burn-out. On 22 August 1958 the latest story, 'De Stralende Meteoor', was therefore interrupted halfway. Readers were left in the dark about what had happened?

After a brief hiatus a new comic strip took off titled 'Intermezzo voor Detectives'. The self-reflexive story claimed that Pom "had been abducted by an invisible man". Much of the proceding narrative dealt with an inspector trying to solve the mystery. The comic was signed by a certain "Mop", which led many to believe that it was just Pom under an anagram of his own name. The fact that the word "mop" has a double entendre in Dutch, meaning "joke", made some wonder whether he was just playing a prank on his audience, pretending to be somebody else? In reality Mop was Gaston Ebinger. The newspaper's editors had asked him to create a filler comic in the style of 'Piet Pienter & Bert Bibber'. Indeed, throughout the story Ebinger uses much of the same ironic commentary Pom was known for.

While the illusion fooled enough readers, Pom was understandably not too happy about this solution. On 6 September 1958 'Intermezzo voor Detectives' was abruptly interrupted without even a satisfying conclusion. To make matters worse Pom made a small two-strip comic in which he staunchly claimed that he was "NEVER abducted" (in capital letters in case anybody thought otherwise!), hereby obliterating all goodwill efforts of both Ebinger and his editors. He came up with his own explanation and stated that he had merely "lost his thread" halfway the story. While "his wife looked for it", he took a "sunny vacation". In typical sarcastic fashion he then depicted himself in rainy weather and walking in puddles in the street, mentioning that "the town refuses to do anything about the holes in the road". The cynical cartoonist then promised his readers that he was now "as fit as a flat tire" to restart his story "De Stralende whatchamacallit" again.

All mocking aside, Pom's editors weren't too pleased. From that moment on they specifically ordered him to complete each story beforehand before they would serialize it. This saved the artist from deadline pressure, but slowed down the production of any new 'Piet Pienter en Bert Bibber' story in the future. Ebinger's filler comic was never reprinted or collected in its entirety. Only a few pages appeared in the Flemish comics information magazine CISO Stripgids issue #25 (1981), as a part of a thematic issue about Pom.

Death and legacy
Gaston Ebinger passed away in 1973 at age 71.

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