Harrie Geelen has had a long and varied career in Dutch media. He has been active as an animator, scriptwriter, illustrator, director, cartoonist, voice actor, songwriter and translator. Geelen had a long-term affiliation with the Marten Toonder Studios, and has worked for both the comic strip and the animation department. He is best-known for creating some of the most legendary Dutch children's TV shows of the 1970s, such as 'Oebele' (1968-1972), 'Kunt u mij de weg naar Hamelen vertellen, mijnheer?' (1972-1976) and 'Q & Q' (1974-1976). As an illustrator, he has provided the illustrations for many children's books written by his wife Imme Dros, while he is also the author of a couple of books himself. Generations of Dutch children have grown up with Geelen's writings, which makes him one of the most important contributors to Dutch cultural legacy.
Geelen was born and raised into an artistic Catholic family in Heerlen in 1939. His father was an avid storyteller, while his mother came from a famous family of chalcographers. His sister Roos Geelen is an artist, and introduced him to the painters and sculptors of the Maastricht Academy. When his sister settled in Amsterdam with her husband André van den Heuvel, Harrie Geelen joins them to study Dutch Language and Literature in 1958. Harrie Geelen joined them to study Dutch Language and Literature in 1958. He joined the Amsterdam Student's Union and was co-initiator of the cabaret group Sing-Sing. Geelen was also the editor and illustrator of the student's almanac, and for the programs of the cabaret performances. He also met the future children's novelist Imme Dros during this period, whom he married in 1963. Geelen also became the official illustrator of her stories, which were published in magazines and books.
In 1961 Geelen first went to the Marten Toonder Studios in Amsterdam to ask permission for a parody of Toonder's 'Tom Poes', written and illustrated by himself. The spoof was part of 'Weerbaar en Student', a commemorative book about student's fighting units during World War I and II. It was made entirely in the style of a typical 'Tom Poes' text comic, including Toonder's actual characters. He didn't meet Toonder himself, but got the message that the master, reluctantly, agreed with the publication. It took a while before the young writer/artist returned to the Toonder Studios. He broke off his studies in late 1962 and went to work as a copywriter for the advertising agency Prad. He was then quickly hired as storyboard artist and gag man with Joop Geesink's production company Dollywood. Around the same time he also had his first ventures as a TV scriptwriter, when the broadcasting company VARA hired him to write songs for a special TV show about the young singer Rob de Nijs (1964-1966). He also wrote texts for the youth's TV show 'Fanclub' (1965-1968), and the scripts and songs for the award-winning children's musicals 'Bah September' (1966) and 'Leve juffrouw Cannebier' (1968).
Harrie Geelen's 1961 Tom Puss parody
In 1967 Geelen became an employee of the Toonder Studios, thanks to Andries Brandt. He would work there until the early 2000s, albeit with intervals. Toonder himself had already moved to Ireland by then, and the studios were relocated to the castle in Nederhorst den Berg. Geelen's first assignment was writing scripts for the weekly 'Tom Poes' comic for Donald Duck magazine. These were text balloon comics as opposed to the original text comics (with text written below the images) format used for 'Tom Poes' up to that point in the newspapers. One of Geelen's stories was 'Tom Poes en de Paspoort' (1967), which was drawn by Wim Lensen. However, his main occupation throughout the decades were the studio's film productions. He was eventually appointed as "creative director", and was involved in the writing, directing, storyboards, special effects and sound for many of the animation, live action and puppet productions. Geelen was also the scriptwriter of 'Als je begrijpt wat ik bedoel' (1983), the feature length movie starring Marten Toonder's creations Tom Puss and Lord Bumble, produced by Rob Houwer. Geelen served as director together with Björn Frank Jensen and Bert Kroon, while he also wrote the songs and provided the voice for the character Wammes Waggel. Geelen's animation film 'Getekende mensen' (1984), about heroin users, was awarded with the Dutch film prize Gouden Kalf in 1985. The short also won the Joop Geesink Prize for Applied Animation during the Holland Animation Filmfestival in 1985.
Besides his work for Toonder, Geelen furthermore worked as a teacher in animation and scriptwriting at the Amsterdam-based Rietveld Art Academy. He had been working extensively for Dutch broadcasting company KRO since the late 1960s as well. Most of these productions were children's TV series with a soundtrack by Joop Stokkermans. The first of his hit series was 'Oebele' (31 episodes, 1968-1972), about a group of children from the fictive county Oebele aan de Oe. The main actors were Wieteke van Dort and Willem Nijholt. The follow-up series was 'Kunt u mij de weg naar Hamelen vertellen, mijnheer?' (45 episodes, 1972-1976), which was loosely based on the fairy tale 'The Pied Piper of Hamelin'. It starred Rob de Nijs, Loeki Knol, Martin Brozius and others. The adventure series 'Q & Q' (26 episodes, 1974-1976) is known as one of the most-watched Dutch children's series of all time, with an average of 3.1 million viewers. Geelen's programs for KRO television were groundbreaking because children filled a large part of the cast; in the case of 'Q & Q' even the two main actors were children. Harrie Geelen furthermore produced a partially animated and partially live action TV adaptation of 'Avonturen van Meneer Prikkebeen' (1972), which was based on the early comic strip 'M. Cryptogramme' (1845) by the Swiss artist Rodolphe Töpffer. He also wrote the songs for the children's comedy TV show 'Peppi en Kokki' (1972-1978).
Geelen's later TV work includes the children's TV movie 'Een Meester Minder' (1974) and a TV series about the popgroup Dolly Dots (1983). He wrote and directed a feature film of 'Pinkeltje' (1978), based on the books by Dick Laan, which were originally illustrated by Rein van Looy. He was furthermore a translator and voice actor for the American sections of the Dutch 'Sesame Street'. He also translated many new and re-released Disney films into Dutch, including 'The Aristocats', 'Basil from Baker Street', 'Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs', 'Robin Hood', 'Peter Pan' and '101 Dalmatians'. He additionally became a productive scriptwriter for theater productions, most notably for Frank Groothof's solo shows based on famous operas. Songs by Harrie Geelen have been performed by Boudewijn de Groot, Liesbeth List, Leen Jongewaard, Lex Goudsmit, Adèle Bloemendaal, Herman van Veen and André van den Heuvel.
Allthewhile, Geelen had continued to work as an illustrator. He published a comic strip called 'Gracchus' in KRO-gids in 1969. Other strips by him appeared in Krantje 3 ('Job en Juultje') and the Groningen University Paper ('Strib'). In the 1970s, he and Imme Dros were present in the Malmberg school magazine Jippo with illustrated short stories and comic stories. Besides making artwork for most books by Imme Dros since 1971, he has illustrated the work of Dolf Verroen ('Zo sterk als een leeuw', 1990), Toon Tellegen ('Juffrouw Kachel', 1991), Paul Biegel ('Een huis vol beren', 1993), Annie M.G. Schmidt ('Het beertje Pippeloentje', 1994 and 'Beestenboel', 1995) and Hans Hagens ('Stilte a.u.b. ik denk aan de kip', 1995). He won a Golden Pencil for his illustrations for 'Het Beertje Pippeloentje', and a Silver Pencil for 'Juffrouw Kachel'. Geelen wrote and illustrated his own children's books 'Koning Boon' (1984), 'Toen Sjoerd naar de dierentuin ging' (1992), 'Herman het kind en de Dingen' (1993) and 'Het boek van Jan' (2000). In 2004 he produced a movie based on his wife's children's book 'Annetje Lie in het holst van de nacht' (1987) for VPRO television, which was partially animation and partially live action.
Pissebed Fred by Imme Dros, with illustrations by Harrie Geelen
Geelen returned to comic strips in 1987 and 1988 when he succeeded Eiso Toonder as the scriptwriter of Toonder's newspaper comic 'Panda'. Since artist Piet Wijn had left the comic a couple of years earlier, the artwork during Geelen's period was handled by Toonder staff artists Frits Godhelp and Jaap Lamberton. He wrote up to five 'Panda' stories. Geelen's later work for Toonder includes the TV movie 'Carmen & Ik' (1991), starring Frank Groothof and Porgy Franssen, and the animation series 'De Sommeltjes' (2003). Geelen was subsequently forced to retire from the Toonder Studios, when they closed down his one-man division.
An overview of the work of Harrie Geelen and Imme Dros was held in the Literary Museum in The Hague in 2001. Besides in the Netherlands, their books have been published in France, Japan, Denmark and Sweden. Their son Pieter Geelen is the co-founder of the TomTom NV navigation company. Harrie Geelen was named Knight in the Order of the Netherlands Lion in 2014.