Bas en Van der Pluim, by Frits Godhelp
'Bas en Van Der Pluim'.

Frits Godhelp was a Dutch comic artist, a longtime staff artist with the Toonder Studios. Employed from the early 1940s until the early 1990s, he was an inker and penciler for many of the studio's productions. These included Marten Toonder's newspaper comics 'Tom Poes', 'Kappie' and 'Panda', as well as the weekly 'Tom Poes' balloon comic that was serialized in magazines. He also worked on comic series like 'Polletje Pluim' (1971-1972) and the 'Pelle Svanslös' strip for the Swedish market. For Tom Poes Weekblad, Godhelp created his own comic feature 'Bas en Van der Pluim' (1947-1950). Outside of the studio, he drew comic stories with Walt Disney's 'Little Hiawatha' for Donald Duck weekly in the 1970s and 1980s.

Early life
Frits Godhelp was born in 1927 in Amsterdam. As a child, he used to make chalk drawings of characters like Popeye and Mickey Mouse on the streets. He also became second in a drawing contest held by a local grocer, earning him 40 guilders (about 20 euros). At technical school, he learned to become a decorator. One of his classmates was his future Toonder Studio colleague Albert van Beek. During World War II, Frits Godhelp applied for a job with Geesink-Toonder Tekenfilmproducties in Amsterdam, an animation studio founded by Joop Geesink and Marten Toonder. Godhelp brought with him a self-made comic booklet with a character of his own design. On 11 January 1943, fifteen-year old Frits Godhelp was hired by Geesink-Toonder.

Drawing by Frits Godhelp for the November 1945 issue of the resistance magazine Metro.

Toonder Studios
At Geesink-Toonder, Frits Godhelp was initially tasked with inking film cells for the animation department, that produced animated shorts for companies like the Dutch Railways and Philips. The team was also working on an animated film starring Marten Toonder's newspaper comic characters Tom Poes and Olivier B. Bommel (Tom Puss and Lord Bumble). The project was never finished, but did keep many of the studio's co-workers from being sent to Germany for forced labor. Marten Toonder and his business partner Joop Geesink eventually parted ways, and the company continued as solely the Toonder Studio's. Frits Godhelp remained an employee for nearly fifty years, until his retirement in 1992.

Later in the war, the Toonder team also contributed to the resistance movement. Frits Godhelp took part in forging German stamps and making artwork for the underground newspaper Metro. After the Liberation, Godhelp moved to the Toonder Studio's comic department. Together with fellow staff artists Wim Lensen and Richard Klokkers, he was doing additional artwork on many of the company's newspaper comics, which at the time were all still personal creations by Marten Toonder. Mainly an inker, Frits Godhelp was known for meticulously following other artist's pencil lines. Every now and then, he had to fill-in on pencil duties for a couple of days. Most of the time, he made use of the episcope, a slide projector that can project already existing postures on the drawing paper. At times, he allowed himself to add some fun background elements, like a cute mouse or a cheerfully chirping bird.

'Kappie en de Vliegende Hollander' (1948).

One of the first newspaper comics Godhelp was assigned to was 'Kappie', starring the adventures of a jolly tugboat captain, loosely based on Marten Toonder's father. The 1945-1946 debut episode was written and drawn by Marten Toonder himself, but later stories were handled by co-workers under Toonder's supervision. The feature's main writers became Toonder's wife Phiny Dick and distant cousin Dirk Huizinga. Godhelp joined the art team, initially inking Mary Oosterdijk's pencils, before also assuming pencil duties. Because all co-workers remained anonymous, identification of the artists can only be done through statements by former Toonder employees or carefully studying the art styles. Godhelp is believed to have pencilled the 'Kappie' comic between 1946 and 1949. After then, the 'Kappie' comic has been pencilled by many other artists, with Richard Klokkers doing most of the inking. During the 1940s and 1950s, Frits Godhelp probably also lended a helping hand on the 'Olle Kapoen' comic, which was mostly drawn by Richard Klokkers.

'Tom Poes en de Knokenpijp' (1953-1954), balloon comic for Kleine Zondagsvriend. Artwork attributed to Frits Godhelp and Wim Lensen.

Tom Poes
In 1949, Godhelp became the regular inker of Marten Toonder's signature comic for newspaper De Volkskrant, 'Tom Poes en Heer Bommel' ('Tom Puss and Lord Bumble'), replacing Richard Klokkers. At the time, Ben van 't Klooster and Ben van Voorn were the pencil artists for this satirical funny animal comic, while Toonder did the writing and the final clean-up art. Frits Godhelp's tenure as inker presumably started with the episode 'Horror de Ademloze' (1949) and continued through 'Tom Poes de Kniphoed' (1955). After that, he probably did more fill-in or additional artwork for the daily strip, but no specifics are known. Between 1952 and 1955, Frits Godhelp and Wim Lensen were however largely responsible for drawing the weekly 'Tom Poes' balloon comic that the studio produced for both Wereldkroniek and the Belgian comic magazine Kleine Zondagsvriend. With Ben van 't Klooster and fellow staffers Klokkers and Lensen, Godhelp continued to produce further weekly stories for the Dutch magazine Revue in the period 1957-1966.

'De Chinese Waaier' (1961), a 'Tom Poes' balloon comic for Revue magazine. Throughout the story, Frits Godhelp added background jokes with a tiny mouse. Full color rendering by Wim Lensen.

Tom Poes Weekblad
Between 28 November 1947 and 30 June 1951, the Toonder Studio's produced its own weekly magazine, Tom Poes Weekblad. For its content, Toonder's studio workers were allowed to develop their own comic features, which appeared with credit bylines. Frits Godhelp created about 84 episodes of a funny animal gag strip about an elephant and a squirrel, 'Bas en Van der Pluim' (1947-1950). The Toonder Studio's licensing department also syndicated the feature to the regional newspaper Dagblad voor Noord Limburg and the grocer's advertising magazine Familie-Kring voor de Jeugd. 'Bas en Van der Pluim' was additionally sold to newspapers and magazines in Belgium (Het Laatste Nieuws) and Iceland (Heimilis Posturinn), while the characters also appeared on candy wrappers. In the late 1950s, Godhelp's strip was reprinted under the title 'Slobber' in Olidin, the promotional comic magazine of the Shell Junior Club.

Along with Albert van Beek, Godhelp also drew episodes of the Tom Poes Weekblad feature 'Baron Bluff en Bartholomeus', about a not-so-smart baron and his butler. These strips were signed "Marten Toonder".

Bas en Van der Pluim, by Frits Godhelp
'Bas en Van Der Pluim'.

Nederhorst den Berg years
By the 1960s, Godhelp, Wim Lensen and Richard Klokkers were the only staff artists in the Toonder Studio's comic department. Whereas most of the other artists were freelance and working from home, the three staffers were stationed in the studio office itself. They remained with the company after Marten Toonder's move to Greystones, Ireland and the studio's subsequent move from Amsterdam to its new location in the castle of Nederhorst den Berg. While Marten Toonder  kept artistic control over his own creations, the daily management of the Toonder Studio's was transferred to Bert Kroon. Andries Brandt became chief of the comics department. Meanwhile, Frits Godhelp and his colleagues participated in many comics, also ones that were not created by Marten Toonder himself. In 1971 and 1972, Godhelp and Lensen drew the final two adventures of the anthropomophic squirrel 'Polletje Pluim' for the Christian women's weekly Prinses. The series was originally created in 1967 by Dick Matena, and had since 1968 been written by Patty Klein and Andries Brandt and drawn by Jan van Haasteren. During the same period, Frits Godhelp was also one of the artists of 'Pelle Svanslös', an anthropomorphic cat character created by Gösta Knutsson, for which Semic Press in Sweden had placed an order with the Toonder Studio's for the creation gags and short stories.

'Polletje Pluim en Kammelotje' (1971), by Frits Godhelp and Wim Lensen (coloring).

Closing of the comics department
By 1973, the Toonder Studio's comic productions were no longer profitable, and Bert Kroon decided to close down the comic division. With Wim Lensen retiring around the same period, Godhelp and Richard Klokkers remained on the payroll to continue ongoing productions and provide artwork for commercial clients. They were joined in 1975 by a third artist, Jaap Lamberton. During the 1980s, Godhelp and Lamberton reworked the page layouts of the earlier 'Tom Poes' balloon comics for Wereldkroniek magazine for their reprints in Donald Duck weekly. Some pages that were destroyed in a 1971 fire at the castle had to be redrawn in full. At times, Godhelp also worked on other projects, like assisting Bjørn Frank Jensen on the animation of the music video for the 1985 synthpop single 'Woodpeckers from space' by Videokids, starring the character Tico Tac. Other assignments were a poster for the Dutch travelers' association ANWB in 1983, and promotional artwork and comic strips with the 'Tom Poes' characters for Concordia Insurances.

Since there was not so much to do as before, Godhelp supplemented his income by freelancing for the Dutch Disney weekly Donald Duck. Between 1973 and 1983, he drew many stories with the little Native American 'Hiawatha', often helped for the inking by Joanika Ring or Dick Vlottes.

Hiawatha, by Frits Godhelp
'Hiawatha' story from Donald Duck #15, 1984.. 

When in late 1986 'Panda' writer and artist Piet Wijn had a stroke, Godhelp and Jaap Lamberton took over pencil and art duties for this newspaper strip. While Lamberton made the rough sketch, Godhelp did the final pencil art, after which Lamberton did the inking. Taking over at the start of the Wijn-plotted episode 'De Diepgravers' (1986-1987), they continued the feature until the early 1990s, working from scripts by Harrie Geelen, Eiso Toonder and Ruud Straatman. Started in 1946, the series about the adventurous panda had become the biggest export product of the Toonder Studio's. Whereas 'Panda' ran in foreign newspapers in the balloon comic format, the Dutch publications had always been traditional text comics, with text captions underneath the images. During Piet Wijn's run on the feature, 'Panda' was turned into a balloon comic altogether, also for the Dutch publications. By the time Godhelp and Lamberton took over, it was the last remaining Toonder newspaper comic, as 'Tom Poes' had been concluded in 1986. Marten Toonder was however no longer actively involved in the stories, and the syndication was mostly limited to Dutch regional newspapers, including Nieuwsblad van het Noorden. With inker Jaap Lamberton dying in 1991, Piet Wijn joined Godhelp in the production of the final 'Panda' episode, 'De Weldader' (1991). With the last installment printed on 31 December 1991, Godhelp retired in the following year.

'Panda en de Tijdmeester' (1988), artwork by Frits Godhelp and Jaap Lamberton.

Relationship with Marten Toonder
For decades, the three staff artists Frits Godhelp, Wim Lensen and Richard Klokkers had been the Toonder Studio's longest-serving members. All three men had been with Marten Toonder since the start of his company in the 1940s. Their loyalty wasn't always rewarded with respect from their taskmaster, however. Over the years, much has been written about Toonder's lack of giving credit where credit is due, as well as his often harsh attitude towards his co-workers, most notably in Wim Hazeu's biography, 'Marten Toonder' (De Bezige Bij, 2012). Many talented artists came and went. Particularly Ben van 't KloosterBen van Voorn, Harry Hargreaves, Fred Julsing and Dick Matena had important roles in the 'Tom Poes', 'Panda' and 'Kappie' comics and, to a greater or lesser extent, were appreciated by Marten Toonder for their skills. Whenever an artist fell ill or left however, Godhelp, Lensen and Klokkers had to step in and keep the production going. Often, they worked on many series at the same time, but Marten Toonder was hardly ever satisfied with their input. From his Irish home in Greystones, Toonder continued to review the artwork of his own creations. He was especially critical of Godhelp, who often had to redo all of his drawings. On the occasions Toonder visited the studios in the Nederhorst den Berg castle, he neglected to walk by and greet his three staff artists in the corner tower. When in the 1980s he was displeased with Godhelp's work on the 'Panda' comic, Toonder suggested to fire the longtime studio artist, only three years before he reached his retirement age. Studio manager Bert Kroon managed to prevent this from happening.

Final years and death
Praise finally came when Frits Godhelp retired in 1992, nearly 50 years after joining the company. During a festive celebration at the studio castle, Godhelp received a Knight's order from the mayor of Amstelveen, as well as a letter from Marten Toonder, thanking him for his loyalty, dedication and perseverance. After his retirement, Godhelp continued to unofficially draw the 'Tom Poes' and 'Panda' characters, making watercolor drawings for collectors and other fans, even after Parkinson's disease hampered the stability of his hand. He also painted the characters on ostrich eggs. In 2006, a small exposition with his artwork was installed in the Amstelveen neighborhood support center Kastanjelaan. Frits Godhelp passed away in September 2009, a couple of weeks after his 82nd birthday.

Frits Godhelp, Marten Toonder and Ben van 't Klooster at the Toonder Studio's (1950s).


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