Hercules, Elsje, Valkema
Eric Hercules (l) amd Gerben Valkema (r) with their creation, Elsje.

Eric Hercules is a Dutch writer and creator, working for all kinds of Dutch media and corporations, while also being active in local politics on the isle of Texel. He is best-known as co-creator of the newspaper comic about the precocious little girl Elsje (Lizzy, in English), with artist Gerben Valkema. Elsje quickly turned into one of the most recognizable Dutch comic characters created in the 21st century, appearing in about 15 regional newspapers, comic magazine Eppo and publications abroad. Hercules was also a regular writer for the Dutch family comic 'Jan, Jans en de Kinderen', published in women's weekly Libelle, and co-creator of Eppo magazine's office humor comic strip '40 Hours' (2010-2017) and its follow-up '24 Hours' (2020- ) with Dick Heins.

Writing career
Hercules was born in 1964 in Zwolle. He attended the Radboud University in Nijmegen, where he got his Bachelor of Arts in Psychology (1986) and then studied Communication Sciences (1986-1991). Settled on the Dutch isle of Texel since 1993, Hercules became a freelance writer, story editor, character designer and formateer for all sorts of media, including television, radio, theater, books, newspapers, magazines, social media, corporate communications and comics. His TV work includes sketches and songs for the Dutch version of Jim Henson's 'Sesame Street' ('Sesamstraat'), scripts for the sitcom 'Linda, Linda' (KRO, 1995) and the children's TV shows 'Bobo TV' (Fox Kids, 2003), 'Het Zandkasteel' (2005), 'Biba Boerderij' (RTL, 2008-2009), 'Sinterklaasjournaal' and 'Studio Snugger' (Schooltv). He has written book series for toddlers, such as the 'Hoteldebotel' collection (Sanoma, 2005-2006) - with illustrations by Maarten Janssens - and 'Kip en Pim' (Gottmer, 2007), illustrated by Janneke Otten.

Jan, Jans en de Kinderen
Hercules' TV scriptwork combined written dialogue with instructions for the director, making his transition to comics easy. Along with Wouter Spits, he was one of the earliest contributing gag writers for the Dutch family comic 'Jan, Jans en de Kinderen' for Studio Jan Kruis. The comic had been a staple in the women's weekly Libelle since its creation by Jan Kruis in 1970. After nearly three decades, Kruis retired and sold his rights to Libelle publisher VNU (later Sanoma). In 1999, production of the comic was transferred to an in-house studio at the publisher's offices, employing such artists as Daan Jippes, Gerben Valkema, Rob Phielix, Michiel van de Vijver, Peter Nuyten and Daniel van den Broek. Scriptwriting was outsourced to external writers, of which Eric Hercules quickly became one of the most prominent. He not only provided scripts for the weekly Libelle page (until 2010), but also for the spin-off series 'Hoi Pipeloi' in the toddler's magazine Bobo and a newspaper strip with the philosophical ponderings of the family's red cat, 'De Rode Kater', for newspaper Spits (2010-2014, art by Daniel van den Broek).

While working together on the 'Hoi Pipeloi' features, Eric Hercules became close friends with Studio Jan Kruis artist Gerben Valkema. During a 2005 holiday weekend in Belgium, Valkema showed Hercules his sketchbook, containing a drawing of a cute little girl with her dog. The idea arose to create a newspaper comic with the character. Within no time, several sample strips were created. Over the course of 2006, newspaper publishers were approached until the authors found both Wegener and HDC Media interested. On Monday, 5 February 2007, 'Elsje' debuted in all the regional newspapers belonging to the two publishing groups, with HDC's Noordhollands Dagblad having the widest circulation. About a year later, the northern newspaper Dagblad van het Noorden ran the strip as well, followed seven years later by Leeuwarder Courant. Eventually, 'Elsje' appeared in over 15 Dutch newspapers, making it the most widely distributed newspaper comic in the Netherlands. The strip also appears in translation in German ('Elske'), Swedish ('Elsa'), Norwegian ('Elsie'), Danish ('Elsie'), French (as 'Elyse' in Super Pif), Spanish, Catalan (both 'Elsita') and English' (as 'Lizzy').

With her curly hair and trademark red shirt, Elsje appears sweet and innocent. But looks can deceive, as the sturdy girl has a mind of her own. She is self-confident, impulsive and, at times, a little vixen. Living in an average Dutch countryside town (originally intended as the Wadden isle Texel), she thinks she understands life, even though her views are clouded by childhood naivety. Through her unknowing perception of the world, the authors comment on topical events like the multicultural society, climate change or terrorism. Tagging along in Elsje's endeavours are her dog Puppie, the docile and gullible boy Gaitjan and Nadia, a white girl who wears a burka because of solar allergy. In later episodes, Nadia is replaced by climate refugee Mauri and the stuck-up AnnaLiese. Adult characters with authority are never seen in full. Elsje's parents only appear from the back, her psychiatrist is merely a beard and a pipe sticking out of a large chair, and her unstable teacher is mainly an offscreen voice, or seen crying from behind a toilet door. From 2009 on, Elsje and her friends are also present in the comic magazine Eppo, appearing in longer stories or one-page gags with more fantasy or over-the-top elements. In later years, the daily strips sometimes have ongoing narratives, for instance the summer episodes in which Elsje joins secret agent Dakota Jansen on secret missions of national interest. Those storyline dailies are later combined for publication in Eppo. Since 2013, additional 'Elsje' episodes have appeared in Scouting Magazine.

Between 2007 and 2009, Hercules and Valkema self-published the first three book collections with daily strips under the Texel-based imprint Complot. By the time 'Elsje' became a staple in Eppo magazine too, publisher Rob van Bavel and his Uitgeverij L took over the book series. The daily strips were originally collected in square-formatted books, while the Eppo episodes were released as traditional European comic albums. After a while, the dailies books switched to the portrait format too. Special 'Elsje' books have appeared in the Brabant and Groningen dialect. In a time where comics are not as commercially viable as they used to be, 'Elsje' is a notable exception. Even though she was created in the 21st century, she is already one of the most recognizable Dutch comic characters. She has served as mascot for comic events and has appeared on merchandise too. To celebrate her 10th anniversary in 2017, a limited edition 'Elsje' figurine was made by the sculptor Anders Ehrenborg.

40 Hours door Eric Hercules en Dick Heins
'40 Hours', artwork by Dick Heins.

40 Hours
Also for Eppo magazine, Eric Hercules created the gag strip '40 Hours' (2010-2017), drawn by Dick Heins. The comic stars three office workers - young Mark, lazy Bert and their head of service, Jensen - and ran for seven years, presenting recognizable everyday office humor. By 2017, Hercules and Heins ended their series by having Mark marry Jensen. The series returned in Eppo's pages in 2020, but then under the title '24 Hours'. Now a part-timer, Bert is transferred to a new office space, with new colleagues.

Political and operational work
Besides being a writer and concept creator, Eric Hercules has served on the board of several cultural and heritage organizations. Since 2015, he is chairman of Stichting Pauperportretten, a foundation that organizes high-profile photography exhibitions around major social issues, like poverty and solidarity. He is on the board of Science Encounters Art (S.E.A.), a project affiliated with the Texel-based NIOZ research center. With annual open air art exhibitions, the S.E.A. makes the work of the NIOZ scientists perceptible and transparent to the general public. On the isle of Texel, he has dedicated himself to the restoration of the gardens of the former country estate Brakestein. Also involved in local politics, Hercules was a councilor between 2002 and 2009, and then served as alderman for Tourism, Sustainability, Culture and Urban Development (2010-2018), with projects such as energy-neutral public lighting, demand-driven public transport and sustainable temporary housing. Since 2019, he is the chairman of the PvdA Texel party.

During the 2011 Stripdagen comic festival, one of their 'Elsje' albums won Gerben Valkema and Eric Hercules the Stripschap Badge for "Best Youth Album". The album 'Elsje Maakt Geschiedenis' won the 2016 Willy Vandersteen Prize, which came with a financial reward of 5,000 euro. His work for the 1998 'Sesamstraat' Sinterklaas special broadcast won him the Cinekid Kinderkast Award.


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