'Uit het Kladschrift van Jantje', about dictators (De Groene Amsterdammer, 21 April 1934).

Felix Hess was a Dutch painter, etcher, lithographer, comic artist and book cover designer. During his career he worked on a couple of comics, of which the satirical feature 'Uit het Kladschrift van Jantje' (1916-1936) in De Groene Amsterdammer was the best known. It was an innovative comic strip/cartoon, presented as if it was completely written and drawn by a young boy.

Early life 
The artist was born in 1878 in Amsterdam as Felix Isidor Hess. Between 1901 and 1905 he studied at the State Academy of Fine Arts ("Rijksacademie van Beeldende Kunsten"), where painter August Allebé and graphic artist Pieter Dupont were among his teachers. He was a member of the art circles Vereeniging St. Lucas (starting in 1910) and Arti et Amicitae (from 1911). Because of his Jewish heritage, he had to leave both societies in 1940, after the Nazis occupied the Netherlands. 

De Groene Amsterdammer
Hess struggled with gaining social status as a painter, when a contest organized by the political cultural weekly De Groene Amsterdammer caught his attention. The contestants were asked to give their view on "the attitude of the Netherlands in 1915". Hess decided to participate. To visualize the phenomena of the day he used a child-like illustration style which possibly was inspired by the 1841 text comic 'Un Génie Incompris (M. Barnabé Gogo)' ("A Misunderstood Genius") by the cartoonist and caricaturist Cham. The cartoon Hess created was deliberately drawn in an unsophisticated, childish style and made to look like it had been drawn by a small boy on his elementary school writing slate, which were widely used in Dutch schools at the time. The editors were pleased with the original approach, and ran Hess' submission.


Part of the first 'Kladschrift van Jantje', about women's suffrage (1916).

Uit het Kladschrift van Jantje
One year later the artist witnessed a parade and protest for women's suffrage. His student (and future wife) Eliza Binger wrote a poem about it, which Hess then illustrated in the same pseudo-infantile drawing style. He sent it to the editors of De Groene Amsterdammer, who ran it in their magazine. It immediately was a hit with readers, and the weekly requested more episodes. 'Uit het kladschrift van Jantje' (literally, "From Jantje's Scratch Pad") became a regular feature in the magazine for the next twenty years. Every week Hess commented on social and political issues through the eyes of a child. The column was unsigned and presented as if it was actually written and drawn by a kid called Jantje. The "boy" became part of the weekly's regular artist team, which also consisted of Johan Braakensiek, Leendert Jordaan, Wam Heskes, Henri Verstijnen, George van Raemdonck and Bernard van Vlijmen.

In an interview published in Algemeen Handelsblad on 19 June 1938, Hess commented that in the early days of the strip, the editors gave him much freedom in his treatment of subject matter. Hess described himself as a liberal and a traditionalist, who on the other hand spared no taboos. According to the 'Jantje' strips, Hess was apparently strongly opposed to the temperance movement (against alcohol consumption), and strongly against slow traffic keeping to the right on the public highway. Even the implementation of the most basic traffic rules were panned in the strip as scandalous acts by a totalitarian regime. By the mid-1930s De Groene Amsterdammer got new editors with different values and beliefs, and editorial opposition made it difficult for the artist to continue; in 1936, 'Uit het kladschrift van Jantje' disappeared from De Groene Amsterdammer's pages.


'Uit het Kladschrift van Jantje', about the merits of cleaning and DIY (De Groene Amsterdammer, 27 May 1922).

Other satirical work
In addition to his work for "De Groene", Hess contributed to other magazines and newspapers. He had a similar feature called 'Uit Mijn Kladboek' ("From My Sketchbook", 1920-1921) in Uiltje, a humor weekly inspired by Punch magazine. After his departure from De Groene Amsterdammer, Hess became an artist for Het Liberale Weekblad, the official party organ of the Liberale Staatspartij.

Collaboration with Eliza Hess-Binger
Felix and his wife Eliza Hess-Binger also continued to work together after making the first version of 'Jantje' in 1916. For De Groene Amsterdammer, they developed a cat and mouse board game ('Poes en Muis Spel'), which came as a supplement with the 1922 Christmas issue. In 1933 they released 'Het Heele Jaar Door' (Enum, 1933), a calendar book with rhymes, riddles and stories for every day of the year.


'De Wonderlijke Reis van Jan Klaassen' (Algemeen Handelsblad, 23 July 1929). The original episodes showed the actual puppet play.

Collaboration with Leonard Roggeveen
Another regular associate of Hess was the famous teacher and writer of children's literature Leonard Roggeveen (1898-1959). Hess provided illustrations for Roggeveen's children's book 'De Ongelooflijke Avonturen van Bram Vingerling' (Van Goor, 1927), which collected a feature Roggeveen had written for the Schager Courant in 1925. The two men collaborated again on the newspaper picture story 'De Wonderlijke Reis van Jan Klaassen' ("The Amazing Journey of Jan Klaassen"), which was serialized in Algemeen Handelsblad between 19 July 1929 and 27 January 1930. In the first episode, the puppeteer Jacob Pepernoot is about to perform a show for kids in the street. It stars all the famous characters from the 'Punch and Judy' plays, known in Dutch as Jan Klaassen, his wife Katrijn, the police officer, the landlord and a scoundrel called Pierlala. As Pepernoot returns back home, he loses the puppets in a storm. The rest of the narrative follows the puppet's adventures in the real world. In the real-life puppet shows, children were encouraged to participate (shouting "Jan Klaassen! Look behind you!"); in Hess and Roggeveen's comic, children reading the strip were requested to color the black-and-white episodes and send them to the paper. Jan Klaassen himself promised that the ten best colorists would receive some great surprises! Algemeen Handelsblad released the story in book format in June 1930.

Final years and death
Felix Hess spent his final years painting portraits and illustrating children's books. During World War II, he resumed his pen name "Jantje". In the middle of World War II, Hess and his wife Eliza were sent to the Sobibór concentration camp in Poland, where they both died in 1943.

Homonym confusion
Felix Hess (1878-1943) should not be confused with the Dutch artist and physicist Felix Hess (b. 1941).


Felix Hess in 1938 (Algemeen Handelsblad, 19 June 1938)

Felix Hess in Lambiek's Nederlandse Stripgeschiedenis

Series and books by Felix Hess in stock in the Lambiek Webshop:

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