Frits Jonker's "onomatopoeia alphabet". He has also designed a rat and a monkey alphabet

Frits Jonker is a Dutch comics letterer, scriptwriter and typographer. He is one of the last specialists of his trade in the Netherlands, and probably the only one who still does his lettering by hand. In addition to the many comics he has lettered since the 1980s, Jonker has also made handwritten columns for Striprofiel, Zone 5300 and StripNieuws, as well as his own 'Showcase' fanzine. As a scriptwriter, he is known for the comics series 'Geheim van de tijd' (2002-2006), which he made with Eric Heuvel, and for his collaborations with Pieter Dorrenboom.

Jonker was born in 1959 in Amsterdam, and grew up reading the Dutch Donald Duck weekly and the advertising comic booklets his father brought home from the family grocery store. He later developed a fascination for translated superhero comics, which were published by Classics in the Netherlands. Having the ambition to become an artist himself, Frits submitted his own comics to amateur magazines. Some of his artwork turned up in print, like a cover for the third Lambiek Bulletin of 1979 and a one-page story published in the March 1980 issue of Trouwens, a magazine published by Har van Fulpen's Drukwerk. He furthermore published his own fanzines, such as Nix News (about Albert Uderzo and René Goscinny's 'Astérix') and Writtenews, while also providing artwork to the newsletter of Amsterdam comics shop De Zaak Zonnebloem and small press magazines like Brillantinepotje, Strip Special, Shunt and Donkere Dagen. In 1984 he made self-published mini-comics like 'Snuff Stuff Jazz' (with Ton and Roel Smit) and 'No Fun Comix' (with his brother Rudi Jonker).

Jonker provided another piece of promotional artwork for Kees Kousemaker's comics shop Lambiek. Each issue of Yendor's Rhaa Lovely magazine (containing comics from the French magazine Fluide Glacial), contained a page with advertisements for Dutch comics shops. Lambiek usually supplied a strip which either spoofed the concept of comics shops or addressed why Lambiek had no advertisement on the page? Frits Jonker was the first to illustrate one of these strips in Rhaa Lovely's first issue in 1982. The following issues contained strips by Peter Pontiac and Lambiek co-worker Simone Koch.


Prints of Frits Jonker's strip for Rhaa Lovely #1 (from the Lambiek archives)

Van Fulpen was more impressed by Jonker's lettering skills, and hired him to provide lettering for a Dutch edition of classic EC Comics stories, 'De vloek van de volle maan' (1981), which Drukwerk produced for publisher Peter Loeb. The steady lettering style by Jonker was quickly picked up by other publishers as well, most notably Casterman. One remarkable job was lettering a Russian translation of Hergé's 'Tintin', without even knowing what he was writing! Painful drills were when he had to remain faithful to the original typography, and provide "ugly" lettering, like for the translations of Alan Moore and Eddie Campbell's 'From Hell' and Roz Chast's 'Can't We Talk About Something More Pleasant?'.

Jonker was additionally an editor of comics information magazine Striprofiel in the 1980s. For this magazine, he filled a column about the craft of lettering in the format of correspondence with editor Ernst Pommerel. Through Jonker's connections with the publishing house Casterman, he became responsible for the lay-outs of Wordt Vervolgd, the Dutch equivalent of À Suivre magazine. He was part of the editorial team from 1985 to 1989, during which he worked with editors like Martijn Daalder, Mat Schifferstein and René van de Weijer. In these final years of its existence, Wordt Vervolgd also published work by Dutch artists, like Lian Ong, Bert van der Meij, Paul Teng and Peter Pontiac.


Self-published fanzines

Up until 2000 Frits Jonker had a fulltime job lettering mostly translations of French comics albums. But from then on, the art of hand lettering succumbed to the modern times. Most of Jonker's peers had switched to digital lettering, like Richard Pakker and Peter de Raaf, who managed the two largest specialized studios in the field. The digital letterers of course maintained a higher production, and ironically also got a higher page rate! Since 2000, Jonker has mostly provided lettering for graphic novels, like 'De Aanslag' (2015) by Milan Hulsing, 'Jheronimus' (2015) by Marcel Ruijters, 'Wol' (2016) by Aart Taminiau and the highly praised 'In The Pines' (2016) by Erik Kriek, as well as several comics published in Zone 5300. In the mainstream genre, he continued to do lettering for Robert van der Kroft's 'Claire' and Aloys Oosterwijk's 'Willem's Wereld'. Other clients have hired him merely to design exclamations, headers, sound effects and shop signs, among other things.

Nowadays, he earns his money painting houses, but a lot of his time is spent on his 'Showcase' blog, which he fills with his graphic work and contemplations over his music collection. In 2005 Jonker launched a paper version of his blog, consisting of hand lettered illustrated pieces of paper which he sends to his friends and acquaintances. These wonderful showcases of typography and graphic design were collected in a large compendium by publisher Xtra, called 'Showcase' (2012). The man has furthermore written columns for Zone 5300 and Slagwerkkrant, and since 2016 for StripNieuws ('Frits Jonker's Geletterde Speeltuin').


Two of Frits Jonker's columns for StripNieuws

In addition to his graphics work, Frits Jonker has worked as a comics scriptwriter. He has worked regularly with artist Pieter M. Dorrenboom, with whom he created the long-running strip 'Single-mania' for Zone 5300, in which the authors hilariously chronicled their collector's mania. Another joint production was a daily comic strip about Elvis, who had a huge hit with Junkie XL's remix of 'A little less conversation' at the time. 29 strips of 'Elvis Lives!' were published in Algemeen Dagblad in the summer of 2002. In 2005 Jonker and Dorrenboom made six pages of 'The Time Travel Agency' for a side project of a Dutch children's magazine. Another notable collaboration was with artist Eric Heuvel, with whom he made four stories of 'Geheim van de tijd' (2003-2006), which were serialized in Algemeen Dagblad and then published in four albums by the publishing houses M and L (2004-2007). The comic deals with the recently divorced mother Sabina, who gets entangled in a web of crime and mystery. The intrigue is filled with timetravel, esoteric sects and other fantasy elements which have the writer's interest. Jonker has furthermore made cartoons in cooperation with Esper Postma in De Volkskrant in 2007, and short comics stories with Fred de Heij for Pulpman magazine.

In 2003 Frits Jonker won the Hal Foster Award, a somewhat tongue-in-cheek prize for a person who has made himself useful in the "periphery of the comics industry". He was awarded the P. Hans Frankfurther Prize for special merits during the annual Stripdagen festival in March 2017.


Frits Jonker and Pieter Dorrenboom are the main characters in Single Mania (Zone 5300 #29, 1997). Art by Pieter M. Dorrenboom

showcase.thebluebus.nl

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