Hanco Kolk is one of Holland's most prominent comic artists, who is praised by both a mainstream comics audience and the more serious art circles. He is best known for his humorous creations in cooperation with Peter de Wit, such as 'Gilles de Geus' and 'S1NGLE', but also for more experimental works like 'Meccano'. Kolk was born in Den Helder, but he moved to Arnhem at the age of 4. He grew up reading comic magazines like Pep and MAD, and also Willy Vandersteen's 'Suske and Wiske' series. Among his other artistic influences are comic authors Yves Chaland, André Franquin, Maurice Tillieux, Harvey Kurtzman, Will Elder, Al Hirschfeld, Tex Avery, Marcel Gotlib, Wilbert Plijnaar, René Goscinny, Albert Uderzo, the sculptor Alexander Calder and the painters Henri Matisse and Pablo Picasso.
He was 17 years old when he published his first comic story, 'Hanter Lanterfanter' (1974), in Evert Geradts' underground comix magazine Tante Leny Presenteert. Around this time, he was also the driving force behind his school newspaper, together with Ben Jansen. Another schoolmate of Kolk was Rieuwert Catz. Catz introduced him to Aloys Oosterwijk and René Meulenbroek, who all attended the Art Academy. The five young men, accompanied by Diederick van Kleef and Frank Langedijk, joined forces and launched the amateur comics magazine De Omelet in 1975.
The team published the first two issues themselves, and then another five were released through Har van Fulpen's publishing house Drukwerk until 1978. With every issue, the artwork improved, until Kolk, Meulenbroek, Jansen and Oosterwijk were ready to turn professional, while Catz, Van Kleef and Langedijk disappeared off the comics radar. When the magazines Tante Leny, Speedo and De Omelet merged to Talent in 1978, Kolk contributed the comic strip 'Rob Robijn'.
The four remaining Omelet artists teamed up with Evert Geradts and formed Studio Arnhem in 1981. This legendary studio layed the basis for a new generation of comic artists, who quickly made their mark in most of the leading comic magazines of the time. In a later stadium, the team was reinforced with Gerard Leever, Kees de Boer, René Uilenbroek and Jaap Stavenuiter, and also with the colorists Wilma Leenders, Ellen Klever and Trudi Klever. Within this inspirational environment, several notable creations came to light. As a team effort, Studio Arnhem produced 'Ernst Vrolijk & Dik Hout' for Robbedoes in 1984, for which Kolk wrote the script. By then, Kolk was also writing Disney stories for Donald Duck weekly (1981-1982), and Uco Egmond's 'Falco & Donjon' for Eppo (1983-1986). He furthermore did advertising assigments, and illustrations for the schools' magazine Kies.
Kolk, who had drawn in a semi-realistic style during the Omelet years, assumed a more round and caricatural drawing style in the 1980s. One of his earliest creations was the family comic 'Cor Daad', which ran in Malmberg's school magazine Taptoe from 1984 to 1998. Cor Daad (a pun on the Dutch word "kordaat", which means "brisk") is a short-sized, self-important buffoon whose big mouth always gets him into trouble. He lives together with the tall Gerda, who nevertheless isn't his partner but just a girlfriend. It was a gag comic for which Kolk could use his personal life as an important source of inspiration. At one point in the series Cor and Gerda receive a baby on their footstep, whom they adopt and name "Lola", which was also the name of Kolk's daughter. Another early creation by Hanco Kolk was 'Gilles de Geus' ('Bryant the Brigand'). This 16th century footpad started his career in a series of short stories in Eppo magazine in 1983.
When Hanco Kolk began his fruitful collaboration with Peter de Wit in 1985, they turned 'Gilles de Geus' into one of the all-time classics of Dutch comics. The duo started writing longer adventures with Gilles, and made him one of the soldiers of William of Orange in his battle against the Spanish oppressor. Several actual historical characters were added to the cast; besides William the Silent, there were also Admiral Lumey, the Duke of Alba and inventor Cornelis Drebbel. The 'Gilles de Geus' series is often compared by 'Astérix' by René Goscinny and Albert Uderzo. Both comics are set during an important period in local history and contain hilarious comedy, as well as nods to the present and double layers. The first album was released by Oberon in 1985 and the subsequent albums and reprints were published by De Plaatjesmaker (1988), Arboris (1996) and Silvester (1999). The ninth and final album was published in 2003.
His collaboration with De Wit increased when Kolk followed Aloys Oosterwijk to Amsterdam. The two artists joined Peter de Wit in his house studio at the De Wittenkade. The duo also launched their own publishing label, De Plaatjesmaker, through which they published new 'Gilles de Geus' albums, but also a collection of mini-comics by various artists, called the Pincet series. After a couple of years, Kolk, De Wit and Oosterwijk were joined by Michiel de Jong and Ben Westervoorde. Between 2010 and 2013, Hanco Kolk frequented the Funny Farm studios, which is located in the old offices of Studio Arnhem.
Kolk and De Wit also created the photo comic 'Mannetje & Mannetje', with themselves in the starring roles, which was published in Sjors en Sjimmie Stripblad/Sjosji from 1988 to 1995. The two sympathetic but somewhat clumsy chaps live out their awkward situations in series of sequential photos with drawn elements and backgrounds. The strip was adapted into a stop-motion animated TV series for VPRO television from 1989 to 1993. By that time, Hanco Kolk and Peter de Wit were probably the most recognizable comic artists of the Netherlands. It was not surprising that they were asked to host a course about drawing comics for the educational broadcasting company Teleac in 1992. The TV series featured them giving general tips about drawing comics, but also reports where well-known comic artists were interviewed about their craft. For VARA TV Magazine, they additionally made the comics adaptation of the television comedy 'Laat Maar Zitten' in that same year.
The duo have continued working on their joint oeuvre in the new millennium. Since 2000, they make the daily strip 'S1NGLE' for the Amsterdam newspaper Het Parool. By now, the comic is running in over 15 local and regional newspapers from the Netherlands and Flanders.The comic deals with the single ladies Fatima, Nienke and Stella, who all work in a hospital. A fourth girl called Floor was added to the cast in 2013. Many gags deal with their frustrating experiences with male partners, as well as the contrast between their personalities. Fatima is the dreamy type, yet somewhat naïve at times. Nienke is a no-nonsense woman and particularly grumpy when she's on her period. Stella is the stereotypical man-eater. She's had so many partners that her girlfriends occasionally find out they're dating one of her exes. The only thing to shake off her arrogance is when people guess her correct age. 'S1NGLE' has become so popular that a live action TV series starring Bracha van Doesburgh, Eva van der Gucht and Katja Schuurman was made. NET 5 broadcased three seasons from in 2008 to 2010. The series subsequently appeared on German and Hungarian television.
About as famous as Kolk's individual comics is his instantly recognizable drawing style. He originally drew with very round shapes, but in 1984 he evolved into more angular and stylized lines. His first comic in this new style was 'N.V. Moord' in the first issue of the short-lived Dutch comics magazine Titanic. A screwball version of the actual organized crime groups in the USA of the 1930s and 1940s, Kolk made a couple of stories about this murder agency. The style was influenced by the silent movies, including text cards and distorted backgrounds like in Fritz Lang's 'The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari' (1920). Kolk used his more stylized approach again for his more mainstream riddle comic 'Inspecteur Netjes', which debuted in Sjors en Sjimmie Stripblad in 1989. It appeared in the subsequent magazines SjoSji and Striparazzi until 1999 and was then reprised in Veronica Magazine between 2002 and 2004.
He further developed this style in his prize-winning series 'Meccano', a satire about an idyllic Mediterranean principality where billionaires, royals and other blue blood lead a life of greed, decadence, hedonism and opportunism. The subject matter allowed Kolk to draw the most grotesque caricatures and wildest behaviour. The early installments of the comic were published in the French magazine L'Écho des Savanes in 1989. Arboris published 'Beauregard' (1995) and 'Gilette' (1996), the first two book publications. The third installment, 'Schlager', was published by De Harmonie in 1999. Kolk serialized the fourth and final volume in six comic books through the Belgian publishing house Bries (2006-2007). It appeared in graphic novel format under the title 'De ruwe gids' in a co-production by Bries and De Harmonie in 2008. The first three books were later collected in the single volume 'De eenzame planeet' in 2009.
Meccano - Beauregard
'Meccano' is one of Kolk's most personal creations and is generally considered his magnum opus. He developed it to deal with the depressions he suffered from since age 15. He incorporates several aspects of his own character and mindset in the stories, from his midlife crisis to his tendencies to please. His drawing style has been minimalized to the barest essentials. Kolk tries to construct his drawings with as few fluent lines as possible, a technique iinspired by the illustrations Al Hirschfeld made for his Broadway reviews.
Since the 1990s Kolk has also focused on other art forms than comics, such as silk screens, illustrations and paintings. He made a calendar and a series of lithographs about 18th century Italian womanizer Casanova. The prints were on display in Gallery Lambiek in 1995, and an advertising comic called 'Casanova's Parfum' was made for the Amsterdam Spiegelkwartier Association in 1997. In 2004, he made two large dioramas about the legend of King Arthur and Dante's Divine Comedy for the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam. This was followed by a tapestry for Castle Groeneveld in Baarn in 2010.
Hanco Kolk with Kees Kousemaker at the opening of his 'Casanova' expo in Gallery Lambiek in 1995
His more artistic work has made Hanco Kolk a household name in the Dutch art scene. This has resulted in a couple of interesting collaborations. He is an occasional guest at performances by musician Spinvis, with whom he made 'Tot ziens, Justine Keller' in 2011. This book with CD includes songs by Spinvis with visualizations by Kolk. Another cooperation was with Dutch novelist Arnon Grunberg, for whom he made a comics version of his travel diary 'Van Istanbul naar Bagdad' (Podium, 2010). Together with Flemish cartoonist Kim Duchateau, he made 'De Man van Nu', a modernized version of Romeo and Juliet in two dimensions, published by De Harmonie/Blloan in 2016.
Throughout the years, Kolk has often made autobiographical comics, among others for Eppo, Razzafrazz and music magazine OOR. The sketchbook diary of his 1999 retreat to Italy, was published by Oog en Blik in 2003 under the title 'Retraite'. In 2005 he made a comic about his sterilisation for De Volkskrant. A book publication called 'Zaad' ('Seed'), was available exclusively in the Canisius Wilhelmina hospital in Nijmegen.
In addition, Hanco Kolk has continued to participate in smaller comics projects. He has written scripts for artists like Ben Westervoorde ('De Muziekbuurters' in Taptoe, 1995), Michiel de Jong ('De Familie Sloterdijk' in Hello You!, 1999) and Hans van Oudenaarden ('De Kleine Dood', 2001). His gag strip 'Circus' was published in P@per, the comics supplement of Brabant Strip Magazine, and he made the strip 'Carlo & Bertje' for N.O.T. In 2016, Kolk was one of the six Dutch artists to draw a comic book starring Willy Vandersteen's 'Suske en Wiske' for S.O.S. Children's Villages, based on a story by a Dutch celebrity. Kolk made the story 'De Tollende Toverkol' with novelist Karin Amatmoekrim. The other other artists involved were Eric Heuvel, Michiel de Jong, Gerard Leever, Romano Molenaar and Gerben Valkema.
Together with Jean-Marc van Tol, he lobbied for more money for the Dutch comics scene at The Netherlands Foundation for Visual Arts, Design and Architecture. This resulted in the annual Marten Toonder Prize, which was named after the legendary creator of 'Tom Poes'. The prize has been awarded to Jan Kruis (2010), Peter Pontiac (2011) and Joost Swarte (2012), and was then abolished due to cutbacks.
Another result of his efforts was the introduction of a training course in comic design at ArtEZ in Zwolle. Kolk is active as a teacher there, as are Sam Peeters and Roel Venderbosch. Among the alumni are Emma Ringelberg, Jan-Willem Spakman, Abe Borst and Marco Klein Nijenhuis. Other artists that have been influenced by Hanco Kolk are Maarten Vande Wiele, Niwi, Reinhart Croon, Floor de Goede, Ruben Libgott and Pieter De Poortere.
Hanco Kolk has won the Stripschapprijs for his entire oeuvre in 1996. A large exhibition of his original work was held in the Comics Museum in Groningen in 2005, which was followed by a large retrospective called 'De Stroomlijn' ('The Streamline') in Leuven (Louvain), Belgium in 2007.