Alex van Koten is a Dutch commercial comic artist and cartoonist, who has worked on customized comics strips for staff magazines and advertising purposes since the late 1980s. For a mainstream audience, he has been writing scripts for Eppo and Donald Duck. Among his own creations are the funny animal comic 'De Gebroeders Pinguïn' and the retro-styled detective 'Nick Name'.

Early life
In 1967, Alex van Koten was born in Haarlem, as part of twin brothers. He grew up reading the comic magazines Robbedoes (Spirou) and Kuifje (Tintin), and later also Eppo. Eppo's translated episodes of 'Billy Bunter' and the soccer comic 'Billy's Boots' instigated his lifelong interest in British comics. The Franco-Belgian masters Hergé, Peyo and André Franquin also remain favorites, while on the homefront Thé Tjong-Khing's version of 'Student Tijloos' left a lasting impression. Later in life, he struck up a friendship with the veteran illustrator Thé, who also lives in Haarlem. Van Koten picked up cartooning by studying the craft of other artists. He got his formal education in graphic arts and industrial design at the Haarlem-based RTO (Reproductie Teken Opleiding) between 1985 and 1988. Since then he has been active as a freelance cartoonist, while supplementing his income with a parttime job as receptionist in a nursing home.

Ed & Ad by Alex van Koten

Commercial comic strips
Alex van Koten has worked mainly for commercial clients, out of sight of the mainstream comics reader. Since 1994, he has drawn comics for house organs of the province North Holland, starting with monthly strips for WVV-nieuws, the bi-weekly staff magazine of the now-defunct Road, Traffic and Transport service. A selection of the strips, co-written by John Stoetenga, appeared in a small booklet in 1996. Van Koten later transferred to Op Dreef, another publication of the provincial administration, and renamed his strip 'Overdreven'. By 1998 he introduced two regular characters, civil servant Ad and his younger counterpart Ed, who spearheaded Van Koten's comic until the end in 2006.

Stoffer en Blik by Alex van Koten
Stoffer & Blik

Another regular client were the Dutch Railways. Van Koten developed the comic strip 'Matje Materieel' (1995-2000) for the internal company magazine NS Materieel. The character became so popular among the NS staff, that he got his own stationary, T-shirts and a mouse pad. He subsequently created another comic, 'Stoffer & Blik' (1997-2000) for the Randstad Breed and Overall, quarterly house organs of the Maintenance & Service department. Both strips ended when cutbacks cancelled the magazines. 'Woef & Co' was another in-house strip by Van Koten, created for magazines of the Dutch Society for the Protection of Animals ('Woef & Co', 2003-2007). Alex van Koten has additionally made advertising strips for Tinke Insurances, Travel Inventive and an anti-allergy medicine of Schering Plough. By the mid 2000s, most of Van Koten's clients had cancelled their staff magazines and switched to digital newsletters. This forced the cartoonist to try his luck in more mainstream publications.

Funny animal comics
Alex van Koten's longest-running comic is 'De Gebroeders Pinguïn' (since 2008), a funny animal feature about two intractable penguins. It appears monthly in Straatjournaal, the street newspaper from the North Holland region. In his strips, the cartoonist often winks at other pop culture phenomena. In one episode he for instance based a street scene by the Edward Hopper painting 'NightHawks', and introduced a more vulgar version (with different colors) of Walt Disney's 'Jose Carioca' in another strip. Initially a monthly half-page in black-and-white, the strip appears in color since 2013 and on a full page since 2016.

Between 2009 and 2012 he was also present in De Ontdekkers, a Flemish popular science magazine for children, with 'Robert en zijn slimme kat' (2009-2012), about a kid and his superintelligent and technically skilled cat. In 2020, the gag strip was revived for the Haarlem-based children's newspaper Jong023, under the title 'Oscar en zijn slimme kat'.

Nick Name
Another personal project is 'Nick Name', a retro-styled detective, of which the first drawings were made in late 2004. It was the culmination of Van Koten's love for crime noir, inspired by the comics, films, novels and radio plays the genre spawned. Important influences were Will Eisner's 'The Spirit', the Rita Hayworth film 'Gilda' and Raymond Chandler crime novels. To achieve a retro "feel", the author adds a background of old, torn paper to his panels. Installments of the comic appeared in P@aper and other magazines, but readers had to wait until September 2016 for the comic's official debut in Stripglossy magazine.

Nick Name by Alex van Koten

In 2012 he became the new writer of Eppo magazine's title comic. Since the magazine's relaunch by Rob van Bavel in 2009, Van Koten was the third in line to write the new gags with Uco Egmond's creation of the 1970s. Herman Roozen and Pim van Helmond were his predecessors. During the first half year, Van Koten wrote in collaboration with his friend Arwin Kossen, using the collective pen name Mart Koster. He then continued on his own, and gradually modernized the somewhat old-fashioned gag comic in collaboration with the new artists René Uilenbroek (2013-2018) and Pieter Hogenbirk (2018-) by adding more contemporary elements such as the motorcyclist girl Yildiz. In 2020 Van Koten left the comic, leaving the writing duties to Marq van Broekhoven.

Van Koten and Uco Egmond also worked on a proposed animated TV series about the adventures of a group of young space travelers, based on an idea by TV host Ivo Niehe. The TV project never got off the ground, but did result in the landscape-formatted comic book 'Spacey's' (Strip2000, 2015). Since 2019 Alex van Koten also writes scripts with Disney characters for the Dutch Donald Duck weekly, some co-plotted with Robbert Damen.

KFC Smikkelburg
Alex van Koten shares a studio space with Robbert Damen, Gerben Valkema and Michiel Offerman in the center of Haarlem. With Damen van Offerman, he has been working on four comic booklets about 'KFC Smikkelburg' (2020-2021), that are distributed with the Kids Meals at Kentucky Fried Chicken restaurants. The assignment came through the editors of Donald Duck (DPG Media), who were approached with the project by KFC Northern Europe. Since they couldn't use Disney characters, the team developed a completely new concept and set of characters, presenting a fictional funny animal franchise of the fastfood restaurant. Damen and Van Koten wrote the stories, with Offerman doing the art duties. Editorial sections were written by DPG's comic editor Bas Schuddeboom, while Robbert's daughter Emma Damen provided the coloring. Since then, Damen and his studio colleagues have worked on several other commercial comic assignments for DPG's Sales department.

May & Mam
Since 2023, Alex van Koten is a contributor to the girls' magazine Tina. He writes and draws a feature called 'May & Mam', about a girl who helps her mother in her vintage boutique. The coloring is provided by Emma Damen.

From: Haarlemse Hofjeskrant #34 (2018).

Haarlem projects
On a more local base, Van Koten provides comic strips, cartoons and illustrations to Willem Brand's free historical/cultural newspaper Haarlemse Hofjeskrant, that appears three times a year since 2008. Another local project with Van Koten's participation was the collective comic book 'Was getekekend, Haarlem' (2006), in which thirteen comic artists give their vision on Haarlem's most iconic monuments. He also gives workshops in cartooning in the Haarlem and the surrounding towns.

Collective projects
Alex van Koten has participated in several other collective comics projects. Gerrie Hondius' "Teken Mijn Verhaal" foundation, for instance, where which comic artists visualize stories created by children with a handicap. For the 'Verknipt en verstript' anthology (2006), he adapted one of Patty Klein's sonnets. He later made a comics interpretation of the Klein Orkest song 'Het Liefste' for the 'Strips in Stereo Bootleg' (2006), Margreet de Heer's unofficial companion to Gerrit de Jager and Jean-Marc van Tol's 'Strips in Stereo' anthology.

Alex van Koten with "his" comics paper Stripkrant in 2010.

Inspired by the classic Sunday comic supplements of American newspapers ("the Funnies"), Van Koten was the driving force behind the first two editions of the BNS Stripkrant (2010-2011). They were free comic samplers by members of the Federation of Dutch Comic Creators. In 2020 he joined 75 Dutch & Flemish comic artists to make a contribution to the free collective comic book 'Striphelden versus Corona' (Oogachtend/Uitgeverij L, 2020). The book is intended to support comics stores who had to close their doors for two months during the lockdown at the height of the COVID-19 virus pandemic. 

Besides an artist himself, Van Koten is a connaisseur of classic comics and cartoons, and a collector of original artwork. His expertise amply crosses the borders of his home country and also explores Franco-Belgian comics, British story papers, old American comics and even strips from South America. His ready knowledge, historical fun facts and keen eye for identifying anonymous artwork have been of great use to writers of secondary literature, including the editors of this Comiclopedia. He pens down his own ponderings about comic history and the production side of cartooning on his blog 'De Strip en Ik' (since 2015) and in his column for Stripglossy magazine (since 2019).

Alex van Koten drawn by Michiel Offerman in a cartoon accompanying his column in Stripglossy #15 (2019).

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