Kees Kousemaker flying high over Lambiek on the Kerkstraat in Amsterdam, an original drawing by Peter Pontiac for the move to Kerkstraat 78, 1017GN
Kees Kousemaker flying high over Lambiek in Amsterdam, a drawing by Peter Pontiac at the occasion of Lambiek's move to Kerkstraat 78.

Kees Kousemaker was a Dutch comic store owner and comic scholar. In November 1968, he made history by opening Lambiek, the first comic shop in Europe, and still the oldest one on the continent. Kees enthusiastically collected comics from all time periods, countries and genres. He wrote several essays and books about comics in all their forms and made his store a meeting place for Dutch and international comic authors and fans. His 'Strip voor Strip' (1970) and 'Wordt Vervolgd - Stripleksikon der Lage Landen' ("To Be Continued - Comics Lexicon of the Low Countries", 1979) were the first books with information about the history and authors of Dutch-language comics. Kousemaker offered space in his store for exhibitions of comic art and treated comic creators with the same respect as artists from the high art world. He became the Netherlands' most renowned comic expert and an enthusiastic spokesperson for the medium. Thanks to his efforts, the Dutch comic scene not only blossomed, but received proper media attention, artistic interest and respect. Kousemaker's final passion project was the Comiclopedia, a website devoted to creating biographies of comic creators of the world, living or dead. Ever since its creation in 1999, the Comiclopedia has been the most comprehensive biographical encyclopedia of comic artists in the world, and has expanded over the years to include an overview of Dutch comic history.

Early years
Cornelis Kousemaker, known as Kees, was born in 1942 in Steenbergen, The Netherlands, during World War II, which was a very intriguing time for the youngest child in a family of lawyers and judges. He grew up in the village of Zeist, where he and his friends roamed the woods in search of war relics. He was an avid collector and preservationist even at this young age, and would display the found items in the attic of his parents' home, inviting friends to visit his "museum" - a dramatic undertaking, since it was unclear whether the centerpiece of his exhibit, a hand grenade, could still detonate or not. This was the first of many exciting collections that Kees would share with the world. He also surprised family and friends by forsaking the study of law to earn an education degree at the Art Academy of Arnhem instead. Afterwards, Kees returned to Zeist and worked as an art teacher, before studying two years of sociology in Utrecht. Around that time, he met his future wife, French language teacher Evelien Willems.

Kees Kousemaker at the first Lambiek comics shop at Kerkstraat 104 near Leidseplein in central Amsterdam, The Netherlands
Kees Kousemaker in front of the first Lambiek location at Kerkstraat 104 in November 1968. The sign was designed and painted by Kees' college friend Onno Docters van Leeuwen.

Comic store Lambiek
As a child, Kees was captivated by the comics printed in local newspapers (many of them produced by the Marten Toonder Studios). As many people did at the time, he cut them out of the papers and added them to his collection. When his generation came of age in the 1960s, there was increasing interest and demand for these old comics. During the 1950s, comics had been slighted by educators, both in the United States and the Netherlands. To some, like Dr. Fredrick Wertham, comics were considered evil, perhaps slowing down the child's reading skills or even leading to criminal behavior.

Kees Kousemaker at stripwinkel Lambiek comic shop in 1974
Kees Kousemaker presiding over the original Lambiek shop at Kerkstraat 104 in 1977.

When Kees was in his twenties, the public perception of comics changed. Improved attitudes concerning the comic medium, in the Netherlands and beyond, were helped by a new generation of emerging ethusiasts, who created and presented increasingly sophisticated artwork in the emerging art form. In Amsterdam, indeed the whole of the Netherlands, the major driving force behind education, appreciation and respect for the entire field of comics was Kees Kousemaker. On Friday, 8 November 1968, Kees opened "Stripantiquariaat Lambiek", Europe's first comic store, to an Opening Day party, the start of a tradition of Friday evening festivities that has continued inside and outside of Lambiek ever since. The store was named after the comic character Lambiek by the Belgian cartoonist Willy Vandersteen, and was intended as a pun on the modern "boutiques" of the time. Vandersteen was the Guest of Honor at the opening and within the hour another comic legend, Frans Piët ('Sjors en Sjimmie') happened to walk by, and, curious about the festive celebration, ventured inside. He was hospitably welcomed by Kees, and met Willy Vandersteen for the first time. This famed meeting was only the first of countless surprise encounters and instant friendships struck up between fellow cartoonists at Lambiek's special events over the next 50-plus years.

Kees Kousemaker at the old Lambiek comics shop store at Kerkstraat 104 in Amsterdam (around 1979)
Kees Kousemaker in the old store at Kerkstraat 104 (about 1979).

Lambiek soon became more than just a store. Kees was an active collector, not just of the old cut-out Dutch comics, but also of international comics, such as underground magazines, who found their way into the Netherlands thanks to Olaf Stoop's Real Free Press. With his keen eye for graphic excellence, Kees treated comics as art, which sometimes met with ridicule, but also won respect from the established art world. While Kees had interest in all kinds of comics throughout his life, his personal favorites were Marten Toonder's 'Tom Poes', Carl Barks' 'Donald Duck' stories, Frederick Burr Opper's 'Happy Hooligan', Winsor McCay's 'Little Nemo', George Herriman's 'Krazy Kat', Willy Vandersteen's 'Suske en Wiske', Marc Sleen's 'Nero', André Franquin's 'Marsupilami' and H.G. Kresse's 'Eric de Noorman'. But he was also an early admirer of more modern artists like Nazario, François Avril, Chris Ware, Windig & De Jong, Peter Pontiac and Loustal.

Kees Kousemaker at the offices of Real Free Press in Amsterdam in the 1970's
Kees Kousemaker at the offices of Real Free Press at the Dirk van Hasseltssteeg 25 in Amsterdam (1978). Kees is holding a copy of the newly released Will Eisner graphic novel 'A Contract With God'. In 1984, Lambiek released a Yiddish version of the book.

From the very beginning, Lambiek has been a place where comic artists meet. Kees was an enthusiastic, warm-hearted patron of the comic arts even at this tender age (he was just 26 when Lambiek opened its doors). He exuded a fatherly aura, supporting and guiding any comic artist that timidly stepped into the store, hoping to find interest for their work. Because of this, several artists have portrayed Kees in either homages or cameos throughout the years, including Peter Pontiac, Joost Swarte, René Windig, Jean-Marc van Tol, Derek Bauer, Lukas Moerman, Mau Heymans, Erik Kriek, Dan Schiff and Margreet de Heer.

Kees Kousemaker and his son Boris at the opening of Lambiek's second location, at Kerkstraat 78 in Amsterdam in 1979
Kees Kousemaker with his son Boris at the opening of Lambiek's second location, at Kerkstraat 78 (29 November 1980).

Kees (and later, his son Boris) advertised the store through eye-catching advertising signage and an unusual wooden Lambik-shaped mascot (with and without a bicycle). Above the door of Lambiek's first store (1968), was a comic strip facade, designed by Kees' college friend Onno Docters van Leeuwen. In 1977, a completely new facade festooned with comic characters was designed by Charlie Reuvers after the old one was damaged by football hooligans. From 1980 onwards, the new store at Kerkstraat 78 displayed Docters van Leeuwen's iconic "ZIP" logo on all plastic comic bags and the large orange-bordered wooden sign, which hung perpendicularly above the store. Due to its size and bright colors, it could be seen 100 metres (350 feet) away from the busy Leidsestraat to the east and all the way west down to the Nieuwe Spiegelstraat, which was nearly 200 meters (700 feet). In 1981 the first wooden Lambiek doll (the term "doll" refers here to a wooden cut-out figure) stood at the corner of Kerkstraat and Leidsestraat, pointing at the store. After police officers kept confiscating the first figure, something needed to be done. In 1988, Lambiek co-worker Job Goedhart designed a replacement life-sized wooden doll. He placed it on a bicycle to circumvent city laws for advertising placements on the street. After all, it wasn't illegal to park a bike! In 2010, Larie Cook redesigned the bike and the Lambiek figure. Jeroen Funke made Lambiek a special hand-painted carrier cycle, intended for webshop deliveries. In actuality, it was solely employed for beer runs.

A 1991 'Heinz' strip featuring Lambiek and Kees Kousemaker, by Windig & De Jong.
Heinz: "Look Bonga, this is Lambiek, the very-very best comic store in the Netherlands and that man there is the salesman... Psst, he wants you to read that book to him and if I were you, I'd do that..."

Lambiek's biggest media stunts were the book signing sessions and especially the exhibitions of comic art. In the 1970s and 1980s, many comic artists (often teenagers) entered Lambiek with their self-made comic magazines. Kees always bought a copy of each issue the artist had, and immediately put it up for sale in the store. Some of these cartoonists were the Dutchmen Windig & De Jong, Hanco Kolk & Peter de Wit, Peter Pontiac, Joost Swarte, Gerrit de Jager and Jean-Marc van Tol. Many established lifelong friendships with Kees, and as they rose to fame in the Dutch comic world, Lambiek was proud to present exhibitions of their work. Some of these cartoonists also made wonderful promotional artwork for the store. In 1976, the first exhibition was organized in Lambiek: a low-key event based on the work of Jean Dulieu, creator of 'Paulus de Boskabouter' ("Paulus the Woodgnome"). Kees' desire for bigger and better exhibitions led to new interior design - in 1986, he had Lambiek partially cleared to install an exhibition space in the middle and back of the store. 

Kees Kousemaker with Will Eisner in 1980
Will Eisner in a private conversation with Kees Kousemaker, 1980.

The first of these famous exhibitions took place in 1986 and featured RAW, the American experimental comic magazine. This exhibition was organized and curated by Dutch comic artist Joost Swarte, whose art was featured in the pages and on the cover of the magazine. A long line of exhibitions, with well-catered (and thus well-attended) openings continued in the following years, featuring international artists like Robert Crumb, Charles Burns, Pascal Doury, André Franquin, Chris Ware, François Avril, Loustal, Will Eisner, up-and-coming and established Dutch comic artists, such as Peter Pontiac, Hanco Kolk, Henk Kuijpers, Windig & De Jong, Mark Retera and the 'Eiland' duo Stefan van Dinther and Tobias Schalken, as well as "thematic shows" on subjects ranging from American newspaper comics and cartoons against racism and discrimination.

A sketch of Lambiek's studio apartment by Adrian Tomine (June 1996)
Lambiek's studio apartment, sketch by Adrian Tomine (1996).

Three things stand out about these exhibitions: firstly, how Kees made the opening days look and feel like similar events in the world of fine art. He  provided quality food and drink to attendees, and made sure to invite the critics and patrons of that art scene. Secondly, Kees treated his exhibiting comic artists with unequalled generosity and hospitality, often putting them up in the famous "cartoonist's loft," the studio apartment above the store. Many visiting cartoonists in turn expressed their gratitude by contributing a special, personalized drawing directly on the south studio wall.

De Muur
Segment of the wall in the Lambiek Studio at Kerkstraat 78. It contained artwork by Eric Braün, Al+Flag, Jim Woodring, Pete Poplaski, Janet & Michael T. Gilbert, Willem, Barbara Stok, Eric Reynolds, Hélène Brosseau, Lian Ong, Roberta Gregory, Bob Fingerman, Sophie Crumb, James Sturm, Seth, David Sandlin, Ellen Forney, Jeff Smith, Dan Schiff and others.

Thirdly, the openings of these exhibitions were joyous occasions to which the whole comic community was invited. The highlight of any opening was the speech given by Kees. He was a gifted orator with an insightful sense of humor, full of gentle satirical wit, simultaneously self-mocking and grandious descriptions and satirical pompous formality. Openings for exhibitions lasted (at the very least) until the consumption of the last glass of beer and wine, then usually continued on with a small die-hard crew of attendees, who moved the festivities to the café Terzijde on the other side of the street when Lambiek closed up for the evening. Although Kees always snuck quietly off to his Bussum home before these celebrations began, he was always delighted in the following days to hear amusing anecdotes about the late-night antics of the exhibition's after-parties.

Kees Kousemaker performing a speech at the Drawn & Quarterly exposition at Lambiek in 1996
Kees performing a speech at the Drawn & Quarterly exposition (7 June 1996).

Comic expert
Kees compiled various books on comics: 'Strip voor Strip' (1970), which was published by his own imprint, De Morsige Roerganger ("The Grubby Oarsman"), and his 1980 co-creation with his wife Evelien, 'Wordt Vervolgd - Stripleksikon der Lage Landen," ("To Be Continued - Comics Lexicon of the Low Countries"), published by Het Spectrum. The latter book provides a historical overview of comics, as well as an encylopedia of every currently known Dutch and Flemish comic artist and series. In a way, the book was an embryonic version of the current online Comiclopedia. Kees did most of the research in his spare time, with the aid of helpers and an ever-growing network of fellow comic enthusiasts. He contacted publishers to obtain information about certain obscure comic strips and cartoonists. He even managed to track down some comic artists for their first-hand perspectives. All these efforts made these books important to the study of the history of comic art, since most of these Dutch and Flemish cartoonists, magazines and series had never been properly documented before. Without Kees' initiative, time and energy, a lot of valuable information, imagery and photographs would otherwise have been lost forever.

Kees and Evelien Kousemaker at the book presentation of Wordt Vervolgd in 1980
Kees and Evelien Kousemaker at the book presentation of 'Wordt Vervolgd' at the Arti et Amicitiae society building (20 February 1979).

By the late 1970s, Kousemaker was so respected within the Dutch-language comic scene, that he could ask many famous creators to illustrate the opening chapter initials in his 'Wordt Vervolgd. Striplexicon der Lage Landen' encyclopedia: Theo Van Den Boogaard, Marten Toonder, Berck, Piet Wijn, Hans G. Kresse, Kamagurka, Peter de Smet, Martin Lodewijk, Thé Tjong Khing, Jef Nys (drawn by his assistant Eric de Rop), Joost Swarte, Willy Vandersteen, Bob De Moor, Marc Sleen, Bert Bus, Jean Dulieu, Willem, Frans Piët, Harry Buckinx, Daan Jippes, Fred Julsing and Gerrit de Jager. Each contributor made a drawing of a particular letter of the alphabet, then decorated it with well-known comic characters whose names begin with that letter. These were unique drawings, as famous comic artists drew in different styles, depicting characters other than their own.

Kees also contributed many articles about comics to international publications, such as the Spanish magazine series 'Historia de los Comics' (1983-1984). In 1993, a special exhibition about Lambiek's 25th anniversary was held during the Comic Festival of Angoulême: 'Lambiek: Un Quart de Siècle en 100 Souvenirs' ("Lambiek: A Quarter of a Century in 100 Memories"). It was successful enough to be reproduced a few months later at the Blois Comic Festival. In 2003, Kees was involved in naming new neighborhood streets in the Dutch city of Almere after Dutch comic characters and their creators. This neighborhood is officially called the "Stripheldenbuurt" ("District of the Comic Heroes"). In 2005, Kees and co-worker Margreet de Heer produced a playful picture book on Dutch comics, 'De Wereld van de Nederlandse Strip', in which over a century of Dutch comics were displayed, with images provided largely from the resources of Lambiek's legendary comic collection.

The website
In 1977, Kees launched his own news booklet, the Lambiek Bulletin, followed in 1982 by the tabloid-sized De Reporter. In the years before Internet, both publications were a way to serve the customer base and provide current comic-related news. When the Robert Crumb exposition opened on Lambiek's 26th anniversary in November 1994, the local Internet entrepeneurs Wendy G.A. van Dijk and Elizabeth Mattijsen offered Kees their service for hire. As a result, Lambiek became one of the first companies in The Netherlands to have its own website. Kees paid the webmasters in comics and the site grew to 80 pages in four years. But Kees had a much larger vision, and cooked up bigger plans for the Lambiek website in his mind, soon to be acted upon.

The next phase of the website's development occurred in the late 1990s. Kees' son David suggested a candidate for the redesign of the website's structure and layout: the expat Californian webmaster and Mac tech, Rick Webb. With plans set in motion, Kees attracted eager student interns and staff to write biographies and scan comic art for the Comiclopedia. After a September 2000 article, the site quickly attracted visitors worldwide. Operating out of the apartment which formerly held the cartoonists' loft, Kees initially hoped the website might showcase 2,000 artists, but this number was soon surpassed. The 10,000th artist was added in July 2008, and in 2020, the Comiclopedia site passed the 14,000 mark! With the dedicated work of its small volunteer staff, the Comiclopedia is still growing today.

Lambiek.Net crew on a busy Friday in 2003 in the comics holodeck at Kerkstraat 119 in Amsterdam (photo by Rick Webbmaster) and store crew working in the small store at Kerkstraat 119 in 2003: Kees Kousemaker, Margreet de Heer, Bas Schuddeboom & Klaas Knol.

In 2001, the History of Dutch Comics (in Dutch and English) was launched on the Comiclopedia, and quickly proved to be a useful research tool and excellent reference guide for comic researchers. Between 2000 and 2005, articles were written by Margreet de Heer and Bas Schuddeboom, working in collaboration, and everything they posted on the site was looked over carefully and approved by Kees at the end of the day. Kees' "retirement" from Lambiek in 2005 allowed him to switch from working in the store to fulltime supervision of the Comiclopedia's content. He learned how to operate the scanner, and collected many classic comic illustrations, which he and Bas Schuddeboom added to the site weekly on Fridays for the last years of his life. After Margreet de Heer left the Comiclopedia project in 2005, additional assistance was provided by a network of national and international comic enthusiasts. 

Kees and Margreet working on the book, De Wereld van de Nederlandse Strip
Kees and Margreet working on their book about comics (drawing by Margreet de Heer, 2005).

Working with Kees through the years
Kees was a driving force behind Lambiek, but many others also kept the store and its reputation alive. Kees' enjoyed the constant support of his wife Evelien, who helped compile 'Strip voor Strip' and 'Wordt Vervolgd'. Kees' good friend Hansje Joustra provided Lambiek with copious amounts of comics and graphic novels through his distribution company, Het Raadsel. Martijn Snoodijk was a productive co-author with Kees for articles and newsletters. Kees called in handymen to design and create improvements to the store and install expositions, including Rob Ponsioen, Job Goedhart, Goof Mensink, Hans Jongens, Taco Seelemann, Fulco Smit-Roeters and Marko Otsen. A lot of artists have designed Lambiek promotional advertisements, but the official title of "house cartoonist" goes to Peter Pontiac. Colorful Lambiek counter workers over the years have been: Babes Plomp, Tammy, Flip Fermin, Hans Frederiks, Henk, Teun Leopold, Loes van Alphen, Martijn Daalder, Ima van Asbeck, Michiel Peters, Simone Koch (AKA "Plukkie"), Boris Kousemaker, Rob Bolweg, Yuri Bode, Toon Dohmen, Bas van der Zee, André Snaar, Marko Otsen, Abel Schoenmaker, Lot Rossmark, Jurrien and Sebastiaan de Vries, Charlotte Goede and Larie Cook. The ultimate employee of them all was the legendary Klaas Knol. A visitor to the store since the late 1970s, he befriended Kees and worked fulltime in the shop between 1985 and 2016. Kees and Klaas were the dynamic duo of Lambiek. In 2010, Klaas received the Hal Foster Award for his client-friendly and knowledgeable service. After a few years of health problems, Klaas Knol passed away on 12 July 2019.

Donald Duck weekly, Dutch 2500th issue, featuring a story about a visit to Kees Kousemaker's famous comic shop, Lambiek (artist unknown)
Donald Duck looking for a rare first issue at the Lambiek comic shop, in the 2500th Dutch edition of Donald Duck weekly magazine (September 2000). The  character "Cees Sokkenstopper", who tries unsuccessfully to sell Donald a comic book, is a satiric version of Kees Kousemaker. (Artwork by Mau Heymans).

Between 1968 and 2015, the Lambiek store moved three times: from its first store in the Kerkstraat at number 104, it relocated to 78 in 1980, moved to 119 in 2003, then to Kerkstraat 132 in 2005. The two moves in just over two years created a lot of anxiety in the store, but when the dust settled, things calmed down and Kees was happy to turn the day-to-day operation of the store over to Bas van der Zee. Van der Zee managed Lambiek between 2004 and the end of 2006, after which Kees' son Boris Kousemaker took over store operations. Boris Kousemaker still owns and runs the store, continuing the comic traditions his father established into the third decade of the 21st century.

Queen Beatrix embraces her Knight - Sir Cornelis Kees Kousemaker, in a tribute drawn by dutch underground artist Peter Pontiac
Queen Beatrix embraces Sir Kees in a tribute drawn by Peter Pontiac (2006).

Recognition for Lambiek
Kees Kousemaker's comic shop and art gallery has won several prizes, including De Zilveren Dolfijn award (1979) from the Belgian "strip klub", the P. Hans Frankfurther prize from the Dutch comic appreciaton society Het Stripschap (1999), and the Will Eisner Retailers Award (1995) for Lambiek's unique contributions to the international comic world. The International Webmasters Association awarded the Golden Web Award in 2001-2002 and 2002-2003. On 10 May 2006, Kees was given a Royal Decoration for his tireless promotion and popularization of Dutch comics, and became a Knight in the Order of Orange-Nassau ("Ridder in de Orde van Oranje-Nassau").

Jean-Marc van Tol's 24 Hour Comic from 2005 was about the alleged murder of Kees Kousemaker (who turns up alive on the last page)

Kees' final years and legacy
In 2009, Kees was diagnosed with cancer, but remained active with the store and the Comiclopedia site until the very end. He died at home, in the presence of his wife and children, on 27 April 2010. National and international press paid tribute to Kees upon announcement of his death, and comic artists worldwide contacted Lambiek to offer condolences and share their memories of this comic legend. Kees was at the vanguard of promoting comics as art, and was internationally respected as an expert in his field, inspiring and supporting many artists over the years. Both the Lambiek store and the Comiclopedia website continue on in his spirit. Bas Schuddeboom and his co-workers Kjell Knudde (Belgium) and Dan Schiff (USA) continue to expand and improve the Comiclopedia with new articles to this day. Kees' son, Boris Kousemaker, continues to run the Lambiek store as a welcoming home for all types of comic art, a social spot for the Amsterdam and Dutch comic community, and a destination for savvy fans of comic art traveling in the Netherlands. Sir Cornelis Kousemaker was a warm man, who touched many lives and has been a crucial influence on the Dutch comic scene and the larger world of international comics. In honor of his many contributions and his vision of comic creator biographies on the web, in 2012, the site was officially, appropriately and alliteratively renamed "Kees Kousemaker's Comiclopedia."

Kees Kousemaker in his tuxedo at Hanko Kolk's Casanova exposition at Lambiek on the Kerkstraat in 1995
Kees Kousemaker (1942-2010) at the opening of the 1995 Hanco Kolk exposition in Gallery Lambiek.

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