Dutch comic artist Jan Kruis is best known for his family comic 'Jan, Jans en de Kinderen', which appears on a weekly base in the women's magazine Libelle since 1970. Prior to this, Kruis worked on several other comics, and was especially successful in the advertising industry. He was born as Johannes Andries Kruis in a working-class area of Rotterdam. He grew up in the heavily bombed harbour city during the war years, and most of his childhood drawings were of battles, weapons and airplanes.
He also made his own papers, and got his first introduction in the world of professional drawing from local artist Wim Meuldijk, who drew 'Sneeuwvlok de Eskimo' in Voorwaarts. Another inspiration was Marten Toonder's 'Tom Poes' comic. It was the main influence on Kruis' first comic, called 'Prins Freddie', which he sold to a printer in Dordrecht. The planned booklet was however never published...
After attending Saturday courses at the Academy, Kruis enrolled at the Academy of Fine Arts in Rotterdam, where he studied fulltime from 1950 to 1954. It was during this period, that he developed a passion for the Dutch painters of the 16th and 17th century, and later also for impressionists and modernists like Marc Chagall and Georges Braque. But he also admired illustrators and comic artists like Pieter Kuhn, Hans G. Kresse, Otto Dicke, Eppo Doeve and Honoré Daumier, while his interest also went to other art forms, such as poetry, film, music and theater.
He got his first job with the advertising firm Nijgh & Van Ditmar in 1954, where he did lay-outs, designs for advertisements and an occasional drawing. Although he was never a star in mathematics, Jan Kruis did have a sense for commerce, and after a year and a half, he became a freelance artist. He chose to become a commercial illustator instead of a fine artist. He eventually managed to get an updated version of his 'Prins Freddie' comic published in the Rotterdam newspaper De Havenloods.
Starting in 1958, Kruis was a commercial artist with Van Maanen in The Hague for the next seven years, doing mainly advertising and illustration assignments for petrol company Shell and the Niemeijer tobacco factory. It was during this period that he developed his recognizable cartoony drawing style. Kruis was assigned to contribute to the Shell children's magazine Olidin, which was produced by Van Maanen between 1957 and 1963. It were his first professional efforts as a comic artist, and included productions like the cowboy comic 'Tommy' (1958-1963) and the medieval series 'Baldino' (1959). In addition, he drew the gags with the characters Stientje and Gertje for the Shell Junior Club, which were also published in Olidin (1962).
During his Olidin period, Kruis had met scriptwriter Waling Dijkstra, who guided him in the world of comics and introduced him to Franco-Belgian masters like André Franquin, Jijé and Peyo. Dijkstra also introduced him to the Toonder Studios in 1959. Together with Marten Toonder, he made a first design of the 'Student Tijloos' newspaper strip. This prototype was never used, and the comic didn't go into production until 1961. By then, it was written Lo Hartog van Banda and drawn by Thé Tjong Khing and Gerrit Stapel, subsequently. Although his period at Toonder was short, Toonder did praise Kruis for the way his characters expressed emotions, and how he brought atmosphere to his artwork.
Kruis made initial designs for a couple of other comic strips in the period 1959-1965, which remained unused. His main production remained for advertisements, for which he started using the comics format more often. This was especially after he had teamed up with fellow artist Jan van der Voo. Van der Voo had taken over the artwork of the 'Baldino' strip, and had also worked with Kruis on creating 'De Kleine Hertog' in Olidin. The duo became responsible for a large amount of advertising comics, which appeared in children's magazines like Donald Duck in the 1960s. These included 'Max' (for Mars), 'Tim' (for Treets), 'Bounty Eiland' (for Bounty), 'Koos' (for Kodak), 'Mieke en Wouter' (for Milky Way), 'Sjokoprins' (for De Beukelaer) and 'De Broodversierders' (for De Ruijter).
During the 1960s, Kruis did a great many advertising strips on his own, of which 'Tipje van Bootz' for Bootz brandy is probably the best-known. Other advertisements in comics format were produced for Claeryn gin, Sloan's Liniment, Nieuwe Revu magazine and the advertising press. Kruis opened a studio and surrounded himself with artists like Jan van der Voo, Wim Giesbers and Martin Lodewijk, who all operated under the banner "Jan Kruis Producties". Martin Lodewijk's famous 'Agent 327' comic also appeared under this copyright byline, when it first appeared in Pep. Jan Kruis also worked extensively with Van Maanen colleague Joop Wiggers, who would later become the publisher of his books.
Illustrations for books, magazines and record covers became an equally important source of income for Jan Kruis. He illustrated book series like 'Bartje' by Anne de Vries and 'Adriaan en Olivier' by Leonhard Huizinga, and also made the drawings for 'Dorp aan de rivier' by Antoon Coolen. Other clients were the magazines De Spiegel and Margriet, and the Termeulen department store in Rotterdam.
In 1965, Jan Kruis and Martin Lodewijk presented their work to Hergé, for a possible publication in Tintin magazine (and its Dutch equivalent Kuifje). This resulted in the gag strip about the little boy 'Gregor' ('Grégoire'), which appeared in Tintin/Kuifje in 1965 and 1966. This comic can be considered a predecessor of 'Jan, Jans en de Kinderen'. It was the first comic in which Kruis used his trademark panel design, with loosely drawn borders, or even no borders at all. 'Gregor' was later also reprinted in Pep, the Dutch comics magazine published by De Geïllustreerde Pers for which he also made illustrations. Comics became Kruis' main focus in 1966.
In 1969, he was asked to take over the 'Sjors en Sjimmie' comic after the retirement of Frans Piët, who had drawn this Dutch continuation of Martin Branner's 'Perry Winkle' since 1938. Kruis completely modernized the rather classic rendition of Piët. Sjors got his original blond hair back, and Sjimmie was remodeled to a less stereotypical depiction of a dark boy. Kruis' first story, 'Het Raadsel van Schiermeeuwenoog' (1969), also changed the setting to the fictional Wadden Island Schiermeeuwenoog. He made the second story, 'De Ring van Schiermeeuwenoog' (1970), with Martin Lodewijk, while his wife Els was responsible for the coloring. Jan Kruis discovered that long stories didn't suit him, though, and called it quits after these two serials. 'Sjors en Sjimmie' in the Jan Kruis set-up was continued by Jan Steeman with a host of scriptwriters until 1975, when Robert van der Kroft became the artist of another updated version for Eppo magazine in 1975.
Editor Peter Middeldorp then asked him to create a weekly comic for the women's magazine Libelle, that was published by De Spaarnestad. This resulted in the long-running family comic 'Jan, Jans en de Kinderen' ('Jan, Jans and the Kids'), which debuted in the issue of 12 December 1970. Because of his connection with the competing magazine Margriet, Kruis signed his earliest pages with Andries, and he also reworked some of his earlier 'Gregor' gags for this new production. But it didn't take long before Kruis found the right tone and style for his female audience, and he began to focus more on dialogues and recognizable situations instead of visual gags.
Besides an entertaining read, the comic gives a good reflection of the evolution of Dutch society since the 1970s. Food and fashion trends, gadgets, female emancipation... all is explored. But Kruis' comic has also had an impact on Dutch pop culture. Ever since its first appearance in 'Jan, Jans en de Kinderen' in 1986, "Saint Pancake" has become an annual tradition in the Rotterdam area every 29 November.
'Jan, Jans en de Kinderen' follows the life of the Tromp family: father Jan, mother Jans and the daughters Karlijn and Catootje, who are both modelled after their creator's real-life daughters Leontine and Andrea. Baby boy Gertje was added to the family in the 1990s. Additional characters are neighbour boy Jeroentje (who manages to make a shit-related rhymme to every sentence), grandfather (modelled after Kruis' real father), his girlfriend Moeps, spoiled rich kid Harold and Jans' cousin Hanna, who is a voluntary single mother.
Commentary on the events is delivered by the family's pets. There is the dachshund with personality disorder Lotje, the bitchy Siamese cat Loedertje and, most notably, the unnamed fat red cat, who has a complex because he is castrated (although the term is never mentioned). It is mainly the red cat's cynical and somewhat melancholic view on life that has made him an icon in Dutch comics, with extensive exposure in merchandizing.
Book collections of 'Jan, Jans en de Kinderen' were published through Joop Wiggers' publishing label from 1972, and by VNU/Sanoma since 1998. It has become one of the bestselling Dutch comics with millions of copies sold in the Netherlands alone. Throughout the years, many other articles with the feature's characters have seen the light, from puzzles and games, over breakfast plates to dog and cat food. A television adaptation was made in cooperation with Han Peekel and Wouter Stips in the mid 1980s. Two more prototypes for an animated series were made with animator Gene Deitch in the mid 1990s, but the project was cancelled. The Dutch postal services released a series of 'Jan, Jans en de Kinderen' stamps in 1998.
Besides his successful comic series, Kruis also worked on a couple of other assignments. Together with Van der Voo, he developed the comic 'Moeps Pepernoot' for the early issues of the gossip magazine Story in 1974. For Libelle, he also made illustrations for text stories, and painted portraits for Jojanneke Claassen's series 'Dubbelportretten'. This included portraits of Dutch celebrities like Simon Carmiggelt, Mies Bouwman, Willem Duys, Albert Mol, Toon Hermans, Major Bosshardt and Princess Christina with Jorge Guillermo. He also painted an immense portrait of the royal family, that has been on display in the town hall of Ameland since 1978.
Jan Kruis retired in late 1998, and sold the rights to his characters to VNU (now Sanoma), the publisher of Libelle magazine. The production was transferred to the editorial offices in Hoofddorp under direction of Joop Wiggers' co-worker Mariken Swildens. An art studio was set up under the supervision of Daan Jippes, who oversaw the production of the comic during the first Studio Jan Kruis year. Artists that have worked for the studio are Gerben Valkema, Peter Nuyten, Rob Phielix, Maarten Gerritsen, Michiel van de Vijver, Daniel van den Broek and Linda van Erve, while the gags are written by Wouter Strips, Peter Weijenberg, Eric Hercules, Herman Roozen, Stella de Kort, Piet Zeeman and Richard van Breukelen, among other writers. A spin-off to 'Jan, Jans en de Kinderen' called 'Karlijn, Catootje & de Ouders' was launched in girls' magazine Tina in 2011 with art by Josep Nebot of Studio Comicup in Barcelona and scripts by Frank Jonker & Saskia Janssen, Ruud Straatman, Bas Schuddeboom or Carolijn Leisink. Jan Kruis has regulary complained about the new directions his comic has taken, which is understandable, since it was so closely connected to him and his personal life.
Since his retirement, Jan Kruis has drawn his Tromp family for two special albums for the Lepra Foundation in 2001 and 2004. He has also made an illustrated adaptation of the Multatuli novel 'Woutertje Pieterse', that was published in two large format books in 2007 and 2010. In 2010 he and Jan van der Voo were involved in the launch of online comics magazine Kwynk. It featured a selection of their old Olidin work as well as his new strip, 'Kwynk en zijn zusje Annabel', that shows a strong resemblance to 'Jan, Jans en de Kinderen'. Kruis' daughter Andrea Kruis is also a comic artist and illustrator, known for her creations '15½' in Margriet, and 'Sammie & Muis' in Tina.
Jan Kruis had received the Stripschapprijs for Dutch Comics in 1980. He was knighted in 1996, and in March 2010, he was the first artist to receive the Marten Toonderprijs for his contributions to Dutch comics culture. On the occasion of his 80th birthday in June 2015, a special 'Jan Kruis Glossy' was published by Personalia. It contained articles and testimonials about Kruis and his creations, tributes and other Kruis-related articles. Unfortunately, the editors of Libelle forbid the use of images of his key creation 'Jan, Jans en de Kinderen'...