Jan, Jans en de Kinderen
'Jan, Jans en de Kinderen'.

Dutch comic artist Jan Kruis is best known for his long-running family comic 'Jan, Jans en de Kinderen' ('Jack, Jacky and the Juniors', 1970), which appears on a weekly base in the women's magazine Libelle. Homely, charming and always evolving with the changing times 'Jan, Jans en de Kinderen' has become one of the most iconic Dutch comics series. As mascots for Libelle they have appeared in a variety of merchandising, including a TV adaptation. Such is the series' popularity that it still runs to this very day, continued by other authors, and that a fictional holiday introduced in the comic, "Sint Pannekoek", has gained an actual following. Kruis is furthermore known for 'Gregor' ('Grégoire', 1965-1966) in the magazine Tintin and for his version of the 'Sjors en Sjimmie' comic (1969-1970) in Sjors magazine. He was furthermore active as an advertising artist and painter.

Early life 
He was born in 1930 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 depicted 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...

Prins Freddie by Jan Kruis
'Prins Freddie', as it appeared in De Havenloods in the 1950s.

After attending Saturday courses at the Academy, Kruis enrolled at the Academy of Fine Arts in Rotterdam, where he studied full time 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.

Advertising art
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.

Shell postcard by Jan Kruis
Postcard for Shell (1959).

Starting in 1958, Kruis was a commercial artist with the The Hague office of the advertising firm Van Maanen 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 promotional gags with the characters Stientje and Gertje for the Shell Junior Club, which were also published in Olidin (1962).

Tommy by Jan Kruis

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 by 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.

Ad for Sloan's Liniment
Advertising comic for Sloan's Liniment.

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. 

advertising strip by Jan Kruis
Advertising strip for Tip (Bootz).

Jan Kruis Producties
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". Kruis and Giesbers produced the riddle comic 'Japie Eigenwijs' for Olidin in the early 1960s. Martin Lodewijk's famous 'Agent 327' comic appeared under this copyright byline, when it first appeared in Pep in 1966. Another "Jan Kruis Production" was 'Moeps Pepernoot' in the early issues of the society magazine Story in 1974, which was drawn by Jan van der Voo. Carry Brugman later also joined the team in their production for Sjors magazine 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.

Gregor by Jan Kruis
'Gregor' (Kuifje #1, 1966).

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 to '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 comic magazine published by De Geïllustreerde Pers for which he also made illustrations. Comics became Kruis' main focus in 1966.

Sjors en Sjimmie, by Jan Kruis
Sjors en Sjimmie - 'Het Raadsel van Schiermeeuwenoog'.

Sjors en Sjimmie
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 remodelled 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. The future fine artist Leslie Gabriëlse assisted on the artwork. 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.

Jan, Jans en de Kinderen by Jan Kruis
Introduction of Jeroentje in the second album.

Jan, Jans en de Kinderen
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' ('Jack, Jacky and the Juniors'), 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.

Jan, Jans en de Kinderen
The introduction of Saint Pancake in gag #678.

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" ("Sint Pannekoek") has become an annual tradition every 29 November, especially in the areas of Rotterdam and Groningen. In 2015, Jan Kruis described the fictive legend in an illustrated text story. A National Committee Saint Pancake was even founded on 17 August 2016, for which Jan Kruis designed a special postcard and stamp. Kruis' grandson Bas Deelman is chairman of Sint-Pannekoek Groningen.

Jan, Jans en de Kinderen

'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, and was largely based on grandson Bas. Additional characters are neighbour boy Jeroentje (who manages to make a shit-related rhyme to every sentence, and whose looks are based on Jan van der Voo's son), grandfather (modelled after Kruis' real father), his girlfriend Moeps, spoiled rich kid Harold and Jans' cousin Hanna, who is a voluntary single mother. Like the Kruis family, the family eventually settles in the Drenthe countryside, where most of the gags are situated.

Jan, Jans en de Kinderen

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 merchandising. Like with the human characters, the animals were also based on the actual pets of the Kruis household.

Jan, Jans en de Kinderen
The red cat, from gag #1121.

Book collections of 'Jan, Jans en de Kinderen' were published through Joop Wiggers' publishing label from 1972, and by VNU/Sanoma since 2000. 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. The comics series has also been translated in German. In the Swiss youth magazine Spick it ran as 'Familie Tromp' , while in the German publication Favorit readers knew it as : 'Ulli, Ulla und die Kinder'. In the French-language version of Tintin magazine it appeared as 'Jean, Jeanne et les Enfants'. 

Jan, Jans en de Kinderen
Jan Kruis himself appeared in one of the early episodes, when he sold the Tromp family his oldtimer, that has remained their car since then.

Other work
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.

Retirement and post-retirement projects
Jan Kruis announced his retirement 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. In 1999, 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 who 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. From 2013 all episodes were written by Peter Weijenberg, until Barbara Stok was appointed the new writer in November 2020. Also in 2013, portraits of Dutch jazz legends could be seen at the Oude Binnenweg in Rotterdam, drawn by Theo van den Boogaard, Jan Kruis, Wouter Tulp, Louise Lagerwij and Martin Valkhoff.

Spin-offs of 'Jan, Jans en de Kinderen'
In 2010 a spin-off of 'Jan, Jans en de Kinderen' was created by writer Eric Hercules and illustrator Daniel van den Broek, revolving around the red cat of the family. 'De Rode Kater' (2010-2014) ran for four years in the free newspaper Sp!ts, which was distributed in railway stations. When the magazine was disestablished so did 'De Rode Kater'. Another more enduring spin-off 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.

Woutertje Pieterse by Jan Kruis
'Woutertje Pieterse'.

Since his retirement, Jan Kruis has drawn his Tromp family for two special albums for the Lepra Foundation in 2001 and 2004. He was on the board of the Dutch Comics Museum in Groningen, which opened its doors in 2004. Kruis 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 comic magazine Kwynk, which was initiated by John Croezen. Kwynk 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. Daughter Leontine has worked in horse education, and at one point in life had a comic strip called 'Gerrit en Geesje' published.

Kwynk by Jan Kruis
'Kwynk' (Kwynk #3).

Jan Kruis received the Stripschapprijs for Dutch Comics in 1980. He was knighted on 27 April 1996, and on 26 February 2010, he was the first artist to receive the Marten Toonderprijs for his contributions to Dutch comics culture. In the Dutch city Almere a road was named after Kruis, as part of the "Comics Heroes" district. On the occasion of his 80th birthday in June 2013, 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'...

Jan Kruis cartoon (2016)

Death and legacy
Jan Kruis passed away in his hometown Mantinge on 19 January 2017 at the age of 83, after being ill for quite some time. His longtime business partner Joop Wiggers passed away a little over a week later, on 28 January 2017. During the final stages of his life, Jan Kruis made a series of witty cartoons, which put his upcoming death into perspective. These were collected in a special edition of Stripglossy in August 2017. A foundation called the Jan Kruis Collection was started by John Croezen, Andrea Kruis and Frans Le Roux to preserve Jan Kruis' artistic legacy. The Jan Kruis Museum, devoted to the man's life and work, opened in Orvelte on 22 May 2019. 

Selfportrait by Jan Kruis


Series and books by Jan Kruis in stock in the Lambiek Webshop:


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