Van Nul tot Nu by Co Loerakker
Van Nul Tot Nu

Co Loerakker is a Dutch illustrator and comics artist for books and magazines, most notably the ones published by Oberon/VNU, such as Donald Duck, Bobo and Eppo/Wordt Vervolgd. He makes both realistically-drawn graphics as well as more caricatural drawings. His best known comic strip is the educational series 'Van Nul tot Nu' (1982-1987, 1994), which he made with writer Thom Roep. The series provides a chronological overview of the history of the Netherlands, aimed at a young audience. To this day 'Van Nul to Nu' is still regularly used as a teaching tool in Dutch-language primary schools.

Born in 1949 in Haarlem, Loerakker studied geography in Amsterdam. His interest in drawing people, animals, houses and Dutch landscapes led him to cancel his studies and become a freelance artist in Haarlem. He published his first drawings in local papers and students' magazines. He first came to notice when he made the illustrations for the publication of the 1975 Children's Book Week and his illustrations for Mies Bouhuys' book 'De Grote Vivat' (Het Spectrum, 1975). Around the same time, Loerakker became a prominent illustrator for the children's magazines of the VNU group and its comics division Oberon. He provided artwork and stories for the pre-school children's magazine Bobo during this decade and illustrated a great many nature and picture books. His best known work for Bobo are the stories about the everyday life of Michiel van Gisteren and his peculiar family. After their publication in Bobo, the illustrated stories were collected in the books 'De Klup van Gisteren' (1979), 'Wij zijn van Gisteren' (1980) and 'De Dag van Gisteren' (1981).

De klup van Gisteren by Co LoerakkerDe dag van Gisteren

He made his first illustrations for the Dutch Disney magazine Donald Duck in 1975. Of the many text stories he illustrated between 1975 and 1999, Allard Schröder's series 'Het Dagboek van een Kat' ('The Diary of a Cat', 1988-1992) stood out. By 1977, he had his own section in this weekly, called 'Elf Lage Landjes en een Heleboel Water'. Written and illustrated by Loerakker, sometimes with comic panels, the feature presented the eleven provinces of the Netherlands in a comical way. Oberon published the series in book format in 1981.


'Elf lage landjes' installment about Frisia (Donald Duck #48, 1979)

Thom Roep, who would soon become Donald Duck's chief editor, felt Loerakker would be the perfect artist to create a comics series about the history of the Netherlands, aimed at Donald Duck's younger readers. Oddly enough, nobody in the Netherlands had ever attempted to create such a project before. Roep and Loerakker therefore had to look at other countries' comics to find a study-worthy example. The book 'L'Aventure des Belges' (1979) by Georges H. Dumont and Louis Haché ('België in Beeld' in the Dutch translation) told the history of Belgium in comic strip format, but Roep felt this effort was well-intended yet too dry in its writing and too static in terms of drawings. To appeal to young readers their comic strip would need to be a lot more dynamic and offer room for some humor. Contrary to 'L'Aventure des Belges' - which was a text comic - Roep and Loerakker decided to make their comic a balloon comic. Initially chief editor Cees de Groot wasn't too keen on the idea, but after seeing a first page he changed his mind and greenlighted the project. The series was named 'Van Nul tot Nu' (literally: "From Zero to Now") and was prepublished episodically in Donald Duck between 1982 and 1987.

Van Nul tot Nu, by Co Loerakker
Van Nul Tot Nu

Roep and Loerakker did a lot of research for 'Van Nul tot Nu'. They read various history books, while Loerakker gained access to the picture archives of publishing company De Spaarnestad from Haarlem, which owned thousands of photographs, copies and ancient engravings. They also checked out what kind of teaching methods were used in Dutch elementary schools. At the time several Dutch schools used an experimental approach to teach history which didn't focus on chronological overviews but on overviews by topic, for instance: "transport throughout the ages" and "communication throughout the ages". Roep and Loerakker made a conscious decision to tell their comic book adaptation of Dutch history chronologically. First and foremost because this was how they learned it at school, but also to avoid giving children the exact same thematic history they already heard about in class. As it turned out this decision showed clever foresight, because a few years later Dutch schools actually abandoned their thematic history lessons since pupils were unable to pinpoint in which century certain historic events happened. Several schools even started using 'Van Nul tot Nu' in class to restore the damage done. Roep even received requests from people from the United Kingdom, Denmark and the Dutch Antilles to do the same thing for their country's history. Two Dutch national institutions, airline company KLM and railroad company NS, asked the same thing.

Van Nul tot Nu by Co Loerakker
Van Nul Tot Nu

Another way of distinguishing themselves from a schoolly approach was the use of comedy. Yet Roep was aware that children needed to be aware which things were actual facts and what was meant as a joke. He created a storyline set in the present time which could be used as a framing narrative. It centers around a young girl, Ankie Stevenhagen, who receives private lessons in history from an old, sympathetic and wise man named Methusalem de Tijdt and who is strongly implied to be Father Time. The scenes between Ankie and Methusalem are mostly serious in tone and therefore drawn in a semi-realistic style. Everything he tells her are actual historical facts. The historic events themselves are drawn in a more comedic style, with several (visual) gags, corny puns and nods to other comics series like Carl Barks' 'Uncle Scrooge', Hergé's 'Tintin', Willy Vandersteen's 'Suske en Wiske', Morris' 'Lucky Luke', Martin Lodewijk's 'Agent 327', Reg Parlett's version of 'Billy Bunter' and René Goscinny and Albert Uderzo's 'Astérix'. That way readers could easily distinguish fact from fiction. The use of a narrator also made it possible to avoid coming across as an illustrated essay, which 'L'Aventure des Belges' essentially was. As Methusalem talked Ankie could make remarks and ask questions, which kept a child's point of view in check. It was also a handy way of criticizing certain historical characters and events who and which often been presented as heroic throughout the ages, but could use a little old of the traditional 'Dutch soberness' when reflecting back on their questionable deeds.


Thom Roep and Co Loerakker have cameos as Thomas Pennelikker and Jacob Janszoon in the second volume of Van Nul Tot Nu.

The original series of 'Van Nul tot Nu' was published in four volumes by Oberon between 1984 and 1987, and was later republished by Big Balloon. The first volume covers prehistory until 1648, the year in which the Treaty of Münster was signed which ended the Eighty Years' War between Spain and the Netherlands. Roep attributed this overwhelming condensation of thousands of centuries' worth of history to their naïve idea that they could fit it all in one book. Luckily readers responded so enthusiastically to the comic that their publisher saw no problem in bringing out several extra volumes to complete the project. This made Roep and Loerakker relax a little and take a calmer approach to tell the rest. The second volume covered all events from 1648 until the founding of the Dutch independent state in 1815. The next volume collected all Dutch history from that date until the start of the Second World War in 1940, while the fourth and final volume encapsulated the Second World War and the rest of the 20th century. This specific volume was notable for having more scriptwriting input by Loerakker, who was not only three years older than Roep but also more interested in this part of history. When the volume was updated and expanded upon in 1999, Loerakker once again took over the majority of the script. He added more scenes about events in the late 1980s until the late 1990s and removed some timely dialogue. In 1994 a fifth volume also came out, but revolved around the history of daily life. This collection of shorter, self-contained stories told the history of food, houses, writing, crime and sexuality. Because Big Balloon had taken over the book publishing activities of Oberon, these installments were published in Big Balloon's magazine Sjors & Sjimmie Stripblad, except the final one which had more mature content. The remaining pages were filled with two-page illustrations depicting various moments in history, including the Stone Age, Roman period, Middle Ages, baroque, the Industrial Revolution and our age. These drawings were originally published in Donald Duck and also made available as a calendar.


'Van Nul Tot Nu' special installment about sexuality (from: Van Nul Tot Nu #5)

While 'Van Nul to Nu' met with a general positive reception and was a genuine best-seller, there were a few minor criticisms. Apart from predictable nitpicking from historic experts over certain visual details there were also some religious people who objected to certain humoristic scenes. Roep and Loerakker refused to change a scene where Martin Luther hits his thumb while nailing his 95 theses against the church wall of Wittenberg. But they did change a line about Charles Darwin, implying that he "claimed" rather than "discovered" that man and ape have a common ancestor. These minor incidents aside, 'Van Nul to Nu' is one of the few educational comics to be taken seriously by teachers. It has also set the standard for later educational comic books. Margreet de Heer has stated that her 'Discovery in Comics' series owes a lot to Roep and Loerakker's work. Strange enough, the title and the layout of the two-volume book set 'Van Toen Tot Nu' (2013) is quite similar to that of 'Van Nul Tot Nu'. It was a joint production between Studio Stampij and Big Balloon, and contained artwork by Robbert Damen.

editorial strip by Co Loerakker
Wondege Wegeld strip for Eppo/Wordt Vervolgd (#1, 1985)

Among his other work for Oberon was the editorial strip in Chriet Titulaer's section about science and technology, 'Wondege Wereld', in Eppo/Wordt Vervolgd (1985-1988). The strip not only starred the Dutch astronomer and popular science writer, but also chief editor Peter van Leersum and characters from other comics. From 1994 until the early 2010s, Loerakker wrote and illustrated Donald Duck's animal section 'Natuurtalenten'. The feature continued in the tradition of Theo Schildkamp's earlier animal paintings, and each installment highlighted another animal species. Co Loerakker has furthermore made illustrations for children's books, most notably 'Mijn Oom Theodoor' by Toon Kortooms (Gottmer, 1982).


Illustrations for 'Dagboek van een kat' (Donald Duck #32, 1990) and 'Natuurtalenten' (Donald Duck #22, 2010)

Series and books by Co Loerakker in stock in the Lambiek Webshop:

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