Dick Matena is one of the most many-sided and productive comic authors of The Netherlands. He has worked anonymously on comics with other people's creations (Marten Toonder, Walt Disney), wrote and drew popular children's and adventure series for most Dutch comic magazines, published more adult-oriented and artistic stories in internationally renowned magazines, and gained nationwide attention with his adaptations of famous Dutch literary works and children's books. Because of these adaptations, Matena broke out of the Dutch comics scene and also became a well-known figure within literary circles.
Dick Matena was born into a socialist family in The Hague, but one can hardly say that he has remained attached to his birthtown for long. He has subsequently lived in Voorschoten, then returned to The Hague, moved to Sitges in Spain, then lived in the Belgian towns Oud-Turnhout, Bergen, Mol, Kasterlee, Lichtaart and Turnhout, before finally coming back to the Netherlands and settling in Amsterdam. Matena grew up reading Dutch comics like 'Tom Poes' and 'Erik de Noorman' by respectively Marten Toonder and Hans G. Kresse, two artists who have had a large influence on his career. He also got in touch with Belgian comics like Willy Vandersteen's 'Suske en Wiske' from a young age. His father was a professional racing cyclist and brought these comic books with him from his trips to Belgium, as he often raced in the Sportpaleis in Antwerp. Dick Matena also ranks Alex Raymond and André Franquin among his personal favorites.
Dick took evening courses at the Academy of Fine Arts in The Hague, while working as a decorator in the local department store Van Moorsel. He left the academy out of boredom after only one year. In 1960, only seventeen years old, he applied for a job at the Marten Toonder Studios in Amsterdam and was accepted. In spite of his several fights with the management (he quit the studio twice but came back both times), Matena remained with the studios until 1968, the first two years as a staff artist and then as a freelancer. One of his first tasks was succeeding Ben van 't Klooster as the penciler of ''t Geheim van de Gulden Gaper' (1961), a promotional comic for Dutch drugstores, which was written by Lo Hartog van Banda.
He provided the pencil art for about 28 episodes of Toonder's newspaper comic 'Panda', from the end of 'Panda en de Dienomaat' (late 1961) until halfway 'Panda en de Hobbeldonker-schurkerij' (1968). The inks were by Frits Godhelp, and the plots by either Lo Hartog van Banda or Harry van den Eerenbeemt. Matena also penciled three stories of the 'Tom Poes' ('Tom Puss') newspaper comic: 'De Grauwe Razer' (1962-1963), 'De Wilde Wagen' (1963)' and the all-time classic 'De Bovenbazen' (1963). In a far more personal style, he redrew one of the strips of 'De Bovenbazen' for an all-star reworking on the occasion of the 100th anniversary of Marten Toonder's birthday in 2012.
Matena additionally contributed to the other productions of the studio. He drew his first stories with Walt Disney's 'Big Bad Wolf' for Donald Duck weekly in 1966-1967 and had his first credited comic with 'Polletje Pluim'. He wrote and drew five stories with this anthropomophic squirrel for the Christian women's weekly Prinses in 1967 and 1968. The first ones had coloring by Wim Lensen, the later stories were colored by Matena himself. 'Polletje Pluim' was continued by Jan van Haasteren.
By the late 1960s, Matena was ready to leave the Toonder Studio's and begin his solo career. He joined the comics magazine Pep of De Geïllustreerde Pers in 1968, and is generally ranked among the "Big Five" of the magazine's heyday, along with Martin Lodewijk, Daan Jippes, Fred Julsing and Peter de Smet. During this period (1968-1975), editors like Peter Middeldorp and Hetty Hagebeuk tried to fill Pep's pages with original local productions. One of the first was 'De Argonautjes' (1968-1973), a parody of the Greek myth of 'Jason and the Argonauts', drawn by Dick Matena. The first stories were written by Lo Hartog van Banda in an attempt to create a Dutch comic in the tradition of Albert Uderzo and René Goscinny's 'Astérix'. After nine stories with Banda, Dick Matena wrote the tenth story, 'Het zwaard van Damocles' (1973), himself. One final story of 'De Argonautjes' was written by Patty Klein and drawn by Jan van Haasteren in 1974.
Matena and Banda additionally created three stories of 'Ridder Roodhart' (1969-1971), another Astérix-inspired series, this time set in the Arthurian time period. Matena was more at ease with his own creation, 'Grote Pyr' (1971-1974), about the savage viking Pyr and his softhearted son Thor. Matena wrote and drew three stories, which have all been published in book format by Oberon. The comic has been translated to French, German, Danish, Swedish and Finnish. Years later, in 1989, Dick Matena made one more story with the character for Sjors & Sjimmie Stripblad ('De IJzeren Dame'), by now drawn in his more mature style. In Pep, Dick Matena furthermore published seven independent comic strips in the 'Pepspotters' section (1970), sometimes with an autobiographical tone.
During his period with Pep, Matena developed into a talented and productive scriptwriter in his own right. With the Italian artist Dino Attanasio, he created 'De Macaroni's' (1971-1975), a comic about Italian soccer players and gangsters. It was meant as a counterpart to the British comic 'Billy's Boots' by (mainly) John Gillatt and Fred Baker, which ran in the competing magazine Sjors. Matena also wrote the last two stories of the superhero parody 'Blook' for Johnn Bakker in 1973-1974.
When comic magazines Pep and Sjors were merged to Eppo magazine in 1975, Matena was also present. His first contribution was the single story about the privateer 'Kleine Pier' in 1975. He left the magazine for a short period and worked as an advertising artist and illustrator. In the meantime, he illustrated the 'Revuutje' section in the men's magazine Revu, and he made a comic strip for the family weekly Wij in cooperation with Fred Julsing. Upon his return to Eppo, he focused on scriptwriting for other artists. With Carry Brugman, he created 'De Partners', a series of action-filled adventure stories about an unlikely team of crime-fighters consisting of former jailbird Danny MacDonald, who inherits a multinational, and the countess Katia Diaghilev. Matena wrote the comic under the pen name Dick Richards to enhance the British-American atmosphere of the series. Matena wrote eight albums from 1976 to 1984, after which Jacques Post took over. Matena and Brugman made three new stories of 'De Partners' after Eppo was relaunched in 2009.
In 1976, Matena also succeeded Martin Lodewijk as the writer of the space adventure series 'Storm', which was drawn by the British artist Don Lawrence. He managed to shape the comic into a more consistent science fiction saga after a couple of ill-faited attempts with British scriptwriters. Matena further developed the storyline in which Storm was stranded in the Deep World and added the alien race of the Azurians to the cast. After four albums (1978-1981) he called it quits, after which the Brit Kevin Gosnell wrote two stories. Don Lawrence then penned one by himself, until Martin Lodewijk resumed control over his creation and started the Pandarve-cycle. Dick Matena returned to 'Storm' in 1996, this time as an artist. Under the pen name John Kelly, he drew three albums of the so-called 'Kronieken van de Tussentijd' from scripts by Martin Lodewijk. These stories were situated in the time period between Matena's final and Gosnell's first story.
In the second half of the 1970s, Dick Matena started drawing in a more personal and realistic style. The first creation of the "new Matena" was the science fiction serial 'Virl'. Six 10-page stories were published in Mickey Maandblad in 1977, followed by four 15-pagers in 1981. 'Virl' was revived for the second run of Eppo magazine, in 2013. Matena also used his realistic style for the western comic 'Dandy' (1979-1980), of which three stories were published in Eppo.
As the 1970s came to an end, Matena's focus shifted towards more mature and personal comic stories, fuelled by the new wave of avant-gardistic and mature comic magazines from France. In 1977, Ger van Wulften's alternative magazine Gummi was the first to print Matena's experimental and more explicit short stories, which show a similarity to the worlds of Moebius.
In 1979 Dick Matena was the first artist to publish his work in the American Heavy Metal magazine. With Josep Toutain as his agent since 1980, Matena moved to Spain in 1982, where he would live for two years. Through Toutain's Barcelona-based Selecciones Ilustradas agency, Matena's work quickly found its way to international magazines like El Vibora, 1984 and Comix Internacional in Spain, Heavy Metal in the USA and Métal Hurlant in France. Dutch book collections were published by Espee and Arboris.
He created many experimental works during this period, filled with surreal black humor and science fiction. 'Lazarus Stone' (1979) dealt with a futuristic contract killer, and was drawn in clair obscur. Highly controversial was his work 'De Prediker' ('The Preacher', 1982), which was a sequel to his previous short story 'Amen'. The comic featured a traveling preacher and his sadistic daughter, and showed disturbing images of a baby on a cross and paedophilia. Although the story was initially refused by several publishers, it eventually got published in the Netherlands, France and Spain. Matena has always defended the work, stating that it is full of hidden meanings and symbolism.
Another notable series of short stories is 'Mythen' ('Myths'), in which Matena portrayed famous people like Bob Dylan, Alfred Hitchcock, Hugh Hefner, John Lennon, James Dean, Marilyn Monroe and Elvis Presley in semi-fictitious stories. After a series of eight 10-page stories in the period 1980-1982, a final story about Walt Disney followed in 1986. Matena furthermore made the largely improvised story 'Het Web' ('The Webb', 1983), and the full color short story 'Beet!' (1983) from a script by Sanchez Abuli. Matena received much criticism for his often taboo-breaking comics from this period, but he always got support from his friend Martin Lodewijk and from his old master Marten Toonder in Ireland, with whom he had started an intense correspondence in 1979.
He continued to work for Dutch comic magazines as well. Most notable are his so-called adaptations of the regional novels by the fictive Dutch writer A. den Dooier. This resulted in a couple of cynical stories with anthropomorphic characters in typical Dutch landscapes, such as 'De Teloorgang van Oude Knudde' and 'Hoe het verderging', which appeared in Eppo/Wordt Vervolgd. 'De A. den Dooier Omnibus' (Oberon, 1986) collected all stories, and also featured a biography of the retired classic writer and an archaic correspondence between Matena and Den Dooier. Matena redrew the entire lot for a new collection under the title 'De teloorgang van Oude Knudde' (Atlas, 2009).
He furthermore made four oil-painted stories with the character 'Titia' for the Dutch edition of the men's magazine Playboy in 1985-1986. Matena's fantasy diptych 'Het Sterrenschip' appeared in the Dutch magazine Titanic in 1986-1987, and his comic about American writer and poet Edgar Allan Poe ('De laatste dagen van E.A. Poe') was published in Wordt Vervolgd in 1987. Both works were eventually also published in Germany.
To financially support his more personal works, Dick Matena had returned to drawing comics for the Dutch Donald Duck weekly in 1976. Until 1991, he created various stories starring secondary Disney characters like 'The Big Bad Wolf', 'Bucky Bug', 'Little Hiawatha', 'Brer Rabbit' and 'Gus and Jaq'. Many of these productions were written by either Ruud Straatman or Evert Geradts, but Matena also wrote a great many stories himself. Also worth mentioning are the many backcover gags he made for Mickey Maandblad starring 'Ellsworth' ('Leo de Beo') in the period 1984-1989.
However, his most notable work for Donald Duck were the comic adaptations of classic Dutch children's books, namely Chris van Abkoude's 'Kruimeltje' (1988) and 'Pietje Bell' (1991), C. Joh. Kievit's 'Uit het leven van Dik Trom' (1990) and 'Dik Trom en zijn dorpsgenoten' (1992), and Nienke van Hichtum's 'Afke's Tiental' (1994). He additionally made six stories based on Setske de Haan's novel series 'Joop ter Heul' for the girls' magazine Tina (1994-1995). These works were forerunners of the adaptations of Dutch literature that would increase Matena's notability outside comics circles in the 2000s.
Matena's 1990s work is also characterized by his semi-biographical comics, in which he picks two historical figures and has them experience fictional adventures. These include 'Gauguin & Van Gogh' (1990), 'Mozart & Casanova' (1991) and 'Sartre & Hemingway' (1992). The first two were originally published in Hello Bédé and in book format by Lombard, while the third was published by Arboris. Some of these stories also knew publications in France, Germany, Turkey and Denmark. Matena completely redrew the third story in 2008 for a black-and-white graphic novel publication under the title 'Parijs 25/44'.
In 1993 and 1994, he made four stories of the historical comic 'Flynn'. The series was meant to resemble the Italian pulp comics of the 1960s and 1970s, and Matena even considered printing it on cheap paper to achieve this effect. However, the stories were eventually published in the regular album format by Arboris in The Netherlands, Germany and France. Matena also returned to the science fiction genre with the painted comic 'Alias Ego', which appeared in SjoSji between 1993 and 1996. In the same magazine, he experimented with the manga genre in the short story 'Duizend ogen heeft de nacht', which he made under the pseudonym Yoto Yamamoto in 1996. He used this pen name again for the pilot issue of Moon Embassy Magazine in 1998.
From 1994 to 1997, he furthermore made a great many tongue-in-cheek gags and cartoons for the naughty series 'Rooie Oortjes', which have also appeared in France and Germany. This included contributions to Rooie Oortjes magazine and cartoon albums, as well as a naughty parody on Walt Disney's 'Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs' (1994). He additionally made short stories for girls' magazine Tina during that same period, and made a strip called 'Familie Algoed' for the local Flemish newspaper Krant van West-Vlaanderen in 1995. In 2000 he provided the drawings for 'Het Hanzevirus', an educational comic book by Jouke Nijman about the Dutch Hanse cities. In the late 1990s, he developed the concept for a newspaper comic, but couldn't get it published. The 50 strips of ''t Blijft Tobbe' were eventually collected as a gift for the Christmas holidays by Matena and Hans Matla in 2000.
In 2000, Dick Matena drew a comic based on a 'Rechter Tie' ('Judge Dee') story by Dutch novelist Robert van Gulik, about the famous historical magistrate during the Tang dynasty. 'Chrysant' was Matena's reworking of an earlier comic strip called 'Het geheim van het landhuis', which Frits Kloezeman had drawn for Dutch newspapers in 1965. Matena furthermore completed the final pages of the 'Douwe Dabbert' album 'De wonderlijke raamvertelling' (2001) by Thom Roep and Piet Wijn, after Wijn had his second stroke.
During that same period, Dick Matena drew his ambitious comic book adaptation of Gerard Reve's grim novel about the post-war Netherlands, 'De Avonden' ('The Evenings', 1947). He chose to keep the complete original text intact out of respect for the author. He would continue this working method for most of his future adaptations as well. The grey colors perfectly captured the novel's atmosphere, and the work gained Matena wide media attention and praise. The adaptation was serialized in Amsterdam newspaper Het Parool and then published in four books by literary publisher De Bezige Bij in 2003 and 2004.
His next project was an adaptation of Charles Dickens' 'A Christmas Carol', which was published in 2004. He gave Ebenezer Scrooge the looks of Dutch poet Gerrit Komrij (who couldn't appreciate the honour). He then embarked upon an integral adaptation of the Jan Wolkers novel 'Kort Amerikaans' (1962), which was published in three volumes in 2006, 2007 and 2012. In between, he adapted two works of the Flemish writer Willem Elsschot: the novel 'Kaas' (1933) and the short story 'Het Dwaallicht' (1946), which were both published in 2008. In that same year, the tireless Matena also found time to rework some of his older stories to black-and-white graphic novels ('Parijs 25/44' and 'De Teloorgang van Oude Knudde').
In 2009, he made a surreal comic based on the theatre show 'De Komiek' by Dutch cabaret artist Freek de Jonge. He also adapted the theatre show 'Antiquariaat Oblomow' by comedians Erik van Muiswinkel and Diederik van Vleuten into a comic strip, which was handed out to the audience after the final performance. He returned to Dutch literature when he tried his hand at adapting Theo Thijssen's classic novel 'Kees de Jongen' (1923). The first copy of the book was presented to Dutch novelist Remco Campert in 2012. Dick Matena labeled his version of 'Kees de Jongen' as "his best work ever". Matena has also made an adaptation of Campert's short story 'De jongen met het mes' for a Christmas issue of HP/De Tijd in 2012.
In the late 1990s Dick Matena returned to the roots of his career as well, and made new artwork and even stories with Marten Toonder's 'Tom Poes en Olivier B. Bommel'. Matena and Toonder created two new balloon comics for Donald Duck, but a planned revival of the newspaper comic for NRC was aborted in late 2000. Their working relationship soured as Toonder was unable to leave matters to his intended successor, and Matena didn't want to work under strict supervision anymore. Despite these differences, Matena has continued to make the cover illustrations for the luxury 'Tom Poes' book collections of Hans Matla's publishing house Panda since 2000. He also made 'Heer Bommel en de jaarlijkse check-up', a promotional comic for the biopharmaceutical company Pfizer in 2001.
After Toonder died in 2005 it seemed no new 'Tom Poes' stories would ever be created again. Yet in 2013, Personalia-publisher Seb van der Kaaden and the Toonder Compagnie asked Matena to create a new story for the glossy VertrekNL, a magazine about emigration. This resulted in the story 'Tom Poes en de Pas-kaart', which was published in book format in 2015. He also made a balloon comic adaptation of Toonder's 1954 newspaper strip 'Tom Poes en het tijddeurtje' (Personalia, 2015) on the occasion of the 75th anniversary of the character. Matena did contributions to Personalia's Bommelglossy in 2012, and since 2016 makes installments of Lord Bumble's memoires for Stripglossy. His work for Personalia is drawn in a far more personal style than his previous Toonder-work. Although Matena is often presented as the official artistic heir of Marten Toonder's legacy, other artists have drawn the classic characters in the 21st century, such as Wil Raymakers, Gerben Valkema, Tim Artz and Henrieke Goorhuis.
In late 2012, Dick Matena suffered a severe coronary, followed by a cardiac arrest. He had just started working on adaptations of the Jan Wolkers novel 'Turks Fruit' ('Turkish Delight', 1969) and the children's book 'De schippers van De Kameleon' (1949) by Hotze de Roos. He was luckily reanimated by his wife, but the experience and the subsequent heart operation had a large impact on his state of mind, as he has expressed in interviews since then. His passion for the trade is however what pulls him through, and 'De Schippers van De Kameleon' was eventually published both in Dutch and in Frisian language in 2015. His text comic adaptation of 'Turks Fruit' followed in 2016.
Dick Matena won the Dutch Stripschapprijs in 1986, and was the first non-Belgian artist to win the Bronzen Adhemar, the official Flemish Community Cultural Prize for Comics, in 2003. In early 2014, he was honored with the title "Living Bearer of Heritage" for his masterful translations of nostalgia to present-day works. A large overview of his many comic productions was published under the title '100 Pagina's Dick' by Personalia in 2014. Besides samples from nearly all his series and creations, the book featured an interview and testimonials by his friends Rob van Eijck and Martin Lodewijk. The documentary 'Dick is boos' (2014) by Hans Polak gives an intimate portrait of Dick Matena's life and career. Besides ranting about modern art and the moderate appreciation of his profession, the artist talks candidly about the death of his six-year old younger sister and his life as a reformed alcoholic. On the occasion of his 55 years as a comic artist in 2015, a large overview exposition of his career called 'Dick Matena. Getekend Leven' was held in the Museum Meermanno in The Hague.
The publication of Matena's 'De Avonden' in the early 2000s has marked a turn in his career. He was no longer a "mere" comic artist for children's magazines, or the reviled artist of shocking adult comic stories. He gained respect from people from other cultural environments. Writer Jan Wolkers called him a true artist, and novelist A.F.Th van der Heijden praised him as "the most literary draughtsman I know". Novelist Jan Siebelink is also a close friend of his, who has particularly praised his artwork for Pieter Verhoeff's documentary 'Het Onzegbare' (2007), about Siebelink's 2005 novel 'Knielen op een bed violen'. Matena's Elsschot adaptations furthermore earned him particular appreciation from the Belgian audience as well. He was the first comic artist in history whose work was exhibited in the Antwerp Museum of Fine Arts with his drawings for 'Kaas'. The exhibition then went on tour and even reached Jakarta, Indonesia.
In addition to his versatility, Dick Matena is also known within the comics world for his distinctive character. He does not hesitate to indulge his unvarnished opinion in interviews, letters and articles. In his acceptance speech for the Stripschapprijs 1986 (published in its entirety in Stripschrift #210), Matena not only downplays his contributions to 'Tom Poes' and 'Panda', but he also poses critical and ironical notes about the myths surrounding his agressiveness, so-called comics critics, the jury and even his own oeuvre. For Eppo he has written candidly about the often booze-fuelled arguments and fights of his younger years.
The book collection of his correspondence with Marten Toonder ('Wat jij, jonge vriend. Brieven 1979-1991', 2009) is also a showcase of his outspoken nature. Matena clearly has a great respect for his former teacher, but when Toonder gives some harsh comments on Matena's work, the tone of his letters becomes quite sore. Nevertheless, the book is an interesting account of the transformation of Matena and Toonder's initial relation of tutor and pupil into one of a mutual friendship. Matena has also written a book about his other main influence, Hans G. Kresse: 'Eric de Noorman. Mijmeringen bij een mythe' (2007).
Dick Matena's wife, Nelleke de Boorder, is the writer of the children's book series 'Sammie en Nele' (2014), for which Dick makes the illustrations. His son Guido Matena has worked as an inker and translator for Donald Duck weekly and the other Dutch Disney publications in the 1990s. Dick Matena is affiliated to the professional association of artists, Pulchri Studio.
Dick Matena hosted a signing for his book 'De Avonden' in Kees Kousemaker's Gallery Lambiek in March 2003