Cartoon from 11/8/1962, by Opland
Caricature of Dutch Secretary of Foreign Affairs and later N.A.T.O. secretary-general Joseph Luns

Opland was one of Holland's most famous political cartoonists of the second half of the twentieth century. At the start of his career, the 17-year old was the youngest Dutch cartoonist ever and at the end he was the oldest. From 1947 to 2001 he drew hundreds of cartoons satirizing both Dutch as well as international politics. Yet Opland is probably best remembered by the general public for his socially conscious posters. The most iconic of these was made in support of the anti-nuclear missile protests and depicts a tiny woman kicking a missile away. This image was spread all over the world as the official symbol of the movement. Active for more than half a century, Opland also created a few comics, the longest-running being 'De Wonderlijke Avonturen van Anna' (1979-1980).

Opland, real name: Rob Wout, was born in Amsterdam in 1928 as the son of a bookkeeper. He studied political science at the local university, but never completed these studies. His first drawings were published in school papers, and later in the socialist party (PvdA) magazines Paraat and Met Volle Zeilen. After the war he got a job at Vrij Nederland, but as head of the printing block department. He desperately tried to be accepted as a cartoonist, but was sent to De Groene Amsterdammer instead.

It was there, on 22 February 1947 , that the 18 year old struggling artist published his first cartoon in their supplement De Kleine Krant. In 1948 he was accepted as a new cartoonist by Vrij Nederland too, allowing him to quit his original job and become a full-time political cartoonist. For more than half a century he kept working for both newspapers until his death. There was a certain difference in both styles, though. His work for De Groene Amsterdammer was more stylistic and simple, almost childlike. His Volkskrant cartoons had a more joyful and exuberant feel over them. Other cartoons appeared occasionally in Paraat, Met Volle Zeilen, De Vlam, Het Parool and Nieuw Utrechts Dagblad.

Cartoon by Opland
Cartoon by Opland about Great Britain joining the European Union. The caption reads: "I'll join if my children can join too" (the children being the colonies of the Commonwealth). The three politicians who look on in exasperation are N.A.TO. secretary-general Joseph Luns, Belgian Minister of Foreign Affairs Paul-Henri Spaak and Dutch Minister of Economy Jan de Pous.

Wout signed his cartoons with the name "Opland", a contamination of the names of two school buddies, Eddy van Opzeeland and Klaas op 't Land. His recognizable style, which he developed without formal training, is characterized by thick lines and the schematic heads of the politicians he ridiculed.

Opland was as socially conscious in real life as he was in his work. In 1963, after learning that German rocket and bomb experts where active in Egypt he wrote a letter to German chancellor Adenaeur with the request to "curb his fellow countrymen to prevent them from returning to their natural anomalies". He made several posters, logos, flyers and pamflets for the feminist group Dolle Mina, legalisation of abortion, medical aid for the victims of the Vietnam War... and against the Greek colonel regime, the Pinochet junta in Chile, apartheid, racism and, his most famous cause: anti-nuclear missile protests. Opland's design of a tiny, but feisty woman kicking a rocket away has become iconic. Demonstrators in both the Netherlands as well as across the globe adopted it as their official mascot.

Missile protest by Opland

Apart from his political cartoons, Opland also made illustrations for De Groene Amsterdammer and De Volkskrant, as well as children's books. He provided illustrations to Jeanne Roos' column in Het Parool, work that was also published in book format in 1962. He designed parodies of board games, such as his 1963 goose board about Dutch politics and a 1975 game that satirized conservatism by starting at the final numbered space and moving backwards to the space with the word "start" on it.

Opland also wrote poetry, which was published in De Groene Amsterdammer under various ludicrous pseudonyms, including Adje Beenhakker, Tarquinia Edelstein, Hermine Troosteloos, Abraham Heenvliet and Pjotr Primsey Primakof. He decorated the walls of the Dutch pavilion during the World Expos in Brussels (1958) and Montréal (1967). In his spare time, he made many paintings and wrote sketch books about his holidays. Some of these, like a 1981 report about a trip over the Atlantic Ocean, were drawn in the style of a comic strip. Opland also drew some children's books for his daughter. Two of these appeared in print as 'De Sneeuwpop' (1980) and 'De Muts Van De Keizer' (1980).

De Wonderlijke Avonturen van Anna, by Opland

In his cartoons Opland occasionally made use of speech balloons and narrative sequences in separate images. But he sometimes made actual comics as well. In 1973 he made a comic in colour, 'Spoken Op Het Catshuis', in which Dutch Prime Minister Joop Den Uyl and his wife hear "ghosts" inside their house. When they look in their basement it just turn out to be members of the opposition making noise. In 1979-1980 Opland made a comic strip for De Volkskrant, published in text comics format with the text below the images, named 'De Wonderlijke Avonturen van Anna'.

De Wonderlijke Avonturen van Anna, by Opland

Opland's work didn't always make him friends. In 1969 Dutch radio journalist G.B.J. Hiltermann named De Volkskrant "antisemitic" because they criticized Israel's war politics, also citing an Opland cartoon about the matter that irked him. De Volkskrant brought the matter to court. The judge ruled in their favour and Hiltermann had to apologize for his harsh accusations. Politician Harm van Riel once praised Opland with the hidden insult: "Politically he means nothing, but he is a great artist." Former Prime Ministers Hans van Mierlo and Dries van Agt strongly disliked Opland's work. When Opland died, Van Agt was asked for a reaction, but he simply claimed "he had no time for that." Still, Opland's work drew a lot of respect from people and even, to his annoyance, politicians. Dutch politicians Norbert Schmelzer, Hans Wiegel, Ed Nijpels and former Prime Minister Piet de Jong praised his work, with Schmelzer and De Jong even claiming that they collected his cartoons. Yet when they asked him to sell his originals he simply refused.

Cartoon by Opland
'Beeld van een Sov-carrière' ('Image of a career in the Soviet Union'). A 1957 cartoon depicting the rise and fall of Russian Minister of Foreign Affairs Dmitri Shepilov, who was forced to resign over a failed coup against head of state Nikita Khrushchev. The final panel sarcastically claims he is now a "respected seated member of the U.S.S.R", showing him on a jail bench. 

Opland's work was exhibited several times throughout his career. In 1964 an exhibition was opened by famous novelist Godfried Bomans and the companion book had a foreword by Dutch Secretary of Foreign Affairs (and later secretary-general of N.A.T.O.) Joseph Luns. Opland received the "Lofprijs voor de Nederlandse Journalistiek" in 1970, because the organisation saw him as a journalist who just happened to work in a "visual" medium. In 1988 he received the H.M. Werkmanprijs for his entire work. He also won the Inkspotprijs in 1995 for a cartoon which ridiculed christen-democratic politician Elco Brinkman of the CDA.

The cartoon legend was only 18 years old when he first started publishing and thus the youngest member at his office. By the time of his death from bone cancer in 2001, just one day after his 73th birthday, he was one of the oldest cartoonists in his country who were still active. In late 2004 his work was exhibited in the Belfort in Brugge, Belgium, together with work by cartoonist Marec, after which the exhibition could be viewed in Historisch Centrum Het Markiezenhof in Bergen op Zoom, The Netherlands until the late summer of 2005. As an accompaniment to this event a special book, 'De Wereld (1947-2001) volgens Opland', was brought out by Johanna Jacobs, Geert Mak and Koos van Wering.

cover by Opland
Cover for Vrij Nederland, depicting a bank manager begging for financial support.

Series and books by Opland in stock in the Lambiek Webshop:


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