'Sjors en Sjimmie bij de Arabieren'.

Frans Piët was the long-time artist of 'Sjors van de Rebellenclub', one of the most iconic Dutch children's comics. Piët drew his rendition of Martin Branner's Sunday comic 'Perry and the Rinkydinks' from 1938 until 1969, and turned the typically American kids' gang comic into an adventure strip for Dutch audiences. He introduced many side characters, such as Dikkie, Sally, De Kolonel and - the most important one - Sjimmie. From 1949 on 'Sjors' would be retitled as 'Sjors & Sjimmie', starring the blond-haired Sjors and his black friend Sjimmie. 'Sjors & Sjimmie' continued in more modernized versions by Piët's successors until 1999. This makes it both the oldest Dutch comic series in continuous syndication, as well as the longest-running Dutch comic series ever! The comic even inspired his own magazine, Sjors, which ran between 1930-1931, 1935-1941 and 1947-1975, sometimes under the name "Rebellenclub". Followed by Sjors & Sjimmie Stripblad (1988-1994) and SjoSji (1994-1998), this was the longest-running magazine based on a Dutch comic character. Although Piët's version is heavily dated and, to modern standards, full of racial stereotyping, generations of Dutch children have grown up with his exciting stories. While Piët only drew it for about 31 of its 60 years in print he did live long enough to see his creations outlive many comics of his contemporaries. Besides their serialization in the magazines Panorama and Sjors, they have also been collected in a series of highly popular books by De Spaarnestad. There is no relation between this artist and the other Frans Piët (1925-1996), who published under the name Francis Paid.

Les Aventures de Wo-wang & Simmy, by Frans Piët

Early life and influences
Franciscus Antonius Henricus Piët was born in 1905 in Haarlem as the son of a butcher. With no intention of following in his father's footsteps, he decided to further pursue his talents for music and arts. He played both the violin and the saxophone, and was a member of Pi Scheffer's jazz/swing combo The Blue Ramblers for a while. He took a correspondence course from the Press Art School in London, and also got lessons in sketching and portrait painting from the local painter Herman Moerkerk. Besides Moerkerk, Piët ranked the American newspaper cartoonists Harold Foster ('Prince Valiant') and Chic Young ('Blondie') among his main graphic influences.

Early comics
From 1928 on Piët made illustrations and cartoons for magazines like Libelle and De Humorist of the Haarlem-based publisher De Spaarnestad. In 1932 he created the newspaper comic 'De Avonturen van Wo-Wang en Simmy', which was distributed by the Pax press agency in Amsterdam. The text was written by his wife Mary. This rather stereotypical comic strip about a Chinese and a black kid was published in local newspapers like Leidsche Courant, Haarlems Dagblad and Utrechts Nieuwsblad from April/May 1933, and also in the magazine Zonneschijn (1936-1939). Already we see Piët use a black sidekick character with a name very similar to Sjimmie. Although not the same character Simmy shares many similiar traits, including his naïvité and bad Dutch speech. 

Simmie also appeared in an illustration for Okki, the children's supplement of De Spaarnestad's magazine Katholieke Illustratie. The caption says: "Where did you get that white eye, Simmie? Have you been fighting again?"

In 1933, the Piët family went to Paris, where Frans studied at the Academy of Montparnasse. He continued to send his drawings to De Spaarnestad by mail. When he returned to the Netherlands, Piët resumed his activity as newspaper comic artist throughout the rest of the 1930s. The genre had been growing in popularity since the 1920s through artists like Henk Backer, George van Raemdonck, Henricus Kannegieter, Gerrit Rotman and Albert Funke Küpper, and the demand for new strips increased. Like all Dutch newspaper strips of the time, Piët's creations were text comics, with no text balloons. Among his stories were 'De Luchtrovers van Hoitika' (1936, several papers and in book format), 'De Gebroeders Goochem' (1935-36, Amersfoortse Courant, De Volkskrant), and 'De Lotgevallen van Piet Krent en Jan Oliebol' (1937, Amersfoortse Courant and 1940, Haarlem's Dagblad).

'De Luchtroovers van Hoitika' (Provinciale Drentsche en Asser Courant, 18 June 1936).

The Belgian publisher Protin et Vuidar from Liège printed a French translation of 'Wo-Wang en Simmy' in 1936. The album gave Spaarnestad editor Lou Vierhout the idea to have Frans Piët create a Dutch version of the American comic strip 'Perry and the Rinkydinks' by Martin Branner for the supplement 'Sjors' of Panorama magazine. 'Perry and the Rinkydinks' already had an interesting history by then. The original comic appeared U.S. Sunday newspapers since 1923 as a mere spin-off of Branner's daily comic 'Winnie Winkle', about Perry's older sister. However, the weekly gags about the rebellious Perry and his friends had caught on in The Netherlands ever since they appeared in De Spaarnestad's humor magazine De Humorist in December 1927. Note that the Dutch publisher traced the pages from their publication in the French weekly Dimanche-Illustré, where the character was known as 'Bicot'. The Dutch name Sjors was borrowed from painter Georges Gussenhoven, a friend of Vierhout. De Spaarnestad gave 'Sjors van de Rebellenclub' (literally: 'Sjors of the Rebels' Club') its own paper as a supplement of the family magazine Panorama in 1930-1931. It nevertheless only lasted 26 issues, because of copyright problems. The Chicago Tribune had given an official license to the Nederlandse Rotogravure Maatschappij in Leiden to publish the strip under the title 'Ukkie Wappie' in the new weekly Het Weekblad Voor U. De Spaarnestad's illegally copied version was discovered and disappeared. The 'Sjors' strip returned in De Humorist with material coming directly from the USA in May 1932. In 1935, De Spaarnestad made another publishing effort with a Sjors supplement, this time with consent of the copyright owner. It appears that these pages were also traced, possibly by staff artist Jacques Bouwman.

'Sjors and his aunt and uncle'.

In the meantime, Rotogravure also collaborated with the Brussels-based publisher Jan Meuwissen, who published the 'Perry Winkle' comic in Flanders in ABC and in Wallonia in A-Z from January 1932 on. The Flemish version was also titled 'Ukkie Wappie', while the French version was named 'Jean-Jean et ses Amis'. ABC published American material until issue #42 of 1932, after which the strip was handed over to several unidentified local artists. This version came to an end in October/November 1933, when 'Ukkie Wappie' was replaced by 'De Avonturen van Uk en Puk', a.k.a. 'De avonturen van Fik en Fok', by Marten Toonder. In France, the 'Perry Winkle' comic knew a local version as well. Scriptwriter Raymond Maric created three albums with 'Bicot' for the publishing house Azur between 1959 and 1961. The artwork was done by José Antonio Serna Ramos (1959) and Jean-Claude Forest (1960-1961).

First appearance of the colonel and Sally.

The Chicago Tribune-New York News Syndicate had agreed to Lou Vierhout's request for a local production of 'Perry Winkle' by De Spaarnestad. Frans Piët was hired as a staff artist in 1938, and the first page with his initials appeared on 31 March of that year. He initially continued 'Sjors van de Rebellenclub' in Branner's gag set-up, and with the help from his wife Mary for the texts. However, Piët eventually removed nearly all of Branner's characters, including Winnie Winkle, Perry's parents and even his entire Rinkydinks club. Only Perry - aka 'Sjors' - remained, but he was somewhat remodelled to have a more stereotypical "Dutch" look. Piët sent him away to live with his uncle Teunis and aunt Rika in the fictional village of Natteveen. The artist came up with more cast members of his own, including Sjors' friend Dikkie, a chubby farmer's son, complete with cap, smock, knee-piece and clogs. He also met the retired colonel Snork and his handsome and fashionable daughter Sally. Last but not least, the entire scenery was localized. The American skyscrapers and city streets were replaced by windmills, willows and a more standard Dutch village look. From that point on Piët had basically an entire new and original comic strip, of which only the title character vaguely resembled Branner's series. 

The new all-Dutch "Rebel's club".

Jossie Jovel
In addition to 'Sjors', Piët created the gag comic about the pretty girl 'Jossie Jovel' for De Humorist in 1941-42. The war-time paper shortage and a decree by the German oppressor led to the end of the Panorama supplement Sjors van de Rebellenclub in early 1942. The strip was then transferred to Panorama's regular pages.

Book illustrations
In addition, Piët created the illustrated book 'Bassie, het verhaal van den zeeman', which was published by Keesmaat in 1943. 

Jossie Jovel by Frans Piët

Sjors... and Sjimmie!
After World War II, editor Vierhout had the idea to turn the gag strip into an adventure serial, with long and exciting stories. The colonel, Sally and Dikkie disappeared, and didn't return until Piët's successors began their version of the comic in the 1970s. Appearing in the back pages of Panorama, the new 'Sjors' comic quickly attracted a large audience, and captivated an entire generation. Piët and Vierhout's first story, which starred Sjors as a circus performer, began publication in Panorama in January 1949. After a couple of episodes, Sjors found a new sidekick in the black Jimmy, the son of the circus' painter and cook. Piët modelled the character after Simmy from his first comic strip of the 1930s. Jimmy, who quickly became known as Sjimmie, was modelled as a stereotypical black kid, with curly hair, earrings and thick lips. Interestingly enough he originally spoke perfect Dutch, but in later episodes he started using crooked speech. As a result the character appeared far more simple-minded and helpless than in his debut adventure. From a modern perspective Piët's version of Sjimmie looks rather racially offensive. Yet the character needs to be understood as a product of a different era. Indeed, it wasn't until halfway the 1960s when attitudes changed, which is why it took until 1969 before Sjimmie was redesigned and recharacterized by Piët's successors. It should also be pointed out that Sjors always treated Sjimmie as his equal and considered him his best friend. In that sense, Sjors and Sjimmie show the same inseparable companionship as the similar and older characters 'Blondin et Cirage' by the Belgian pioneer Jijé.

First appearance of Jimmy/Sjimmie in 'Sjors als Circusartiest'.

Piët and Vierhout sent their heroes to places the average Dutchman of the 1950s had only vaguely heard of. Like most comic authors of the time, they didn't bother spending much time on documentation, which resulted in a series of exciting but also naïve adventures with Native Americans, tigers, smugglers and other crooks. Sjors and Sjimmie travelled through Europe, America and Arabia, and eventually headed for the fictious North American country Minasoussa. Minasoussa was only North American in name, as its setting basically looked Dutch. It might explain why Sjors and Sjimmie decided to settle there in 1954, after receiving a large sum of money as a reward for uncovering a couple of gold smugglers. They moved in with doctor Theodoor Sikkema, Sjors' niece Sally and a stuttering kid named Knebbeltje. The exact family relations were left in the middle. By then, scriptwriter Vierhout was replaced by Piët's grandnephew Hans Keller, who focused more on human relations instead of exotic locations. This new direction suited Piët's drawings better, as he was stronger in character expressions than drawing backgrounds.

Sjors en Sjimmie by Frans Piët
Sjors en Sjimmie - 'Op zoek naar de Zwarte Ridder' (1959).

Magical elements are introduced in the comic strip in the second half of the 1950s. A soap bubble man fulfilling wishes sends our heroes to the year 3000 in the story 'Sjors en Sjimmie in Wonderland' (1958). Piët revives a couple of knights in 'Op zoek naar de Zwarte Ridder' (1959, written by Toon Kortooms) and he sends his characters to a Stone Age with both dinosaurs and cavemen in 'De Tijdmachine' (1960). Later in that story, Sjors and Sjimmie travel to America with Columbus, where they encounter Native Americans and even tigers! In 'Sjors en Sjimmie in de Rimboe' (1961), the characters go to Africa, which Piët presents as one big country with one language. In a later adventure from the mid-1960s, they even ventured into outer space, when they traveled to the so-called Pintoplanet.

'Sjors en Sjimmie in Wonderland' (1958).

Rebellenclub magazine
While Piët and his writers made the 'Sjors' comic for Panorama, another bi-weekly supplement called Sjors was published by De Spaarnestad from June 1947 to January 1948. Two years later, on 15 September 1950, a new supplement was launched named Rebellenclub. Because of Piët's workload (he produced two weekly pages for Panorama), he only contributed the gag strip 'Uit de luierjaren van Sjors' (1950-1954) to this publication. The strip, which dealt with Sjors' younger years, appeared under the title 'Streken van een Kleine Strop' in Grabbelton. Grabbelton was the supplement of Katholieke Illustratie, and had nearly the same content as Rebellenclub. Another interesting strip published in Rebellenclub was 'Pier Paniek en Suzie Rebel, het zusje van Sjors' by a certain Bouwman. It dealt with the adventures of Sjors' sister Suzie, which is technically the same character as Martin Branner's 'Winnie Winkle'.

Uit de Luierjaren van Sjors by Frans Piët

After Bouwman's departure in 1952, Piët became head of De Spaarnestad's own art studio at the Nassauplein in Haarlem, where he and staff artists like Harry Balm, Bert BusNico van Dam, Jan Giling and Ab Schatorjé were responsible for the illustrations in the publisher's magazines. Schatorjé later succeeded Piët in the role of studio chief. The children's supplements Rebellenclub, Grabbelton and Tombola were continued as the independent magazine Sjors van de Rebellenclub in September 1954. Frans Piët remained attached to the 'Sjors en Sjimmie' comic in Panorama however, and an adventure story called 'Sjors en de Verschrikkelijke Sneeuwman' was made by Hans Ducro for the new comic magazine. After Ducro's story, Sjors van de Rebellenclub featured Sjors in a gag strip without Sjimmie, created by Carol Voges.

Sjors leaves Sjimmie with another Sjors in Sjors #39, 1964.

A new Sjors
By 1963, Panorama had changed its overall look, which became more modern and sensational. As a result 'Sjors en Sjimmie' felt somewhat out of place in its pages and was eventually transferred to Sjors magazine that very same year. The transfer came with one of the oddest restylings in comic history. In an October 1964 episode Sjors receives a letter from his parents, asking for his return home. Sjimmie, oddly enough, receives no such letter from his own parents and thus stays behind in Minasoussa. As Sjimmie sadly says goodbye to his friend, Sjors comforts him that Sjimmie "can now have new adventures with the boy next door", who coincidentally is also called Sjors, but looks completely different! While the first Sjors was blonde this new Sjors had orange hair under his bonnet. Nothing else was changed about the series and the new-born Sjors continued to be Sjimmie's co-star until Frans Piët retired in 1969. It is said that the editors felt that Sjors' "long" haircut looked too much like the "filthy" Beatle haircuts that were in fashion around that time. In hindsight this censorship was actually amazing, considering the fact that Sjors had that haircut ever since his debut, 26 years earlier, without anyone complaining about it before!

'Sjors en Sjimmie' after Piët's retirement
Piët's final story ended in issue #23 of 1969, and Jan Kruis presented his modernized version of the comic in the following issue. Both the original Sally and the colonel returned, and the setting was changed to the fictional Frisian island Schiermeeuwenoog. Kruis in turn was succeeded by Jan Steeman and scriptwriters like Frans Buissink, who continued the 'Sjors & Sjimmie' adventure stories until the final issue of Sjors magazine in 1975. After that, 'Sjors & Sjimmie' got the biggest restyling of their careers and returned to the original gag format in the subsequent magazines Eppo, Sjors & Sjimmie Stripblad, SjoSji and Striparazzi. Drawn by Robert van der Kroft and written by Wilbert Plijnaar and Jan van Die, it became a contemporary comic of high quality, which completely focused on teenage life in the 1980s and 1990s. When Striparazzi's final issue rolled from the presses in 1999 the series seemed permanentely discontinued. But since 2019 new episodes have been made by the Wiroja team in each issue of the comics news magazine Stripglossy. 

Frans Piet and Jan kruis
Frans Piët (right) hands his characters over to Jan Kruis (left) during his farewell party in 1969.

Final years and death
Although retired, Piët drew a comic based on 'Ti Ta Tovenaar' for Televizier magazine in 1974. The strip was an adaptation of Lo Hartog van Banda's TV series of the same name (1972-1974) about a magician and his daughter, starring Ton Lensink and Maroesja Lacunes.  Frans Piët passed away in 1997 at the age of 91.

In 1991 Frans Piët received a royal decoration for his artistic prestations. 

Legacy and influence
Frans Piët can be considered one of the classic Dutch comic artists. 'Sjors' (en Sjimmie) was one of the earliest Dutch comics to become and stay popular among readers for decades on end. Of all the Dutch comic series launched before World War II it's one of the few to remain familiar and beloved today. With 60 years of near-uninterrupted run 'Sjors' remains the longest-running Dutch comic series of all time. Even if one only starts counting from Sjimmie's introduction in 1949 it still marks, with 11 years less, an impressive record holding run. And since 2019 new episodes have been published too. After Willy Vandersteen's 'Suske en Wiske' (1945-   ) and Jef Nys' 'Jommeke' (1955-   ) it's the third-longest running Dutch-language comic series of all time. Since 2003 the Dutch city Almere has named a street after Piët in their comics district and two streets after Sjors and respectively Sjimmie.

Lambiek will always be grateful to Piët for illustrating the letter "S" in our encylopedia book, 'Wordt Vervolgd - Stripleksikon der Lage Landen' (1979). 

Nieuwe avonturen van Sjors en Sjimmie, by Frans Piet (1954)
'Nieuwe avonturen van Sjors en Sjimmie' (1954).

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