Frans Piët was the longtime 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. His most important contribution to the series was giving the blond-haired Sjors a black sidekick called Sjimmie. The 'Sjors & Sjimmie' comic continued in more modernized versions by Piët's successors until 1999. This makes it both the oldest Dutch comics series in continuous syndication, as well as the longest-running Dutch comics series ever! 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 70 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.
Butcher's son Franciscus Antonius Henricus Piët was born in Haarlem in 1905. 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 among his biggest influences the American newspaper cartoonists Harold Foster ('Prince Valiant') and Chic Young ('Blondie'). He had been making illustrations and cartoons for magazines like Libelle and De Humorist of the Haarlem-based publisher De Spaarnestad since 1928. 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).
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).
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 eponymous supplement of Panorama magazine. This comic strip 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 1928. 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. In 1935 another publishing effort was made, which had more success.
In the meantime, another translation of the 'Perry Winkle' comic appeared in Belgium in the Dutch-language magazine ABC and its French-language equivalent AZ in 1932. It was also printed in the Flemish magazine Het Weekblad. This Flemish version was titled 'Ukkie Wappie', while the French version was named 'Bicot, President de Club'. 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 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).
King Features 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 initially continued 'Sjors van de Rebellenclub' in Branner's gag set-up. 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.
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. In addition, Piët created the illustrated book 'Bassie, het verhaal van den zeeman', which was published by Keesmaat in 1943.
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 clearly a product of his time. He was modelled as a stereotypical black kid, with curly hair, earrings, thick lips and later also crooked speech. The two characters became inseparable however, and showed the same companionship as the similar characters 'Blondin et Cirage' by the Belgian grandmaster Jijé.
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 Indians, 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 en 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.
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 an antiquity with both dinosaurs and cavemen in 'De Tijdmachine' (1960). Later in that story, Sjors and Sjimmie travel to America with Columbus, where they encounter indians 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.
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, in September 1950, another 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'.
With the launch of Rebellenclub, Piët became head of De Spaarnestad's own art studio at the Nassauplein in Haarlem, where he and staff artists like Harry Balm, Bert Bus and Nico van Dam were responsible for the illustrations in the publisher's magazines. 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 comics magazine. After Ducro's story, Sjors van de Rebellenclub featured Sjors in a gag strip without Sjimmie, created by Carol Voges.
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 comics 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.
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, the comic became a contemporary comic of high quality, which completely focused on teenage life in the 1980s and 1990s. No new stories have been made after the cancellation of Striparazzi in 1999.
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 got a royal decoration for his artistic prestations in 1991. He passed away in 1997 at the age of 91. Lambiek will always be grateful to Piët for illustrating the letter "S" in our encylopedia book, 'Wordt Vervolgd - Stripleksikon der Lage Landen', published in 1979.
Nieuwe avonturen van Sjors en Sjimmie (1954)