Meneerke Peeters, by Pil (Joë Meulepas)
'Meneerke Peeters'.

Pil was a Belgian editorial cartoonist, book illustrator, poster designer and comic artist. He drew both political and more straightforward, timeless gag cartoons. Between 1947 and 1983, he was the house cartoonist for the newspaper De Standaard, for which he also made the long-running pantomime comic 'Meneerke Peeters' (1957-1983). Pil was also the original artist for the celebrity comic 'Het Manneke' (1961-1962), based on the TV comedy character of the same name by Jef Cassiers.

Early life and career
Joseph "Joë" Meulepas was born in 1915 in Hampstead, London. When the First World War broke out, a year before his birth, his parents had fled from Lier, Belgium, to England. After the war, they returned to their home city. Meulepas studied Journalism and Law at the University of Leuven and learned wood carving and linotype techniques at the local Keizersberg Abbey. At the printing company Vlaamsche Drukkerij, he was additionally schooled in typography. Meulepas was interested in editorial cartoons and cited David Low as his main graphic influence. His earliest drawings were published in several student magazines. Meulepas also founded his own publishing company, A L'Enseigne du Paradis Perdu - which released typographical and illustrated books until after World War II. Socially conscious, he designed posters to promote the Belgian Socialist Party and its strongmen Hendrik De Man and Paul-Henri Spaak. Later in life, Meulepas had more right-wing conservative viewpoints.

World War II
A year after Meulepas graduated from university, Belgium was occupied by Nazi Germany. Despite his socialist activism a decade earlier, Meulepas spent the early war years working for the Nazi-controlled newspaper Le Soir. Between November 1940 and April 1942, he was secretary of the paper's editorial staff, which included people like Paul Jamin, Jacques Van Melkebeke and Hergé. In April 1942, Meulepas left the paper and took a job with the "Nationale Landbouw- en Voedingscorporatie", a government organization in charge of the agricultural sector. Another cartoonist active for this organization during this period was Willy Vandersteen.

After the 1944 Liberation of Belgium, many (former) members of Le Soir's staff were arrested for Nazi collaboration, including Meulepas. However, because of his function, he was punished less severely than the journalists who actually wrote propaganda articles. He was sentenced to four years imprisonment, but released after one and a half.

From: 'De Pilgrimstocht der Mensheid', containing cartoons published in De Standaard between 1962 and 1967. The cartoon depicts Belgian Minister of Foreign Affairs Paul-Henri Spaak, dressed up as the Statue of Liberty. The caption reads: "His "clarification" is radically different from his predecessor." 

Political cartoons
One of the newspapers banned under Nazi occupation was De Standaard. On 11 April 1947, it returned to the market, with Meulepas present in the very first issue. He became the paper's house cartoonist, expressing his vision about current affairs in hundreds of political drawings and using "Pil" as his pseudonym. The name has sometimes been misinterpreted standing for "pauvre incivique libéré": "poor liberated untrustworthy individual", with "incivique" also being a pejorative synonym for Nazi collaborator. However, according to the cartoonist himself, he simply opened up his dictionary and picked out a random word, in this case "pil", meaning "pill". Regardless of its meaning, Pil seemed a suitable pseudonym for a political cartoonist, since a pill can either make people feel better, or be too bitter to swallow.

Also in 1947, Pil also launched a satirical column for De Standaard's sister newspaper Het Nieuwsblad: 'Met Pijl en Pen door de Week'. In 1950, the book compilation 'Met Pijl en Pen. Een Verzameling Karikaturen van Pil' was published by Elsevier. From its first issue in 1948 until its last in 1964, Pil additionally drew political cartoons and caricatures of famous Flemings for the magazine De Vlaamse Linie (later shortened to De Linie). The busy artist kept drawing political cartoons for De Standaard and Het Nieuwsblad until his retirement in 1983. His work was compiled in books like 'De Pilgrimstocht der Mensheid (Vlaamse Pockets, 1967) and 'Pilipili voor de Politieke Keuken' (De Dageraad, 1983). A thematic overview of his cartoons regarding the Flemish Movement and Belgium's bilingual troubles was presented in 'Pilkuren. Politieke Cartoons uit de Vlaamse Strijd 58-68' (Davidsfonds, 1968), which had a foreword by journalist Manu Ruys.

From: 'Pilkuren' (1969), a collection of Pil cartoons about the Flemish-Walloon language struggles. The man in the black suit is Omer Vanaudenhove, who was leader of the Belgian Liberal Party PVV-PLP at the time. 

During his long career, Pil was also active as a comic artist. In the magazine De Vlaamse Linie (later De Linie), he created a comic about the vulgar character 'Doreke Das' (1948). Another, untitled, pantomime comic for the same magazine was built around a silhouette figure. In the magazine Ons Volk, Pil drew a comic strip titled 'De Lotgevallen van Dries' (1949), and in its children's supplement Ons Volkske he shared a page with, subsequently, the cartoonists Can and Lus Kandeleer. In the 1950s, Pil was also a regular contributor to the weekly De Volksmacht (nowadays Visie), the house organ of the Christian Democratic Labor Union ACV, making the pantomime gag comic 'Kapitein Fok'. Half a century later, in 2009, publishing company VPOB reprinted all the 'Kapitein Fok' gags in book format under the title: 'Kartoenklassieken. Kapitein Fok'. Pil also drew a more satirical comic for De Volksmacht, 'De Avonturen van de Wonderjager, door Kapitein Zeldenthuis', about a cowboy who is an unreliable narrator. The sharpshooter even names himself the "Baron Münchhausen of the Far West". During the 1960s, most of Pil's comics appeared in Ons Volk, the majority being untitled pantomime gags.

'Meneerke Peeters', gag #3394.

Meneerke Peeters
Pil's most famous comic strip is 'Meneerke Peeters', which ran in De Standaard from 7 January 1957 until his retirement on 1 October 1983. The main character is a little moustached man with a colossal nose - even bigger than his head - and with one of most common family names in Flanders. However, Pil based his character on an archaic Flemish expression, "meneerke Peeters" ("little mister Peeters"), used to address people one couldn't take too seriously. 'Meneerke Peeters' was a pantomime comic strip, usually counting about three or four panels. Over a period of 26 years, Pil drew no more 7.008 gags. Given their lack of dialogue, they could have been easily seen publication abroad. Nevertheless, 'Meneerke Peeters' only ran in the French-language Belgian newspaper La Dernière Heure. In 1972, Heideland-Orbis brough out one compilation book: 'Meneerke Peeters. Stop-comics van Pil'. Decades later, a new compilation book was released by the Mercatorstripbeurs: 'Non-Sense Story' (2005).

Meneerke Peeters gag 5000
5000th episode of 'Meneerke Peeters'.

Het Manneke
Another, slightly similar, comic strip originated by Pil was 'Het Manneke' ("The Little Man"), based on a popular character from Belgian TV. Wearing a black hat, bow-tie, checkered shirt and large scarf, Het Manneke was created in 1961 by the Belgian comedian Jef Cassiers for a series of pantomime slapstick shorts, shown on the Flemish public channel BRT 1 (nowadays Eén) usually before the evening news broadcasts. In the same year that Cassiers first performed him on TV, the character was adapted into a gag-a-day comic strip, published in the newspaper Het Laatste Nieuws and the magazine Kwik. Jef Cassiers himself wrote the gags, with Pil was the artist. Much like the TV sketches, the 'Manneke' gags were told in pantomime. In 1962, Pil retired from the feature and was succeeded by Paul Ausloos and Marc Payot, who continued the strip until the TV broadcasts ended in the following year. The 'Het Manneke' strips were collected in two books by Zuidnederlandse Uitgeverij in 1963.

Pil (on the right) with journalist/author Karel De Decker.

Book illustrations
Pil was also active as a book illustrator. For the publishing company Het Davidsfonds in Leuven, he illustrated books by Frans de Wachter ('Ons Vader, 1951), Jan van Noordhoven ('De Onsterfelijke Stem', 1953), Jan de Spot ('Gods Wegen', 1955) and Felix Timmermans ('De Krabbekoker', 1955). He was particularly notable for livening up many novels and short stories by Ernest Claes. Pil also illustrated the children's book 'Kwib en Kwab' (1958) by Staf Weyts. At publisher Reynaert, he designed covers for translations of novels by Emily Brontë, Alexis Stenvall, Leo Tolstoy, Alice Jane Chandler Webster and P.G. Wodehouse. He also worked for Reynaert's children's books, including works by Anton van de Velde ('Peter Zoekt Het Geluk', 1955), Louise C.E. Gautier ('Gedenkschriften van een Witte Olifant', 1955) and Stijn Streuvels ('Reinaert de Vos', 1956). At the publishing company De Clauwaert, Pil's art adorned books such as Louis van den Bergh's 'Minister Bakker' (1955) and Lucien de Bosschere's 'Anna-Bella en de Speelvogel' (1977). For the Stichting Lodewijk de Raet, he illustrated 'Wonen In Deze Tijd' (1958), an advertising booklet about modern-day housing.

Pil was also active for Louis Contryn's puppet theater Hopla, nowadays known as the Mechels Stadspoppentheater, illustrating four books about the puppet family De Familie Sniffelneus, written by Luk van Nerum and published by Frans van Belle. Also for Van Belle, he livened up the pages of the books 'Duel met Fortuna' (1964) by René Struelens and 'Hallo, Hier Denemarken' (1969) by Lou Mourik.

Other activities
In 1948, Pil designed a ceramic statuette of Willy Vandersteen's comic character Wiske and her rag doll Schanulleke. Pil created many posters and other artwork for events promoting the Flemish Movement, among them the annual IJzerbedevaart (Yser Pilgrimage) and the Vlaams Nationaal Zangfeest (Flemish National Singing Festival).

In 2007, Pil passed away in Ukkel at age 92.

Article about Pil working on his 1948 Wiske statuette.

Series and books by Pil you can order today:


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