Piet Pienter & Bert Bibber - 'De Schimmenburcht'.

Pom was a Belgian comic artist, best known as the creator of the humorous adventure series, 'Piet Pienter en Bert Bibber' (1951-1995). While barely known outside Flanders, the comic enjoys a cult following to this day. The stories are marked by odd verbal jokes, cynical comedy and sarcastic self-reflexive narration. Although 'Piet Pienter en Bert Bibber' is family friendly, it's far more popular among adults for poking fun at the naïvité and clichés of typical children's comics. Pom was also one of comics' most legendary oddballs. He worked without assistants, which explains his highly eccentric style. The man resisted colorisation, preferred Flemish dialect over standard Dutch and kept an all-time 1950s look in his backgrounds. Later in his career he grew into a notorious grouchy recluse. He hated his own work so much that he deliberately refused all merchandising and media attention. It all just added to his legend and the enduring cult popularity of his peculiar work.

Early life
Pom was born in 1919 in Berchem, a town outside Antwerp. His real name was Jozef van Hove, but everybody always called him "Pom". He claimed to have no idea what this nickname meant, let alone where it came from. By all accounts Pom had an unhappy childhood. His mother died four days after his birth. The child was therefore raised by his aunt for a while, until his father remarried and took him back. His father was a stern schoolteacher who frequently beat his children. According to Pom, he was even blamed for his mother's premature death. Pom's stepmother wasn't warm to her stepchildren either. Although Pom wanted to become a comic artist as a child, his parents weren't supportive. Instead he was forced to study electronics, so he could become an electrical engineer, like his older brother. 

World War II
However, in May 1940 Pom's faculty closed down when the Nazis occupied Belgium. For the remainder of World War II, he had to continue his studies through evening courses at the German company Blaupunkt. The plus side was that he could already work as an electrician, while learning new skills. Pom also graduated as planned. The downside was that after the Liberation (1944), he was arrested for Nazi collaboration. Pom spent one year in jail. He avoided a longer sentence by not mentioning that he had also worked on Nazi military equipment. Back on free feet he got a job as a radio technician with the Arel firm in Schoten, but the factory went bankrupt in 1948. In search of new work, Pom was shocked to discover that his diploma was considered invalid, since it had been obtained by German educators. At this point something snapped in him. He developed a lifelong hatred of war, politicians, bureaucracy and the police. He was so angry with the Belgian government that his Flemish-nationalistic opinions grew more fanatical. Pom deliberately refused to speak, write or read anything else than dialect. The artist disliked Dutch so much that he rather read and watched German-language media. Out of protest, he kept wearing his graduation gift - a white overall - as often as possible. But he was most furious with his dad. Not just for his hellish childhood, but also for bringing him into all this mess. If he hadn't obeyed him, his life would've been vastly different. So Pom finally decided to do what he'd always wanted: making comics.

'De Week in Krabbels', from 1 March 1952. The man with the hammer in the first panel is a prototypical version of Theo Flitser.

Graphic influences
Pom came from a Flemish-nationalistic background. His cousin was Bruno de Winter, who in 1945 founded the satirical right-wing weekly 't Pallieterke. Yet, strange enough, Pom's parents had a subscription to the French-language Brussels newspaper Le Vingtième Siècle. As such, the boy discovered their juvenile supplement Le Petit Vingtième, which introduced him to Hergé's comics 'Tintin' and 'Quick & Flupke'. Later graphic influences were André Franquin, Willy Vandersteen, Maurice Tillieux, Morris and Manfred Schmidt. While Pom never mentioned Schmidt in any interview, he subscribed to Grenz-Echo, the only German-language weekly in Belgium. Although he always claimed that this magazine "published nothing to my interest", it did run Schmidt's humorous comic series 'Nick Knatterton' (1950-1959), of which the ironic, self-reflexive narrative style had an undeniable influence on his own comics. None of his other colleagues could meet Pom's approval. Whenever he namedropped them in interviews, it was usually to rant how "terrible" they were. He did have some respect for 'Jommeke' creator Jef Nys, but more the man himself than his work, which he felt was "childish". Pom described Nys as a "well-behaved man" and liked how he also resisted standard Dutch in his own comics. But once Nys replaced the Flemish dialect in 'Jommeke' in 1989, in favor of standard Dutch, Pom predictably lost all respect. Later in his career, Pom would even downplay his own graphic heroes, especially their later work, which he deemed "garbage".

Het Handelsblad: De Week in Krabbels
Taking advantage of the higher demand for comics, Pom tried to apply for a job as cartoonist. His cousin Bruno De Winter had been a popular columnist in newspaper Het Handelsblad for years, which in 1950 helped Pom getting hired by this paper. Although the chief editor bluntly called him "an amateur",  he was still commissioned to make a weekly comic strip. His feature, 'De Week in Krabbels' (1950-1954), debuted on 15 October 1950 and summarized all news events of the past seven days in one comic strip. Pom poked fun at Belgian and international politics, but also used a recurring character readers will nowadays recognize as Piet Pienter. After only four months, Piet received his own spin-off comic, which developed into his signature series 'Piet Pienter en Bert Bibber'. Nevertheless, Pom continued 'De Week in Krabbels' alongside 'Piet Pienter en Bert Bibber' until he left Het Handelsblad on 17 November 1954. In 1950-1951, Pom's art additionally appeared in De Middenstand. Between 1953 and 1954, he also made cartoons for the Handelsblad supplement De Plezante Krant.

First meeting between Piet Pienter and Bert Bibber in 'Het Vredeswapen', 1951.

Piet Pienter en Bert Bibber
Pom used his 'Week in Krabbels' character as the hero of his first adventure comic, 'Het Vredeswapen', which took off on 16 April 1951 in a supplement of Het Handelsblad. He named him Piet Pienter, in reference to his intelligence ("pienter" means "smart" in Dutch). Coincidentally, another Dutch-language comic character with a near-similar name also debuted that same year, namely J.H. Koeleman's 'Pinkie Pienter' (1951-1959), though both artists were unaware of each other. In 'Het Vredeswapen', Piet is an engineer who invented a peace-making weapon. He travels to the fictional Eastern European country Velonia, where he tries to sell his invention. Naturally none of the warmongers want peace and thus he is jailed. Later a local corporal and resistance member with brown combed hair, Bert Bibber, is thrown in the same cell. They escape back to Belgium, where Bert moves in with Piet.

'Het Vredeswapen' instantly caught on with readers. Halfway the story, it was already removed from the supplement and printed in Het Handelsblad itself. The next three years Pom created nine 'Piet Pienter en Bert Bibber' stories for Het Handelsblad, until he left the paper on 17 November 1954. None of them appeared in album format at the time. Pom deliberately kept them off the market, because he felt both artwork and narratives were just "horrible". Only 30 years later, 'Het Vredeswapen' and its sequel Het Gestolen Vredeswapen' (1951) received a limited collector's edition release under the title '30 Jaar - Het Geval Pom' (1981). Another three decades passed by before the albums were reprinted again in 2011. Pom vocally expressed his disgust on the covers and title pages with warnings like "Let our ancestors rest in peace", "We protest against this publication", "Don't continue, it gets worse", "Worse isn't possible" and "Not everybody is a genius." Apart from these two titles, few of his other early comics have seen the light since.

Piet Pienter en Bert Bibber - 'In Het Spoor Van Sherlock Holmes'.

Move to Gazet van Antwerpen
In 1955 Pom moved to another newspaper, De Gazet van Antwerpen, where 'Piet Pienter en Bert Bibber' ran on an irregular basis for the next 40 years until the final episode. The first story in De Gazet, 'In Het Spoor van Sherlock Holmes' (1955), took off on 15 April 1955. During the first three years, Pom retooled gags and narratives from his Handelsblad stories, by using better artwork and altered plotlines. Parts from 'Het Gestolen Vredeswapen' (1951) and 'De Stalen Zeemeermin' (1952), for instance, appeared in 'In Het Spoor van Sherlock Holmes'. Elements from 'De Verborgen Schat' (1951-1952) and 'Bibbergeld' (1952-1953) were recycled in 'Het Raadsel van de Schimmenburcht' (1956) and 'De Kumulus-Formule' (1957). The most drastically altered story was 'De Stalen Zeemeermin', which evolved into 'Plakijzerpiraten' (1956). On the other hand, early stories like 'De Diamantmijnen van Koningin Salami' (1953), 'El Rancho Grande' (1953-1954), 'Bibber Contra Tutter' (1954) and 'Buldaarse Rhapsodie' (1954) were just redrawn without much plot changes. Actual new 'Piet Pienter en Bert Bibber' stories only took off from 'De Stralende Meteoor' (1958) on, though Pom claimed that he only found his form from the 11th story on: 'Avontuur in San Doremi' (1958-1959). During this period, 'Piet Pienter en Bert Bibber' also appeared in album format for the first time, published by De Vlijt.

Piet Pienter en Bert Bibber by Pom
Piet Pienter en Bert Bibber #27 - 'Het Geval Warwinkel'.

Precisely because the original nine 1951-1954 'Piet Pienter en Bert Bibber' stories were kept outside the official album series, few fans are aware of the characters' origin stories. From reading 'Op Het Spoor van Sherlock Holmes' (1955), many readers have the impression that the main cast was already established from the beginning. In their supposed "official first album" Piet and Bert are already friends and seemingly meet their good friend Susan for the first time. In reality Piet and Bert's actual debuts happened in 'Het Vredeswapen' (1951). Most fans would be amazed to know that Bert isn't Belgian at all, but an immigrant from the fictional country Velonia, who moves in with Piet in Belgium at the end of the story. The inseparable friends are polar opposites. Piet is calm, intelligent and reserved. Bert is clumsy, less bright and more impulsive. Easily agitated, his big mouth often gets him into trouble. Nevertheless he often panicks in emergency situations, thus explaining his last name ("bibber" means "shiver" in Dutch). Bert's foreign background might explain why he frequently mispronounces words, like, for instance in 'De Kumulus-Formule', "vermommen" as "vermommelen" ("to disguise" as "disguisle") . But Bert has occasional moments of brilliance too. Sometimes he manages to fool his opponents with clever pranks. As the series' comic relief, Bert Bibber is easily most readers' favorite character. Piet and Bert can also be understood as alter egos for Pom's split personality. Just like his spiritual father, Piet enjoys engineering, smoking pipe and expressing dry wit. Pom's grouchiness and love for wordplay is captured in Bert.

Bert is also secretly in love with Susan, the third main cast member, who originally debuted in 'De Stalen Zeemeermin' (8 April - 15 August 1952). Susan is a U.S. billionaire's daughter. Piet and Bert often encounter her on their travels, usually when her yacht arrives in the harbour. Through her wealth and global connections she helps her friends out whenever they are in financial need. Given the era she was created in, Susan is a quite notable female comic character. She is no damsel in distress. In many stories she is excited by the idea of "danger" and bravely joins their adventures. Her intelligence and briskness often save the day. Her only vices are her stubbornness, curiosity and fear of mice. Even more remarkably: Susan is an attractive young woman. Most female comic characters in the 1950s were subject of strong censorship. They were only allowed to be prepubescent girls, like Willy Vandersteen's Wiske and Marc Sleen's Petatje, or middle-aged old women like Hergé's Bianca Castafiore, Vandersteen's Tante Sidonia and Sleen's Madam Nero and Pheip. The only character from this era with whom she can be compared is André Franquin's Seccotine in 'Spirou', after whom she is partially modelled. In the early stories Susan spoke with a heavy American accent ("Hauwdoejoedoe, vrienden?"), but this was later dropped. Over the course of the series, Susan starts wearing her hair in a ponytail and moves in with Piet and Bert. Although they share the same home, they don't have a ménage à trois. Piet has no feelings for Susan and while Bert does, Susan is far more in awe with another recurring character: Theo Flitser.

Commissaris Knobbel in action in 'Marie Huana'.

Theo Flitser made his original debut in 'De Verborgen Schat' (10 December 1951 - 1 April 1952), where he still had a different name: Jaak Borstelmans. Like his name implies, Theo is a journalist-photographer ("flitsen" means "to flash", in reference to his camera). Theo is always on the look for a scoop and can be considered a paparazzi long before Federico Fellini coined the eponym. Whenever Piet and Bert try to keep something a secret, Theo is bound to expose it to the outside world, with dire consequences. On the other hand, he often finds out details which help Piet and Bert solve certain problems. As such the duo considers him a good friend, although Bert remains deeply envious of Theo's success with Susan. For insiders, their bond is not all that surprising. Pom modelled Susan after his own wife and Theo is essentially a self-caricature of the artist, down to his long, black messy hair.

Although a classic adventure comic series, 'Piet Pienter en Bert Bibber' is quite unique in the sense that there are no real recurring villains. In most stories the heroes face different antagonists. In fact, their only real recurring opponent is a police chief: Commissaris Knobbel. Pom already used incompetent police chiefs and cowardly policemen in his earliest stories, which turned out to be embryonic versions of Knobbel, who debuted in 'De Stralende Meteoor' (21 June - 20 November 1958). Knobbel is an arrogant, short-tempered and clueless twit. He always makes wrong or imbecilic deductions and fails to recognize actual crime under his nose. Whenever he interferes with a case, he is usually more a hindrance than a help. He is highly suspicious of Piet and Bert and often arrests them, rather than the criminals they were trying to stop. Knobbel is a henpecked husband, whose domineering wife explains his crabby behaviour. His only joy comes from taking credit for other people's achievements. Whenever Piet and Bert solve a case, Knobbel is quick to attribute all success to himself. Bert is usually far less cool with this than Piet.

Piet Pienter en Bert Bibber by Pom
Piet Pienter en Bert Bibber 4 - 'Plakijzerpiraten' (1956).

However, by far the most unusual aspect about the series is that it has no less than three (!) recurring absent-minded professor characters. Four, if one counts Piet as well, who in the early albums enjoyed engineering and inventing stuff too. The first professor who comes across Piet and Bert's path is Professor Snuffel, recognizable by his bald head, glasses and goatee. He debuted in 'De Verborgen Schat' (1952) and reappeared in at least six albums, until he was overshadowed in 'De Kumulus-Formule' (31 January - 30 May 1957) by a bald scientist with a grey walrus moustache: professor Kumulus. He should not be confused with Gerard Wiegel's 'Professor Cumulus' (1967-1970). Kumulus would remain the official professor of 'Piet Pienter en Bert Bibber' until his college buddy Hilarius Warwinkel entered the scene in 'Het Geval "Warwinkel" (22 February - 28 June 1969). Warwinkel is notable for being a less traditional comic book professor. He is a middle-aged, unshaven man with a black Chevron moustache, who suffers from alcoholism. His drinking problem not only makes him highly unstable, but the others frequently have to stop their friend's "mad scientist" plans. Warwinkel also has a housemaid, Madam Klakson, who tends to speak obnoxiously loud. The prominent role of science in Pom's comics could be explained from his own background in engineering. Cars, motorcycles, trains, airplanes, machines, devices and other technical equipment are all drawn with an eye for accuracy and believability. Together with André Franquin and Maurice Tillieux, he was one of the few comic artists to understand how a speeding car twists and turns and in which direction it ought to tilt. On the same token all mathematical formulas in the series aren't just gibberish, but accurate descriptions.

Piet Pienter en Bert Bibber by Pom
Piet Pienter en Bert Bibber 14 - 'Het Straalgas Mysterie'.

Graphic style
'Piet Pienter en Bert Bibber' is a series in the classic Flemish newspaper comic tradition. Alongside Willy Vandersteen's 'Suske en Wiske' (1945- ), Marc Sleen's 'Nero' (1947-2002) and Jef Nys' 'Jommeke' (1955- ) it was one of the longest-running series in the genre. Just like Sleen, Pom worked without assistance, allowing for a highly personal and eccentric style. The first notable aspect about 'Piet Pienter en Bert Bibber' is the artwork. It never looks rushed-out. All backgrounds, vehicles and machinery are drawn with the highest eye for detail. Though it should be mentioned that most Flemish newspaper comic artists had to whip out two new strips on a daily basis, leaving little time for elaborate artwork. From 1958 on, Pom made a fully completed story beforehand, which was then serialized in the papers. He actually had the luxury of spending months to get every detail right.

Verbal comedy
Like most Flemish comic series of his era, 'Piet Pienter en Bert Bibber' appeared in dialect. Though, unlike most, it never ever switched to standard Dutch. Pom felt using "je", "jou" and "jouw" ("you" and "your") instead of "ge", "gij" and "uw"  ("thou") was "completely unnatural". He wanted his characters to talk like most people in Flanders do. The only other long-running Flemish comic series to consistently use dialect is Willy Linthout and Urbanus' 'Urbanus' (1982). Though Pom was no language purist either. He loved toying around with words. His stories are full with deliberate misspellings and mispronunciations, made extra funny by the juicy dialect. The most famous example of Pom's eccentric language is the recurring catchphrase: "Meneer de perfesser is in zijn arbolatorium" (translation: "Mister perfesser (="professor") is in his arbolatory" (="laboratory")). Other little treasures can be found all across the series. In 'De Verborgen Schat' (1951) Bert buys a cat encyclopedia and marvels at his genuine "poezen-ansikloppenmie". In another example, a policeman in 'Vakantie in Pandorra' (1993) describes the Minister of Traffic ("Verkeerswezen") as "Minister of Verkeerd Wezen" (= "being wrong"). Pom took his dialogues very seriously. In 1995 Standaard Uitgeverij reprinted the 1983 album 'Marie Huana', but noticed a character saying "eerweerde moeder" on page 19, instead of the correct "eerwaarde" ("honorary mother"). They instinctively corrected this "error" in the reprint. When Pom found out he was furious. Later reprints have kept his eccentric language intact.

Piet Pienter en Bert Bibber #10 - 'De Stralende Meteoor'.

Another trademark of the series are funny advertising billboards, posters and signs. Often carefully hidden in the background, they spoof real-life advertising slogans. In 'De Anti-Zwaartekracht-Generator' (1959), for instance, "beaming white teeth" are promised when people use Vim (which in reality is a cleaning product). In 'Hypnose-Stralen' (1985), the election slogan "Because people are important" is ridiculed as: "because money is important". Other advertising signs have macabre messages. In 'Hocus-Focus Flits' (1976) a funeral parlor's shopping window is seen, promising "huge discount at the occasion of the fair!" Another example is the sign seen in 'Invasie Uit Het Heelal' (1965): "Cook with gas! Cheaper! Tired of life? Use gas! Cheaper!'

Adult comedy
Many Flemish comics revolve around recognizable anti-heroes and frequently target politicians, policemen, bureaucrats, lawyers and tax collectors. 'Piet Pienter en Bert Bibber' was no exception to this rule, but it still differs in tone. Despite often being called a "family comic", it doesn't actually revolve around a family at all. The few children seen in the series are regulated to extras. Although 'Piet Pienter en Bert Bibber' is family friendly, it has a very cynical worldview. Commissaris Knobbel is the textbook example, but many other side characters are mean, opportunistic, unreliable, corrupt and/or kind of stupid too. In 'De Barbier van Bombilla' (1960) a South American dictator promises democracy to his people. Two men in the audience ask each other what "democracy" is, but neither has any clue. In the next panel they both nevertheless shout their support for the president. When U.S and Russian ambassadors in 'Invasie Uit Het Heelal' (1965) sent a letter of protest to their respective embassies, they are simply told to "just throw it on the pile!" In 'Marie Huana' (1983) a gang accidentally kidnaps the Prime Minister. After realizing their mistake, the boss sighs: "We've captured a colleague by mistake!" All housemaids in the series are feather-brained. Even the villains' cronies tend to rip off or doublecross their boss. And, as mentioned before, all signs sarcastically mock advertising slogans. Pom often expressed his nihilism in his narration too. In 'De Verborgen Schat' (1961), for instance, Piet sighs: "There is no way to stop nosy journalists", whereupon Pom adds in a caption: "Yes there is: SHOOT THEM!"

Ironic comments by the author in 'Het Straalgasmysterie'.

Pom's tongue-in-cheek narration, inspired by Manfred Schmidt's 'Nick Knatterton', is another unique aspect about the series. Just like Schmidt, Pom loved commenting on his own stories, mocking his characters and pointing out all clichés and odd situations. In 'Het Raadsel van de Schimmenburcht' (1956), for instance, Theo discovers who the real culprit is and says: "Who would've thought?" A small caption above his head reads: "Every reader, of course." In 'De Inca-Schat der Cordillera' (1956) Bert listens to an explanation and mutters "Hmm, hmm." Pom explains: "Bert is polite and speaks with two words." In 'De Stralende Meteoor' (1958) someone is knocked out with a bottle. Pom comments: "Typical example of alcohol abuse." In 'Invasie Uit Het Heelal' (1965) a man begs to spare his life, because he has "seven children". Later in the story he does the same, but now says he has "eight children". Pom interferes: "Eight? That must be a typo. No, it's not, because life goes on in Pulderwezel", whereupon a flying stork is shown. In 'De Tijdmachine' (1967), Piet is amazed by Kumulus' ability to make himself disappear through his invention. Kumulus dismisses this by pointing out that "TV is incomprehensible for many people too. Yet nobody thinks of "black magic"." Pom instantly interferes and comments: "Speaking of current TV programming, people don't even think of  "magic" at all (hateful remark by a TV tax payer)." Half of the time Pom didn't seem to take his own work all that seriously. In one story, for instance, he says: "As usual, coincidence often plays a huge part in comics (it usually brings salvation when inspiration is low)".

'Vakantie in Pandorra', 1993.

Success and translations
While always a regional phenomenon, 'Piet Pienter en Bert Bibber' sold well in Flanders during its heydays. Halfway the 1960s Pom, signed a deal with German publishing company Bastei Verlag to publish 'Piet Pienter & Bert Bibber' in German. The artist would personally translate his eccentric language to make sure that his trademark style remained intact. However, Willy Vandersteen was also under contract with Bastei and threatened to leave them if they made a deal with Pom. Understandably Pom always held a grudge against Vandersteen afterwards. In 1967 two 'Piet Pienter en Bert Bibber' stories, 'Het Raadsel van de Schimmenburcht' (1967) and 'De Diadeem van Swaba' (1967), did manage to receive a translation in Afrikaans. But when this didn't catch on, Pom gave up all other translation attempts. A century later and two years after the artist's death, two albums received a Spanish ('Leo Listo y Tom Temblor') and Italian ('Roberto Rosso e Stefano Stupido') translation.

In 1965 puppeteer Eduard Smets, A.K.A. 'Nonkel Ward', made various Punch & Judy plays based on the series, performed in De Kalkoense Haan theater in Antwerp. This remains the only media adaptation of 'Piet Pienter en Bert Bibber'.

As popular as 'Piet Pienter en Bert Bibber' was , Pom found it increasingly difficult to keep his spark up. During his early years his wife had to motivate him to keep drawing comics. Already in 1958 he was struck by writer's block. Since his move to De Gazet van Antwerpen he had mostly redrawn and rewritten his nine earlier stories for Het Handelsblad, but now that this source was emptied he had to come up with something new. On 21 June 1958 'De Stralende Meteoor' took off, but on 22 August it was abruptly interrupted. After a brief hiatus, a new comic strip ran in the paper titled 'Intermezzo voor Detectives', signed by a certain Mop. Mop was a pseudonym for Gaston Ebinger, house cartoonist of De Gazet van Antwerpen. He claimed that Pom "had been abducted by an invisible man" and that he would therefore fill in for a while. In the 2011 reprint of 'Het Gestolen Vredeswapen', Pom's colleague Edgard Ernalsteen revealed that Pom had actually suffered a burn-out. On 6 September 1958 the artist recovered and was able to finish his story. However, his newspaper editors wished to avoid another interruption. They wanted every story to be fully completed before they would prepublish it. It freed Pom from deadline pressure, but slowed down his production process. By 1964 he only created one new album a year, as opposed to the three or four stories most other Flemish newspaper comic artists produce annually. In 1966, 1971, 1973, 1985, 1987, 1990 and 1992-1994 no new titles appeared at all.

In interviews, Pom regularly complained about lack of inspiration and energy. It often took him months to come up with a good story and even longer to draw it all out. Some of his stories have very similar plots, usually involving some dangerous invention or archaeological treasure being stolen by criminals. In a few cases he even resorted to plagiarism. The plot of the album 'Zangkwintet "De Lange Asem" (1983), for instance, is very similar to the basic narrative of the British comedy classic 'The Ladykillers' (1955). The earliest stories also betray the influence of 'Tintin', especially in certain poses. Critic Jan Smet once confronted Pom with his observation that there were quite some similarities between his story 'Buldaarse Rapsodie' (1958) and Hergé's 'King Ottokar's Sceptre' (1939). The website www.Stripspeciaalzaak.be also noticed that Pom borrowed a lot from André Franquin's 'Spirou et Fantasio'. Piet, Bert, Susan and professor Kumulus are expies of Spirou, Fantasio, Seccotine and the Count of Champignac. But the site also noticed many story elements unsubtly similar to classic 'Spirou' stories by Franquin. In itself Pom was definitely not the only comic pioneer who sometimes borrowed from other comics. But he did often blame his colleagues of ripping him off, especially Willy Vandersteen, making these accusations a tad hypocritical.

Piet Pienter en Bert Bibber #42 - 'De Supersonische Schokgolf-Oscillator' (one of the few stories in colour).

Another hypocritical complaint was his publishers' so-called "lack of promotion". Pom often said that his publishers released more albums than they paid him for. According to him, his reprints were "so cheap" that they "fell apart and the ink leaked out." Yet on the other hand, Pom was strongly resistant against any modernisation that might've helped his sales. The backgrounds in 'Piet Pienter en Bert Bibber' always looked as if the 1950s had never gone away, even four decades later. Because he preferred black-and-white, it took until 1986 before Uitgeverij J. Hoste was allowed to publish a few reprints in colour. The final five 'Piet Pienter en Bert Bibber' albums were also colorized. Yet later Pom changed his mind and since then all reprints have appeared in black-and-white again. As mentioned earlier, Pom also refused to switch his series from Flemish dialect to standard Dutch. And while most children's comic artists avoid having their characters smoke, Piet Pienter still smoked pipe up until the final story.

After his 1958 burn-out, Pom had no real reason to frequently mail or visit his newspaper office, except when he had a new complete story ready. As a result he grew more into a recluse, spending most of his days working on electronics. He lived in a remote bungalow in the woods of Nijlen. People who wanted to track him down had to ask the way, because he didn't own a telephone. But Pom didn't like visitors, nor publicity anyway. He never appeared on radio or television and is the only best-selling Flemish comic artist of whom no audio or video material exists, only written interviews with photographs.  Pom never went to signing sessions or any public events either. The few times he did promise to go he just stayed home. Once he sent his daughter to replace him at a book signing, even though she couldn't draw his characters. The few times he did make a drawing for somebody, it furiated him to discover that they were sold at extortionate prizes afterwards. After all, original artwork by Pom is very rare. The comic legend also refused all plaques, statues, memorials, monuments and comics murals dedicated to his characters.

Piet Pienter en Bert Bibber #34 - 'De Zaak Blinkstein', with self-portrait of the author in the final panel.

Pom also acted fickle towards his fans. Whenever he received fanmail, he simply put it aside on his cupboard "until he ever had time to answer them." Yet he never got around to do so. Merho visited Pom often in his youth and later in adulthood, until the artist accused him of plagiarizing his friend Danny De Haes. In later interviews, Pom claimed that Merho was an "annoying man" who visited him "every week" and always "invited himself", even though by lack of a telephone people didn't have a choice. In 1981 comics specialist Jan Smet interviewed Pom for an issue of the comics news magazine Stripgids. He asked him what kind of audience he wanted to reach? To which Pom replied: "Idiots who want to buy it." Smet tried to please him by omitting some of his rants against other cartoonists and printing everything in dialect. He even sent Pom a copy of the issue. To his shock, the artist simply returned the package to sender, having crossed out the entire text and written "Idiot!" in large letters on the envelope. The comic veteran even sued Smet under the ludicrous accusation that he had never interviewed him. In court Smet simply played his audio recording and Pom predictably lost his case.

Through incidents like these, Pom gained a reputation for being a curmudgeon. His hatred for making comics had grown to such degrees that he downright claimed that he would rather "die" than make another story. Indeed, Pom usually only made a new 'Piet Pienter en Bert Bibber' story when he felt like it, or needed money. In the few interviews he gave in his life he kept repeating the same frustrated opinions and rants. The artist complained about nearly everybody and everything. Almost every question received a nihilistic response. The man burned so many bridges that few people dared to approach him. His family members and close friends acknowledged that Pom could be difficult, but also surprisingly nice and generous if in a good mood. Even people whom he eventually scared off with his behaviour said they had many pleasant moments together before he suddenly had enough of them.

Most of Pom's personal attitude appears to have been a defense mechanism, because he preferred being on his own. Some of his harshest remarks could be interpreted as black comedy or trolling, because they were obviously untrue. For instance, in a 2006 interview with De Gazet van Antwerpen, he said that "his daughter had moved to the Amazone rainforest", which the reporter took for granted. In reality she'd only moved to the forests of Geel and Olen, not even outside the province. Pom also kept repeating that his wife had "recently passed away seven years ago", even though he had been saying this since the late 1970s. But it was true that he never got over her death. Pom's daughter, Greet Van Hove, has also suggested that her father might have been autistic, manic-depressive or bi-polar disordered. 

Piet Pienter en Bert Bibber, by PomPiet Pienter en Bert Bibber, by Pom
'Piet Pienter en Bert Bibber' covers for the stories 'De Inca-Schat der Cordillera' and 'Het Straalgas-Mysterie'. 

Final years and death
In 1993 Pom left publishing company De Vlijt and had one story, 'Vakantie in Pandorra' (1993) published by Keesing, before making the move to Standaard Uitgeverij who published his final story 'Susan Bij De Knobbelgilde' (1995). He retired afterwards because Agfa Gevaert quit producing photo paper without sensitive layer. He preferred this kind of paper because his pen could swish over it and mistakes were easily eraseable. Without it, he refused to continue. For a while it seemed the series would vanish from public consciousness, especially since Pom made no efforts to keep himself and his series in the spotlight. Yet his reclusiveness and grouchy reputation actually kept his legend alive, especially when people heard he was still alive. In 2010, after Buth passed away, Pom was even the oldest living Flemish comic artist for four years.

Around the same time, two homage albums to 'Piet Pienter en Bert Bibber' were released. Tom Bouden received permission to let Piet and Bert appear in his second 'Kroepie en Boemboem' adventure, 'Avontuur In De 21ste Eeuw' (Nouga, 2010). He drew the entire story in Pom's style, while other cartoonists like Charel Cambré, Luc CromheeckeSteven Dupré, Jean-PolKim DuchateauHec LeemansMarc LegendreWilly LinthoutMartin LodewijkDirk StallaertWim SwertsSteve Van BaelMarc Verhaegen and Michael Vincent also made a graphic contribution. Bouden also oversaw a second tribute comic book to Pom called 'Op Het Spoor van Pom' ('t Mannekensblad, 2011), with contributions by 60 Flemish artists. Bouden, Legendre, Stallaert, Swerts, Verhaegen and Vincent made new graphic tributes, while new artists made graphic homage too, among them: Aaargh, Ivan Adriaenssens, Erik Bongers, Ivan Bulté & Bart Pletinckx, Kurt Cassauwers, Henri Christiaen and Geo, Sébastien Conard, Matthias Cruyssaert, D'Auwe, Georges De Buyser, Danny De Haes, Jolien de Paepe (A.K.A. JdP, with help from Peter Busschots & Werner van Calster), Gilbert Declercq (aka Gidecq), Jean Deras & Geinz, Eduard De Rop (posthumously) & Eric De RopBruno De Roover, Geert De Sutter, Fré, Willy Degryse, Paul Geerts, Yan Gevuld, Erwin Gijbels, Walter Lauryesens ( A.K.A. Walterell), Stan Lauryssens & YurgLudereiTom MetdepenningenJoey Potargent, ReinhartPatrick Roelens, Marcel RouffaGilbert Schats, Pascal Schokaert, Erwin Sels (A.K.A. Ersel), Ben Seys, Peter-Jan Sioen, StedhoCaryl Strzelecki , Ingrid van Dijck & Jeff Broeckx, Benedict van Gansbeke (A.K.A. Béné), Sascha Van Laeken (with Wim Swerts), Patrick Van Oppen, Ron van Riet, Jos Vanspauwen, Christian Verhaeghe, Alex Verswijvel and Luc Vincent. All income was used to sponsor Het Kinderkankerfonds, a foundation specialized in medical care for child patients with cancer. Pom once considered Danny De Haes and Ben Seys as worthy successors, but even these favorites never managed to produce a story that met his total approval. Eduard de Rop also once applied for this vocation. 

In 2014 Pom passed away in Olen. He was 95. His coffin was decorated with 'Piet Pienter & Bert Bibber' album covers. The news of his death was only announced to the press after his funeral. His daughter Greet van Hove said that her father even deliberately asked not inform anyone about his passing. His record as the oldest living Flemish comic artist was taken over by Marc Sleen until his own death in 2016.

Legacy and influence
In 'Strips, Aha!' (1995), Patrick van Gompel once described 'Piet Pienter en Bert Bibber' as "a peculiar comic strip which survived itself." Indeed, the series has always maintained its cult following. Contrary to most terminated comic series, it hasn't faded away, which is quite remarkable considering Pom's resistance against merchandising. The 45 available stories in the official series have a consistent quality level. His personal style makes them more than just a factory product. The sarcastic comedy and witty deconstruction of the naïvité of a typical children's comic were quite ahead of its time in Flanders. It also explains why adult readers generally enjoy 'Piet Pienter en Bert Bibber' more than children and keep rediscovering it. Pom himself is also respected as an uncompromising artist. He didn't care about trends or changes in society. Nor about selling out or seeking media attention. And precisely because so little is known about his personal life, he remains an intriguing mystery.

Pom was a strong influence on Merho, Marc Legendre, Danny De Haes, Erik MeynenMarc Verhaegen, Tom Bouden, Ben Seys and Steve Van Bael. On 9 September 2016, a comics mural designed by Ben Seys, depicting 'Piet Pienter en Bert Bibber' characters was inaugurated in Deurne, Belgium, next to the Arena library. The same year Pom's heirs sued publishing company 't Mannekesblad, because Pom had signed a contract in 2011 without financial compensation other than 500 euro "to grant him the pleasure of seeing his work published". Except that a few years later, only one third of the albums had been reprinted, despite the contractual obligation. On 25 June 2018 the judge ruled in the family's favour. Standaard Uitgeverij republished the old stories instead, from 2020 on.

In 2021 'De Geniale Soepselder' (2021) was released, the first adventure of Piet Pienter and Bert Bibber since Pom's death. The script was written by Marc Legendre and drawn by Charel Cambré.

Self-portrait in 'Barbier van Bombilla'.

Series and books by Pom you can order today:


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