Peter Pontiac is generally considered the "godfather" of Dutch underground comix. He rose to prominence in the hippie scene of the late 1960s, and was one of the most influential artists of Dutch underground comics of the 1970s, together with Joost Swarte and Evert Geradts. He continued to remain a prominent artist and designer within alternative circles in the following decades. Although widely praised for his raw, personal, and highly detailed artwork, Pontiac has mostly remained within the realm of subcultures, and never turned mainstream. He was the first Dutchman to draw autobiographical comics, and thus paved the way for later artists such as Gleever, Barbara Stok and Michiel van de Pol. Pontiac not only drew stories about sex, drugs and rock 'n' roll, but also underwent this lifestyle personally. Many of his comics have analyzed heavy-handed subjects such as his heroin abuse ('The Amsterdam Connection', 1977) and his father's past as a Nazi collaborator and SS journalist ('Kraut', 2000). He is also well-known for his illustrations for music magazines, posters and record covers.
Pontiac was born as as Petrus Josef Gerardus Pollmann into a Catholic family in Beverwijk in 1951. He grew up in Haarlem, where his father worked as a journalist for the women's magazines of the publishing house De Spaarnestad. Pontiac was a rebellious teenager, partially because of his troubled relationship with his father. He painted his entire room black, bought many rock 'n' roll records and experimented with marihuana, LSD, peyote, opium and heroin. After being kicked from school he joined a hippie commune in Leiden. He loved rock music and underground comix, particularly the work of Robert Crumb. Yet he only spent two months at the Free Academy of The Hague, and then developed his talent completely through self-study. He enjoyed making illustrations full with all kinds of little details. In a 2011 interview with Michael Minneboo he admitted that he basically did this because he had "horror vacui" ("fear of empty space in a drawing"). He assumed that if he just cranked in as many things he could, at least some of it would be appreciated by somebody. During his commune period, he made first published illustrations for 'The Living Guide to Amsterdam', a booklet published by the Headshop in 1969.
His illustrated covers for bootleg lyric books by Bob Dylan, Jimi Hendrix, Frank Zappa, Country Joe & The Fish and The Rolling Stones brought him to the attention of the American music magazine Rolling Stone and of the Haarlem-based artist Joost Swarte. This resulted in publications in the Dutch underground magazines Modern Papier and later Tante Leny Presenteert in the early 1970s. He made his earliest work under the name "Holy Cat", and he signed with a vignette of a cat with an exclamation mark between its ears. He first used "Pontiac" as a middle name in reference to the classic US car model. When in 1973 he discovered that Pontiac was also the name of a Native American tribal leader who resisted white domination until his last breath, Peter Pontiac became his permanent pen name.
Of all the artists publishing in Tante Leny, Pontiac was the most socially conscious, and his work was the most firmly rooted in the US underground comix tradition, especially of Robert Crumb and Rick Griffin. Peter Pontiac also contributed to internationally aimed anthologies like Cocktail Comix (1973), edited by Joost Swarte, and 'Wipe Out Comics' (1973, 1975), a publication of Robert Olaf Stoop's Real Free Press. Soon, his work was picked up by El Vibora in Spain, and Anarchy Comix and Mondo Snarfo in the States. Pontiac didn't hesitate to draw comics about his own life, even discussing his drug experiences in short stories like 'The Amsterdam Connection', which appeared in the third issue of Gummi magazine in 1977. Besides Pontiac himself, the story also had a cameo of publisher Ger van Wulften, and of Pontiac's girlfriend of the time, Rita Dolce Vita. His earlier stories 'Mixed up Memory Mamba' and 'Teenage Trauma Tango' also dealt with his drug use. They were made for a publisher in the USA, who unfortunately absconded and took the pages with him.
Throughout the 1970s and 1980s, Peter Pontiac worked on many projects for Willem de Ridder, the founder of cultural and subversive magazines like Hitweek, Aloha, Suck and The Fanatic, and of pop temples like Paradiso, Fantasia and The Melkweg. Among Pontiac's first works for De Ridder was the cover for a book that came with the Wet Dreams festival organized by the underground sex paper Suck. Even though he had lived in a hippie commune, Pontiac still had difficulties with the magazine's openly promotion of sex with multiple partners. He expressed this in the second issue of his 'Pontiac Review', which was devoted to his work for De Ridder. He felt more at ease with making artwork for music-related projects, like his drawings of great events in rock & roll history for the alternative music magazine Aloha. He continued to produce artwork for books, records and flyers, and for cassettes released through Willem de Ridder's 1980s Radio Art cassette label. Pontiac also participated in Willem de Ridder's stories about 'Prince Wilhelmus' for VPRO radio, together with Elsa Del Puerto, Rita Dolce Vita and Hans Claessen. He furthermore made illustrations for poems and stories by De Ridder's partner-in-crime, the Amsterdam-based American poet William Levy. These were published in De Ridder and Levy's magazine The Fanatic (1976), and in booklets like 'Jeremiad Chants' (1979) and 'The Jewboy' (1983). Pontiac made illustrations and comic stories for an overview book about Willem De Ridder's many cultural activities, called 'De Ridder Retrospective', on the occasion of an exhibition about the artist/enterpreneur at the Groninger Museum in 1983. In the meantime, Pontiac also drew portraits of rock legends for the more mainstream music magazine Muziek Express, which was published by VNU.
As the hippie era gradually fizzled out, Pontiac got involved in the punk and squatter's movement of the late 1970s and early 1980s. His art started to absorb punk elements like photo and text collages, while his character Gaga became a punk icon. Despite this fact, Pontiac also used his character to comment on the inconsistencies and militant behavior of the punk and squatters movement. Pontiac recalled making his first comic strip with his anti-hero in his cottage in The Veluwe, on the day of the squatter's riots in Amsterdam, on 30 April 1980. These riots were a reaction to Queen Beatrix' inauguration as the Netherlands' new monarch. Pontiac used Gaga as an alter ego, who quickly got company from his girlfriend Gigi and a side-kick called Gogo. Gaga appeared on the record cover of the 1981 punk album 'Wielingen walgt' by The Nitwitz & The Götterflies, and in Johan van Leeuwen's punk fanzine Nieuwe Koekrant in 1982. Comic stories with the characters appeared in the alternative comics magazine Talent. A long episode, the post-apocalyptic punk fable 'Requiem Fortissimo', was serialized in Wordt Vervolgd in 1988 and published in book format by Casterman in 1990. The character was killed of in Pontiac's first full-length comic story, but the artist revived him in 2010 for a special magazine called 'Gaga Glossy-mijne!'.
By the mid 1980s, when Pontiac was 32, he kicked off his heroin habit because of the birth of his daughter. He settled in the Dutch town Bussum, where he lived near Kees Kousemaker, the owner of comics shop Lambiek in Amsterdam. He became Lambiek's house artist and provided the store with much promotional artwork. By 1979 he had already made a drawing for Lambiek's move from Kerkstraat 104 to 78 (the drawing was later reused for Kees Kousemaker's mourning card in 2010). In November 1987 Gallery Lambiek organized Pontiac's first big exposition, consisting of a collection of lifesize cardboard figures. In that same year, he had made similar constructions for Willem de Ridder's interactive attraction the 'Walk-o-rama', in which people were guided through a maze with a walkman. This traveling festival was first showcased in Den Bosch, and then in Amsterdam, Rotterdam and The Hague. Among Pontiac's most impressive works for Lambiek are the overview of the store at Kerkstraat 78, and the highly detailed map of Amsterdam with directions to Lambiek, both from 1989. In 1992 he made an equally detailled map of "junkie-Amsterdam" for Mainline, the magazine for Amsterdam addicts.
Map that Pontiac made of the Lambiek store at Kerkstraat 78 in 1989. Behind the counter, we see Kees Kousemaker and Klaas Knol. The comic characters around the textfield are, clockwise, Lambik (Willy Vandersteen), Mickey Mouse (Walt Disney), Lucky Luke (Morris), Professor Pi (Bob van den Born), Asterix (Albert Uderzo), The Spirit (Will Eisner), Sjimmie (Frans Piët), a Smurf (Peyo), Blueberry (Jean Giraud), Fat Freddy's Cat (Gilbert Shelton), Agent 327 (Martin Lodewijk), Miele (Milo Manara), Charlie Brown (Charles M. Schulz), Abraham Tuizentfloot (Marc Sleen), Rockin' Belly (Windig & De Jong), Hobbes (Bill Watterson), Bécassine (Emile-Joseph Pinchon), Joop Klepzeiker (Eric Schreurs), Natacha (François Walthéry), Marsupilami (André Franquin), Eric de Noorman (H.G. Kresse), Anton Makassar (Joost Swarte), Olivier B. Bommel (Marten Toonder), The Old Witch from E.C. Comics (Al Feldstein), Popeye (E.C. Segar), Jordan (Mark Beyer), Lady in Blue (Enki Bilal), Gaston Lagaffe (André Franquin), Batman (Bob Kane), Krazy Kat (George Herriman), Ranx (Liberatore), Betty Boop (Max Fleischer), Little Helper (Carl Barks), Thorgal (Grzegorz Rosinski) and Tintin (Hergé). Inside the store we can also spot comics characters like Kapitein Rob (Pieter J. Kuhn), Pa Pinkelman (Carol Voges), Bulletje & Boonestaak (George van Raemdonck), Kick Wilstra (Henk Sprenger), Sjef van Oekel (Theo Van Den Boogaard), Sally (Robert van der Kroft), Dick Bos (Alfred Mazure), Franka (Henk Kuijpers), Jopo de Pojo (Joost Swarte) and Pontiac's own Gaga. The little statue behind Kapitein Rob depicts Paulus de Boskabouter (Jean Dulieu).
From the 1980s on, Pontiac was also active as an illustrator for more commercial clients. Throughout the 1980s, 1990s and 2000s, his art appeared in magazines like Oor, Vrij Nederland, Rood van de PvdA, Elsevier, De Filmkrant, Crimelink, De Gids, VPRO-gids and the trashcounrypunkblues magazine Muleskinner. He made the illustrations for Roel Bentz van den Berg's articles about pop history for the newspaper NRC Handelsblad, which were collected in the book 'De luchtgitaar' by Meulenhoff in 1994. Between 1995 and 2001 Pontiac made a daily illustration of the weather report in Het Algemeen Dagblad, under the title 'Weermuis'. He designed album covers for various rock artists, such as B.G.K. ('Nothing Can Go Wrong', 1986), Boulevard of Broken Dreams ('Dancing With Tears In My Eyes' (1987), 'It's too soon to know (1987)), Paradogs ('Here come Joey' (1990), 'Lost in Music' (1990)), The Schizofrenics ('Hairy Men Are Yummy', 1996), The Bouncers ('Iwi Iwa Yocai !?' (1997), Dead Moon ('Hard Wired in Ljubljana', 1997) and the fold-out inner sleeve of Lou Reed's 'Take No Prisoners' (1978). He also designed the cover for a recording of Belgian novelist Herman Brusselmans reading his columns on tape: 'Val Dood!' (1987).
Between 1990 and 2004, Peter Pontiac's oeuvre was largely collected in seven issues of his own Pontiac Review by Het Raadsel/Oog&Blik. It contained most of Pontiac's older work, annotated and organized by theme. Pontiac once again didn't spare himself, as the third issue ('Het Schaam-deel') was completely filled with work he was ashamed of. New material appeared in the comic 'Lost in the Lowlands', which was for sale on the Lowlands festival in 1996. In the following year, Lambiek published 'The Quick Brown Fax', a collection of his illustrated correspondence with his friend and colleague Typex. Pontiac was also responsible for hand lettering the Dutch translation of Art Spiegelman's 'Maus' (Oog&Blik, 1994) and Robert Crumb's 'Kafka' (Oog&Blik, 2005) and - together with Filip Fermin - the lettering of the Yiddish translation of Will Eisner's 'A Contract With God' (Lambiek, 1984).
While lettering Spiegelman's gripping comic about his Holocaust-surviving parents, Pontiac decided to make a book about his own father. Joop Pollmann (1922-1978) was a former member of the Waffen-SS and a veteran of the Eastern Front who'd spent five years in prison because of treason. He kept hold of most of his war-time sentiments after his release, however. Because of this, Pontiac refused to have anything to with his dad during his teenage years. In 1978 father Pollmann went missing in Curaçao without leaving a trace. As Pontiac grew older and wiser he started to regret never having asked his father about his dark past. The artist spent most of the late 1990s working on 'Kraut', a graphic novel presented as an illustrated and handwritten letter to his father. Production of the book was an emotional journey for Pontiac, who studied his father's correspondence, talked with former colleagues and friends, and visited locations from his past. He stated that he finally knew his father after the project was finished, which was also commented by members from his family after they had read the book. Supporting comments from American comic book legend Will Eisner also pulled him through. When 'Kraut' was finally made available through the publishing house Podium in December 2000, critics and readers praised it as a masterpiece. In the years that followed, he found new documents that shed a new light on his father. He also found additional information while visiting the Daaibooi bay on Curaçao while filming there for Chris Kijne's documentary about the artist's life and work in 2003. An updated edition of 'Kraut' was released in 2005, followed by a definitive re-edition in 2011.
'Mad Musicians', illustration for Oor magazine (1994) depicting various famous lunactics from the music industry. From left to right one recognizes funk artist George Clinton with PF (P-Funk) glasses and in the background UFO's from his stage show, excrement eating shock musician G.G. Allin, James Booker with his iconic star-shaped eyepatch, gunslinging "Wall of Sound" producer Phil Spector with Napoleon hat, 13th Floor Elevators frontman Roky Erickson next to the "Bloody Hammer" from his eponymous song, Fleetwood Mac member Peter Green and the green devil from his song 'The Green Manalishi', Pink Floyd recluse Syd Barrett holding a Rorschach test and mimicking the mirror lens cover of the album 'The Piper at the Gates of Dawn', reggae producer Lee "Scratch" Perry blowing out marihuana smoke, Arthur "Fire" Brown, the fish head of Captain Beefheart the way he is depicted on the cover of 'Trout Mask Replica', a detail from Edvard Munch's 'The Scream' and Screamin' Jay Hawkins in a straight jacket. Pontiac also included himself in the lower right corner, barely visible behind Hawkins.
In the 2000s Pontiac collaborated with fellow graphic designer Juice and rap artist Def P , best known as the frontman of the hiphop band Osdorp Posse, on five tryptichs based around the theme 'Planets'. One of these, 'Planet Mokum', was used inside the gatefold sleeve of the Osdorp Posse album 'Tegenstrijd' (2003). Pontiac also had artistic collaborations with Roel Smit for the Haarlem pop stage Patronaat. He continued to make comics for a wide variety of projects. He contributed to the literary comics magazine Eisner (2009), the alternative comics magazine Zone 5300, and small-press initiatives like De Legendariese Lijn (2006) and Menno Kooistra's Dutch horror comics anthology 'Bloeddorst' (2007). He made a comics interpretation of Raymond van het Groenewoud's song 'Meisjes' for the anthology 'Strips in Stereo' (2006), and of Tommy Wieringa's coming-of-age novel 'Joe Speedboot' for Mooi Is Dat! (2011). He also provided comic art to 'Roes', a book about drugs by Hafid Bouazza (Prometheus, 2005).
In 2010 Pontiac learned he suffered from hepatitis B, presumably the result of his heroin addiction years ago. If this weren't bad enough he also had to cope with liver cirrosis. He dealt with the tragic news by making a graphic novel about his rapidly approaching end named 'STYX of de zesplankenkoorts'. The book featured some black comedy, such as Pontiac arm wrestling with the Grim Reaper, but also expressed his feelings about dying. One chapter also looked back at his mother's death, as well as the deaths of his friends Filip Fermin and Kees Kousemaker, who also died of liver diseases. He completed about 80 pages until September 2014. In November of that year, he managed to receive enough money to complete the book through crowdfunding. Unfortunately Pontiac was too ill to finish the project. He ultimately decided not to undergo a transplantation and quit his treatment. To him, spending the rest of his final days in a hospital wasn't worth it, even if he lived just a little bit longer. On 20 January 2015 Peter Pontiac passed away. The Netherlands lost one of its greatest comics artists, who has also meant a lot for Lambiek throughout the years. The book 'STYX' was published posthumously in 2016.
Pontiac received the Stripschapprijs voor his entire oeuvre in 1997, followed a year later by the Professor Pi Illustrator's Prize for his book 'De Pen en het Zwaard'. He won the Marten Toonder Prize in 2011. In this same year, he published 'Pontiac Rhythm', a big book that collected all his other comics work. A first documentary about him called 'De Wereld van Peter Pontiac' was broadcasted on Dutch television in May 1990, followed in 2003 by Chris Kijne's documentary about the artist's life and work. Peter Pontiac was an influence on comic artists like Eric Schreurs, Erik Kriek, Bert Bleek, Pic, Yiri T. Kohl, Marcel de Jong and Roel Smit. His brother is Joost Pollmann (1957), a comics publicist for papers like De Volkskrant, and also the driving force behind the Haarlem Comics Festival for many years.