Douwe Dabbert door Thom Roep
Special 'Douwe Dabbert' comic for 'Wordt Vervolgd Presenteert’ (1985), about the production of a comic story.

Thom Roep was an editor of the Dutch Disney magazine Donald Duck for forty years (1973-2013), and served as its editor-in-chief from 1984 to 2013. During this period, the local production of comics stories expanded, and several spin-off magazines were launched. Roep was involved in several Disney-related shows on Dutch television, and acted as the magazine's official media spokesperson. He was also the scriptwriter of the weekly's most popular non-Disney comics, 'Douwe Dabbert' (art by Piet Wijn, 1975-2001) and 'Van Nul tot Nu' (art by Co Loerakker, 1982-1994).

Early life and career
Thomas Roep was born in 1952 in Amsterdam, the same year the Donald Duck weekly was launched in the Netherlands. He grew up reading comics like Willy Vandersteen's 'Suske en Wiske', the Dutch editions of the Classics Illustrated comic books, the comic magazines Kuifje (Tintin) and Pep, and of course the Donald Duck stories by Carl Barks. Although he studied at the Pedagogische Academie to become a teacher, his passion for comics pushed him in a different direction. During his studies, Roep had explored the possibilities of comics in the educational system, and participated in a couple of small periodicals.

Donald Duck's editorial team in 1976. Standing: Cees de Groot, Daan Jippes, Piet Zeeman, Kitty Smit, Marjolein Winkel, Bartel van de Velde (who made the original license deal in 1952) and Pieter van Oppenraaij. Sitting: Thom Roep, Ineke de Graaff and Wim van Etten.

Donald Duck
In May 1973, Roep applied for a job with the editor of Donald Duck weekly at Oberon, the comics division of the VNU publishing group. He was hired after submitting a test assignment, which included a script for a story with Walt Disney's 'Big Bad Wolf'. The comic was eventually drawn by Robert van der Kroft and published in Donald Duck issue #4 of 1975.

During his early years, Roep translated and edited many comic stories with the Disney characters, but also non-Disney material like 'Chlorophylle', 'Sibylline' and 'Pantouffle' by Raymond Macherot, another one of his favorite authors. He also wrote scripts with characters like 'Little Hiawatha', 'Br'er Rabbit' and 'Donald Duck', drawn by Frits Godhelp, Carol Voges, Ed van Schuijlenburg and other artists involved in the Dutch production of Disney comics.

Grote Boze Wolf verhaal door Thom Roep
First Disney comic written by Thom Roep, with art by Robert van der Kroft (published in Donald Duck #4, 1975). © Disney.

Sjors / Pep
Besides Disney, he co-scripted the 'Sjors en Sjimmie' adventure 'De Zilte Zeezeilerij' with Annelies Dekker. It was illustrated by Jan Steeman, serialized in Sjors magazine in 1974, and published in book format in 1975. Around the same period, Thom Roep made two short stories for Pep magazine with Robert van der Kroft: 'Een Eend van een Eend' in issue #11 of 1974 and 'Inflatie' in the following issue.

Disney redactie
The personnel of the Dutch Disney publications in the 1980. At the front, right: Thom Roep. Also on the picture:: Carla de Vries, Piet Zeeman, Kitty Smit, Pieter van Oppenraaij, Harry Balm, [unidentified person], Marjolein Westerterp, Hellen de Koning, Ed van Schuijlenburg, Co Loerakker (top row), Jos Steenstra, Karin Oldenburg, Conny Verwey, Nelly Wilderom, Joan Lommen, Lucas Abedy (front row). 

Donald Duck: work in the 1970s and early 1980s
Thom Roep's tenure with Donald Duck started at the right time. During the 1960s, the magazine had lost much of its original charm and quality. The publisher wanted to keep the magazine restricted to a younger audience, so that the older children could move over to its comic magazine Pep. This changed in the 1970s, when Donald Duck regained a focus on quality. First of all, editor-in-chief Paul Deckers initiated a local production of comic stories under supervision of Daan Jippes in 1973. The quality norm for these Dutch stories was the work of Carl Barks. Comic fandom in the US had managed to disclose the identity of the legendary "Good Artist", who had anonymously written and drawn all those memorable stories with Donald Duck and his family in the 1940s and 1950s. In the Netherlands it was Evert Geradts who first wrote about Barks in his underground magazine Tante Leny Presenteert in 1972. Thom Roep was instrumental in retracing all the classic Barks stories which hadn't been published in his country yet. The return of Carl Barks in Donald Duck's pages and the general renewed focus on quality called in the "Golden Era" of the Dutch Disney magazine, with its print run reaching over 450,000 copies per week in 1980.

Thom Roep and Joan Lommen receiving an original drawing by Carl Barks when the old master visited the Netherlands in 1994.

Donald Duck: Chief editorship (1984-2013)
Roep succeeded Cees de Groot as editor-in-chief in 1984, and remained in this position until his retirement in August 2013. The local production of comics stories expanded during this period. Eventually, half of the Dutch magazine was filled with homemade stories; the other half consisted of Danish material and older American stories. Dick Matena, José Colomer Fonts, Freddy Milton, Ben Verhagen and Jaap Stavenuiter were prominent artists during the 1980s and 1990s, while Mau Heymans, Sander Gulien, Bas Heymans and artists affiliated with Studio Comicup in Barcelona provided most of the artwork during Roep's later period. Thom Roep personally took care of the approval of the scripts, of which Evert Geradts, Jan Kruse, Mau Heymans, Ruud Straatman and Frank Jonker were the most fruitful suppliers. The editor-in-chief also oversaw the compilation of seasonal books and album series, most notably the ones collecting Carl Barks' body of work: 'De Beste Verhalen van Donald Duck' (1975-2010) and 'Oom Dagobert - Avonturen van een Steenrijke Eend' (1977-2006). Several spin-off magazines were launched as well during his management, such as Donald Duck Extra (since 1986), Katrien (since 1999), Duck Out (2007-2012), Donald Duck Junior (since 2008), the DONALD glossy (2009-2011) and Disney XD Magazine (2010-2012).

Thom Roep's script for page 12 of the 'Douwe Dabbert' story 'Het Flodderwerk van Pief' (1984), and Wijn's final version.

Douwe Dabbert
Roep also proved himself able to write comics based on original creations, resulting in the successful comic series 'Douwe Dabbert' (1975-2001) and 'Van Nul Tot Nu' (1982-1994). As he was rummaging through old illustration work in the archives of Oberon's pre-school magazine Bobo, his eyes fell upon some work by Piet Wijn. These drawings depicted a dwarf with a huge white beard. Since they had never been used, they were completely forgotten until Roep rediscovered their existence. Hit with inspiration, Roep wrote a one-shot comics story about a spoiled princess with the dwarf, called 'Douwe Dabbert', in a supporting role. It was published in Donald Duck under the title 'De Verwende Prinses' in 1975, and was well-received by readers. Already in the same year, Douwe returned in a new story called 'Het Verborgen Dierenrijk'. Douwe Dabbert is a wise little dwarf who owns a magical knapsack. His alliterative name was chosen to be in line with Donald Duck's name. While somewhat rooted in older Dutch gnome stories, like Dick Laan and Rein van Looy's 'Pinkeltje', Jean Dulieu's 'Paulus de Boskabouter' and Phiny Dick's 'Olle Kapoen'. Roep and Wijn's creation was still something different. Most adventures breathe the atmosphere of the 17th century, during the Golden Age of the Netherlands. Some stories are historically realistic, while others have a more fantastical approach, with witches, anthropomorphic animals and evil wizards. Wijn brought everything to life in highly detailed and atmospheric drawings which bring Douwe to all corners of the Earth.

Wijn and Roep's creative collaboration was notable, seeing that Roep was only 22 years old at the time while Wijn was already 45. Despite their age difference they easily found common ground in their love for fantasy, history and works like Mary Tourtel's 'Rupert Bear', novels by W.G. van de Hulst and artwork by Carl von Spitzweg, Nicolas Dear and Wilhelm Hauff.

Douwe DabbertDouwe Dabbert

'Douwe Dabbert' proved popular with readers and, aside of the Disney comics, remains the best remembered comic series in Donald Duck. It even managed to gain popularity in translation, another rare feat for a non-Disney comic in a Disney magazine. 'Douwe Dabbert' was translated in English ('Danny Doodle'), German ('Timpe Tampert'), Luxembourghish ('Nicky Bommel'), Swedish ('Teobald'), Spanish ('Bermudillo'), Portuguese, Polish ('Daniel Dudek'), but was nowhere as popular as in Denmark. Contrary to other countries, all albums of 'Douwe Dabbert' were translated in Danish, where the character is known as 'Gammelpot'. In Indonesia various bootleg comics starring Douwe Dabbert ('Pak Janggut') came out, of which Roep and Piet Wijn's heirs only learned about when the Internet site Catawiki pointed out their existence. 'Douwe Dabbert' continued his succesful run throughout the 1990s, until Wijn's health issues forced him to quit. Dick Matena finished the final 'Douwe Dabbert' album in 2001. All 'Douwe Dabbert' stories have been collected in 23 albums by Oberon and Big Balloon between 1977 and 2001.

Douwe Dabbert - Het Schip van IJsDouwe Dabbert - Het Schip van IJs
Thom Roep's script for page 8 of the 'Douwe Dabbert' story 'Het Schip van IJs' (1994), and Wijn's final version.

Van Nul tot Nu
Thom Roep's other masterpiece, 'Van Nul Tot Nu', is a comic series about Dutch national history, drawn and co-written by Co Loerakker. Oddly enough, nobody in the Netherlands had ever attempted to create such a project before. There were a few historic predecessors, such as Jacob van Lennep and Jhr. P. van Loon's illustrated picture story 'Tafereelen uit de Geschiedenis des Vaderlands, tot Nut van Groot en Klein' (1854). Between 1904 and 1906 Jan Feith made an illustrated history of the Netherlands using silhouettes, while Bertus Aafjes and Piet Worm created 'De Vrolijke Vaderlandse Geschiedenis' (1948), a humorous look at national history. But all were basically text comics focusing on a few key events. Therefore Roep and Loerakker had to look at other countries' comics to find a study-worthy example. The book 'L'Aventure des Belges' ('België in Beeld' in the Dutch translation, 1979) by Georges H. Dumont and Louis Haché  told the history of Belgium in comic strip format, but Roep felt this effort was well-intended yet too dry in its writing and too static in terms of drawings. To appeal to young readers their comic strip would need to be a lot more dynamic and offer room for some humor. Contrary to 'L'Aventure des Belges' - which was a text comic - Roep and Loerakker decided to make their comic a balloon comic. Initially chief editor Cees de Groot wasn't too keen on the idea, but after seeing a first page he changed his mind and greenlighted the project. The series was named 'Van Nul tot Nu' (literally: "From Zero to Now") and between 1982 and 1987 serialized in the Dutch Disney weekly Donald Duck.

Van nul tot nuVan nul tot nu

Roep and Loerakker did a lot of research for 'Van Nul tot Nu'. They read various history books, while Loerakker gained access to the picture archives of the Haarlem-based publishing company De Spaarnestad, which owned thousands of photographs, copies and ancient engravings. They also checked out what kind of teaching methods were used in Dutch elementary schools. At the time several Dutch schools used an experimental approach to teach history which didn't focus on chronological overviews but on overviews by topic, for instance: "transport throughout the ages" and "communication throughout the ages". Roep and Loerakker made a conscious decision to tell their comic book adaptation of Dutch history chronologically. First and foremost because this was how they learned it at school, but also to avoid giving children the exact same thematic history they already heard about in class. As it turned out, this decision showed clever foresight, because a few years later Dutch schools actually abandoned their thematic history lessons since pupils were unable to pinpoint in which century certain historic events happened. Several schools even started using 'Van Nul tot Nu' in class to repair the damage done. Roep even received requests from people from the United Kingdom, Denmark and the Dutch Antilles to do the same thing for their country's history. Two Dutch national institutions, airline company KLM and railroad company NS, asked the same thing.

'Van Nul Tot Nu' about the role of women in 19th century society (art by Co Loerakker).

Another way of distinguishing themselves from a schoolly approach was the use of comedy. Yet Roep was aware that children needed to be aware which things were actual facts and what was meant as a joke. He created a framing narrative set in the present time. It centers around a young girl, Ankie Verhagen, who receives private lessons in history from an old, sympathetic and wise man named Methusalem de Tijdt and who is strongly implied to be Father Time. The scenes between Ankie and Methusalem are mostly serious in tone and therefore drawn in a semi-realistic style. Everything he tells her are actual historical facts. The historic events themselves are drawn in a more comedic style, with several (visual) gags, corny puns and nods to other comic series like Carl Barks' 'Uncle Scrooge', Hergé's 'Tintin', Willy Vandersteen's 'Suske en Wiske', Morris' 'Lucky Luke', Martin Lodewijk's 'Agent 327', Reg Parlett's version of 'Billy Bunter' and René Goscinny and Albert Uderzo's 'Astérix'. That way readers could easily distinguish fact from fiction. The use of a narrator also made it possible to avoid coming across as an illustrated essay, which 'L'Aventure des Belges' essentially was. As Methusalem talked Ankie could make remarks and ask questions, which kept a child's point of view in check. It was also a handy way of criticizing certain historical characters and events who and which often been presented as heroic throughout the ages, but could use a little old of the traditional "Dutch soberness" when reflecting on their questionable deeds.

The darker sides of Dutch national history are also covered in 'Van Nul Tot Nu' (art by Co Loerakker).

The original series of 'Van Nul tot Nu' was published in four volumes by Oberon between 1984 and 1987, and later republished by Big Balloon. The first volume covers prehistory until 1648, the year in which the Treaty of Münster was signed ,which ended the Eighty Years' War between Spain and the Netherlands. Roep attributed this overwhelming condensation of thousands of centuries' worth of history to their naïve idea that they could fit it all in one book. Luckily readers responded so enthusiastically to the comic that their publisher saw no problem in completing the project with extra volumes. This made Roep and Loerakker take a slower pace to tell next centuries' events. The second volume covers all events from 1648 until the founding of the Dutch independent state in 1815. The next volume collects all Dutch history from that date until the start of the Second World War in 1940, while the fourth and final volume encapsulates the Second World War and the rest of the 20th century. This specific volume was notable for having more scriptwriting input by Loerakker, who was not only three years older than Roep but also more interested in this part of history. When the volume was updated and expanded in 1999 and 2003, Loerakker once again took over the majority of the script. He added more scenes about events in the late 1980s until the late 1990s and removed some timely dialogue. In 1994 a fifth volume came out, about the history of daily life. This collection of shorter, self-contained stories tells the history of food, houses, writing, crime and sexuality. Because Big Balloon had taken over the book publishing activities of Oberon, these installments were almost all serialized in Big Balloon's magazine Sjors & Sjimmie Stripblad. Except for the history of sexuality, which had more mature content. The remaining pages were filled with two-page illustrations depicting various moments in history, including the Stone Age, Roman period, Middle Ages, baroque, the Industrial Revolution and our age. These drawings were originally published in Donald Duck and also made available as a calendar.

Thom Roep and Co Loerakker with a wax model of Dutch queen Beatrix at Madame Tussauds, Amsterdam.

While 'Van Nul tot Nu' met with a general positive reception and was a genuine bestseller, there were a few minor criticisms. Apart from predictable nitpicking from historic experts over certain visual details, there were also some religious people who objected to certain humorous scenes. Roep and Loerakker refused to change a scene where Martin Luther hits his thumb, while nailing his 95 theses against the church wall of Wittenberg. But they did change a line about Charles Darwin, implying that he "claimed" rather than "discovered" that man and ape have a common ancestor. These minor incidents aside, 'Van Nul tot Nu' is one of the few educational comics to be taken seriously by teachers. It has also set the standard for later educational comic books. Margreet de Heer has stated that her 'Discovery in Comics' series owes a lot to Roep and Loerakker's work. Skelte Braaksma, who makes comics about the history of the Dutch province Frisia, has also cited 'Van Nul tot Nu' as an influence. Strange enough, the title and the lay-out of the two-volume book set 'Van Toen Tot Nu' (2013) is quite similar to that of 'Van Nul Tot Nu'. It was a joint production between Studio Stampij and Big Balloon, and contained artwork by Robbert Damen.

Despite its success and recognition, though, Roep has stated that there will be no new episodes in the future. As he explained in the foreword to the 2016 complete edition: "(...) In our opinion there is no national history anymore. Since the introduction of the euro in 2002, the changed collaboration in most European countries and new advanced communication techniques, the world is now smaller and more available for everybody than ever before. National history is now literally past tense. There is still talk about an European or world history, but the role of our motherly country where we speak our national tongue can no longer be seen as a separate entity from general international events. Thanks to instant availability of modern technology the borders of many countries have become symbolic and thus every event has to be seen as part of a bigger event, of which a small country is only a part..."

One of Alfred Bestall's 'Rupert Bear' stories reworked to balloon comics format by Thom Roep.

Other comics scriptwriting and translations
In 1985 Thom Roep wrote the comics feature starring 'Hein Konijn' for a magic book Oberon published around magician Hans Kazan. The artwork was by Ed van Schuijlenburg. Between 1987 and 1990, Donald Duck ran several stories by Alfred Bestall of Mary Tourtel's 'Rupert Bear', known in the Netherlands as 'Bruintje Beer'. Thom Roep reworked the originally British text strip to a balloon comic, and provided a new page lay-out and texts. Oberon released a hardcover book collection in 1989. Around the same time, Thom Roep suggested a similar approach for Dutch newspaper text comics, including Hans G. Kresse's 'Eric de Noorman'. This resulted in a balloon comic reworking of the 1952 episode 'De Geschiedenis van Bor Khan', which ran in Sjors & Sjimmie Stripblad in 1988.

In the late 1990s Roep participated in a brainstorm for new balloon comics of Marten Toonder's 'Tom Poes' for Donald Duck with Dick Matena and Carla Back. This resulted in the plots of 'Het Ei van Ukuu' and 'De Paskaart'. Matena further developed the ideas into scripts. 'Het Ei van Ukuu' was eventually published in Donald Duck weekly, while 'De Paskaart' remained unfinished. In 2013 Matena used the title and the basic plot for a new 'Bommel' story which was published in the glossy VertrekNL by Personalia. In 1998, 1999 and 2001 Thom Roep wrote three text stories with the character 'Valentijn' under the pen name Bregje Alisson. The stories were illustrated by Fred Marschall.

Disney Club
Thom Roep (top right) with the team of the Disney Club.

TV work
During his years as editor-in-chief, Roep made regular appearances on television, radio and in the press as spokesman for the Dutch Disney weekly. He was closely involved in the development of Disney-related TV shows for broadcasting foundation NCRV. 'Dit is Disney' (1985-1989) marked the television debut of TV host Irene Moors, who had previously worked at the marketing department of the magazine. Its follow-ups 'Disney Parade' (1989) and 'Disney Club' (1990-1992) were more closely associated with the magazine. Episodes of Disney shows like 'Ducktales' and 'Rescue Rangers' were alternated by studio scenes with an audience of children and sketches on location. Hosts for the latter two series were Jochem van Gelder, Melline Mollerus, Willy Nap and Mike Starink, while Thom Roep often appeared as representative of the weekly magazine, and on some occasions as a guest actor in sketches.

'Nick & Simon' script by Thom Roep, and the final page by Carmen Pérez from Tina #34, 2011.

In 2001 VNU's magazine portfolio was bought over by the Finnish media corporation Sanoma. Near the end of the decade, the company decided to dissolve the independent editorial teams of its smaller titles, and merge them in umbrella divisions based on target groups. Therefore, other children's magazines such as Tina, popular science magazine Zo Zit Dat and Nickelodeon Magazine became part of the company's Disney department. From 2008 on, Thom Roep and his deputy editor Joan Lommen were responsible for the comics production of girls' magazine Tina as well. They quickly disposed of the dramatic and somewhat old-fashioned stories that had dominated the magazine since its launch in 1967, and aimed at a slightly younger audience. Popular series like 'Suus & Sas' by Gerard Leever and 'Noortje' by Patty Klein and Jan Steeman remained, but Jan Vriends was asked to develop a more modern mascot, which was eventually introduced in 2013, when the memories of the old title hero had faded away. 'Karlijn, Catootje en de Ouders' (2011), a spin-off of the popular family comic 'Jan, Jans en de Kinderen' by Studio Jan Kruis, also started production in Libelle. In cooperation with their management, Thom Roep developed a comic strip based on popular Dutch singers Nick and Simon (2010-2013). Roep wrote several scripts himself, while the stories were drawn by Spanish artists like Sergio Garrido, Carmen Pérez and Rafa Ruiz. Other writers involved were Frank Jonker, Ruud Straatman, Bas Schuddeboom and Dorith Graef. Shortly before his retirement, Roep initiated the development of a comic strip about the daughter of a veterinarian, which eventually became 'Emme's Dierenwereld' (2014-2016) by scriptwriter Lucienne van Ek and aforementioned Spanish artists Ruiz and Pérez.

Besides these domestic productions, Roep and Lommen licensed foreign material for publication in Tina. Roep himself took care of the translations of the originally French comic series 'Girlz' by Dentiblù, Douyé and Goupil (published in Tina as 'Marijn & Julie', 2009-2013), and of the reworking and translation of the 1960s/1970s US newspaper comic 'Ponytail' by Lee Holley (published in Tina as 'Madelief' since 2009).

Ponytail by Lee HolleyMadelief by Lee Holley and Thom Roep
Original Ponytail comic strip by Lee Holley from 4 April 1977, and Thom Roep's modernized and edited version for Tina #13, 2017.

On 12 August 2013, during his farewell party, Roep was honoured with a knighthood in the Order of Orange-Nassau. Prior to this, he had received the Disney Publishers Milestone Award from The Walt Disney Company for his forty years dedication to Disney magazines in the Netherlands. On 7-8 March 2015, during the Stripdagen in Goorinchem, he received the Bulletje en Boonestaakschaal. 

The Dutch "Mayor of Duckburg" announced his retirement in 2013. A true man of print, he felt out of touch with the digital direction Sanoma was heading.  Roep was one of the last of the classic editor-in-chiefs to leave the company. The job description of his successor had more weight on logistics and finance, while his creative tasks were divided among Joan Lommen and the editors Jos Beekman (Disney script approval), Ferdi Felderhof (Disney book compilation) and Bas Schuddeboom (Tina comics).

Thom Roep

From his retirement until late 2019, Thom Roep has continued to translate 'Ponytail' for Tina. He has also been busy with new book collections of 'Douwe Dabbert', both the regular series at Don Lawrence Collection and the luxury limited editions at Barabas. He also fills his days with painting, reading, writing and translating. His daughter Lotte Roep is an editor of Donald Duck weekly since 2012, and his other daughter Wendy is a journalist.

A street named after 'Douwe Dabbert' is part of the "comic heroes" district of Almere. Although the name was suggested by Lambiek's Kees Kousemaker way back in 2003, the Douwe Dabbertstraat was for many years a mere name on a map. It was the last part of the district to be built and parcelled out, street name signs weren't placed until 2016.

Van Thom Tot Nu
During his farewell party, Thom Roep received two books compiling all the (short) comics he wrote for Donald Duck and Tina, and a compilation of his longer serials like 'Douwe Dabbert' and 'Van Nul Tot Nu'. These were alternated with old interviews, pictures and memories of (ex-)colleagues. The books were compiled by editors Ferdi Felderhof and Bas Schuddeboom, and the first book had an original drawing by the members of the editorial art studio (Viktor Venema, Jan-Roman Pikula, Michel Nadorp, Wilma van den Bosch, Frans Hasselaar). It is a march of Thom's own creations, colleagues and favorite comic characters, in the style of the 'Van Nul Tot Nu' covers. The second book contained an older drawing for a 'Douwe Dabbert' poster by Dick Matena, featuring Piet Wijn and Thom Roep. Both books were published in a limited edition of four copies, only for Thom and his family.

A selection of Thom Roep's TV appearances on Donald Duck's YouTube account
Thom Roep's Inducks entry

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