Cowboy Henk by Herr Seele
'Cowboy Henk'. 

Herr Seele is a Belgian painter, comic artist, performer and piano tuner, best known as the artist of 'Cowboy Henk' (1981- ), an absurd gag comic written in collaboration with Kamagurka. Henk's surreal and often controversial adventures have polarized readers for decades, but at the same time earned the series a cult following. In time, the muscled and quiffed anti-hero became a mascot of Humo magazine, spawning book publications and translations in several languages. On the side, Seele and Kamagurka created some shorter-lived gag comics, such as 'Dikke Billie Walter' (2011-2013), about the shenanigans of an overweight boy. In addition to their cartooning, the duo wrote, acted and hosted several alternative sketch shows on stage, radio and TV, often under the "Lava" banner. Although generally associated with Kamagurka, Herr Seele has become a notable media personality in his own right, amusing and surprising audiences with his eccentric personality and outrageous quotes. Since 2013, he makes a weekly oil painting for Humo, satirizing current affairs. Under the pseudonym Dick Smuide, Seele also drew the pantomime comic 'De Avonturen van de Vlaamse Leeuw' (2020-2022). 

Early life and career
Herr Seele was born in 1959 as Peter van Heirseele in Torhout, West-Flanders. His father was an office clerk and his mother a professional painter, who stimulated her son's artistic interests. His grandmother Valerie Haesaert was also an artist, and once won a national award for amateur painting. As a child, van Heirseele already drew complete comic book stories. Later in life, he ranked among his main graphic influences the Belgian "Clear Line" master Hergé, the American cartoonists George Herriman, Saul Steinberg and Ernie Bushmiller, underground comic artist Bill Griffith and Seele's main collaborator Kamagurka. Van Heirseele is also a huge admirer of fine and modern art, especially the Flemish Primitives, Pieter Bruegel the Elder, Hokusai, James Ensor, Pablo Picasso, Salvador Dalí, Marcel Duchamp, Max Ernst, René Magritte, Andy Warhol and Joseph Beuys. 

He studied at the Academy of Fine Arts in Ghent. Van Heirseele didn't finish art school, and instead graduated in piano tuning from Ystrad Mynach College in the Welsh town Ystrad Mynach, not far from the city of Caerphilly. In Florence, Italy, Van Heirseele added a degree in piano renovation to his credentials. Back in Belgium, he settled in the coastal city Ostend, formerly the homebase of one of  Van Heirseele's favorite expressionist painters, James Ensor (1860-1949), who coincidentally had the same birthday as he did, 13 April. Van Heirseele opened his own piano renovation store and built up a huge collection of authentic 19th-century and 20th-century pianos. According to him, it is one of the largest piano collections in Europe. Not surprisingly, Herr Seele is an accomplished pianist, but he also plays the mandolin. In a 2009 interview, available on YouTube, Herr Seele explained he enjoyed having an absurd profession, since it connects with his humor style and people's impression that he is a real-life comic character. Despite his musical career, he didn't abandon his graphic schooling, and still enjoys oil painting to this day. Mostly self-taught, Van Heirseele ranks only his mother as his true teacher in arts.

During the late 1970s, while studying at the Ghent Academy of Fine Arts, Peter van Heirseele first met Luk Zeebroek, a fellow student better known as Kamagurka. At the time, Kamagurka already earned money by making comics for magazines like Humo. In interviews, he explained he was nevertheless fascinated with the eccentricity of Van Heirseele, who walked around either in Tiroler hats, knickerbocker trousers and sandals or fancy, colorful suits. A tall and balding personality, Herr Seele followed a strict macrobiotic diet, smoked a pipe and read Christian philosophy. Kamagurka himself tried to be "weird" too, but had to make a conscious effort to do it. In his eyes, Van Heirseele was a natural weirdo, which he couldn't top. The men discovered they had a lot in common. They shared a love for the Flemish Primitives, Dadaism and Surrealism. Kamagurka introduced his friend to more modern daring cultural phenomena, like underground comix, avant-garde rock music, the British sketch group Monty Python and the French satirical comic magazine Hara Kiri/Charlie Hebdo. Van Heirseele later jokingly reflected he was basically "a nice Catholic boy at the time, corrupted by Kamagurka's more subversive interests." Both men eventually dropped out of the Academy, feeling "it was a waste of their time".

Photo comic about Kama and Seele plotting a 'Cowboy Henk' story. Translation: Kamagurka: "Well, at a certain moment Cowboy Henk receives a horse for a gift... And you know what happens next?" Seele: "No, tell me." Kamagurka: "Then a fantastic story starts!" Seele: "WAW!".

Kamagurka and Herr Seele: stage acts
Since Van Heirseele was effortlessly and unintentionally funny, Kamagurka took his friend along on his stage comedy shows. Suffering from stage fright, Herr Seele initially refused. To overcome this obstacle, Kamagurka developed an act where Van Heirseele played "the man who can blush on command". All he had to do was stand on stage and turn red. Gradually, Van Heirseele became more confident, and the duo began a professional creative partnership, performing absurd, provocative sketches and songs. The material was written by Kamagurka, with Van Heirseele typing out the texts and taking care of the other preparations. Kamagurka usually played loud, looney and outrageous characters, Van Heirseele was typically the calm, polite and happy-go-lucky straight man. Whenever in need of a female character, he also appeared in drag. Since "Kamagurka" was a pseudonym, Van Heirseele took the name "Herr Seele", a German-sounding pun on his last name.

Since Kamagurka was the house cartoonist of Humo, Herr Seele became a familiar face to the readers of this magazine too. Together, they designed merchandising and appeared in radio and TV spots for the magazine. Each year, Humo organizes a reader's poll, called 'Humo's Pop Poll', electing the "best" and "worst" celebrities and/or media productions. The winners are announced in a special show, filled with sketches and musical intermezzos. Annual performers in these shows were Kamagurka and Herr Seele, usually dressing up as certain celebrities. In 1995, swimmer Fred Deburghgraeve was elected "Sports Personality of the Year". When he came forward to pick up his medal, Seele joined him on stage, wearing nothing but a swimsuit. Their physical resemblance had been a running gag in Humo for months. A year later, Kama and Seele caused controversy when child molester and murderer Marc Dutroux was elected "Lul van het Jaar" ("Dickhead of the Year"). They appeared on stage, with Kama dressed up as Dutroux and Seele as Patrick Derochette, another recently arrested child molester. Some audience members genuinely believed they were the real-life criminals, others recognized Kama and Seele, but felt the joke went too far. In both cases, the booing was louder than the laughter.

In terms of absurd comedy, Kamagurka and Herr Seele are kindred spirits, but on other fronts their personalities differ. Kamagurka is active in so many different media that he can live from his art. Seele combines his artistic interests with a day job as piano renovator and tuner. While Kamagurka enjoys being a joker and disruptor of conformity, Seele presents himself as a serious intellectual. He is an avid museum visitor, reads philosophy and listens to classical music, from Antonio Vivaldi to Béla Bartók. He is also keen on having elaborate, high-brow discussions about these topics.

'Mister Plagiaat' (drawn by Kamagurka) makes room for Cowboy Henk (drawn by Herr Seele), 24 September 1981.

Cowboy Henk
Another important part of Herr Seele and Kamagurka's collaboration is their comic series 'Cowboy Henk'. In 1981, Kamagurka created an exclusive comic strip, 'Meneerke Plagiaat' ("Mister Plagiarism") for the Flemish newspaper De Vooruit, at the time a regional sister magazine of De Morgen, circulating in Ghent-Eeklo, East Flanders. With his looks based on Willy Vandersteen's Lambik character, Mr. Plagiaat gave funny and absurd commentary on other artist's comics, with Kamagurka copy pasting or redrawing the original panels. At one point, Mr. Plagiaat wanted to become a comic character himself, but discovers he is unfit for the job. In a flash of inspiration, Plagiaat then creates "his own comic hero", who "in contrast with Zorro", he names 'Cowboy Henk'. To provide a stylistic break, Kamagurka passed the pencil for the 'Cowboy Henk' feature to Herr Seele, marking the first time that Seele made a professional comic. It was the start of an enduring partnership in creating comics. With Kamagurka writing and Herr Seele drawing, the first episode of 'Cowboy Henk' appeared in print on 24 September 1981.

Cowboy Henk is a muscular man with a yellow quiff. His hair style is a tribute to Hergé Hergé's Tintin, but in spirit, 'Cowboy Henk' is more reminiscent of Bill Griffith's comic 'Zippy the Pinhead', of which Seele is a huge fan. Both series are absurd anti-comics that frequently break the fourth wall. Just like Zippy, Henk is no hero. He also lacks a clear personality. Originally, Henk was a literal cowboy, hence his name. Early episodes took place in a surreal version of the Far West. The authors eventually dropped this setting, in favor of gags set in the present. With little to no consistency, Henk's adventures aren't epic or logical. At best they are just plain silly. Sometimes Henk has parents, brothers, a wife and children. In other episodes, he is a single orphan. In some gags he lives with his mother or goes to elementary school. Other times he has his own place and a job. Henk earns his money in many different ways, ranging from hairdresser to farmer. He is also the feature's only recurring character. Occasionally, the anti-hero teams up with a professional executioner named Bob de Beul, or has encounters with Dave Overgeef, a man who constantly throws up, or Dode Dirk, a walking corpse. All these secondary characters and situations only last as long as they are convenient for the gag.

'Cowboy Henk'. Translation: Henk: "Hello miss, can I offer you a drink?" Woman: "If you drink too, 'jeune-homme'...' Henk: "IN FLANDERS: SERBO-CROATIAN!!". (The joke refers to Flemish-nationalists who fought for the acceptance of the Dutch language in Belgium and didn't like it when people spoke French. Only here Henk is fighting for the wrong language.)

The 'Cowboy Henk' episodes often spoof typical comic strip tropes. Certain gags show Henk stealing cakes from an old woman, Moeder Stans, after which he is chased by a corpulent police officer. These episodes are direct references to Marc Sleen's classic children's gag comic 'De Lustige Kapoentjes', but then with far-fetched narratives and odd punchlines. Some 'Cowboy Henk' gags present a disturbing or bizarre situation, followed by an out-of-place moral. A heartwarming, cute scene can, for instance, receive a bloody or crude ending, or a silly situation is played up with ironic melodrama. Characteristically, Kamagurka and Seele take a simple, banal premise and come up with surreal twists. Thematic gags see Henk having a specific profession, like journalist, farmer, painter or, most notably, a barber who cuts hair in many different ways. In one episode he sneaks up on a blind man and cuts him bald before he enters another barber shop, just to see the look on the confused barber's face. In another gag, Henk doesn't cut hair, but just types the sound effect "snip snip snip", because he is now a "theoretical hairdresser". One gag showed Henk cutting off people's heads, so he can cut their hair at home at night. Even his parents note: "This can't be healthy: a hairdresser who takes his work home." In other gags, Henk visits the doctor or goes to the baker, where events take an equally surreal turn. At the baker, he orders "no bread", although the baker nevertheless still has to slice for him. All these odd variations give the authors tremendous creative possibilities to create utterly unpredictable gags.

'Cowboy Henk' barber gag. Translation: "Make it short, please." 

The early episodes of 'Cowboy Henk' were one-strip or two-strip gags in black-and-white. Most were self-contained, but some had a serialized narrative. When 'Cowboy Henk' ran in De Vooruit, it followed the gag-a-day format of a newspaper strip. Kamagurka and Seele loved to troll readers with absurd and offensive punchlines. Sometimes they simply printed the speech balloons and announced that "the drawings will follow tomorrow". The next day the drawings were there, but the speech balloons were empty. In another episode, the authors let Cowboy Henk tell a joke, which they stretch out for several episodes. But even this joke wasn't as long as a running gag where Henk is absent and replaced with "The Nothingness'" For a full week, every daily panel was empty, with the text explaining that "The Nothingness" had shrunk and vanished. On the seventh day, the images returned. Henk met "the Son of the Nothingness" at the station and asked him whether he had "a nice trip", whereupon the Nothingness replied: "No, it was a lot like myself." This 1982 episode was the final straw for readers of De Vooruit. Many wrote angry letters to complain about what they felt was annoying nonsense. Even the readers that did get the joke couldn't save the series: the paper canceled 'Cowboy Henk' after its first year.

Cowboy Henk's move to Humo
Cowboy Henk found a new home in Humo magazine, of which Kamagurka was already the house cartoonist. The format changed from a daily to a weekly comic, printed on a full page, but still in black-and-white. Halfway through the 1980s, it switched to color, and since 1991 has been colorized by Seele's then girlfriend Ines Schweiger. Graphically, 'Cowboy Henk' evolved too. Originally, Seele used a minimalistic, loose and somewhat clumsy drawing style. He later settled on a crisp, elegant look with bright colors, inspired by Hergé's "Clear line" and Ernie Bushmiller's 'Nancy' strip. In each episode, he experimented with panels, color schemes and title cards. Since Humo's readers were already used to Kamagurka's brutal and daft comics, they were more receptive to 'Cowboy Henk' than those of De Vooruit. Within no time, 'Cowboy Henk' became a cult comic and a mascot for the magazine, alongside Kamagurka's signature solo character Bert. Throughout the years, Henk's face appeared on many Humo covers and merchandising related to the magazine.

'Cowboy Henk' strip from the back page of 'Lava' #3.

The series had a near-continuous run in Humo's pages until the fall of 2011, when Seele fell ill for a few weeks. Since readers didn't ask or complain about the comic strip's absence, the Humo editors concluded it had lost its popularity and canceled the feature, much to the dismay of Herr Seele. On 20 November 2012, he and Kamagurka appeared on the TV talk show 'Reyers Laat', where Seele blamed his friend right to his face that he had done way too little to save 'Cowboy Henk', despite his massive influence and foothold in Humo. When the mood became too heated, host Lieven van Gils decided to terminate the interview. Yet, a few days later, when interviewed by Het Nieuwsblad, Kamagurka denied that he and Seele were in a fight, insisting that their open and honest discussion proved that the subject was no taboo for them. Indeed, their creative partnership continued as usual, also in Humo magazine. Between 2011 and 2013, they made a replacement comic, called 'Dikke Billie Walter'.

In April 2013, 'Cowboy Henk' made his comeback in Humo, first only as a character in Herr Seele's weekly parody paintings. By September, Henk was back in an actual comic strip, in which he narrated the history of Belgium in a serialized chronological narrative under the title 'De Vaderlandsche Geschiedenis’ (“The National History”). Similar projects had been done before, most notably by the comic artists Louis Haché and Hugo Leyers. In interviews, Seele boasted that this 'Cowboy Henk' comic was well-researched and educational. In reality, though, 'De Vaderlandsche Geschiedenis' only focuses on some key events from Belgium's national history, which are then ridiculed with absurd, anachronistic jokes. In 2014, the story was published in book format by De Bezige Bij. After the conclusion of this epic tale, 'Cowboy Henk' returned to its familiar, free-spirited gag format, appearing on a half-page instead of a full one since 2020.

'Cowboy Henk'. English-language version. 

Success and translations
A staple in Flanders, 'Cowboy Henk' also found cult success across the borders. In the Netherlands, the comic ran in Vrij Nederland magazine and the newspaper NRC Handelsblad. In France, it appeared under the title 'Cow boy Jean' in Le Petit Psikopat Illustré and Fluide Glacial, while readers of L'Écho des Savanes know the character as 'Maurice le Cow boy'. In the late 1980s, 'Cowboy Henk' reached his widest international audience when it appeared in Art Spiegelman and Françoise Mouly's alternative comic magazine Raw. The series has also been translated into Italian, Spanish, Danish, Finnish, Swedish and Chinese.

The first 'Cowboy Henk' book collections appeared in 1982, published by Kritak. For many years, 'Cowboy Henk' books were released by De Harmonie/Loempia, and in later years, large-volume compilations appeared at De Stripuitgeverij, Dupuis and De Bezige Bij. In 2017, Herr Seele and Kamagurka established their own publishing company, Hoek Af, with the intention of reprinting all 35 'Cowboy Henk' titles, both in print and digital editions. As a special treat, the authors planned to include previously censored episodes. Kama and Seele also expressed interest in publishing work by other artists, including the absurd comics of the Spanish artist Joan Cornellà. However, their plans were hindered by a burglary in Seele's house on 13 August 2019. After taking a shit in the artist's bathtub, a thief stole the computer and hard drive that contained all digitally archived 'Cowboy Henk' episodes in high resolution. Seele had no back-up, except for printed episodes cut-out from Humo magazine.

'De Huisdokter'. The doctor takes care of a boy-scout and gives the diagnosis that he merely had a mental breakdown. When they leave the boy behind, the scouts ask the doctor: "What about the wolves?" Doctor: "Don't panic, I came here by car."

Merchandising and media adaptations
In the mid-1980s, Wilton Creations made a bust of Cowboy Henk, complete with a tagline on the plaque: "Cowboy Henk: he learned his people nothing" (a reference to Flemish novelist Hendrik Conscience, whose statue plaque says: "He taught his people to read"). Some gags of 'Cowboy Henk' were adapted into animated shorts by Filip Vermeulen and Jan Verfaille, with Herr Seele voicing Henk. The cartoons were part of Kamagurka and Herr Seele's alternative TV comedy sketch shows 'Johnnywood' (1988) and 'Lava' (1990-1991). Kama and Seele also presented live-action adventures of Cowboy Henk, both in stage shows and their TV programs, with Kamagurka narrating the storyline and Seele playing Henk with a plastic quiff tied to his head. They fulfilled the same roles when performing 'Cowboy Henk' as an audio play, broadcast on their radio sketch show 'Studio Kafka' (1995-1999).

One-shot comics
While 'Cowboy Henk' remains Kamagurka and Seele's best known comic strip, the authors also provided Humo with comics without their famous hero. In the 1980s, they occasionally created absurd gag comics drawn in a realistic style. Their short-lived series 'De Huisdokter' featured a doctor helping out patients with daft solutions to their strange problems. In another classic gag, a daughter tells her mother she wants to commit suicide, "but doesn't know why". In a parody of moralistic stories, the mum then gives an elaborate exposition about classifying confectionery bowls, which bizarrely enough gives the daughter new meaning in life. In 1983, Seele and some kindred spirits created a "parasite supplement" to Humo named 'Reactivisd', consisting of absurd photo collages, ads, columns, comics and cartoons. Between 1987 and 1990, Herr Seele participated in Kamagurka's 'Lava' comic books, precursors of the duo's TV show of the same name.

'Dikke Billie Walter'. Translation: "Hey, Fat Billy... Did you see that delicious chick?" - Billy: "Who?... Me? No... why? I hope they are right that she's a delicious chick!!!"

Dikke Billie Walter
In 2011 - after the temporary cancellation of 'Cowboy Henk' - Kamagurka and Herr Seele made a replacement gag comic, called 'Dikke Billie Walter' (2011-2013), about an obese little boy. Much like Cowboy Henk, his age is vague. In some episodes he appears to be a child, while in others it is suggested he is actually an adult. All the gags are about Billie's weight and gluttony. Some episodes have cameos of Flemish politicians who were notable for their own obesity, such as Maggie De Block and Bart De Wever. 'Dikke Billie Walter' ran in Humo for two years, but never really caught on. In 2013, a compilation book was published by De Bezige Bij.

Current affairs paintings
In the spring of 2013, Seele introduced a new, long-running feature in Humo. Instead of a comic strip, he made a weekly oil painting inspired by current affairs. The images spoof well-known paintings or photographs, adding real-life politicians and media celebrities. A miniature reprint of the original artwork is reproduced under Seele's spoof. The series has no official title, but as of 2021 it still runs in Humo, usually a few pages before the magazine's rock articles section, the 'TTT'.

'Vlaamse Leeuw' cartoons from 31 July and 11 September 2021.

De Avonturen van de Vlaamse Leeuw
Under the pseudonym "Dick Smuide" (a pun on the Flemish town Diksmuide), Seele made the pantomime gag comic 'De Avonturen van de Vlaamse Leeuw' (2020-2022) in the newspaper De Standaard. Each episode is a four-panel gag, starring the Flemish Lion (the national symbol of Flanders). Despite the ideological connotations, 'De Vlaamse Leeuw' is an apolitical comic. In several episodes, the hungry feline devours anybody and anything he comes across, from female partners to freshly buried corpses. In other gags, he threatens store owners to get whatever he needs, or hurts or kills whoever gets in his way. Other episodes are more reminiscent of 'Cowboy Henk' gags in terms of absurdity.

'Cowboy Henk' episode featuring Osama Bin Laden. Henk tries to find out what a "woman" is. Since "they have hair" he asks Bin Laden whether he has hair and is a woman.

Right from the start, Herr Seele and Kamagurka's comic strips polarized readers. Their taboo-breaking comedy often resulted in letters from angry readers, who were outraged that such "filth" was allowed in "their" magazine. Parents were particularly concerned. Because of the clean style and bright colors, young readers are instantly attracted to 'Cowboy Henk', but then are confronted with shocking and naughty adult-oriented humor. Certain episodes are indeed innocent and family-friendly, but others indulge in pitch black, low-brow comedy. Farts, turds and barf appear regularly in the series. In one narrative, Henk is still connected to his mother with an umbilical cord, despite already having reached adulthood. The character has sex with both women (usually prostitutes) and men. Often, the character is shown naked, giving readers a full view of his genitalia. Apart from gratuitous nudity, 'Cowboy Henk' also features random violence and other morally questionable behavior, including Henk mutilating himself, commiting suicide, taking drugs, or committing murder and rape. The anti-hero has met depraved individuals like child molesters, Adolf Hitler and Osama bin Laden. One of the most controversial episodes was a 2001 gag in which Henk celebrates the Dutch/Flemish seasonal Sinterklaas feast. Instead of putting his shoe in front of the chimney - comparable to the stockings in American Christmas festivities - he uses an Auschwitz oven. After its publication in Vrij Nederland, this gag caused such uproar that the episode was banned; it never even appeared in Humo.

 'Cowboy Henk'. 

Herr Seele himself has been subject of controversy too, often because of his eccentric media appearances. In interviews he regularly declares 'Cowboy Henk' a "masterpiece", which he deems "far superior and more important than most other comics." Sometimes he even put it on the same level as classic fine art. Seele regards the vulgarities in 'Cowboy Henk' part of the same scatological tradition as Pieter Bruegel the Elder, while the absurdities continue the legacy of Surrealists like René Magritte and Paul Delvaux. Such high praise of his own work inevitably led to criticism. People wondered whether he was an arrogant snob, or merely joking or provoking. Even Kamagurka regularly expressed shock and embarrassment over some of Seele's quotes and behavior. On 15 October 2013, Herr Seele refused to pay a parking ticket in his hometown Ostend, because, in his opinion, he had "done so much for the city". In a letter, the offended artist asked the police to drop the charges, citing this very reason. Instead, they raised the sum, which he grudgingly paid.

'Cowboy Henk' with explicit nudity. Koen Crucke is a Belgian opera singer and actor. In the English version, the name on the card reads "Margaret Thatcher".

Media appearances
Kamagurka and Seele made several radio and TV shows together for the Dutch broadcasting organization VPRO, starting with 'Sfeervol Bullshitten' (1983), 'Kamagurka en Herr Seele' (1985) and 'Wees Blij Met Wat Je Hebt' (1996-1997). For Flemish television, they wrote and performed in 'Johnnywood' (1988), 'Lava' (1990-1991), and the surreal sitcom 'Bob en George' (a co-production between VRT and VPRO, 1998). In 'Lava', Seele's recurring roles were the eternal patient Van Patiënten as well as Dr. Stok in the 'Star Trek' parody 'Wally in Space'. Seele additionally co-hosted and acted alongside Kamagurka in the absurd radio show 'Studio Kafka' (1995-1999) on Studio Brussel. Apart from his collaborations with Kama, Seele played the role of Rodolfo Smit in equally surreal TV sitcom 'Opzoek naar Yolanda' (1984) by Dutch program creator Wim T. Schippers. For decades, these were his only prominent media appearances. Seele commented that he rarely watched Flemish TV anyway, because of its "appalling quality", making him blissfully unaware of most local shows and media stars.

All that changed in 2002, when the Flemish public channel TV1 (nowadays Eén) invited Kamagurka for their travel show 'Via Vanoudenhoven', in which a Flemish celebrity had the opportunity to meet a world-famous person of their choice. Kamagurka requested to meet either the avant-garde musician Captain Beefheart or 'Simpsons' creator Matt Groening. Both were rejected, because they "weren't famous enough to appeal to general viewers", after which Kamagurka refused to participate anymore. When the show's makers asked Seele to be Kamagurka’s replacement, he accepted their offer. He didn't even mind that they had already picked out a celebrity for him to meet: Hollywood action hero Jean-Claude Van Damme, someone far removed from Seele's personal interests. After the episode's airing, the 'Cowboy Henk' creator received more requests for TV appearances. In 2005, he participated in the Flemish version of "The Greatest Belgian" contest, promoting the 17th-century painter Peter Paul Rubens in a documentary special. Despite Seele's efforts, Rubens was only voted into 9th place. Oddly enough, Seele also started to appear in dozens of talk and game shows. His appearances increased his fame with the general public, but Kamagurka openly criticized his friend for participating in the same kind of shows he supposedly disliked. Seele, on the other hand, felt it was all "an interesting Dadaist experience."

In June 2004, Kamagurka and Herr Seele's friendship was put under heavy strain. During a TV election special, Seele visited the headquarters of Flemish political parties, including that of the far-right party Vlaams Blok (currently called Vlaams Belang). He even drew a picture of Cowboy Henk for party official Filip Dewinter, who posted photographs of their meeting on the party website. It outraged many of Seele's friends and colleagues, especially Kamagurka. In an interview with Humo he stated: "It makes me physically ill. I know he isn't right-wing, but he is so incredibly media horny. The Vlaams Blok people are so filthy. It's like shaking hands with Hitler." Herr Seele defended himself by stating that he just liked the absurdity of the moment and compared it to Salvador Dalí meeting Pope Pius XII in 1949. He also pointed out that he had Henk spoof one of the party's slogans, changing "Meer Vlaanderen" ("More Flanders") into "Meer vla en minder anderen" ("More custard and less others"), but this joke didn't make it to the party website. Instead it just showed a photograph of Seele smiling in the presence of Dewinter, which the artist described as a "sleazy trick and proof of how sly that party is." He asked for the removal of the photos and got his wish.

Herr Seele also acted in a couple of movies. He appeared as a bald man in Rudi Vanden Bossche's 'De Duistere Diamant' (2004), a live-action adaptation of the 'Suske en Wiske' comic story of the same name. He played a doctor in Ilse Somers' short 'I.V.F.' (2007), and in Nic Balthazar's environmental short 'The Big Ask' (2008) he was one of several Flemish celebrities having a cameo appearance. Both he and Kamagurka received special thanks at the end of the short 'Curiosity Killed Shawn' (2013) by Shawn Elestren. In 2019, Kamagurka and Seele hosted their own chat segment, 'Van Altamira to Heden', during the cultural radio show 'Culture Club', broadcast in Belgium on Radio 1. In 2020, Seele posed for an art photograph by Bart Ramakers, 'Muse Checkmate', shot in restaurant Hotel du Parc in Ostend, the very same place where he and Kamagurka came up with 'Cowboy Henk' almost 40 years earlier.

Written and graphic contributions
Herr Seele was one of many cartoonists who contributed to a "chain comic" in Raw (issue #8, September 1986), titled 'Raw Gagz'. He also illustrated chapters in Rik Pareit's book 'Geheimzinnige Sterren' (Dedalus, 1996), which took a humorous look at Belgian comics. Cowboy Henk was used in an alcoholism and drug awareness campaign by the V.A.D. (Organisation for Alcohol and other Drug Problems), which included a booklet titled 'Gratis Drank!' (2002). Together with several other comic characters, Cowboy Henk had a guest appearance in Merho's 'De Kiekeboes' story 'Bij Fanny op Schoot' (2005). Seele also wrote the foreword to 'Uitzonderlijk Zwaar Vervoer' (Oogachtend, 2001) by Kim Duchateau and '100 Erotische Tekeningen' (Van Halewyck, 2014) by Marec. He honored Marc Sleen in the collective tribute album 'Liber Amicorum' (Standaard Uitgeverij, 2012).

Between 23 and 27 July 2007, a series of graffiti paintings were exhibited at the beach of Zeebrugge. Forming a mural painting of 60 meters long and 1.25 meters high, the images featured works by more than 80 European artists, giving their artistic impression of the sea, among them Seele, Conz and Charel Cambré. Afterwards, the panels were auctioned for the benefit of the World Wildlife Fund (WWF). 

'Cowboy Henk' album cover for the Pater Moeskroen album 'Trek die zak in tweeën' (1994).

Album covers
Herr Seele illustrated two albums of the Dutch folk band Pater Moeskroen, namely 'Steelt De Schouw' (1994) and 'Trek Die Zak In Tweeën' (1994), as well as their singles 'La Plastique C'est Fantastique/Piramide' and 'Zuster Angelique'/'Feestvarken'. He also livened up the cover of René Binamé's 'Noël et Caetera' (1998) and Year of Birds' 'White Death to Power Alan' (2017).

Other activities
In 2012, Herr Seele began giving drawing workshops to inmates in the prisons of Bruges and Oudenaarde. He is also active as part of the action group "Dement Oostende", that tries to halt the destruction of old interesting buildings in Ostend. Between 16 May and 10 July 2013, the Flemish Parliament in Brussels organized an exhibition of original artwork by dozens of Belgian comic artists, with Jan Hoet and Dany Vandenbossche as curators. However, the exhibition was overshadowed by an incident where N-VA politician Jan Peumans wanted a French-language speech balloon removed from the official poster, because it wasn't translated in Dutch. The speech balloon was blanked out, but several cartoonists signed a petition against censorship, including Herr Seele. Kamagurka even asked for the removal of his own cartoons from the expo.

Legacy, recognition and influence
'Cowboy Henk' is still an iconic presence in Humo magazine. The comic has inspired many alternative cartoonists in Flanders and the Netherlands. In June 2010, Ever Meulen, Willy Linthout, Jonas Geirnaert, Hec Leemans, Zak and Zaza celebrated the series' 30th anniversary with special tribute comics, published in Humo. Over the years, 'Cowboy Henk' received other tributes too. On 2 February 2014, 'Cowboy Henk' won the Prix du Patrimoine at the Comic Festival of Angoulême, France. On 22 July of that same year, a huge bust of the character was erected in Kortrijk. In 2008, a mural painting of Cowboy Henk was revealed near the Sint-Martinus Institute, a school in Koekelare. Another statue was erected in 2016 near the entry hall of the rest home De Ril in Middelkerke, while frescos with the character were made inside the building. On 8 November 2017, 'Cowboy Henk' received a mural in the Oostendelaan in Middelkerke, as part of the local Comics Route. In 2019, it was announced that Villa Volta in Ostend will become a 'Cowboy Henk' museum. Notable celebrity fans of 'Cowboy Henk' are rock artist Herman Brood, comedian Herman Koch, comic artists Charles GuthrieMarc Hardy and rapper Danny Swaine, who wrote to Kamagurka to tell him Cowboy Henk is "the best comic ever." Animator Lizz Hickey ('Jammers', 'Lazybones'), sports a tattoo of Cowboy Henk on her right hand. Dutch cartoonist Willem once named Herr Seele "the greatest stylist ever".

Cover illustration for the 'Cowboy Henk' compilation book ''t Gekuifde Kunstwerk'. 

Series and books by Herr Seele you can order today:


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