Mark Smeets was somewhat of an oddball in Dutch comics. He never created a regular comics character, or did he ever produce an actual comic album. He mostly published loose drawings and fragments of short stories, which never reached a large audience, but did make him admired among his peers.
Smeets was born in Hulst in the province of Zeeland, and has subsequently lived in Maastricht and Amsterdam. He published his first drawings in the underground magazines Hitweek (1967-1968) and Aloha (1969-1970). His work was noted by Evert Geradts, who brought his work to the new underground comic book Tante Leny Presenteert in 1971. With his unconventional style, Smeets was an inspiration for all the other artists of this publication, including Harry Buckinx, Aart Clerkx, Bill Bodéwes, Peter Pontiac and Peti Buchel. Soon Smeets also made his appearance in Joost Swarte's magazine Modern Papier and the anthology Cocktail Comix (1973). Mark Smeets gained fame in France when the entire 15th issue of Tante Leny Presenteert was dedicated to his work, and was translated into French ('A4 Comix').
Smeets also contributed to Gezellig & Leuk, the comics magazine of Windig & De Jong, and was a regular illustrator for Dutch newspaper NRC Handelsblad, for which he also made a weekly comic. In the 1990s he launched the small press magazine Venlo International, together with his brother Luuk. Smeets' striking depictions of the fortified city of Venlo in this publication, were on exhibit in the Limburgs Museum in 2011-2012.
However, the largest part of Smeets' production was limited to his sketchbooks. The lack of a solid oeuvre and mainstream appeal make Mark Smeets a true "artist's artist", just like fellow outsider Flip Fermin. His work was also noted by American artist Chris Ware during an exposition at Gallery Lambiek in 1996. Ware immediately ran some of his drawings in the American art anthology Kramer's Ergot, and noted: "Mark Smeets uses comics to make visible the 'invisible' sedimentary layers of accumulated human activity. I guess that the humor or interest of his strips comes from the potentially wild juxtapositions which might result from such a cosmological 'stripview'. Regardless, I find his stuff completely fascinating."
Among the artists that influenced Smeets were Hergé, Hokusai, Aubrey Beardsley, Bud Fisher, Robert Crumb, Bill Griffith, George Herriman, Jack Davis, Morris, and André Franquin. His highly detailed and somewhat surreal drawings have also been compared to the paintings of Hieronymus Bosch. Smeets' stories were fragmented, and showed a non-logical stream of conciousness narrative full of associations and mental leaps.
Mark Smeets passed away in Baarlo in 1999, but his work is far from forgotten. This is proven by the extensive retrospective 'Mark Smeets - De triomf van het tekenen', which was compiled by Fake Booij, Piet Schreuders, Luuk Smeets and René Windig, and published by Scratch Books in 2016. A facsimile edition of his 1993 sketchbook was published at the same time.