De Generaal by Peter de Smet
'De Generaal'.

Peter de Smet was one of the most prominent and original humorists in Dutch comics of the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s. His stories were visually larded with slapstick humor, running gags and subtle absurdities, while irony, archaic language and offbeat expressions formed the ingredients of his verbal humor. De Smet's fascination with military stupidity is best illustrated in his signature series 'De Generaal' (1971-1997), about the ill-fated attempts of a desperate general to seize power, as well as in the humorous guerilla comics 'Fiedel' (1974) and 'Viva Zapapa!' (1989-1992). With 'De Generaal' and his medieval adventure series 'Joris PK' (1972-1986), De Smet was one of the core artists of Pep, although he also appeared in a great many other Dutch comic magazines. An entire generation additionally remembers his many advertising comic strips.

'Joris P.K. en de Nutten' (1975).

Early life
Peter de Smet was born in 1944 in Amsterdam, as one of the three children of advertising illustrator Eddy de Smet, who ran the famous Van Maanen agency. Even though they lived in relative wealth and luxury at the Amsterdam Valeriusplein, the De Smet household could not be described as a particularly warm environment. Father De Smet was away from home most of the time, and each family member just went its own way. Peter was a bit of a loner, who found joy in taking long solitary walks with the family dog. The educational system left no lasting impression on him, but an interest in drawing, painting, jazz music and history did. His keen eye for general stupidity and his philosophical mind became cornerstones of his character and humor. De Smet devoured the comics published in magazines such as Robbedoes (Spirou), Kuifje (Tintin) and, later on, MAD. In his oeuvre, one can spot not only hints of Tintin's Clear Line and the zany humor of MAD (especially Don Martin, down to his wacky onomatopoeia), but also slapstick films by Laurel & Hardy and Buster Keaton. Despite the difficulties with his father, Peter de Smet regularly visited the Van Maanen offices. He looked in awe at the original artwork, and became acquainted with some of the agency artists, such as Jan Kruis. It soon became clear that he would follow in his father's footsteps.

'Fulco en de Miesmannetjes' (1969).

Advertising career
With his father's help, he became an apprentice at a London advertising firm in 1964. He however had difficulties with the formal etiquette, and returned home after about nine months. Peter de Smet went to work as an assistant in his father's company in Amsterdam, before being transferred to the Brussels office in 1966. De Smet and his wife spent two years in Belgium, during which Peter put effort into establishing a comics career. Following advice of Bob De Moor, who worked right across the street at Studio Hergé, Peter de Smet presented his work to the editors of Tintin in 1968. They bought one of his short stories, a predecessor of 'De Generaal', but it never saw print. The Flemish comic magazine 't Kapoentje, however, acquired his medieval adventure comic 'Fulco en de Miesmannetjes' (1969). They printed the first pages, but then the young artist got cold feet, and the story abruptly stopped. De Smet resumed his work as an advertising designer, and didn't return to comics until 1971.

'De Generaal'.

De Generaal
Back in the Netherlands, De Smet eventually settled in the town of Bergen. Jan Kruis advised him to show his comics to Hetty Hagebeuk, chief editor of comic magazine Pep. She instantly accepted his new version about a concept of a power hungry general. In fact, Hagebeuk ordered eleven stories right away! De Smet was taken by surprise, as the insecure artist was not certain if his creation could last that long. But 'De Generaal' was an instant hit from the first appearance in Pep issue #29 (10-16 July 1971). His creator quickly found a successful formula. Each episode was constructed around the same gimmick. The protagonist, simply known as "The General", wants to seize power, which is represented by "The Fort" occupied by "The Marshal". His army consists of one single unmotivated soldier and a professor. His headquarters is a simple tree with a sign saying "HQ" nailed to it. The professor invents new disguises and vehicles for the general's masterplan. Most of the time, transportation occurs in an army jeep, or in the general's wobbly tank.  During their quests, the general and his team are confronted with several obstructions, most of the time caused by their own stupidity or lack of sufficient weaponry. Motorcycle policeman Dreutel is a regular nuisance, while the professor's voluptuous niece Truus also causes a great many distractions. As the years progressed, several family members of the General were introduced. First of all was his overly patronizing and vigorous mother. Then his grandfather, a veteran of the French-German war (1870-1871), who drove around in a 19th century armored vehicle. Later in the series, the readers were introduced to the general's mobster son Junior.

'De Generaal'.

'De Generaal' usually appeared in short stories of 2-4 pages. Later on De Smet also experimented with longer stories, such as 'De erfenis van Oom Jules' (1977), 'Revolutie in San Cochabamba' (1980), 'Zeepoorlog' (1984) and 'De Tijdpoort' (1986), none of which surpassed 16 pages in length. An important factor of the comic's charm is the complete ignorance of the characters. De Smet explained he got the idea for the series after hearing a deadly serious NATO general say on the radio that the "NATO could resist a limited Russian attack, but only if it would remain limited". The sheer stupidity of that remark was right up his alley. Although his pages were filled with running gags and subtle visual humor (like the little duck that sits on the general's hat), the main ingredient of his unique comics style are the hilarious dialogues. Characters are either talking at cross purposes, or describe the most disastrous events with subtle irony or understatement. De Smet added comedic timing by dividing these texts over a multitude of speech balloons per panel. The many meaningless sound effects muttered by the General, such as "SNOK!", "REUTEL", "HOP", "PLOP" and "REÛH!", have enriched the Dutch comics idiom.

Cover drawings for Eppo magazine #8 of 1977 and Eppo Wordt Vervolgd #14 of 1985.

Publication history
In a 1973 interview with comics news magazine Stripschrift, De Smet said he wasn't sure if he could continue 'De Generaal' for much longer, as it threatened to become repetitive. After all, the entire series was based on running gags. Yet readers loved it and editors kept requesting new episodes. 'De Generaal' continued his ill-fated invasions for more than 26 years (!), albeit sometimes with longer intervals. It remained a mainstay in Pep, even when the magazine changed its name into, respectively, Eppo, Eppo Wordt Vervolgd, Sjors & Sjimmie Stripblad and SjoSji. It also appeared in the short-lived magazine Titanic. The adventures of De Generaal were collected in 14 albums, first by Oberon and then by Big Balloon. Only one album was translated into French, 'Le Général', published by Septimus in 1977. Two albums appeared in Danish ('Den General', 1980, 1988), and three in German ('Der General', 1990-1991). Some early episodes were reworked into a short-lived newspaper strip, which appeared in local newspapers like Leidsch Dagblad in 1975-1976.

'De Generaal'.

Pep staple
With the success of 'De Generaal', Peter de Smet was quickly established as one of Pep's top five artists, along with Martin Lodewijk, Dick Matena, Daan Jippes and Fred Julsing. Shortly after his arrival, he was asked to make portraits of pop stars for editor Jan de Rooij's musical section. He applied a Pop Art approach, reminiscent of Heinz Edelmann's animation style in the film 'Yellow Submarine' (1968). When De Smet's workload increased, these psychedelic illustrations were continued by graphic designer Ger van Wulften. Early on, Peter de Smet was also paired with Belgian scriptwriter Yvan Delporte for 'Anna Tommy, Detective' (1972), a comic about a girl detective. It didn't work out, so no new stories were made.

Joris PK, by Peter de Smet
'Joris P.K. - Het Zwingende Zwaard' (1973).

Joris P.K.
More successful was the serial 'Joris P.K.' (1972-1974), for which De Smet revived the concept of his earlier 'Fulco' strip. De Smet aimed at a medieval adventure comic in the style of Peyo's 'Johan et Pirlouit' ('Johan and Peewit'), but couldn't resist adding his own offbeat comedy. The main star is a knight in the court of King Stanislav of Transandijvië, sworn in to protect the kingdom from the invading armies of the brutal conqueror Xobl. Joris is aided by a former pirate called Plok, who is all brawn and no brain. The two protagonists are usually sent out on a senseless mission, which they fill with idle chatter. De Smet drew four stories of this series for Pep between 1972 to 1974, then two more for Nieuwe Revu in 1974-1975, and a final one for Eppo Wordt Vervolgd in 1986. Three of the Pep stories were collected in the Oberon series in 1976 and 1977, and reprinted by Maarten J. de Meulder in 1983-1984.

Fiedel by Peter de Smet
'Fiedel' (1974).

De Smet's final new creation for Pep was a short-lived gag strip about a completely unqualified guerilla soldier called 'Fiedel' (1974), clearly a pun on the name of Cuban revolutionary Fidel Castro. Even though only eleven strips were made, De Smet would reuse the comic's basic idea years later again. When Pep and Sjors merged into the comic magazine Eppo over the course of 1975, De Smet remained on board with his 'De Generaal'. More than that, the idea of combining Pep and Sjors into one big magazine originated during a pub chat between De Smet and Martin Lodewijk. The two presented their plan to the board of the VNU publishing group, who greenlighted it right away. De Smet had no ambition to become an editor, so Frits van der Heide took his place in the further developments. From then on, Peter de Smet would expand his activities by also associating himself with other magazines.

Het Hopmysterie by Peter de Smet
'Het Hopmysterie' (1974).

Adventure comics
Back in 1974, when things were already rumbling at Pep, De Smet had created a more adult-oriented adventure comic for family magazine Nieuwe Revu. In pure De Smet fashion, 'Het Hopmysterie' starred yet another incompetent protagonist, Hubert Draadklaver, a janitor at the secret service who is sent on a special mission. Set in the 1920s, the comic required more thorough research. In later years, De Smet planned to completely remake the story, as he felt the plot was exposed way too early in the story.  Unfortunately he never got around to do so, yet in 1976 the author created another adventure comic. This time he applied a more Clear Line approach, with a Tintin-esque hero named Kasper Krispijn. The side characters Parelzaad - a collector of naval artifacts - and the resistance leader show strong resemblance with Professor Calculus and Captain Haddock, exposing the obvious debt to Hergé. 'Het Goud van de H.M.S. Cornwall' (1976-1977) ran in chapters in the digest-sized Dutch Disney monthly Mickey Maandblad from its first issue on. All in all, with its 75 pages in length, it turned out to be the longest comic story of De Smet's career.

Het Goud van de H.M.S. Cornwall
'Het Goud van de H.M.S. Cornwall' (1977).

These excursions into adventure comics aside, humor remained De Smet's "core business". De Smet provided two one-shot gag pages to the alternative comics weekly De Vrije Balloen in 1976 and 1978, and he was caricatured on the cover of the magazine's sixth issue. Despite their less successful earlier collaboration on 'Anna Tommy', Yvan Delporte asked De Smet to contribute to Le Trombone Illustré, his tabloid-sized French-language supplement to Spirou magazine. De Smet's most notable comic strip for Le Trombone was 'Zapapa y la Revolución' (1977), a Mexican version of the guerrilla 'Fiedel', which was the actual predecessor to his later comic strip 'Viva Zapapa'. Le Trombone also ran De Smet's gangster story 'Parrain, Fils & Cie' (21 April 1977) and two gags of 'Le Cuirassé Honneur et Patrie' (October 1977), about the company of an ironclad warship which is anchored at "The Colony". Following Le Trombone's demise, De Smet made new 'Honneur et Patrie' gags for À Suivre in 1978-1979, which were published in Dutch under the title 'Voor God, Koningin en Vaderland' in comics news magazine Striprofiel in 1982.

'Otto, Olivier en Oscar' (Donald Duck, 1981).

Funny animals
De Smet and Delporte worked together once more on two stories of 'Otto, Olivier en Oscar' (1981 and 1983), which appeared in Donald Duck weekly. The three anthropomorphic heroes sail the seas in search of a "land of plenty" called Quiqueboe, where "the people only eat cream and mocha cakes and where working is a dirty word". The two stories were collected in book format by Oberon in 1984, while 'Geen garantie voor Otto, Olivier en Oscar' was reprinted in SjoSji Extra in 1996.

From 1982 onwards, De Smet was present in the VNU men's magazine Panorama with the weekly gag strip 'Anno 3000... en nog wat', about the prehistoric ancestors of man. The feature was inspired by the pantomime gags of the Argentinian cartoonist Guillermo Mordillo. De Smet returned to Panorama's pages in 1986 with another gag strip, this time starring the unemployed yet laid back pub crawler 'Lodewijk'. The 'Lodewijk' gags were collected in two landscape format-shaped booklets by De Boemerang in 1990. A complete edition followed in 1992.

Lodwijk by Peter de Smet

In 1984, Peter de Smet was one of the founders of a new comic magazine called Titanic, together with Frits van der Heide and Renée van Breukelen. It was the first mainstream comic magazine in the Netherlands aimed at an adult audience, initially published by Comic Design. Although it appeared from 1984 to 1989, De Smet only served as editor during its first year. Titanic suffered from poor sales from the start, and the original team was quickly replaced by Peter de Raaf and Hans van den Boom, who also became the publisher. Consequently, only the early issues of Titanic contained work by De Smet. Besides new stories with 'De Generaal', he contributed yet another guerrilla strip, called 'De Bevrijders' (1984). De Smet also returned in the final issue with a farewell drawing featuring Titanic's historical namesake.

Farewell drawing for Titanic (1989).

When the Belgian comic magazine Robbedoes got its own section with Flemish and Dutch comics, apart from French-language parent magazine Spirou, De Smet contributed 'Morgenster en Durandel' (1984-1985). The setting is a post-apocalyptic world, where mankind has returned to medieval living conditions, while some 20th century artifacts (most notably military weaponry) have remained. The adventures of De Smet's two heroes, strongly reminiscent of Albert Uderzo and René Goscinny's 'Astérix & Obélix', came to an end after only three short stories, as Robbedoes quickly returned to being simply a translation of Spirou. By the late 1980s, De Smet got the opportunity to publish in that other legendary comic magazine, Kuifje (Tintin). In 1988, former VNU marketing manager Rob Harren became head of the magazine's publishing house Lombard, and introduced the work of several Dutch artists in its pages. De Smet's first contribution was 'Rat en Wezel' (1988-1989), a funny animal gag strip about a hungry rat and weasel, which he had originally published in Dutch children's magazine Ezelsoor in 1985-1987.

'Morgenster & Durandel' (1984).

Viva Zapapa
In 1989, De Smet introduced an original creation in Kuifje and its French counterpart Hello Bédé. He brushed off his guerrilla concept from his previous series 'Fiedel' (1974), 'Zapapa y la Revolución' (1977) and 'De Bevrijders' (1984) and reworked it as 'Viva Zapapa' (1989-1992), in which the Mexican guerilla leader Zapapa and his soldiers Pilon and Emilio prove that they are just as ignorant as their predecessors. Zapapa's name was obviously inspired by legendary Mexican revolutionary Emiliano Zapata, while the comic strip's title was a nod to the film 'Viva Zapata' (1952). The comic let its artist indulge in drawing detailed yet comical military machinery and weapons. Lombard collected the series in two albums, appearing in both Dutch as well as French translation. Harren also initiated an animated series based on the comic, but the publisher canceled all audiovisual projects before it went into production.

'Viva Zapapa'.

Commercial work
In addition to his more personal works, De Smet always continued to draw posters, illustrations and comic strips for advertising purposes through Elly op de Weegh's Art Connection agency. Throughout the years, he produced artwork for clients like Royal Dutch Shell, department store De Bijenkorf, supermarket chain Albert Heijn, Postgiro, Unilever, Nationale Nederlanden insurances, anti-smoking foundation STIVORO, the 1980 Olympic Games in Moscow and the Ministries of Education and Justice. Notable was the funny animal comic 'Pieter Pienter en de Postgiro' to promote the Dutch post office Giro service. These gag pages appeared in comic magazines like Donald Duck and Tina in the mid-1970s. Another assignment for the Postgiro was 'De Geschiedenis van het Geld' (1977), an informational booklet about the history of money, written by economist Arnold Heertje. It came with a teaching package containing 48 slides of all pictures in the booklet and a cassette tape with the spoken text. An updated version appeared in 1987. In 1980, he made a new comic strip for a brochure of the services, called 'Recruut Karel en de poen'. Between 1976 and 1985, Peter de Smet collaborated with Martin Lodewijk on the cartoons and comic strips for the annual Ryam school notebooks.

'Pieter Pienter en de Postgiro'.

Between 1978 and 1994, De Smet made many comic strips for guides issued by the Ministry of Education to help high school students choose their follow-up studies, such as 'Straks Studeren'. He introduced new strips like 'De opmerkelijke loopbaan van Lodewijk Leverkaas' (1979), 'De veelvuldige loopbanen van Kareltje Zorgdrager', 'Xavier Bloothoofd licht voor...', 'De avonturen van Rudolf Rozijn' and 'Jan Jaap', as well as shortened and redrawn 'De Generaal' episodes (1991-1994). Also remarkable are the two albums he made with 'De Diamannetjes' (1983-1984) in commission of frying fat brand Diamant, starring the kitchen staff of King Liflaf XXIV. Late in his career, De Smet provided the comic strips and illustrations for the club magazine of children's TV channel Kindernet, starring the mascot Kinno (1996), which was originally designed by Bart de Kok. The artist illustrated the LP sleeves for 'World Cup 10 Dances' by The Midland Big Band and the album 'Pater Moeskroen aan de macht' (1991) and its accompanying single 'Hela Hola' (1992) for Dutch folk group Pater Moeskroen.

De Avonturen In Diamantland #2 - 'Verkiezingen Bij De Diamannetjes' (1984).

Graphic contributions
In 1985, De Smet made a contribution to the book 'Tegenaanval' (De Lijn, 1985), an anti-military book advocating the liberation of cartoonist Wim Stevenhagen, who was sentenced for refusing to fulfill his military service for reasons of principle.

Peter de Smet is one of the Netherlands' most celebrated comic artists of all time. Between 20-22 September 1985, during the Stripdagen festival in Breda, he was awarded the Dutch Stripschapprijs for his merits.

Final years
Peter de Smet's final 'De Generaal' story appeared in SjoSji #23 of 1997. Later in his career, De Smet also made 'De Meester - Overpeinzingen van een vlakgom', first for De Toestand (1990-1991), then for comics news magazine Stripschrift (1994-1998). With this comic strip/cartoon, the author gave cynical commentary on the Dutch comic industry and life as a comic artist. After this, no new comics material was made, although there are one or two advertising illustrations from a later date. Peter de Smet retired after turning ill, and passed away on 6 January 2003, at the age of 58.

De Meester by Peter de Smet
'De Meester - Overpeinzingen van een Vlakgom'.

Legacy and influence
The hilarious catchphrases in Peter de Smet's comics live on in the everyday lives of his fans, while influences of his typical humor or drawing style can be spotted in the work of Toon van Driel, Ruud Straatman, Wim Haazen, René Uilenbroek, Willem Ritstier, Gerrit de Jager, Rob Derks, Simon van der Molen, Herman Roozen and Mark van Herpen. Fan and collector Nico Stalenburg has taken it upon himself to record Peter de Smet's entire oeuvre. He chronicles his progressions in the newsletter 'Orde van de Roodkoperen Fluit van Verdienste' ("Order of the Copper Flute of Merit", referring to police officer Dreutel's life goal) and his website ("Silly boy", referring to Truus' catchphrase). Stalenburg has published indexes of 'De Generaal' (2016) and De Smet's Pep years (2017). Het Stripschap named its public award for Dutch comics albums after Peter de Smet in 2015. The "Peter de Smet pin" was modeled after the little duck that sat on the general's cap.

Since his death, Peter de Smet's work threatened to fade into obscurity, largely because of its unavailability. This was countered for the first time with reprints in the short-lived Pep nostalgia magazine Por Dios (Don Lawrence Collection, 2010-2011). In 2014 Dutch editor Mariella Sormani started chronicling the man's life and work for a proposed biography. This resulted in the anthology series 'De Generaal Gaat Integraal', which collects each and every story of De Smet's floundering general. The publishing house Personalia released the first volume in 2018, edited by Sormani and Erwin Lammerts. Each book is prefaced by an informative dossier, which is written with the help of Peter de Smet's children and siblings. Personalia also devoted the eighth issue of its Stripglossy to Peter de Smet (March 2018). For the occasion, De Smet adept Vick Debergh launched a spin-off comic starring 'De Generaal' in his younger years, called 'Het Generaaltje' (2018). Debergh also constructed a remote-controlled miniature version of the general's tank. The Groningen Comics Museum held an overview exposition of Peter de Smet's work from June 2018 until February 2019.

Lambiek will always be grateful to Peter de Smet for illustrating the letter "G" in our encylopedia book, 'Wordt Vervolgd - Stripleksikon der Lage Landen' (1979).

Weekblad Sjook, by Peter de Smet

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