Tristesse by Kees Sparreboom

Kees Sparreboom was a Dutch painter, illustrator and a true late-bloomer in the Dutch comic scene. It wasn't until after his retirement that he made his debut as a comic artist and became a regular helping hand for the comics appreciation society Het Stripschap. He is best-known for his autobiographical comics and for his picture novel series 'Boot & Van Dijk' (2005-2018), a tribute to the classic 1940s 'Dick Bos' comic books by Alfred Mazure.

Sparreboom was born in 1939 in Rotterdam. Like many boys of his generation, he was captivated by the hardboiled adventures of Alfred Mazure's two-fisted jiujitsu master 'Dick Bos'. Already at age six, the young Kees cut up paper and made his own action-filled comic strips in the 'Dick Bos' pocket book format. At age 15 he even went to the Marten Toonder Studio's in Amsterdam with his mother to show his work. The times were however not very favourable to the comics medium, any ambition Sparreboom might have had to become a professional was quickly suppressed by his parents. Among the other comics he appreciated during his childhood were Rodolphe Töpffer's 'Mijnheer Prikkebeen' ('Mr. Cryptogame'), Pieter Kuhn's 'Kapitein Rob', Tintin's Jacques Laudy and the magazine Tom Poes Weekblad, where especially the work of Hans G. Kresse stood out for him. It would however take 45 years before he picked up his own pencil again to draw a comic strip.

Cinema painting from the 1960s.

Professional career
Sparreboom tried to enroll at the Rotterdam Academy of Fine Arts, but was refused because he was too young. Instead, the young man, still fifteen years of age, was hired as a painter of advertisements and billboards for movie theaters for the Rotterdam-based atelier of Leo Mineur. In the evenings he took drawing classes from the local art painter Gerard van Zwieten. He also spent a year painting tiny net curtains, trains, cars and billboards for the Dutch miniature village Madurodam, which opened its doors in The Hague in 1952. He then set up his own shop in Rotterdam as a painter of portraits in acrylics. A couple of expositions in the Rotterdam Doelen venue even brought in some commissions from famous opera singers! Sparreboom later worked as an advertising illustrator and decorator until retiring in the mid-1990s. He then turned to giving portrait painting workshops in the atelier of his old employer Leo Mineur.

Return to comics
His retirement also brought Sparreboom back to his first passion: comics. He made a family comic strip called 'Sparreboompjes' for the tri-annual Sparreboom family magazine. To gain a wider audience, he renamed it to 'Puberaaltjes', and got it published by Phoenix & Den Oudsten in 1999. Even though he was already a veteran in terms of working years, his comic strip was awarded with the PTT Post Incentive Prize at the 1999 Stripdagen comic festival, an honor he shared with another newcomer, Benno Vranken. Boosted by this appreciation, Sparreboom and his life partner offered their services to Het Stripschap, the organisation behind the Stripdagen, and helped out as volunteers in the following editions. Two more 'Puberaaltjes' books followed at Phoenix & Den Oudsten in 1999-2000.

Fifi's Favorieten by Kees Sparreboom

Sparreboom subsequently made the weekly comic strip 'Mien en Leen Buitenbeen' (2002-2005), about an elderly couple, for the regional magazine De Botlek, and contributed to a collective 10 years anniversary album for the Kennemer Gasthuis hospital in Haarlem, 'Een plaatje van een ziekenhuis' (2001). A member of the order himself, he furthermore made the 'LogeLichten' strips for the freemason's monthly Ken Uzelve. For MovieScene website, he has made such web comics as 'Jan & Mien Popcorn' and 'Fifi's Favorieten'. Both 'LogeLichten' and 'Fifi's Favorieten' were collected in book format by De Steensplinter, in 2012 and 2013, respectively. For most of his further comics exploits, he delved into his own past life and interests.

Boot & Van Dijk by Kees SparreboomBoot & Van Dijk by Kees Sparreboom
Boot & Van Dijk 7 - 'Misvattingen'.

Boot & Van Dijk
Kees Sparreboom became an established author within Dutch comics circles with his pocket book comics about the two crimefighters 'Boot & Van Dijk'. The books were a tribute to the comics he enjoyed as a child, mostly those by Hans G. Kresse and Alfred Mazure. The two main characters Boot and Van Dijk bear visual resemblances to Mazure's 'Dick Bos' and Kresse's 'Eric de Noorman', respectively, but are otherwise Sparreboom's own creations. The booklets' storytelling and lay-outs mimick the 'Dick Bos' picture novels. Each page consists of a single panel, and the stories are filled with the same hard-boiled action, archaic language and extensive explanatory speech balloons as the 'Dick Bos' "beeldromans". The stories also offer regular winks to current affairs. 'Boot & Van Dijk' is however more than a mere spoof, like Windig & De Jong's 1980s 'Dick Bosch' stories were. Beneath the satire and the action lie actual plots, which enabled the author to produce no less than 22 episodes between 2005 and 2018! One of the comic's most interesting fans was Alfred Mazure's widow, who not only gave Sparreboom her permission to make his Mazure-inspired series, but was also honored by his interest. The 'Boot & Van Dijk' books were published by FortMedia, the firm of former Phoenix employee Frédéric Fortanier, who not only became Sparreboom's publisher but also a close friend. FortMedia also released a couple of 'Boot & Van Dijk' albums in landscape-shaped format.

'Het Nieuwe Gras'.

Autobiographical comics
In addition to his regular 'Dick Bos' tributes, Sparreboom worked on several other comic books during his active post-retirement life. Many of them were autobiographical. In 'Reclame atelier Leo Mineur - Rotterdamse bioscoopschilders in de jaren '50' (FortMedia, 2005), he looked back at his days as a cinema billboard painter, a nowadays largely defunct profession. 'De Zwarte Gordijnen' (FortMedia, 2009) made the author return to the neighborhood of his childhood, and especially an early love interest. He continued his autobiographical work in 'De Bivakmuts' (2011), in which he looks back at his parents' post-war perspective on religion and forgiveness. He further explored his father's wartime experiences in 'Een Rotterdammer in oorlogstijd' (De Steensplinter, 2011). Even more personal was 'Mamma Care' (2007), about the experiences of Sparreboom and his partner during their battle against breast cancer. His partner Dana eventually died from the disease. In 'Tristesse' (FortMedia, 2015), the author looks back at his relationship with this passionate woman, who understood the art of living.

'Simon & Betty'.

One-shot comics
Sparreboom made 'Roy's Geheim' (2009), about cremation, in commission of the Koninklijke Facultatieve. He also provided the illustrations for 'De Wereld van Kees' (FortMedia, 2014) by Joyce Vorsteveld, a book told from the perspective of a boy with an autistic disorder. Most of Sparreboom's other stand-alone comics were down-to-earth yet almost voyeuristic portraits of colorful characters. 'De Volle Laag' (self-published, 2007) stars an amateur filmmaker who secretly records the private conversations of restaurant guests. 'Het Nieuwe Gras' (self-published, 2011) sketches a utopian world where everyone is equal and happy... until a part of mankind revolts. 'Vensterglas' (2013) contains the critical opinions of Jan Holland, a character with strong views. 'Inkeer' (self-published, 2013), 'Nessun Dorma' (FortMedia, 2013), 'Simon & Betty' (self-published 2013) and 'Stientje' (self-published, 2015) portray interesting and tragic characters from the Southern Netherlands region, some of which with an autobiographical streak. The humor collection 'Borrelpraat & Zo' (2017) contains some of Sparreboom's everyday observations, in the tradition of Peter van Straaten. Sparreboom's final comic book was 'De Breuk' (2018), a story about the life reflections of two old friends who are reunited at a funeral.

'Borrelpraat & Zo'.

Death and legacy
Sparreboom was diagnosed with cancer in 2017. He eventually succumbed to the disease on 6 June 2019. He was 79 years old, leaving behind a comics oeuvre of nearly 75 titles. With a remarkable catch-up effort, the retired painter managed to build an impressive second career during the last twenty years of his life.

Boot and Van Dijk request another drawing style from their creator in 'Mutaties'.

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