Jan Steeman has had a productive career in the Dutch comics industry. Over a period of 60 years, he has worked for most of the leading comic magazines. Steeman notably lent his semi-realistic drawing style to the science-fiction comic 'Arad en Maya' in Sjors and the soccer comic 'Roel Dijkstra' in Eppo. His biggest accomplishment is however the 'Noortje' comic, which he has made with writer Patty Klein for girls' magazine Tina for 41 years. This is the longest-running Dutch comic series made continuously by the same team.
Het Stoomhuis (from Prins Leo)
Steeman was born in Schagen in 1933, and grew up reading comics like 'Kapitein Rob' by Pieter Kuhn and 'Prince Valiant' by Hal Foster. The self-taught artist began his career as an illustrator in Alle Hens, a scouting magazine from The Hague. He illustrated text stories and articles for this publication throughout the decade, and by 1956 he also made the comic story 'Pinkie en de Tijdlift' in cooperation with writer Frans Hummelman. Around the same time, he wrote and drew the comic story 'Het Stoomhuis, de IJzeren Reus', based on the Jules Verne story 'The Steam House'. It was published in Prins Leo, a promotional magazine for Brinkers margarine.
In 1959, Steeman made his appearance in the Malmberg school magazine Taptoe. He started out with the gag strip about 'Rik, de reizende reporter' ('Rik, the travelling reporter'), which was also written by Frans Hummelman, who used the pen name Frans Leonard. This comic evolved into a serial under the title 'Rik, Clio en Pluk' from 1961 to 1970. The 'Rik' stories were published in a series of books by Uitgeverij Kippenvel from 2003.
Steeman also made more independent stories for Taptoe, such as 'Kokosbomenvoetbal in de stille oceaan' (1961), 'Het geheimzinnige vliegveld' (1965), 'Do en Diederik', 'Gevecht om een vogelbekdier!' (1962-1963), 'Rooie Rug' (1968), 'Wie wint de pepina-beker?' (Okki-Taptoe holiday book 1968), 'De Kerstboom' (Okki-Taptoe Christmas book 1968) and 'IJspret' (Okki-Taptoe Christmas book 1969). He also made three stories with the character 'Mannetje' in the late 1960s.
In 1964, Steeman began his freelance association with the Toonder Studios. He was mainly assigned for drawing stories with licensed characters for the publications of De Geïllustreerde Pers. He made stories stories with the Hanna-Barbera properties 'The Flintstones', 'Yogi Bear' and 'De Steenrakkertjes' ('Cave Kids') for the bi-monthly comic book De Flintstones. In alternation with Jan van Haasteren, he drew most of the first locally produced comic stories with Walt Disney's 'The Big Bad Wolf' and 'Hiawatha' for Donald Duck weekly from 1967 to 1969. Nearly all of these stories were plotted by Andries Brandt and Patty Klein, although Lo Hartog van Banda also wrote an occasional story. Between 1968 and 1970, he took over the artwork of Marten Toonder's newspaper comic 'Panda' from Dick Matena, which was written by Eiso Toonder at the time. He drew seven stories (99 through 105), after which apparently Jan van Haasteren took over.
In 1969 he presented his story 'Tijl Dierelier en de Waterknoeier' to the editors of the magazine Sjors of the publishing house De Spaarnestad. It was another collaboration with Frans Hummelman, and dealt with a man who could talk with animals. Hummelman eventually backed out of the project, and the story wasn't completed by Steeman himself and published until 1972. By then, Steeman was already the artist of two prominent series for Sjors, and he had ended his collaborations with Toonder, Taptoe and the scouts to keep up with the workload. In 1970, Steeman had succeeded Jan Kruis as the artist of the title comic 'Sjors en Sjimmie'.
Working in cooperation with scriptwriters like Frans Buissink, Annelies Dekker and Thom Roep, Steeman drew new stories until the end of Sjors' run in 1975. Steeman worked in the same tradition as Jan Kruis, who had modernized the comic after taking over from Frans Piët in 1969. The playful Steeman-era stories are however more characterized by science fiction elements, mostly through the introduction of the space creature Slork. Amsterdam Boek and Oberon published four book collections with Jan Steeman's 'Sjors & Sjimmie' stories. The 'Slork' returned in 1979, when Dennie Christian released a song called 'Het Slorklied'. For the occasion, a new comic album called 'De jacht op de Slork' was created by Steeman and Buissink.
With scriptwriter Lo Hartog van Banda, Steeman further delved into the science fiction genre with 'Arad en Maya'. This series dealt with spaceship operator Arad and the girl biologist Maya, who could communicate with animals and creatures through her telepathic hair band. The story 'Manus op Mytica' was published in book format by Oberon in 1973, and ten albums were published by CentriPress between 1977 and 1980.
In 1975, the comics magazines Sjors and Pep were merged into the new publication Eppo. 'Sjors & Sjimmie' was taken over by Robert van der Kroft, who gave the comic an even more modern rendition with writers Wilbert Plijnaar and Jan van Die. Steeman was assigned to draw the adventures of soccer player 'Roel Dijkstra' from scripts by Andries Brandt. For the early stories, soccer player Willem van Hanegem was involved as an advisor. Brandt was anything but a soccer fan, and gave Steeman free play to fill the sports sequences himself. The character was initially a talented player with the local club FC Leidrecht, but was turned into an international soccer hero as the stories progressed. Steeman and Brandt made ten stories with the character until 1981, after which new stories were drawn subsequently by the Brit Keith Watson and the Serb Marinko Lebovic, while Dave Hunt, Jaap Bubenik and Roy Robson (Jacques Post) took care of the scripts. The series was revived in 2016 by Willem Ritstier and Roelof Wijtsma in the relaunched Eppo magazine.
In 1975, Jan Steeman was also involved in the launch of De Vrije Balloen, a satirical comics magazine initiated by Patty Klein and Jan van Haasteren. Created out of dissatisfaction with the way Oberon had treated their authors after the merger of Sjors and Pep to Eppo, this magazine offered its contributors full artistic freedom. Steeman experimented with several styles for a couple of experimental and adult-themed comic stories. A collection of his satirical stories dealing with TV star worshipping, the Dutch welfare state and modern art were published the book 'Metamorfosen' by Arboris in 1982.
He also renewed his collaboration with Malmberg for a couple of stories published in Okki, a school magazine for younger children. These included 'De Kleren van meneer Buys' (with Frans Hummelman for Okki-Jippo Vakantieboek 1976), 'De barre winters van vroeger' and 'Het land achter de laatste flat' (script by Frank Herzen, 1978-1979).
Noortje in 1976
Also in 1975, Patty Klein had developed a goofing teenage girl called 'Noortje' for the girls' magazine Tina. She brought in Jan Steeman as the artist, and the character made its debut in issue 37 of that year. The comic was a remarkable appearance in the Tina issues of the 1970s. Steeman's semi-realistic drawing style was a welcome change among the mainly British melodramatic boarding school stories that filled the magazine's pages, yet the themes and the format stood out even more. For years, 'Noortje' was the only gag comic in Tina. The comic has survived all the magazine's restylings and incarnations, and is still one of its most popular features. By now, 'Noortje' is the most realistically drawn comic strip among mostly caricatural comics. Browsing through decades of 'Noortje' pages gives a good impression of the changing fashions, stars, trends and all the other important stuff in a teenage girl's life throughout the years. But the most important elements of her life have never changed: her ongoing fear for spiders, her annoying brother Sander, her friendship with Marlies and of course her clumsiness.
The first three 'Noortje' albums were published in the 'Tina Toppers' collection in 1980, 1982 and 1984, but a regular album series wasn't launched until 1994. The poor girl's 500th blunder was celebrated in 1986, the 1000th in 1996, and a look-a-like contest was held on the occasion of the 1500th gag in 2006. Her 25th anniversary was the theme of a special issue in 2000, and for the 40th anniversary in 2015, a special issue of Tina was released with tribute comics by Gerard Leever ('Suus & Sas'), Jan Vriends ('Roos'), Rene Bergmans ('SfinX'), Bas Schuddeboom ('Tina', 'Jan, Jans en de Kinderen') and Thom Roep ('Madelief'), as well as a lot of editorial attention around 'Noortje'.
Jan Steeman has additionally developed the characters 'Haasje en Rammelaar' for the children's stories and songs by Cees Stolk in 1992. He received the coveted Stripschapprijs for his entire oeuvre in October 2005. Steeman continued to work until well into his 80s. Unfortunately, health issues forced him to stop drawing 'Noortje' after 41 years of loyal service in August 2016. Patty Klein will continue to produce the misadventures of the red-headed girl with Jan's son Lucas Steeman, who is mostly active as a visualizer in the advertising industry. Jan's sons Theo and Sander have also worked as illustrators, while his son Peter is a journalist.