Barbara Stok
'Je Geld Of Je Leven' (2003).

Barbara Stok is a Dutch comic book artist from Groningen, who made her debut during the Dutch small press comics boom of the 1990s. Together with Maaike Hartjes and Gerrie Hondius, she spearheaded a new generation of female comic authors that created personal and self-reflective comics about their own lives. Stok's 'Barbaraal' comix initially tackled the cartoonist's experiences in the Groningen nightlife. More serious subject matter, like dealing with burnout and a sudden death in the family, was treated in full-length graphic novels like 'Je Geld of Je Leven' (2003) and 'Dan Maak Je Maar Zin' (2009). Initially a journalist for the regional press, she eventually became a full-time cartoonist, working for many Dutch newspapers and magazines. After years of making largely autobiographical comics, she branched out with critically acclaimed graphic novels about the Dutch painter Vincent van Gogh ('Vincent', 2012), graphic artist Hendrik Werkman ('De Omslag', 2015) and the first female philosopher, Hipparchia ('De Filosoof, De Hond en de Bruiloft' 2021). Her Van Gogh and Hipparchia graphic novels also meant her international breakthrough. Since 2020, she is the writer of the weekly 'Jan, Jans en de Kinderen' comic, produced by Studio Jan Kruis for the women's weekly Libelle.

Early life and career
Barbara Stok was born in 1970 in Groningen, a city in the North East of the Netherlands. She spent a large part of her childhood in the nearby town Haren. In an interview with Flow magazine, she described her family as warm and carefree. As a child, Barbara was initially shy and solitary, but she gradually learned how to challenge herself and explore new things. Writing stories on the family typewriter was one of her early passions, and at age 12, she ambitiously called a random publisher from the phone book to inform them that she was writing a book. Stok also enjoyed drawing and painting, but she still hadn't made the connection of combining the two to make comics. After high school, she spent one year at Gordon State College in the United States, majoring in Journalism.

Back in the Netherlands, Stok tried to enroll at the School for Journalism, but was eliminated by lottery. In 1991, she tried studying Photography in The Hague instead, but dropped out after one year, as she wanted to be part of Groningen's rock music scene. Her homebase became the pop cultural center Vera, for which she had made drawings since her student days. Besides attending punk rock concerts there, Barbara Stok also performed as a drummer in local bands like Epigoon Kitchen, Eyeballslugger, Txotxo and De Hockeyrokjes. During daytime, she was a journalist/photographer at Hazewinkel Pers, working with a small team to fill five free local newspapers from the Groningen region. A stressful job that required her to work many hours, she found some relaxation in drawing. Around this time, Stok discovered American independent comics. Particularly Joe Matt's autobiographical comic book series 'Peepshow' inspired her to make her own comics, based on her everyday life. Among Barbara Stok's other graphic influences are Robert Crumb, Aline Kominsky, Daniel Clowes, Julie Doucet and Peter Bagge.

Barbaraal door Barbara Stok
English-language translation of one of Stok's comics. 

In 1994, Stok made four mini-comics based on her experiences in the Groningen nightlife, using the title 'Barberaal' (before switching to 'Barbaraal'). Photocopied in black-and-white, these DIY booklets had four to eight pages and were mainly distributed among friends. In the following year, she quit her journalist day job, leaving her more time to spend on her drumming and art. In 1995, she also released her first official small press publication, still under the title 'Barberaal', but this time in a larger format and with a color cover. It came with a vinyl single by the Groningen band Captain Nemo, and was distributed by Stok herself to local bookstores, most notably the Modern Papier comic shop. A second issue of 48 pages came out in 1997, now carrying the title 'Barbaraal', and coming with a vinyl single by The Melvins. In that same year, Barbara Stok also appeared in 'Old Cake Comix', an anthology comic containing only work by female creators, edited by Maaike Hartjes. Through a friend, the 'Barbaraal' comics also ended up in Amsterdam comic shops, where they caught the attention of Vic van de Reijt, publisher at Nijgh & Van Ditmar.

In November 1998, Nijgh & Van Ditmar published Stok's first comic book anthology in a traditional book format, 'Barbaraal Tot Op Het Bot'. The release received much media attention; never before had a female comic creator chronicled her rock 'n' roll lifestyle so open-heartedly, varying from stage experiences to failed sexual escapades. Since then, Nijgh & Van Ditmar has released many more collections, including 'Sex, drugs & strips' (2000), 'Je Geld Of Je Leven' (2003), 'Nu We Hier Toch Zijn' (2005), 'Barbara Weet Het Beter' (2006), 'Op Tour Door Spanje' (2007), 'Dan Maak Je Maar Zin' (2009), 'Over De Levensgenieter Die Haar Angst Voor De Dood Wil Verdrijven' (2010) and 'Toch Een Geluk' (2016). "Best of" compilation collections appeared in 2013 ('Lang Zal Ze Leven') and 2022 ('De Dikke Stok'), respectively marking the 20th and 25th anniversaries of her cartooning career (depending on where you start to count).

'Je Geld Of Je Leven'. 

Most of Barbara Stok's autobiographical comics are presented as seemingly casual fragments about the pleasures and annoyances of everyday life, but they often carry deeper themes. Chronicled in stories of varying lengths, the subject matter changed as she grew older. Whereas her early comics dealt with loud music, sex and drunkenness, Stok's later work presents her ponderings over the meaning of life, insecurities, fertility, spirituality and capitalism. In the full-length story 'Je Geld Of Je Leven' (2003), she chronicled the heavy workload in her reporter years and her subsequent burnout, while the sudden death of her boyfriend's brother was the main theme of her book 'Dan Maak Je Maar Zin' (2009). Her ongoing fear of dying formed the backbone of 'Over De Levensgenieter Die Haar Angst Voor De Dood Wil Verdrijven' (2010), a philosophical exploration of the meaning of life. With a flair of "optimistic relativism", she openly depicts the inconsistencies between her intentions and actions, as well as her deeper philosophical thoughts. She describes her comic book persona as an anti-hero - someone who wants to accomplish a lot of things, but fails to do so.

From: 'Was Iedereen Maar Zoals Ik'.

An important role in Barbara Stok's comics is dedicated to her boyfriend (and later husband) Ricky van Duuren. Apart from being a character in her stories, he is also the colorist and digital editor of her work. In 2001, the couple formed the trashpunk band De Straaljagers, performing on pop stages and festivals throughout The Netherlands. Their experiences as a support act of The Hot Pockets on a tour through Spain were chronicled in the comic book 'Op Tour Door Spanje' (2007).

Biographical comics
Outside the realm of autobiographical comics, Stok has explored the lives of historical persons in graphic novel format. In 2009, the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam asked her to make a graphic novel about the Dutch post-impressionist painter Vincent van Gogh. Combining her trademark minimalistic drawing style with Van Gogh's expressionism, Stok's biography dealt with the final years of the artist's tormented life, which he spent in the south of France. Published to much critical acclaim by Nijgh & Van Ditmar, the graphic novel 'Vincent' (2012) was translated in 20 other languages, including English, German, Greek, Spanish and Chinese. 'Vincent' was the first in a wave of Dutch graphic biographies of classic painters, commissioned by cultural institutions. Stok's book was followed by Typex's graphic novel about Rembrandt Van Rijn (2013), made for the Rijksmuseum, and a 2015 graphic novel by Marcel Ruijters' about Hieronymus Bosch, an initiative of the Jheronimus Bosch 500 Foundation. For the Groninger Museum, Stok herself moved on to create 'De Omslag' (Nijgh & Van Ditmar, 2015), a graphic novel about the Dutch artist, typographer and printer Hendrik Werkman (1882-1945).

Vincent by Barbara Stok
'Vincent' (2012).

In 2021, Nijgh & Van Ditmar released Stok's next graphic biography, 'De Filosoof, de Hond en de Bruiloft' ("The Philosopher, the Dog and the Wedding"), about one of the first female philosophers in history, Hipparchia of Maroneia. Set in Athens in the 4th century BC, Stok describes Hipparchia as a teenager in an existential crisis. Dressed as a man, she secretly attends the lectures of Crates, the great Cynic philosopher who renounced his fortune for a life of poverty. Even though she is about to given away in marriage, Hipparchia decides to marry Crates instead, and follow him in his Cynic lifestyle. In her trademark graphic readability, Barbara Stok covered 2500 years of ancient philosophical teachings in this graphic novel of nearly 300 pages, an undertaking that took her five years to complete. Within a day after the book's release, a second print run was ordered, and editions in Spanish, Korean, French and English were announced. The book was nominated for the Hypatia Prize of the Society of Women in Philosophy.

'De Filosoof, de Hond en de Bruiloft' (2021).

Magazine work
Early in her career, when she was still part of the small press movement, Barbara Stok's comics also appeared in regional indie comic magazines like Gr'nn and De Stripper. By the time her work was picked up by the literary publisher Nijgh & Van Ditmar, she was much in demand by more commercial clients. Her comics and cartoons have appeared in the newspapers Algemeen Dagblad, Dagblad van het Noorden De Volkskrant, NRC, Trouw and Algemeen Dagblad, as well as the opinion magazine HP/De Tijd. A selection of the gag strips she made for Dagblad van het Noorden and the campus magazine of the Hanze University of Applied Sciences in Groningen appeared under the title 'Barbara Weet Het Beter' ("Barbara Knows Best", 2006). In the early 2000s, Barbara Stok had a monthly one-page comic in the trendy young girl magazine One, and between March 2006 and January 2007, she was one of the six autobiographical comic artists to fill a weekly spot in the daily 'ECHT' feature in morning newspaper NRC.Next. The other participating cartoonists were Floor de Goede, Maaike Hartjes, Margreet de Heer, Gerrie Hondius and Michiel van de Pol). Starting in 2009, she had a weekly comic in the afternoon newspaper NRC Handelsblad. She has also made artwork for the VPRO broadcasting organization, Rabobank Groningen, the Lowlands festival and Amnesty International.

Cartoon for NRC. "In an elevator full of mirrors" "There must be infinity." "But if I want to see it, my head gets in the way."

Jan, Jans en de Kinderen
In November 2020, Stok became the writer of 'Jan, Jans en de Kinderen', the family gag comic published in the DPG Media women's weekly Libelle. Originally created in 1970 by Jan Kruis, the comic has been a reflection of the changing Dutch society through the everyday activities of the Tromp family. Since 1999, the comic has been produced by several freelance authors under the Studio Jan Kruis banner, with Rob Phielix as lead artist. By the time Stok took over the writing duties from Peter Weijenberg, she radically changed the comic's direction. For her 88 annual episodes - 52 for the magazine publication and an additional 36 for the book collections - she initiated a storyline where father Jan Tromp loses his job due to the 2020 corona crisis, and the family is forced to sell their longtime countryside farm house and move to a more traditional Dutch housing block. Besides changing the comic's familiar setting, she also introduced the character Marley, a gender-neutral friend of daughter Karlijn, and a storyline about couples therapy.

Graphic interpretation of the Doe Maar song 'Is Dit Alles?', made for the 'Strips in Stereo' anthology (2006).

Stok has participated in collective projects like 'Strips in Stereo' (2006), 'Mooi Is Dat!' (2010) and 'Filmfanfare' (2012), to which she contributed comic interpretations of the Doe Maar song 'Is Dit Alles?', Anne Frank's wartime diary 'Het Achterhuis' and the 1995 Dutch film 'Zusje', respectively. Since 2021, she acts as editorial advisor for MENLU, a Dutch publishing company dedicated to releasing work by young comic talent from the Netherlands and Belgium.

Recognition and legacy
With her work translated in over 20 languages, Barbara Stok is one of the most celebrated contemporary Dutch cartoonists, praised for her comics about philosophical questions and social themes. During the Stripdagen comics festival in Houten on 26 September 2009, she was the first female comic artist to be awarded the annual Stripschap Prize for her entire body of work. In that same year, newspaper De Volkskrant ranked her among the five best Dutch comic artists. Overview exhibitions of her work have been held in the Stripmuseum Groningen (2010) and the Centrum Beeldende Kunst in Groningen (2013). In 2023, Barbara's work and interest in philosophy were the subject of the documentary 'Barbara Stok - Hoe goed te leven', directed by Frank Wiering and broadcast on Dutch public television in the documentary series 'Het Uur van de Wolf' on 5 December 2023.

When she started in the 1990s, Barbara Stok was one of the few women making comics in the Netherlands. Autobiographical comics had been made in the decades before by artists like Peter Pontiac and Gerard Leever, but Barbara Stok, Maaike Hartjes and Gerrie Hondius popularized the genre among a new generation. Breaking ground with their open-hearted self-reflections in comic format, they were quickly dubbed "The Big Three" of Dutch female comics. Several authors have explored the autobiographical comics tradition since then, including Floor de Goede, Michiel van de Pol, Margreet de Heer, Edith Kuyvenhoven, Marq van Broekhoven and Sandra de Haan. Barbara Stok's comics have received admiration from underground comix legend Robert Crumb, who called her stories "quite funny, well told and courageously truthful."


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