Barbara Stok is a comic book artist from Groningen, and one of the main representatives of the Dutch autobiographical comics boom of the 1990s. Together with Maaike Hartjes and Gerrie Hondius she forms the so-called "Big Three" of female comic authors in The Netherlands.
She was born in Groningen in 1970, and began her career as a journalist/reporter for the regional press. Since her student days, she has made drawings for the Groningen pop-cultural centre Vera, where she also regularly performed as a drummer in several bands. Inspired by independent comics like Joe Matt's 'Peepshow', she started making comics herself, based on her own life.
Barbara started self-publishing her open-hearted autobiographical 'Barbaraal' comix in 1996. In November 1998, Barbara was in virtually all Dutch media when her comic book anthology 'Barbaraal Tot Op Het Bot' was published in traditional book format by the literary editor Nijgh & Van Ditmar. Since then, the publisher has released more collections, such as '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) and 'Over de levensgenieter die haar angst voor de dood wil verdrijven' (2010). A collection of highlights was published in 2013 under the title 'Lang zal ze leven'.
Most of her comics are presented as seemingly casual fragments the pleasures and annoyances of everyday life, but they often carry deeper themes. Whereas her early comics mostly dealt with loud music, sex and drunkenness, her later work also presents Stok's ponderings over the meaning of life, insecurities, spirituality, capitalism and fear of dying. She chronicled her experiences with the heavy workload as a reporter/photographer and her subsquent burn-out in the full-length story 'Je Geld of je Leven' (2003), while the sudden death of her boyfriend's brother was the main theme of her book 'Dan maak je maar zin' (2009). Stok sees her own comic book alter ego as an anti-hero; someone who wants to accomplish a lot of things, but fails to do so. She tries to give her stories a flair of "optimistic relativism".
Now a fulltime cartoonist and comic artist, she has published her work in newspapers and magazines like Algemeen Dagblad, Dagblad van het Noorden and HP/De Tijd. She has also done assignments for the VPRO, Rabobank and Amnesty International. Barbara also did a monthly one-page comic in the trendy young girl magazine One, published by VNU, and she had a weekly comic in newspaper NRC.
She has also ventured outside the realm of autobiographical comics. In 2012, Nijgh & Van Ditmar published her critically acclaimed graphic novel about Dutch post-impressionist painter Vincent van Gogh, which was made in commission of the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam. Her book dealt with the final years of the artist's tormented life, which he spent in the south of France. 'Vincent' was the first in a wave of Dutch graphic novels dealing with classic Dutch painters. Shortly after Stok's book, Typex made a book about Rembrandt, followed by Marcel Ruijters' graphic novel about Hieronymus Bosch in 2015. Barbara Stok has since then made the comic book 'De Omslag' (2015) for the Groninger Museum, which deals with the Dutch artist, typographer and printer Hendrik Werkman.
Besides comic artist, Barbara Stok is also active as a musician. She has played as a drummer with bands like Epigoon Kitchen, Eyeballslugger, Txotxo and De Hockeyrokjes. She formed the band De Straaljagers with her boyfriend/husband Ricky van Duuren in 2001. The band has performed on pop stages and festivals throughout The Netherlands, and has also been on tour in Spain as support-act of The Hot Pockets. Her experiences of this tour were chronicled in her comic book 'Op tour door Spanje' in 2007.
In 2009, Barbara Stok was the first female comics author to win the annual Dutch Stripschapsprijs. Although Peter Pontiac and Gerard Leever had been making autobiographical comics long before them, Barbara Stok, Maaike Hartjes and Gerrie Hondius have certainly popularized the genre in the late 1990s. Several authors have continued the tradition since then, including Floor de Goede, Michiel van de Pol, Margreet de Heer, Edith Kuyvenhoven, Marq van Broekhoven and Sandra de Haan.