Roza, by Robert Olaf Stoop 1966
Roza's Lotgevallen

Robert Olaf Stoop was a Dutch artist, designer, publisher, comics importer and former member of the Provo movement. As co-founder of the Amsterdam-based Real Free Press (1965-1980) he was responsible for introducing American underground comix on Dutch soil. As the creator of one of Europe's first underground comix, the self-published 'Roza's Lotgevallen' (1966), Stoop can be considered the founder of the Dutch alternative comics scene.


Provo members Roel van Duijn, Olaf Stoop, Jaap Beek and Hans Metz, portrayed in De Telegraaf of 24 July 1965.

Stoop was born in 1945 in Amsterdam, but spent large parts of his childhood in England, with his grandmother in Indonesia and with a Jewish family in Laren. He grew up to be a full-blooded anarchist, and was a prominent member of the counterculture movement Provo in Amsterdam. The group was founded by Robert Jasper Grootveld, Roel van Duijn and Rob Stolk, and were known for their provocative but non-violent happenings against the authorities in the period 1965-1967. The school dropout Stoop had his first job at the publishing house Van Ditmar, and then operated a AKO book stand in Schiphol Airport. He gained notoriety for putting provocational pamphlets in the newspapers of non-suspecting travellers. The pamphlet showed the portrait of Claus von Amsberg, the German fiancé of Dutch crown princess Beatrix, with the text "persona non grata" and a description. Stoop was subsequently fired, but in the process became the first Provo member to be interviewed by a national newspaper (Algemeen Handelsblad, 29 June 1965).


Pamphlet announcing the first issue of Provo (June 1965)

Stoop also designed posters for the Provo group, and wrote articles for their eponymous magazine. For the first issue of Provo (June 1965) he drew a pamphlet with a couple of "famous" doctors who wholeheartedly recommend the magazine. He however abruptly ended his association in August 1966, allegedly because one of his articles was refused. Another reason was that Provo was steadily turning into a more professional organization, which disgusted the young man, who refused to do any concessions. Stoop decided to go his own way with his Real Free Press, through which he published new pamphlets.


Roza's Lotgevallen (1966)

The label's first comics publication was 'Roza's lotgevallen deel 1: Roza's lot gevallen?' (1966), an underground comic written and drawn by Stoop himself. The publication also featured an extra booklet about drug use. 'Roza's Lotgevallen' is considered the first European underground comic, and the launch of the alternative comix scene in the Netherlands. Work by Stoop also appeared in De Witte Krant (1967) and the anarchist magazine Den Uil from Ghent, Belgium (1968). Stoop was joined in his operation by Martin Beumer, an ex-sports instructor, with whom he started importing both American, British and French alternative comic books and rare records. The Real Free Press became a foundation in 1973.


Olaf Stoop and Martin Beumer of the Real Free Press

The Real Free Press shop and offices on the Oude Nieuwstraat 10 (and from 1978 on the Dirk van Hasseltssteeg 25) became a meeting place for underground artists, or "the lost connection for solid facts" as Stoop called it. Between November 1968 and April 1974 Stoop and Beumer published six tabloid-size issues of the Real Free Press Illustratie. It reprinted work by the top of the American alternative scene, such as Robert Crumb, Gilbert Shelton, Spain Rodriguez and S. Clay Wilson. Beumer was largely responsible for the translations, while Stoop provided the hand-lettering for the paper's articles about marijuana cooking, scientology, the Plaster Casters, Tijuana Bibles and Vietnam oil fields. Between 1969 and 1971 the Real Free Press also published four European editions of Wallace Wood's indie comic book Witzend. 'Wipe Out Comics' (1973-1975) was launched to promote the work of Dutch underground artists to an international audience. It featured contributions by Peter Pontiac, Joost Swarte and Bernard Willem Holtrop.


Real Free Press issues #1 and #6. Cover illustrations by Ercola and Robert Crumb

With their collections of Winsor McCay's 'Little Nemo in Slumberland' (1969) and 'Dream of the Rarebit Fiend' (1976), Bud Fisher's 'Mutt and Jeff' (1971), Basil Wolverton's 'Powerhouse Pepper' (1973), Gustave Verbeck's 'The Upside-Downs' (1973), George Herriman's 'Krazy Kat' (1974) and George McManus' 'Bringing Up Father' (1975), the RFP furthermore brought the work of long-forgotten geniuses back to the attention. These largely English-language books also became sought-after overseas. The reprint of 'The Spirit' (1975-1976) led to new appreciation of Will Eisner, and even prompted the veteran artist's return to comics after years of doing mainly commercial artwork. The subsequent publication of Eisner's 'A Contract With God' (1978) in the USA is considered the launch of the graphic novel as an official comics genre. The Real Free Press additionally published a Dutch edition of 'Monkey Subdues the White Bone-Demon' ('Aap verslaat de witte knekelgeest', 1971), an adaptation by Wang-Hsing-pei of a 16th century Chinese novel by Wu Cheng-en with illustrations by Chao Hung and Chien Hsiao-Tai.


List of publications by the Real Free Press, printed in Ciso Stripgids #10 (July 1976)

Stoop's Real Free Press had close ties with Kees Kousemaker, who had founded Europe's first specialized comics shop in the Amsterdam Kerkstraat in November 1968 and also had a keen eye for underground and alternative comics art. Stoop was also friends with Flip Fermin, a Lambiek employee and artist, who regularly drew Stoop in unsolicited advertisements, but never appeared in any to the RFP publications. The Antwerp-based art collective Ercola (Jean-Claude Block, Jean-Claude Buytaert, Wally van Looy, among other people) made their first commissioned artwork for Stoop. Olaf Stoop was one of the first to recognize the talent of Joost Swarte, and published his work in several forms, such as the book 'De Papalagi' (1975), which became famous world-wide, and Swarte's first comic, 'Modern Art' (1980). Joost Swarte also did most of the design and color separation work for the RFP reprint collections. Another associate was film maker Harrie Verstappen, with whom Stoop made a film adaptation of Victor Moscoso's 'Cosmic Comics' (1974). After moving to the Dutch Antilles in 1978, Verstappen established the Real Free Press International Foundation in Curaçao to publish and distribute the affiliated artists overseas.


Pamphlet about drug use, handlettered by Stoop for Roza's Lotgevallen

As a true exponent of Dutch counterculture, drug use was an important part of the Real Free Press' daily operations. Harrie Verstappen jokingly remarked it was the "only publishing house he knew of that ran on dope money." Already in 1970 Olaf Stoop and his wife Midzy spent months in a French prison after being apprehended for drug posession during their honeymoon trip. Stoop and Beumer initially used mainly weed, but later switched to cocaine. Production steadily declined, and in the second half of the 1970s most of the comix import market had been taken over by Bill Daley. The Real Free Press ceased all its activities in 1985. An intriguing personality, Robert Olaf Stoop lived his whole life as an anarchist and a free mind. He died of a heart attack in Amsterdam on 3 March 1998, three days before his 53rd birthday. Martin Beumer spent his final years on Mallorca, and died in 1999.

Olaf Stoop, photo by Johannes van Dam 1980

Harrie Verstappen about the Real Free Press

Robert Olaf Stoop in Lambiek's Nederlandse Stripgeschiedenis

Series and books by Robert Olaf Stoop in stock in the Lambiek Webshop:

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