Roza, by Robert Olaf Stoop 1966
'Roza's Lotgevallen'.

Robert Olaf Stoop was a Dutch comic artist, designer, publisher, comics importer and former member of the Provo movement. As co-founder of the Amsterdam-based Real Free Press (1965-1985), 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 comic scene.


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

Early life
Olaf Stoop was born in 1945 in Amsterdam, but spent large parts of his childhood outside his home country. During his youth he lived in England, in Indonesia with his grandmother and with a Jewish family in Laren. He grew up to be a full-blooded anarchist, fueled by the rebellious spirit of the 1960s. He never finished high school and took his first job at publishing house Van Ditmar. Afterwards he operated a book stand at Schiphol Airport, promoting publications by company AKO. 


Pamphlet announcing the first issue of Provo (June 1965). The magazine is recommended by Dr. Frankenstein, Dr. Ben Casey (from the TV series 'Ben Casey'), Dr. No (from the 'James Bond' film 'Dr. No'), Dr. Killdare (from the TV series 'Dr. Killdare') and the English-language expression 'Dr. Killjoy' (meaning somebody deliberately destroys all fun). 

Provo
In 1965-1967 The Netherlands were shaken up by the Provo movement. The group was founded in Amsterdam by Robert Jasper Grootveld, Roel van Duijn and Rob Stolk, and known for their provocative but non-violent happenings. Stoop joined them instantly. He put their pamphlets between newspaper copies of unsuspecting travellers in the city. One of these Provo pamphlets portrayed Claus von Amsberg, the fiancé of Dutch crown princess Beatrix, with the line "persona non grata" written underneath. Claus was a German and had been a member of both the Hitler Youth and the Wehrmacht army during World War II. Although these were mandatory memberships for all German children and youngsters at the time and Claus distanced himself from Nazism, he was still accused of being a Nazi sympathizer by many Dutch citizens. For the Provo movement Claus was the ideal target. Stoop soon lost his job over these anti-royalist actions. Nevertheless, it did provide him with enough publicity to become the first Provo member to be interviewed by a national newspaper, namely Algemeen Handelsblad on 29 June 1965.

Stoop also designed posters for the Provo group and wrote articles for their similarly titled magazine. In the first issue of 'Provo', 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 steadily transformed into a more professional organization. This disgusted the young man, who refused to do any concessions.


"Roza's Lotgevallen' (1966).

Real Free Press 
In 1966 Stoop established his own publishing company, Real Free Press, producing pamphlets, comic books and comic magazines. Stoop was joined 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. Its 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.


Olaf Stoop and Martin Beumer of the Real Free Press.

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

Real Free Press also brought the work of long-forgotten comic artists from the first half of the 20th century under attention. Artists like 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). These largely English-language books also became sought-after overseas. The reprint of 'The Spirit' (1975-1976) led to a rediscovery and reappreciation 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.

Roza's Lotgevallen
The first comic publication of Stoop's label Real Free Press was 'Roza's Lotgevallen deel 1: Roza's Lot Gevallen?' (1966), an underground comic written and drawn by himself. The publication also featured an extra booklet about drug use. 'Roza's Lotgevallen' is considered the first European underground comic, and launched the alternative comics scene in the Netherlands. 


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

Connections
Stoop's Real Free Press had close ties with Kees Kousemaker, who in November 1968 founded Europe's first specialized comics shop in the Amsterdam Kerkstraat 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 unpublished advertisements, but never appeared in any to the Real Free Press 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.

Work by Stoop also appeared in De Witte Krant (1967) and the anarchist magazine Den Uil from Ghent, Belgium (1968).


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

Drugs possession arrests
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 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 marijuana, but later switched to cocaine. Production steadily declined, and in the second half of the 1970s most of their comics import market had been taken over by Bill Daley. The Real Free Press ceased all its activities in 1985.

Final years and death
An intrigueing personality, Robert Olaf Stoop lived his whole life as an anarchist and a free spirit. In 1998 he died from a heart attack, only three days before what would've been his 53rd birthday. His associate Martin Beumer spent his final years on Mallorca, and died in 1999.

Olaf Stoop, photo by Johannes van Dam 1980
Olaf Stoop, photographed by Johannes Van Dam, 1980. 

Harrie Verstappen about the Real Free Press

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