Peter van Straaten was one of The Netherlands' best-known cartoonists. He is especially known for his merciless tragicomic depictions of the common man and woman, and for his daily newspaper comic 'Vader en Zoon' ('Father and Son', 1968-1987). Van Straaten excelled both in political cartoons, humor comics, satirical slice-of-life observations as well as erotic illustrations. He could capture entire personalities and recognizable awkward situations with only a few well-placed pen scratches. His spontaneous line drawings and meticulous shading are instantly recognizable to generations of Dutch-language readers. Peter van Straaten remains beloved both with the general public as well as fellow graphic artists.
Peter van Straaten was born in 1935 in Arnhem as the youngest of five boys. His father was an architect, and drawing became an important part of his childhood. He wandered through the woods with his brother Jan, and made meticulous illustrations for his birds' logbook. Among his early influences are British illustrators Ronald Searle and Charles Dana Gibson, as well as Dutch illustrator Jo Spier, while the writings about everyday life of Simon Carmiggelt are also strongly connected with Van Straaten's work. Other inspirations for Van Straaten were Rembrandt Van Rijn, Peter Vos, Quentin Blake, James Montgomery Flagg, Harold Foster, Winsor McCay, Piet van der Hem, Eppo Doeve, Albert Hahn, Leendert Jordaan, Sjoerd Kuperus, Otto Dicke, J.H. Isings, Gerard van Straaten, Fougasse, Arthur Rackham, Edmond Dulac and Gustave Doré. Peter made his first published drawings for his school newspaper and got his artistic education at the Amsterdam-based Kunstnijverheidsschool, which is now known as the Gerrit Rietveld Academy. One of his teachers there was Lex Metz. His older brother Gerard van Straaten was by then already active as a comic artist and illustrator. Peter began his professional career at the local Amsterdam newspaper Het Parool in 1958, initially as a reporter-artist and later as a political cartoonist.
'Vader en Zoon' was first published in Het Parool on 12 November 1968 and ran for about 7000 episodes until 1987. Drawn as a text comic, with the captions below the images, the gags revolved around a conservative, right-wing father and his progressive, left-wing teenage son. The father is typically loud and impulsive, while the son tends to be calm and melancholic. The comic was a striking satire of the generation gap and reflected many political and social changes of the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s, with references to Maoism, the Cold War and the legalisation of marihuana. 'Vader en Zoon' originally appeared weekly, but readers enjoyed their dialogues so much that it eventually became a daily comic. The series was made into a sitcom for VARA television in 1974, and was collected in several pocket books by Van Gennep since 1970. De Harmonie released a large volume collection of the strip in 2000, called 'De dikke vader & zoon'. The characters also received wax statues at the Amsterdam Madame Tussauds museum.
Another comic by Van Straaten was 'Llewelyn Fflint', about a late Victorian scientist who solves mysteries with pseudo-scientific explanations. The comic was written by Belgian scriptwriter Yvan Delporte and published in the comics magazine Pep in 1972-1973. Although Van Straaten effectively brought the dark and misty streets of London to life, the format of the classic comic strip didn't suit him, and he called it quits after three stories. Years later, in 2016, Fred de Heij and Ger Apeldoorn revived 'Llewelyn Fflint' in the pages of the Stripglossy.
Van Straaten was a well-known political cartoonist too. Despite sometimes commenting on international politics he felt it was always too overwhelming and therefore less amusing than the politics of his own country. His vision about Dutch politics was made clear in the comic book 'Bij ons in het dorp' (1977), a booklet published on the occasion of the 1977 elections. A small village was used as a metaphorical setting for Dutch society. Prime Minister Joop den Uyl was depicted as a mayor. Vice Prime Minister and head of the Christian-Democratic party CDA Dries van Agt as the local constable, while head of the conservative-liberal party VVD Hans Wiegel became an annoying brat under Van Straaten's pen. Van Agt was also subject of the satirical feature 'De Kruistocht van Dries de Betonne', which covered his term as Prime Minister (1977-1982) against a medieval setting. The 1981 book publication was dedicated to Hal Foster, best known as the creator of 'Prince Valiant'.
Despite working as a political cartoonist for six decades, Van Straaten always felt that caricaturing celebrities was not one of his strongest points and that he was too soft in his opinions. The one time he - in his own words - made the strongest stance happened in 2011 with his Inktspot-winning cartoon about the child sex abuse scandals in the Roman Catholic Church. The drawing depicted a praying altar boy with a crucifix up his ass. Van Straaten received so many angry letters from Catholics that his wife adviced him to remove his name plate from his front door.
Van Straaten is most famous among the general public for his one-panel cartoons under the title 'Het Dagelijkse Leven', which replaced his political cartoons in Het Parool in 1988 (Joep Bertrams succeeded him as political cartoonist). They all depict simple scenes of everyday life, often to the point of banality. The most awkward and embarrassing situations are depicted. Drunks, people trying to quit smoking, quiet meals in restaurants, office managers hitting on their secretaries, adulterers, openhearted girl talk, artists with writer's block, seniors acting like teenagers, perplexed visitors in museums, forced attempts at small talk... Many cartoons involve people who fail to impress their environment. They try to act smart, hip, cool, strong, helpful or attractive, but to no avail. The most popular in this field are Van Straaten's sex cartoons. Not so much for their eroticism, but because they feature hilariously hopeless bed partners, either in official relationships, extramarital affairs and/or visits to a prostitute. These sex cartoons have been collected and published under the title 'Doe Ik 't Goed?' ('Am I Doing It Right?') in the Flemish magazine Humo, and also in Dutch erotic magazine Penthouse. Van Straaten has also drawn purely erotic drawings, without funny captions. They have been compiled in the books 'Aanstoot en Nastoot' (1986) and have been exhibited as well.
Text and image in Van Straaten's cartoons are equally important. The comedy is subtle and usually involves one character making a remark, from which the reader can construct what happened (or didn't happen) before. Dutch writer and satirist Kees van Kooten (half of the comedy Van Kooten & De Bie) labelled this type of humor "reversed laughter" in his book 'Leve het welwezen' (2015). Apart from the gags themselves, Van Straaten's drawings are also a major source of hilarity. His characters have the most amusing expressions. With only a few lines he manages to change them into instantly recognizable human archetypes. Some are plain ordinary, others somewhat eccentric, but they never feel like caricatures. All of them look and act like believable individuals.
Besides in Het Parool, Van Straaten's "daily life" cartoons have appeared in newspapers and magazines like Algemeen Dagblad, De Volkskrant, ZIN and MUG Magazine, while his political cartoons and depictions of literary life ('Het Literaire Leven') appeared in Vrij Nederland from 1968 until 2014. Peter van Straaten cartoons have been collected in many books, from the Van Gennep collections of the 1970s and 1980s to the topical and large-format books by De Harmonie in the 2000s. Since 1994, Peter van Straaten's cartoons also appear in an annual tear-off calendar, called 'Peter's Zeurkalender'.
Besides being a talented artist, Peter van Straaten was also a gifted writer. Between 1986 and 2000, his weekly column about the "messy life" of single mother Agnes was one of the most popular features in the weekly magazine Vrij Nederland. The serial had started in Het Parool in August 1984, and has also been collected in novel format.
With probably tens of thousands drawings to his name, Peter van Straaten announced his retirement from his daily cartoon in Het Parool in February 2012, after 58 years of loyal service. In July 2014, he also cancelled his weekly cartoon in Vrij Nederland. He continued to draw for De Volkskrant until health problems forced him to retire completely in 2016. Peter van Straaten's final cartoon was published on 2 August 2016 and dealt with the UK leaving the European Union.
Peter van Straaten was knighted in the Order of the Dutch Lion in 2009. He won the Stripschapprijs for his comic 'Vader en Zoon' in 1983, the literary prize De Gouden Ganzenveer in 2006, and the Jacobus van Looyprijs for both his artistic and literary qualities in 2007. He has received the Inktspotprijs more than any other Dutch cartoonist. This Dutch prize for political cartoons was awarded to Van Straaten five times: in 1994, 1997, 2003, 2010 and 2016. Van Straaten was unable to attend the presentation in 2016 because of health issues. He officially ended his career in a written testimonial, stating: "Pleasantly surprised. The fifth Inktspotprijs, what an honor! I thank the jury and salute all my colleagues, whom I can promise: this was the very last time for me. I am unfortunately done working."
Peter van Straaten passed away on 8 December 2016 at the age of 81.