Peter van Straaten is one of Holland's best-known cartoonists. He is especially known for his merciless depictions of the common man, and for his daily newspaper comic 'Vader en Zoon' ('Father and Son'). His spontaneous line drawings and meticulous shading are instantly recognizable for generations of Dutch people. Among his influences are British cartoonist Ronald Searle and Dutch illustrator Jo Spier, while the writings about everyday life of Simon Carmiggelt are also strongly connected with Van Straaten's work.
Peter van Straaten was born in Arnhem, where he made his first published drawings for his school newspaper. He got his artistic education at the Amsterdam-based Kunstnijverheidsschool, which is now known as the Gerrit Rietveld Academy. 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 until 1987. The strip was a striking parody of the generation conflict between a conservative father and his socially engaged son, set against the politics of the 1970s and 1980s. The series was made into a sitcom for VARA television in 1974, and was collected in several pocket books by Van Gennep since 1970.
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 more at ease with giving his sharp look at Dutch society and politics, like in 'Bij ons in het dorp', a booklet he published on the occasion of the 1977 elections. He inimitably depicted political leaders like Joop den Uijl, Dries van Agt and Hans Wiegel as the mayor, the pastor/constable and the brat in a small village that served as a metaphor for Dutch society. The Christian Democratic politician Dries van Agt was also the subject of Van Straaten's satirical feature 'De Kruistocht van Dries de Betonne', which covered Van Agt's term as Prime Minister (1977-1982) against a medieval setting. Van Straaten dedicated the 1981 book publication to Hal Foster.
Van Straaten was at his best when he drew subtle scenes of everyday life, which seemed trivial, but in fact exposed the most painful and awkward situations. Loveless marriages, office managers hitting on their secretaries, adulterers, alcoholics, openhearted girl talk, quiet meals in restaurants and everyday smalltalk were beloved subjects in Van Straaten's cartoons. Both text and image have an equal importance in his humor. The artist usually lets one of his characters make a remark, from which the reader can construct what happened before, which causes the laugh. This type of humor was labelled as "reversed laughter" by Dutch writer and satirist Kees van Kooten in his book 'Leve het welwezen' (2015).
Van Straaten's "daily life" cartoons, generally appearing under the title 'Het Dagelijkse Leven', have been published in several newspapers and magazines, including Het Parool, Algemeen Dagblad, De Volkskrant, ZIN and MUG Magazine. His erotic work was published in Humo (in the section 'Doe ik 't goed?') and Penthouse, while political cartoons and depictions of literary life ('Het Literaire Leven') appeared in Vrij Nederland from 1968. 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 a talented artist, Peter van Straaten is 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 healt 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."