Joost Swarte is a Dutch graphic designer, illustrator and architect, and one of the most famous Dutch comic artists internationally, even though he has not made that many actual comics. He is a follower of the "Clear Line" tradition of Hergé and Edgar P. Jacobs, and is in fact the inventor of the phrase as well. Swarte has also called himself an admirer of artists like Will Eisner, George McManus, George Herriman, Winsor McCay, Alain Saint-Ogan, Robert Crumb, Jay Lynch, Justin Green, Kim Deitch and Bill Griffith.
He was born in Heemstede, studied industrial design at the Academy for Design in Eindhoven, and eventually settled in Haarlem. During his studies in Eindhoven in the late 1960s, he made illustrations for local papers like De Andere Krant and Uit de Kunst. While his main graphic influences are classic masters like Hergé and Jacobs, Swarte first made his mark within the freedom of the underground and alternative comix movement of the 1970s. He launched the magazine Modern Papier, of which he self-published ten issues in 1971 and 1972. Besides his own work, he also published stories and arwork by other artists, including Bill Bodéwes, Rob Figee, Evert Geradts, Bob Heiligers, Ever Meulen, Peter Pontiac, Jan Schoen, Mark Smeets, Jacques Verbeek, Sander Wissing and the future filmmaker Dick Maas.
In 1972, Modern Papier merged with Tante Leny Presenteert, another influential Dutch underground publication, which was edited by Evert Geradts. Swarte continued to publish comic stories in Tante Leny until 1975, and also contributed to the underground weekly Aloha (1971-1974), the newsmagazine De Nieuwe Linie, the comics fanzine Inkt, and the comix anthology 'Cocktail Comix', which he edited in 1973. He started his cooperation with Piet Schreuders' magazine Furore in 1976. Recurring characters in his stories are 'Jopo de Pojo' (sort of a 'Tintin' in disguise), art expert 'Anton Makassar', 'De Blauwe Berbers' and 'Caesar Soda'. His work contains numerous (graphical) references to classic American newspaper comics, African-American movie clichés and blues music.
He was closely affiliated with the Real Free Press of Olaf Stoop. He made the illustrations of the book 'De Papalagi' (1975), which was based on the controversial work from 1920 of the same name by the German novelist Erich Scheurmann, which contained descriptions of European life by a Samoan chieftain. Although presented as true accounts, the book is now regarded as fictional. The books anti-technology and pro-nature sentiments fitted well within the hippie scene, which led to a renewed popularity in the 1960s and 1970s. Swarte made a modern interpretation of the work, starring his character Anton Makassar. In 1980s, Real Free Press released a collection of Swarte's comics, called 'Modern Art'. Swarte also made the designs for the Real Free Press editions of the work of classic American newspaper artists like George Herriman and George McManus.
Swarte acquired a more mainstream audience through his cover illustrations for the Malmberg school magazines Okki and Jippo from 1972. Between 1972 and 1979, these magazines also ran his comic strip 'Katoen+Pinbal', about a clown, an anthropomorphic dog and a mouse. Flip Fermin made an additional story with the characters for a 1976 holiday book. Swarte made a story of 'Toon en Toos Brodeloos' for the VPRO-Gids in 1976, which was collected in a book by Drukwerk in 1977. Swarte's illustrations have appeared regularly in the Dutch newsmagazine Vrij Nederland, for which he made the comic strip 'Dr. Ben Cine' (1978) and the section 'Niet zo, maar zo' (1982-1990), a series of illusive drawings.
During the 1980s, Swarte steadily gained international recognition. As early as 1974, he had some of his work published in Charlie Mensuel in France, and later in that decade he also published his work in the Flemish weekly Humo. He took part in the international comic show Salon International de la Bande Dessinée in Angoulême for the first time in 1980, and in 1984, a survey of his work called 'Swarte, Hors Serie' was published by Futuropolis. He has regularly made illustrations and covers for the influential US magazine The New Yorker (as well as the strip 'We'll Make It'), and he did contributions to the comic anthologies RAW and Little Lit by Art Spiegelman and Françoise Mouly. His work was also featured in the Italian architecture magazine Abitare.
Throughout his career, Swarte has studied and explored graphical styles and graphical narratives. He coined the term "Clear Line" ("Ligne Claire") during a Hergé exhibition in Rotterdam in 1976. He described the style through its use of clear lines of the same width, solid and bright coloring and no hatching, all to gain a maximum readability of the drawing. The style had its origins in the Brussels school of Hergé in the 1940s, but knew a revival in the 1970s and 1980s, with Swarte as one of its main representatives. In Holland, artists like Theo van den Boogaard, Dick Briel and Eric Heuvel have applied the Clear Line in Swarte's footsteps. Yves Chaland, Ted Benoit, Serge Clerc and Jean-Claude Floc'h relaunched the style in France, while Chris Ware is one Swarte's main artistic followers in the USA. In Belgium, his graphical counterpart can be found in Ever Meulen. In his illustrated encyclopedic book 'Kop en staart' (De Bezige Bij, 2014), Swarte gave an overview of all aspects of storytelling. From character to plot and from oxymoron to catharsis; all is explained with the help of the three blind mice from the British nursery rhyme.
Not limiting himself to the comic genre, Joost Swarte is a successful illustrator, designer, architect and stained-glass artist, always recognizable for his Clear Line. He notably illustrated the Nescio novels 'De Uitvreter', 'Titaantjes' and 'Dichtertje', and made designs for stamps, watches, furniture, posters (Holland Animation Film Festival, North Sea Jazz Festival, a.o.) and record covers (for Hansje Joustra's labels No Fun and Torso). He worked with Dutch musician Fay Lovsky on her 1991 album 'Jopo in Mono', which was based around Swarte's comics character 'Jopo de Pojo', and featured artwork by Swarte to illustrate the CD box and the songtexts. As a designer of furniture, he is famous for his so-called "carrot-table", a glass table held up by four big carrot-shaped legs. In architecture, he has made his mark by designing a theatre in Haarlem, called the Toneelschuur. He has applied himself to making stained glass artwork, which has been used in the design of several housing-blocks in Amsterdam, as well as a swimming pool in Breda. His work has been exhibited all over Europe.
Joost Swarte has established himself as an advocate of comics in the art scene. As co-owner of publishing company Oog & Blik, he has been responsible for the design of many Dutch prize-winning books since 1985. In 2014, he also joined Joustra's new publishing project, Scratch Books, as an adviser. Swarte and Joustra launched the annual comics magazine Scratches, of which the first edition was published in October 2016. It contained work by both contemporary and classic Dutch, Flemish and international artists. Swarte was furthermore one of the founders of the biennial comics convention Stripdagen Haarlem in 1994, and of the Musée Hergé in Louvain-la-Neuve.
Joost Swarte won the Stripschapprijs for his entire oeuvre and his contribution to comics in general in 1998. In April 2004, he received a knighthood in the Order of Orange-Nassau from Her Majesty Beatrix, Queen of The Netherlands. He won the Marten Toonder Prize for his entire comics oeuvre in 2012. A compilation of most of his comics work was published under the title 'Bijna Compleet' ('Nearly Complete') by Oog & Blik in 2011. This collection was also published in France ('Total Swarte'), the US ('Is That All There Is?') and Spain ('Casi Completo').
Lambiek will always be grateful to Swarte for illustrating the letter "K" in our encylopedia book, 'Wordt Vervolgd - Stripleksikon der Lage Landen', published in 1979.