Jopo de Pojo by Joost Swarte
'Jopo de Pojo'. An illustration of Albert King's blues song 'I'll Play The Blues For You'. 

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. Most of his better known series, like 'Jopo de Pojo', 'Anton Makassar' and 'Katoen en Pinbal' (1972-1979), were made in the 1970s. Afterwards he became far better known as an illustrator and architect. Swarte is a follower of the "Clear Line" tradition of Hergé and Edgar P. Jacobs, and even coined the phrase. He draws in a very calculated, technically precise style with much attention to bright colours and elegant design work. Swarte is additionally (co-)initiator of magazines like Modern Papier and Scratches, as well as the festival Stripdagen Haarlem and the Hergé Museum in Louvain-La-Neuve, Belgium.

Modern PapierModern Papier
Cover illustrations for Modern Papier, respectively January 1971 and late 1972. 

Early life and influences
Joost Swarte was born in 1947 in Heemstede, North Holland. Among his earliest graphic influences were Hergé, Edgar P. Jacobs and Bob van den Born. He 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. Swarte named himself an admirer of Will Eisner, George McManus, George Herriman, Winsor McCay, Alain Saint-Ogan, Robert Crumb, Jay Lynch, Justin Green, Kim Deitch and Bill Griffith. Later in life, he also expressed admiration for Ever Meulen and Tobias Tak and Willem. Swarte first made his mark within the freedom of the underground comics and alternative comics movement of the 1970s.

Modern Papier
Between 1971 and 1972, Swarte launched the magazine Modern Papier, of which he self-published ten issues. Besides his own work, he also published stories and artwork 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.

Caesar Soda by Joost Swarte
'Caesar Soda?' (1973).

Tante Leny Presenteert
In 1972, Modern Papier merged with Tante Leny Presenteert, another influential Dutch underground publication, edited by Evert Geradts. Swarte continued to publish comic stories in Tante Leny Presenteert until 1975, and also contributed to the underground weekly Aloha (1971-1974), the news magazine De Nieuwe Linie, the comic fanzine Inkt, and the comics 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.

Jopo de Pojo by Joost Swarte
'Jopo de Pojo'.

Real Free Press
Swarte was closely affiliated with the Real Free Press of Olaf Stoop. He made the illustrations of the book 'De Papalagi' (1975), based on the controversial 1920 book 'De Papalagi' by 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 book's 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.

'Katoen + Pinbal' (1973).

Katoen + Pinbal & other comics
Swarte acquired a more mainstream audience through his cover illustrations for the Malmberg school magazines Okki and Jippo from 1972 on. 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. For a while, Jan Vervoort was considered to continue 'Katoen + Pinbal', but eventually these plans fell through. 

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.

Toon en Toos Brodeloos
Joost Swarte was one of the artists involved in the 'Toon en Toos Brodeloos' strip, which a team of seven artists produced in 1976 for VPRO-Gids, the magazine of broadcasting company VPRO. Each episode was a satirical story about one of the Dutch broadcasting companies, drawn by a different artist. Swarte did the one about AVRO, while the other artists were Evert Geradts (KRO), Aart Clerkx (VARA), Joost Troost (EO), Rob Gorter (NCRV), Harry Buckinx (VPRO) and Fred Julsing (TROS). The stories were collected in a book by Har van Fulpen's Drukwerk in 1976.

Niet zo maar zo by Joost Swarte
'Niet Zo, Maar Zo'. 

International career
During the 1980s, Swarte steadily gained international recognition. As early as 1974, he had some of his work published in Charlie Mensuel in France, making one episode of 'Fred Fallo' in issue #64 along with original creator Willem, Later that decade he also published in Willem's short-lived magazine Surprise (1976) and 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 Série' 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 contributed 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.

Modern Art by Joost Swarte
Cover illustration for the 'Anton Makassar' book 'Modern Art', 1978.

Clear Line
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 the Netherlands, artists like Theo van den Boogaard, Dick Briel, Erik de Graaf 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. In 2017 he released a picture book about the Dutch art movement De Stijl (The Style), of which Piet Mondriaan, Bart van der Leck and Gerrit Rietveld were the main representatives. The book, 'En Toen De Stijl', was published by the Municipal Museum of The Hague and the publishing house Leopold on the occasion of the movement's 100th anniversary and a related exposition in the museum.

Stamps by Joost Swarte
Stamps designed by Joost Swarte in 1984.

Illustration career
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). Between 26 April and 11 October 1980 he illustrated 'Wat Heb Ik Nou Aan Mijn Fiets Hangen?', scripted by Willem and published in Vrij Nederland. The story stars two kids, Rik and Klaartje, who travel the world in their special car. Most of the dialogue features satirical commentary about the countries they visit, but presented in the style of an old-fashioned children's book about exotic adventures. In 1982 it was published in book form as 'De Wereldreis van Rik en Klaartje' (De Harmonie, 1982), with a French translation under the title 'Le Tour du Monde de Ric et Claire' (Futuropolis, 1982) and a German one as 'Klara und Ricky. Eine Reise um die Welt' (Édition Moderne, Zürich, 1983).

Swarte worked with Dutch musician Fay Lovsky on her 1991 album 'Jopo in Mono', based on Swarte's comic 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, 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.

Jopo in Mono
Album cover for Fav Losky's 'Jopo in Mono'. 

Comics promotion
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 Hansje Joustra's new publishing project, Scratch Books, as an adviser. Swarte and Joustra launched the annual comic 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 additionally one of the founders of the biennial comics convention Stripdagen Haarlem in 1994, and of the Musée Hergé (Hergé Museum) in Louvain-la-Neuve. On 23 June 2017 he designed a mural in the Brouwersvliet in Antwerp, as part of their local Comics Route. 

Graphic and written contributions
Swarte made a graphic contribution to Marion Vidal's 'Monsieur Schulz et ses Peanuts’ (Albin Michel, 1976), an essay about Charles M. Schulz’ 'Peanuts’, illustrated with subversive parodies of the comic, that Schulz unsuccessfully tried to sue. Swarte was also one of several artists to make a graphic contribution to 'Pepperland’ (1980), a collective comic book tribute to the store Pepperland, to celebrate its 10th anniversary at the time. In 1983, he was one of many comic artists paying homage to the recently deceased Hergé in a special issue of (À Suivre), titled 'Adieu Hergé'. He also contributed drawings to the "safe sex" promotional book 'Les Aventures de Latex' (FortMedia, 1991). Swarte paid  tribute to Ever Meulen during the 'Ever Meulen & Friends' exhibition in October 2017 in Brussels. In 2020 he joined 75 Dutch & Flemish comic artists to make a graphic contribution to the free collective comic book ‘Striphelden versus Corona’ (Oogachtend, Uitgeverij L, 2020). The book is intended to support comics stores who had to close their doors for two months during the lockdown at the height of the COVID-19 virus pandemic. 

Swarte wrote a preface to the 2006-2007 reprints of Lo Hartog van Banda & Thé Tjong-Khing's comic series 'Arman and Ilva', published by Sherpa. Swarte also penned a foreword to 'E' (Oog & Blik, 2010), a compilation book by René Windig & Eddie de Jong.

He designed the cover for Peter van Dongen's graphic novel 'Rampokan-Java' (1998) and provided art direction to Tobias Tak's 'Canciones' (Scratch Books, 2017). 

Het was een duistere en dwaze nacht
'It Was A Dark and Silly night' (2002).

On 20 September 1985, Swarte and the Dutch postal service PTT received the Annual Award for Special Merits from comic appreciation society Het Stripschap (the "Jaarprijs voor Bijzondere Verdiensten",  nowadays the P. Hans Frankfurtherprijs). On 30 October 1990 Joost Swarte received the "Jaarprijs"  again, awarded during the Stripdagen in Breda. Eight years later, on 10-11 October 1998 during the same event, he received the Stripschapprijs for his entire oeuvre and his contribution to comics in general. In 1999 his design for Peter van Dongen's 'Rampokan-Java' received the prize for 'Best Book Design'

On 30 April 2004, he received a knighthood in the Order of Orange-Nassau from Beatrix, Queen of The Netherlands. On 6 June 2012 he won the Marten Toonderprijs and on 21 November 2022 the Grand Boum de Ville de Blois, both for his entire comics oeuvre.

Legacy and influence
Joost Swarte is a towering figure in both the Dutch and international world of comics and graphic art. Various underground and alternative artists owe their career to him promoting them through magazines like Modern Papier, Moderne Kunst and Cocktail Comix. In the Netherlands, Joost Swarte was an influence on Blexoblex and Auke Herrema. In Belgium, he counts Kim Duchateau,Ben GijsemansJean-Louis LejeuneEver Meulen and Katrien Van Schuylenbergh among his disciples. In France, he inspired Ted Benoît and Mathieu Laville. In the United States, he influenced Charles Burns and Chris Ware and drew admiration from Art Spiegelman and Françoise Mouly

Books about Joost Swarte
A compilation of Swarte's 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' (1979) , for organizing our store's very first exhibition on 18 October-November 1986 and designing and editing the '40 Jaar Lambiek' book (2008), which celebrated Lambiek's 40th anniversary. 

Joost Swarte and Hansje Joustra
Joost Swarte and Hansje Joustra during the opening of Swarte's exposition at Gallery Lambiek on 6 April 1990. The exhibition closed in May of that year.

Series and books by Joost Swarte you can order today:


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