De Liefhebbers by Toon van Driel
De Liefhebbers

Toon van Driel is a Dutch comics artist who predominantly makes humoristic comics. His signature works consist of two long-running gag series, 'F.C Knudde' (1973) and 'De Stamgasten' (1978). 'F.C. Knudde' centers around the worst fictional football team of the Netherlands. The comic strip spawned a huge merchandise and has become somewhat of an institution in its home country. 'De Stamgasten' is a more humble gag comic about bar visitors telling each another obscene jokes. Van Driel wrote and drew various other gag comics, including a celebrity comic strip about Dutch comedian André van Duin. While the artist has occasionally been criticized for the low-brow level of his work, his most famous series have proven to be remarkably enduring.

Andre van Duin by Toon van Driel
André van Duin-strip from De Telegraaf

Early life
Antonie Marcel van Driel was born in 1945 in Amsterdam. His father was a simple worker who didn't really like his wife and vice versa. As a result Van Driel felt emotionally neglected, but had more fun with his grandfather, who was a former advertising illustrator and background designer for operas and comedy revues. During his youth the boy grew up with all the familiar classic Dutch comics series, including those by Marten Toonder. Graphically his work is more reminscent of the minimal and instantly readable work of Jean-Marc Reiser, while the artist has also expressed his admiration for the humor of Peter de Smet. Van Driel married early, at the age of 18, but this relationship didn't last long. He moved to the American West Coast where he enjoyed the hippie lifestyle. His career started at an advertising agency, but eventually Van Driel became a steward for the Dutch aviation company KLM for three and a half years. At the turn of the 1960s into the 1970s he was also active as a bass player and songwriter for the Dutch rock band Shocking Blue, most famous for their international number one-hit 'Venus' (1969). However, the young man merely wrote the B-side of this single, 'Hot Sand', and four other songs, none of which charted. Since he wrote all songs under a pseudonym Van Driel never earned any royalties from the band's worldwide success. He later tried a musical career of his own under the name Marchal, but his single 'My Jenny' only sold 17 copies. Van Driel later joked: "My family wasn't larger than 17 people."

FC Knudde by Toon van Driel
Early Knudde strip

F.C. Knudde
In 1973 Van Driel fell unemployed again and decided to become a comics artist. He had no graphic experience whatsoever, but was determined to give it a try. He applied for a job at the Toonder Studios and met Marten Toonder in person. The maestro asked the young amateur whether he could draw "a bear attacking a helicopter"? Van Driel naturally couldn't pull this off from the top of his head. Toonder predictably turned him down, but was nice enough to give the young artist some support and useful guidelines. He told him that he had talent, but advised to "just keep it simple", rather than try out illustration work that he couldn't handle. Van Driel always kept these words in mind. His drawings and comedy are very basic, but effective in communicating their stories and gags in an understandable way. The same year he went to the newspaper Algemeen Dagblad, where he showed the staff his drawings and instantly told them that he "wanted to create a comic strip for them, despite the fact that I can't draw." The editors took sympathy on him and thus, on 19 March 1973, Van Driel's comic strip 'F.C. Knudde' (1973-...) made its debut. He signed it with his first name: "Toon".

FC Knudde by Toon van Driel

'F.C. Knudde' is a comic strip about an incompetent association football team, hence the name ("knudde" is a Dutch expression for "worthlessness"). All characters are near indistinguishable chalk white men and women with huge bulbous noses and an overall goofy expression. The two main protagonists are goal keeper Dirk and defender Jaap. Most of the time Jaap loses his ball to the opposing team, has accidents on the field or, if he scores, it's usually an own goal. Despite being utter losers, 'F.C. Knudde' has played matches all over the country. Somehow they managed to travel and play in our other countries too. The team has travelled to Argentina, Iceland, France, the United States (in a double-parter), Africa, Russia, Romania and even into space! 'F.C. Knudde' is mostly known as a gag comic and therefore most episodes are short stories. But Van Driel has also created longer adventures with his anti-heroes. References to popular media phenomena are rampant, including popular TV soaps such as 'Dallas', 'Dynasty', 'Falcon Crest' and people like The Rolling Stones and Laurel & Hardy. The latter duo inspired much of Van Driel's own slapstick, since he has a fondness for comedies about losers. Naturally famous (Dutch) football champions and trainers have occasionally had cameos in the series over the years. One of the most thrilling moments in Van Driel's life happened when he travelled by plane while Dutch football star Ruud Gullit was on board. He observed Gullit reading 'F.C. Knudde' in the papers and laughing out loud when he recognized himself in that day's episode.

FC Knudde by Toon van Driel
F.C. Knudde naar Argentinië

'F.C. Knudde' originally ran three times a week, but readers of Algemeen Dagblad loved it enough that it soon appeared on a daily basis. The catchphrase "Tikkie terug, Jaap!" ("Pass it back to me, Jaap!") soon became a familiar line to many. Dutch football comics had existed before, like Henk Sprenger's 'Kick Wilstra', but most had been realistic and serious in nature. 'F.C. Knudde' was more cartoony in its execution. The comic also appeared at the right time. Dutch-language readers were in the mood for a comic strip about a bad football team, since the opposite was true in real life. In the early 1970s Dutch football stood in the center of international attention thanks to its star champion Johan Cruijff, the three consecutive victories of AFC Ajax during the Europacup and the Dutch national team making it to the final match during the World Cup of 1972 (which they lost). 'F.C. Knudde' reached a wider audience from 26 September 1975 on, when its cartoons were shown in the weekly TV broadcast 'AVRO's Sportpanorama'. This was only the second time that a Dutch comics series was featured on a regularly broadcast TV series, the first time being Peter van Straaten's 'Vader en Zoon' which was adapted into a short-lived TV sitcom in 1972.

FC Knudde by Toon van Driel

'F.C. Knudde' continued scoring with audiences in the next decades. From 1976 on it appeared in the comics magazine Eppo, while longer stories ran in Nieuwe Revu the year after. In 1979 Van Driel sold the rights to his comics series to publisher De Vrijbuiter, whereupon he left most of the drawing in hands of his assistant Ray Nicholson. In the early 1980s 'F.C. Knudde' was popular enough to become its own magazine, simply called Knudde. Each issue came with a huge fold-out poster. Nevertheless the magazine only lasted nine issues, published between 1981 and 1984. But the comic strip kept selling. De Vrijbuiter released 35 albums between 1978 and 1998. After that, Van Driel refused to work for De Vrijbuiter and its mother corporation Audax following a long-running disagreement, although the daily 'Knudde' strip kept appearing in Algemeen Dagblad and regional papers like Het Limburgs Dagblad, Het Brabants Dagblad and De Stentor. Van Driel managed to create a "sequel" strip for Nieuwsblad van het Noorden called 'FC Tammo 80' (1998), but it took several lawsuits until he reacquired the full rights to his characters in 2008.

FC Tammo 80 by Toon van Driel

The first new story, 'Knudski' (2008), was a striking parody of the soccer world and appeared in the men's magazine Aktueel Sportief. From 2008, new episodes were featured daily on the website Nusport of the news website Nu.nl, which gave Van Driel the opportunity to directly comment on current affairs in the world of soccer. The strip made its appearance in the free newspaper Metro in 2010, and additionally in regional papers of the Wegener group, like Brabants Dagblad. 'F.C. Knudde' furthermore inspired a huge flood of merchandise over the years. Its gags have been compiled in various book specials, several of which coincided with the quadrennial World Championships Association Football. To celebrate the 1998 championship the Dutch postal service let Van Driel design a special stamp. The characters have furthermore appeared on a wide variety of products over the years, including cups, pillows, calendars, pocket books, plates, shirts and naturally soccer balls. In 2013 the anniversary book '40 Jaar FC Knudde' was published to celebrate the 40th anniversary of the series. It had a foreword by Dutch national football trainer Louis van Gaal who wrote the dubious compliment: "Everyone who knows the national football trainer a bit is aware that he makes an effort for people with a handicap, so that's why I enjoy doing something for Toon." In 2016 trainer Guus Hiddink opened an exhibition of Van Driel's cartoons in Haarlem. The same year Van Driel also illustrated the cover of the football magazine Voetbal International.


De Stamgasten

De Stamgasten
In 1978 Van Driel's second most well known gag comic, 'De Stamgasten' (1978-1979) debuted in Algemeen Dagblad and later appeared in Eppo and Panorama too. The series is built around a very simple but effective premise. Since many people enjoy jokes and most jokes are told in bars, 'De Stamgasten' features bar hoppers telling jokes. All episodes take place in the bar "De Stam" (a pun on the Dutch expression "stamkroeg" for "favorite bar"). Like one would expect from jokes told in a bar most are corny and vulgar in nature, left alone the fact that you might have heard many of them before. What makes 'De Stamgasten' a bit more original is the location and its characters. The bar can be found in the weirdest of places, including the desert, the South Pole and even in trees. Its clients are all anthropomorphic animals. The bar keeper is a no-nonsense dog who frequently has to force his guests to pay for their drinks or leave home when its closing time.

Felis Leo, by Toon van Driel
Felis Leo

Other characters all have their own individual running gags. Bertus the crocodile always trips when he enters the place. The bespectacled bird Ome Jan often tries to manoeuver inflatable dolls, while the Siamese cats (and twins) Tjap & Tjoy act different from one another. A nameless pheasant with a bow-tie frequently insults female visitors only to be beaten up by them afterwards. A condor who works as an airline pilot can never fly without being scooped by a Boeing. The crazy yellow creature Kierewiet is incomprehensible to everybody, Felis Leo the lion is a failure as a hunter and Stanley the black dog frequent victim of racial prejudice, despite the fact that he is the only person in the bar who actually works for a living. Other pub crawlers are a donkey waiter, a drunk pig, a group of oversexed penguins, a snake frustrated by his lack of paws and an elephant who feels insecure about his small organ. The most well known character is Ab Normaal, a pink rabbit who enjoys having sex with other animals and telling jokes.


Het Vreemdelingenlegioen

'De Stamgasten' aimed at a much broader audience than 'FC Knudde' and effectively gained huge commercial success. Van Driel attributed this to the fact that he spent many hours in the pub too. The series provided enough material to create spin-offs about some of the individual pub crawlers. 'Ab Normaal' ran in Panorama, while 'Felis Leo' appeared in Robbedoes (1984-1985). 'De Stamgasten' inspired advertising comics for Duyvis crisps and Amstel Beer. The pub-setting was dropped for the spin-off 'Het Vreemdelingenlegioen' (1985-1994), which appeared in Eppo/Sjors en Sjimmie Stripblad, while the love life of his favorite animal characters was chronicled in 'De Liefhebbers' (1987). In 2001-2003 the series was adapted into a TV show, 'Ab Normaal' (2001-2003), which rarely happens to Dutch comics. While the format of the comic strip wasn't exactly complicated the TV adaptation simplified it even further. It only took one character, Ab Normaal the rabbit, and placed him in a real-life bar with a live audience. Ab was performed as hand puppet voiced by Rob Ronalds, while a real-life attractive young woman (Jennifer van Groeningen) acted as his dumb blonde sidekick. Each episode had Ab telling bawdy jokes to the audience. The self-described "Dutch king of the jokes" always laughed out loud with his own punchlines, aided by a laugh track pepping up the audiences' reactions.

Ab Normaal, by Toon van Driel
Ab Normaal

'Ab Normaal' ran on the Dutch commercial TV channel Yorin at first, but eventually channel-hopped to RTL5, V8 and Veronica. The pink rabbit even recorded two novelty songs, the cover 'Kleine Blonde Mariandel' (2001) and another cover, 'Schudden Met Je Tieten' (which took the melody of Las Ketchup's 'The Ketchup Song' and added lyrics about girls shaking their breasts around, 2002). In 2003 'Ab Normaal' ended its run on Veronica, but five years later Ab returned to the airwaves, albeit in a similar show with a different title: 'Komt Een Man Bij De Dokter' (2007) on the channel Tien (which later changed its name to RTL 8). The show has also been broadcast on TV73 and Comedy Central. Ab Normaal also terrorized radio emissions in Patrick Kicken's morning radio show 'PK @Veronica' (2010-2011). The formula was copied in Flanders too where a local version of 'Ab Normaal' (2002) ran on the commercial channel VT4. His sidekick was played by a local actress, Vanessa Hoefkens, but otherwise nothing was changed. This Flemish adaptation never caught on since viewers weren't familiar with the original comic strip and thus couldn't take a puppet seriously.


De Stuntels (1978)

Other magazine comics
Over the decades, Toon drew several other less famous and therefore more short-lived comics. Together with Jan van Haasteren Van Driel drew 'De Stuntels' (1978-1979) for Eppo, but published it under the collective pseudonym "ToJo". Like their name implies the main characters of 'De Stuntels' are two clumsy idiots, not unlike Laurel & Hardy. Each episode casts them in a different job, but they always utterly fail in whatever they do. 'De Stuntels' is build around longer stories, but they are nevertheless still very gag-based. Many episodes were prepublished in Eppo and Knudde magazine. Van Haasteren later dismissed the strip, largely because of Toon's reckless inking over Van Haasteren's pencils. Nevertheless, some new episodes appeared in Knudde magazine until 1983. Van Driel briefly revived the project in Eppo under the title 'De Sukkels' (1985) with artist Bart Slyp. The final episodes were written by Patty Klein.

Knetter by Toon van Driel
Knetter (Eppo/Wordt Vervolgd #2, 1985)

Among Van Driel's other comics for Eppo (and its follow-ups Eppo/Wordt Vervolgd and Sjors en Sjimmie Stripblad) were the funny animal strip 'Rokus en de Rest' (1980-1985), the absurd 'Knetter' (1985-1987, under the pseudonym Glob) and 'Jan' (1994). Van Driel was also co-creator of a comics series generally attributed to Eric Schreurs: 'Joop Klepzeiker' (1980-2000). When the first episodes of the comic strip appeared in Nieuwe Revu he wrote the scripts under the collective pseudonym "S. Treurschoon". After only a year Van Driel left to join Panorama and Schreurs continued the series on his own. In this men's weekly, Van Driel chronicled his own family life in 'De Nakomertjes', while he also wrote the strip about the two monkeys 'Piet P. & Arie O.' (1990-1991) for Mark de Jonge. He tried his hand at another soccer comic, this time with both people and funny animals, under the title 'De Kanjers' (1987).


De Nakomertjes

André van Duin
Algemeen Dagblad also ran the more experimental and philosophical strip 'Hullie' (1985-1986), which Van Driel produced under the pseudonym John Myshkin in a linear drawing style. The gags have later appeared on a couple of calendars. Another contribution to Algemeen Dagblad were his 'Goedemorgen' cartoons. Since 1987 he has been present on a daily base in newspaper De Telegraaf as well. Van Driel became the second artist to create a celebrity comic about Dutch comedian André van Duin for this newspaper, called 'Van Duin & Zo' (1987). New episodes were made for Veronica magazine as well. In 1975-1976 Fred Julsing had already drawn the gag comic 'André', but this wasn't much of a success.

Hullie by Toon van Driel

Not worried about this in the slightest, Van Driel created his own graphic interpretation of the famous humorist, this time with actual involvement of Van Duin. Their version lasted a lot longer, though was eventually terminated again. Interestingly enough, the Belgians Dirk Stallaert and Patrick Vermeir considered a celebrity comic about Van Duin too but dropped the plan when they heard about the previous two attempts. In 1990 the Dutch TV station TROS broadcasted the TV series 'Lach Mee met André', which compiled all of Van Duin's stage shows and TV appearances on their channel. The intro to every episode showed clips from these broadcasts, but also a gag page from Van Driel's comic strip about Van Duin.


André van Duin strip from Veronica-blad

When Van Driel grew tired of the Van Duin strip, he moved on to create a spin-off strip about Van Duin's dogs, 'Wibo & Gorp'. Another strip for De Telegraaf is 'De Familie Weltevree' (since 2005), which deals with the everyday life of the loveless couple John and Von Weltevree. Van Driel jokingly remarked he gets his inspiration from his own three marriages, and that there are only two types of marriages: bad ones and very bad ones. For the free public transport newspaper Spits, Van Driel created the gag strip 'De Reiziger' in 1999.


Wibo & Gorp

Online activities
Most of Van Driel's non-Knudde work has been published in book format by Toon's own imprint Land Productions since 1986. Since the 2000s, Toon van Driel has been presenting his topical cartoons and comic strips online as well. Toonvandriel.nl is a portal for all his activities, including the e-cards site tooncards.nl, the funny animal joke site lachendierenbrullen.nl, the family humor spot vaderitis.nl and websites featuring episodes of his current strips 'Knudde', 'De Stamgasten', 'Wibo & Gorp' and 'De Familie Weltevree'.


Gijpvogel

During the 2010 World Championship Association Football a special app named 'MyKnudde' was launched. Readers were able to fill in their own speech balloons next to a caricature of sports journalist and commentator Johan Derksen. More than 10.000 comments were written! The concept was repeated on the occasion of the European Championships 2012 and the World Championships 2014 this time with former professional soccer player and commentator René van der Gijp ('Gijpvogel'), and Dutch singer and media personality Gordon ('Goordraaitdoor'nl'), respectively. The best submissions were published in the free public transport newspapers Metro and Spits. A long 'Knudde' story called 'Knudde naar 't WK' was released in 2018 on the occassion of the 2018 World Championships. It is the first album in which Toon's assistant Ray Nicholson is credited on the cover. The artist displays his paintings and new works in Gallery De Toonzaal on Zijlweg 62 in Haarlem.

De Familie Weltevree by Toon van Driel
De Familie Weltevree

Style and legacy
Van Driel works in a very simple art style and uses jokes on the same level. At the height of his production, he drew about eight strips per day, five of which based on current affairs. Van Driel calls it his "professional ethics" to be able to crank out a piece of work within several minutes. To come up with the ideas, he just has to follow the news. In the evenings he manages to make oil paintings, all with the same absurd and typical humor. This nevertheless doesn't mean that his job is easy. Once his assistant Ray Nicholson was faced with a deadline: whip out eleven pages of material before tomorrow! The problem was that he had booked a holiday the next day. Nicholson phoned Van Driel that he would never be able to reach his deadline. However, Van Driel came up with a clever solution to make the job go faster. Four pages long F.C. Knudde's football match took place in heavy fog...


Toon van Driel "evaluates" one of his jokes in a comic strip called 'Wat is leuk?'

Because of his loose graphic style and low-brow comedy Van Driel has occasionally been victim of criticism and disdain. Yet he has always put his own work into perspective. The artist has referred to himself as a "mediocre and awkward draftsman" and a "bad businessman." However, at the same time he's always been proud that he managed to build a succesful and enduring career on his characters. The artist attributes his immense production to an urge to prove himself, because he always felt misunderstood. With his popular and down-to-earth humor, Van Driel managed to reach the common man with a drawing style which would otherwise only reach an alternative readership. Van Driel warmed up a mainstream audience for other selfmade authors, like Hein de Kort, Eric Schreurs, Windig & De Jong, Gerrit de Jager, Wim Stevenhagen and Willem Ritstier. The success of 'Knudde' has also been instrumental in the popularity of the gag strip in Dutch newspapers. In 1988 Van Driel received the Stripschapprijs for his groundbreaking body of work. While Van Driel had always craved for the most important Dutch comics award he infamously called it a "tasteless and far too heavy monstrosity", which he "would love to give away too." At the same time he was quite grumpy because he "deserved this honour many years before."

comic art by Toon van Driel

www.toonvandriel.nl

Toon van Driel in De Nederlandse Stripgeschiedenis

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