De Goeroe by Peter Abel
'De Goeroe' (from: Kuifje #11, 1980). Translation: "In my youth, not even that long ago, I buried an acorn somewhere around here. Ah, there it was. Hmm.. eh... it was probably a quick grower." 

Eiso Toonder was a Dutch comic writer, best known as the son of Marten Toonder and Phiny Dick. He co-scripted many of his father's series: 'Tom Poes', 'Panda', 'Koning Hollewijn' and 'Kappie', as well as his mother's creation 'Birre Beer'. For newspaper De Telegraaf, Eiso thought up the concept and gags behind the gag-a-day comic 'De Goeroe' (1970-1980), which also ran in The Irish Times as 'The Guru'. From the mid-1950s until 1988, Eiso Toonder made significant contributions to the productions of the Toonder Studios. In later years he also served as the guardian of his father's legacy, proofreading his autobiography, maintaining the family archives and giving lectures. Unfortunately he never received the recognition or respect for his efforts, especially not from his father. Marten and Eiso Toonder had a difficult relationship, both as relatives and business partners. Much has been written about this topic by journalists and historians, making Eiso Toonder one of those tragic figures in cultural history who will always remain in his father's shadow.

Early life
Eiso Jan Gerhard Toonder was born in 1936 in Leiden as the eldest son of Marten Toonder and Phiny Dick. His middle names were named after his uncle, the writer and poet Jan Gerhard Toonder (1914-1992). His younger brother was Onno Toonder (1944-1999). As a child, Eiso enjoyed listening to the naval stories of his grandfather, Marten Toonder Senior (1879-1965). Like his parents, the boy had creative interests. His parents, however, never paid much attention to their son's capabilities or needs, as they were too caught up in their own creative development and affairs. An example is given in Wim Hazeu's 2012 Marten Toonder biography. Phiny Dick was writing a children's book, when her son sang a self-made song to her. Her harsh reaction was: "I don't like it. Now you have to be quiet, because I'm writing". It foreshadowed much of Eiso's future path; always trying to live up to his parents' expectations, but never receiving the attention or recognition he deserved. At times, his mother was receptive to his suggestions, though. Eiso's earliest contribution to the "family enterprise" was thinking up the characters Pom the gnome and Verk the pig for Phiny Dick's children's book 'Pom Van De Pomheuvel' (1943). Later, she reused this duo as protagonists in her comic series 'Olle Kapoen' (1945-1954), though Pom was renamed Olle Kapoen. But from 1944 on, baby Onno required most of his mother's attention. Marten Toonder in turn was unable to empathize with the needs of children, and was emotionally absent during most of Eiso's upbringing. Eiso found a pal in Paul Hellmann (1935), a Jewish boy who came under the Toonder family's care after the war. The boys studied at the IVO school in Bussum, where they fully indulged themselves in the school newspaper and after-school partying. Eiso received his high school diploma in 1955.

Second episode of 'Strijd om Irtin', still written by Eiso Toonder (De Telegraaf, 27 April 1955). Artwork by Gerrit Stapel.

Toonder Studios (1)
As a teenager, Eiso regularly worked as an apprentice in the Toonder Studios during school holidays. He was put under the care of scriptwriter Lo Hartog van Banda. Marten Toonder specifically instructed Hartog van Banda to drill Eiso, to prevent him from becoming pretentious, even literally advising: "Break him." ("Kraak hem.") But Banda refused the specific instruction, because he got along fine with the boy.

One of the earliest stories Eiso co-wrote with Hartog van Banda was the 'Koning Hollewijn' episode 'De Lorrocraat' (July-October 1955). Eiso was also involved in the launch of the exclusive 'Tom Poes' stories for the Dutch Disney weekly Donald Duck. The original newspaper version of 'Tom Poes' was a text comic, with rather complicated language. For Donald Duck the balloon comic format was chosen and the dialogue simplified. Eiso Toonder helped Banda with writing the dialogues for the first episode: 'De Toverleerling' (1955). In the same year he assisted Lodewijk Karseboom with the text for the first 'Otto van Irtin' story, 'De Strijd om Irtin' (April-August 1955), a studio production drawn by Gerrit Stapel. Both were however unexperienced writers, and after six episodes they were relieved from their duty by Lo Hartog van Banda and Waling Dijkstra. Later that year, Eiso Toonder wrote the third 'Otto' story, 'De Bruid van de Zeekoning' (1955-1956).

At the time, Lo Hartog van Banda was not that impressed with Eiso Toonder's scriptwriting abilities, so a creative career within the studio was not yet an option. He was also deemed too young for a commercial function. A couple of years later, Eiso briefly succeeded his mother as the writer of the funny animal newspaper comic 'Birre Beer' (1954-1959), drawn by Ton Beek. Eiso wrote 'Birre Beer en de Zuurburenaren' (1958) and 'Birre Beer en de Doedurver' (1958), before Andries Brandt became the strip's regular writer.

Advertising work
After fulfilling his military service, Eiso got a job as copywriter for the Amsterdam-based advertising agency ReclaTechnica/Reclastudios in November 1956. In the following years, he would work for other prestigious firms as well, subsequently Ferrée Frenkel Frank & De Boer, H.V.R. (Hünd, Van Vleuten & Van Roemburg), Nijgh & Van Ditmar and De Zuil. For H.V.R. in Rotterdam, he thought up an award-winning campaign for the company Velasques.


Toonder Film Ireland Ltd.
In the early 1960s, Eiso Toonder returned to the family business. His father Marten Toonder had visited Ireland a couple of times and had fallen in love with this fairy tale-like country. He not only loved the local nature, but some landscapes actually resembled scenery from his comics. Plans were made for a permanent move, but first he had to unwind his business matters in the Netherlands. In the meantime, he set up a local film and television venture in Dublin. Toonder Film Ireland Ltd. specialized in the production of live action advertising shorts for TV. Animation assignments would be outsourced to the Toonder Studio's in the Netherlands. To set up the new enterprise, Eiso Toonder was sent ahead shortly after his marriage in October 1962.

Again, his father put a demanding strain on his son. Eiso not only had to acquire clientele for the new studio, he also had to take care of the preparations for the move of his parents and adoptive sisters, searching for a house and suitable schooling facilities. Young and inexperienced aids were sent from the Netherlands to work under Eiso's care, like his absent-minded brother Onno, the graphic artist René de Clercq and Jaap Back Junior, the son of the Toonder Studio's business director. Over the years, Toonder Film Ireland Ltd. produced shorts for Tide Extra washing powder, Kilkenny Remoulds, Smiths Crisps, Shannon Travel, Winstanley Shoes and Irish Fishery Board, but never became profitable. All the ingredients were there for a commercial failure, which Marten Toonder was all too eager to blame on his son. The creative Eiso still felt very insecure about his abilities and wasn't interested enough to keep track of the administration. Toonder hadn't properly prepared his son on how to run the company and, even worse, openly criticized his decisions.

Pollaphuca Ltd.
If all this wasn't enough, Eiso was put in charge of another Toonder operation as well. Officially, Pollaphuca Ltd. was an internationally operating agency that could provide the Toonder Studios in the Netherlands with artwork for the ongoing comic productions. In reality, it was a letterbox company by Toonder himself. Established in May 1963, the firm was aptly named after the hiding place of elves in Irish folklore. By transferring production to Ireland, Toonder could not only keep his creations under his own care (the Dutch Toonder Studios were by then listed on the stock exchange), but also keep the costs low. Thanks to Irish law, he didn't have to pay taxes for sums rolling in from Amsterdam, only for royalties (which were therefore advised to be named "production costs" to avoid paying too much for them). The English artist Terry Willers was the most important local artist working for Pollaphuca, mostly because his drawing room was used as the official address of the studio. Willers was assisted by a young man named "David" and a young artist from the Netherlands, Mark Smeets. Additionally, British artist Harry North drew a few test pages for a comic series based on the TV version of 'Ivanhoe', which Pollaphuca Ltd intended to launch for the Irish market.

Again, Eiso was confronted with all sorts of problems. Keeping the unsteady Willers on track was his biggest burden. With his marriage going downhill, Willers fell increasingly more behind with drawing the daily 'Tom Poes' and 'Panda' episodes. For his pivotal role in the marital drama, Mark Smeets was sent back to the Netherlands after only two months, with a plane ticket financed by Eiso from his own pocket. By late 1964, it was clear that both Pollaphuca and Toonder Film Ireland Ltd. were doomed. The companies never quite got off the ground and were disbanded. In September 1965, Marten Toonder had finally relocated to Eyrefield Lodge, a mansion in Greystones, Ireland. Eiso and his family rented a small cottage on the same estate. He was lucky that he could return to doing scriptwriting work for his father's comic series, but this failure certainly didn't improve their already bumpy relationship.

'Tom Poes en de Vergelder', with art by Marten and Eiso Toonder.

Toonder Studios (2)
After Lo Hartog van Banda's departure from the Toonder Studios in September 1965, Eiso became the main writer for the political satire 'Koning Hollewijn', which was by then drawn by Piet Wijn. The final episode appeared in De Telegraaf in 1971. In 1966, Eiso also took over the scriptwriting duties for 'Panda', which had in the previous years been written by Harry van den Eerenbeemt and his uncle Jan Gerhard Toonder. Eiso wrote many adventures with this little panda bear while, subsequently, Dick Matena, Terry Willers, Jan Steeman, Jan van Haasteren and Piet Wijn illustrated the stories. Eiso Toonder additionally provided stories for 'Kappie' (1964-1972), a naval newspaper comic drawn mainly by Jan van Haasteren and Piet Wijn.

Since all these series were credited to Marten Toonder and work was often interchanged between studio workers, it is difficult to assign writing credits for specific stories with absolute certainty. With such an immense day-do-day production, it is understandable that memories fail every now and then. All in all, artwork is easier to identify than written words. Toonder Studio co-worker Nel van de Geer attributed about 22 'Kappie' stories from the 1965-1969 period to Andries Brandt and Patty Klein, with Eiso coming on board with 'Kappie en de Wegwalswedstrijd' (1969-1970). Eiso on the other hand claimed he was the writer for the previous episodes as well. Piet Wijn is believed to have written the 'Panda' strip on his own between 1977 and 1985, but in an interview with Nieuwsblad van het Noorden, the ever-modest artist named Eiso Toonder as the writer during this period. Although it is possible in this case that Eiso provided the plots, while Wijn himself did the scriptwork and dialogues. Eiso Toonder did replace Piet Wijn as the scriptwriter after his departure of the strip in 1987. He wrote three episodes, and was succeeded by Ruud Straatman and eventually Harrie Geelen, who continued 'Panda' until the final episode in 1991.

Tom Poes
Throughout the 1970s and 1980s Eiso often proofread his father's scripts for his signature newspaper comic, 'Tom Poes'. He not only co-plotted some stories, but contributed lay-out and pencil work, namely for 'Tom Poes en de Pijpleider' (1971), and - filling in for Piet Wijn - 'Heer Bommel en de Minionen' (1980, partially), 'Heer Bommel en het Ontsollen' (1982), 'Heer Bommel en de Spalt' (1982), 'Tom Poes en de Vergelder' (1984) and 'Het Bommel-verschiet' (1984-1985). Though the term "draw" should be interpreted loosely here, as Eiso mainly cut-and-pasted characters from previous strips, while Wijn and Toonder added some backgrounds and extra imagery here and there.

'De Goeroe'. Translation: "Yes, yes. They often ask me what wisdom is. But I'm wise enough not to tell everybody, because otherwise what would I have left to tell?" 

De Goeroe
On 4 September 1970, Eiso Toonder launched his own newspaper gag-a-day comic 'De Goeroe'. During the late 1960s and all throughout the 1970s, gurus, spiritual leaders and young people searching for life's answers were popular themes. 'De Goeroe' mocked this concept, but threw some of the old Toonder magical fantasy into the mix as well. The main protagonist is a guru, who never received a proper name. Each episode deals with people asking the wise man for advice, only to receive answers they didn't expect. The Guru is often pitched against Kilroy, a witch dabbling in black magic, and a money-obsessed businessman who also remained nameless. In 1978, the Guru received an apprentice too.

Although 'De Goeroe' was Eiso's first and only comic strip, the series was published under the pen name Peter Abel. This was supposedly a contraction of a novelist called Cees Abel, and an artist named Peter Hoye, who ghosted the series. Later, Eiso revealed that both Abel and Hoye didn't exist and that Peter Abel was a purely fictional pseudonym. The "Peter" could however have referred to the Irish cartoonist Peter Bruce, who submitted many gags to the strip. The artwork of the comic was cut-and-pasted from stock illustrations made by Marten Toonder's co-workers Piet Wijn and Terry Willers. Wijn designed the main characters in various poses, which were then photocopied on a light table, cut out and pasted in the comic panels. If new artwork was required, for backgrounds for instance, Willers was usually the go-to man. Eiso's work was thinking up the initial concept and most of the gags, and then  stitching all the artwork together. His father Marten and uncle Jan Gerhard sometimes freeballed extra ideas with him, while Eiso's wife Loumina pasted the dialogue in the speech balloons.

'De Goeroe' ran for a full decade in De Telegraaf until 26 November 1980, though on a less regular basis as the years progressed. The strips were also reprinted in Tintin (1979-1981), De Haagsche Courant (1983), Het Rotterdams Nieuwsblad (1983) and, in English translation, in The Irish Times (as 'The Guru', 1985-1988).

'De Goeroe'. Translation: "How do you come up with all those wise sayings?" - "Well, I get an idea, look at it from all viewpoints, compare it with other quotations. In short: I try out every possibility. And then I return to my earlier idea." 

Move to Brussels
With his stormy first marriage coming to an end, Eiso Toonder returned to the mainland, while his ex-wife and four kids remained in Ireland. He found a prestigious desk job at the United Nations department in Luxemburg, working for the Liberal Party. In 1987 he moved to Brussels for a lucrative career as a ghostwriter for a member of the European Parliament and monitor for the Commission for Women's Rights. This finally gave him the financial stability to quit the Toonder Studios. He remarried with a local flower saleswoman, Irène Herbert. Together they established LETTRA, a bureau specializing in text translations and editing for companies and European organisations. But still Eiso remained actively involved in the legacy of his by now retired father.

Relationship with his father
Much has been written about Eiso Toonder's strained relationship with his distant father. Both their personal and professional differences have been widely covered in Robin Lutz' interview book 'Marten Toonder. Een Heer Vertelt' (Synthese Rotterdam, 2010). Wim Hazeu's Marten Toonder biography (2012) and Jan-Willem de Vries' magazine series about the history of the Toonder Studio's (2017-2019). Quite a demanding control freak, Marten Toonder didn't treat his son much differently than his other employees. He felt that Eiso had disappointed him many times, especially with the failures of the Irish enterprises and his first marriage. Like many children of celebrities, Eiso found it difficult to step out of his father's shadow and be appreciated for his own qualities. Nevertheless Toonder saw Eiso as a confidant. They often discussed projects and business deals and he often gave his father advice. Eiso respected his father enough to organize his archives and proofread his autobiography, essays, forewords and lectures. Toonder wanted to keep Eiso involved in the family business, yet he never allowed him too much control in their administration. His son could only have company shares unless he bought them, like everybody else. Eiso felt increasingly belittled and distrusted. This kept worsening their communication, which was mostly by letter.

For a long while, the comics legend just couldn't decide whether his company should quit after his death and prevent his characters from ever being used again in new comics and merchandising, or not. Eiso felt his father should follow Hergé's example and just discontinue everything. After all, the studio was by now more his employees' product than his own. And since his comics had such a high brow reputation, it would be better to avoid degrading them by refusing their use on just any merchandising product. But Toonder still felt he bore responsibility for the company he established and kept changing his mind for years. In the late 1990s Toonder wanted to pass the organisation of the remains of his studio to Eiso and two other trustees: Albert Vorster and Carla Back. Vorster was head of the publishing company De Bezige Bij. Back was head of Toonder's comics production since 1972 and, since 1990, of the animation department. She was also involved with copyright and heritage issues regarding merchandising of Toonder's characters. However, Eiso didn't feel at ease with giving so much power over his father's intellectual properties to people from outside the family. He wrote down his scepticisms and suggested alternatives, but his father dismissed them all. On 9 July 1998 Het Toonder Erfdeel ("The Toonder Inheritance") was founded, followed on 28 January 2000 by Het Toonder Auteursrecht ("The Toonder Copyright"). In both foundations, Eiso was one of the directors. But that very same year a disagreement about the registration of Toonder's signature as a trademark led to a painful break-up.

A few years earlier, Eiso had registered his father's signature as a Benelux brand to protect its copyright. It was Marten Toonder's wish that his signature would never be used for merchandising after his death. However, Eiso had registered the trademark under his own name, something Marten Toonder only found out when he wanted to change his original plan and keep his studio in charge of his copyright, regardless of what they would do with his characters after his death. Rather than discuss this matter privately with his son, Toonder had his lawyer send him a letter instead. Eiso was quite insulted by this legal threat. He reminded him that he had only done what he had asked him to do. He refused his father's plea, because he still had no confidence in his business deals. Yet, Toonder was legally in his right to ask his signature back. Eiso therefore grudgingly accepted. He left his function in both foundations. Once again matters worsened because Toonder kept sending him threatening letters. The maestro kept talking about his dignified career, while Eiso pointed out that his father had made bad business deals and accepted trite merchandising deals before. This made Eiso break all contact with his his father.

On 10 March 2001, Marten Toonder tried to commit suicide by swallowing sleeping pills. He phoned Eiso, Dick Matena and his housekeeper to say goodbye. Eiso, regardless of the fact that he underwent chemo treatment himself at the time, instantly took a plane to Ireland. To everybody's luck, Toonder's suicide attempt had failed. They rushed him to a local hospital and afterwards made him move back to the Netherlands for further treatment. By August of that year it was decided to bring him to the Rosa Spier Ziekenhuis in Laren, a retirement home for artists. In his final years, he kept writing his son letters to avoid a vocal confrontation on the phone, but never received replies. Marten Toonder passed away in 2005.

Eventually, Marten Toonder's grandchildren got more prominent roles in the foundations that safeguarded Marten Toonder's lifework. In January 2002 Het Toonder Erfdeel was absorbed by Toonder Auteursrecht. Albert Vorster and Hans Matla were asked to leave the board, in favor of Marten Toonder's granddaughter Milou. After Marten Toonder's death, Eiso's son Irwin took his seat, and remained in function until April 2013. Carla Back was succeeded by Milou's brother Aino, who in turn was replaced on 23 October 2006 by comic artist Wil Raymakers. Eiso Toonder too remained involved in his father's legacy. He served as an advisor for the Toonder Compagnie, a new firm established on 31 March 2008 to exploit the rights to Toonder's work. In 2012 Eiso published a book about his mother, 'Portret van Phiny Dick'. The same year he wrote the foreword to Jan-Willem de Vries' book about the animation projects of the Toonder Studios, 'De Toonder Animatiefilms' (2012). He also helped with the story introductions to the new reprint collection of Marten Toonder's 'Tom Poes' saga at De Bezige Bij. The first volume was published in 2008.

During the Stripdagen, held in Gorinchem on 12 and 13 March 2011, Eiso Toonder was awarded the Bulletje & Boonestaak Plate by comics appreciation society Het Stripschap for his contributions to Dutch comics. During his acceptance speech he said: "It's not always easy to be the son of the father." ("Het is niet altijd makkelijk om de zoon van de vader te zijn.")

Eiso Toonder passed away after a long illness in 2014.

Eiso Toonder in Greystones, Ireland.

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