Roos by Jan Vriends
'Roos' (Tina #38, 2012).

Jan Vriends is a Dutch comic artist, illustrator, musician, writer and graphic designer from Helmond. He first came to notice in the 1990s with comic strips for teen magazines like Webber and Fancy. Within comics circles he made his mark with his creations 'Janjaap' (1997-now) and 'Cowboy John' (2002-2009), which both appeared in the alternative comic magazine Zone 5300. Since 2007 he is one of the most prominent authors of girls' magazine Tina, first of all with his comic strip about everlasting ninth-grader 'Roos' (2007-now), but also with the magazine's current mascot, introduced in 2013. Most of Vriends' comics are characterized by an experimental playfulness and apparent graphic and narrative simplicity. The author gets his inspiration from everyday life, but also applies absurd and fantasy elements in his work, making him one of the most original Dutch comic authors. His versatility has also prompted him to give workshops and trainings in creativity.

Lisa en Lola by Jan Vriends
'Lisa en Lola'.

Early life and career
Jan Vriends was born in 1970 in Helmond, a historical city in the province of North Brabant. His grandfather was the famous biologist and teacher Jan Vriends (1901-1992), who had promoted nature's beauty both in print media and on television, and initiated the Klok & Peel Museum in Asten. Between 1988 and 1989, Jan Vriends attended the St. Joost Art Academy in Breda, but left after half a year. According to Vriends, the professors only taught him "that he had to figure it all out by himself". Around the same period he began publishing his comic strips in fanzines and small press publications like Gag, Fresco (by Stefan Nieuwenhuis), Wartaal (by Het Stripschap), Impuls (by Reinder Dijkhuis) and Incognito (by Robin Schouten), using the pen name "Amis". Since 1991, Vriends has been working as a freelance artist. Early in his career, he did mostly commercial assignments for local entrepeneurs in the Helmond region, but also work for several magazines of the VNU publishing house (since 2001 Sanoma). Between 1994 and 1998, he was present in Webber, a monthly magazine for teenage boys, with comics like 'Wijk 13', 'Hendrick Pickedick', 'De Man Die Alles Kan', 'Zep' and 'De Avonturen van Lex'. Only the latter strip, starring Dutch crown prince Willem-Alexander, was collected in a self-published booklet under the Mad Dog imprint in 1997. Between 1995 and 2006 the artist was present in the teenage girls' magazine Fancy with the weekly comic strip about the two sisters 'Lisa en Lola'. Vriends self-published a book collection in 2005. Other early work appeared in newspaper Algemeen Dagblad and the Helmond city magazine.

Janjaap, by Jan Vriends
'JanJaap' strip from Algemeen Dagblad, starring Martin Stone.

In comics circles, Vriends is probably best known for the personal comic strips he has made since 1998 for the Rotterdam-based alternative comic magazine Zone 5300: 'Janjaap' and 'Cowboy John'. Janjaap stars the everyday life of a carefree guy. Vriends used a simplified stylistic approach, inspired by the almost childlike drawings of Jeroen de Leijer, but also experiments with other styles for sequences taking place in other dimensions or Janjaap's fantasy. 'Janjaap' was also published in newspaper Algemeen Dagblad in 2002 and 2003, and as a webcomic.

The Belgian publishing house Bries released Vriends' double album 'De Pianist/Labyrint' (2004). The first segment collects a series of short stories from Zone 5300 in which Janjaap writes a story about a pianist, while along the way fiction and reality are mixed together. 'Labyrint' was originally published as a webcomic, and follows a trip down Janjaap's subconsciousness. Vriends took his joy in toying around with comic strip conventions even further, when he crafted a line of alleged 'Janjaap' merchandising. In the early 2000s, the items were on display at the Tante Leny exhibition in Rotterdam, leaving the visitors puzzled whether they missed out on a new big hype.

Janjaap - Labyrint
Janjaap - 'Labyrint'.

The follow-up was fifteen years in the making, but finally completed and self-published in 2020. 'Manuscript' deals with Janjaap's attempt to get a brand new manuscript published. The main story gives a satirical view on the administrative mess at a publishing house, while the continuous drawing in the fold-out middle section is a poetic long walk Janjaap makes with his girlfriend in the parc. With its accordion format, the book is 4 metres and 30 centimetres long!

After 'Manuscript', Vriends began working on the follow-up, 'De Kosmonaut' (2023), which is the story from Janjaap's submitted manuscript. The main star is the cosmonaut Vladimir Vasiljevitsj, who enjoys his solitary trip in his rocket, but gradually regains his love for his home planet. Over the course of 2023, installments of the story were serialized in the magazines Zone 5300 and Brul. To Brabant Cultureel, Vriends expressed that the 'Janjaap' saga is his legacy, about his place in the world and love for nature.

Cowboy John by Jan Vriends
'Janjaap and Cowboy John'. 

Cowboy John
'Cowboy John' originated in the 'Janjaap' strip, but became a spin-off series in 2002. The urban cowboy experiences the everyday Dutch city life as a wild west setting, while using his bike for a horse. Along the way, the tragic origins of John's fantasy environment are gradually revealed, making 'Cowboy John' a gag strip that relies more on sentiment than on hilarity. In 2009, Zone 5300 released a book collection, which also featured interviews, "bloopers" and "deleted scenes".

Hank Spencer, by Jan Vriends
'Hank Spencer'.

Commercial work
For the Kletskoek magazine of grocery store Albert Heijn, Vriends made the comic 'Suus en Joost' from 2000 to 2004. His daily 'Jan' cartoons were published on the Eindhovens Dagblad Portal in the period 2001-2003. For the monthly popular science magazine for children Zo Zit Dat, he developed the character of 'Hank Spencer' in 2004. The character initially appeared only in illustrations, but until 2011 he also had his own comic strip on the magazine's back cover. Since 2004, he makes the comic strip 'Tecla & Tommy' for TECTUM-Journaal, a professional magazine for the roofing industry. As of 2022, it is his last remaining commercial job outside of the mainstream media and his personal art projects. Jan Vriends also made a comics drawing course for the Dutch Nickelodeon Magazine (2008), and illustrations for the women's weekly Libelle (2007-2010). Additional magazine work includes publications in Living, Zappelin, Nieuwe Revu, Flair and Hollands Diep.

'De Man Die Het Niks Doet'.

De Man Die... graphic novel
In 2008, Jan Vriends produced the graphic novel diptych 'De Man Die Het Niks Doet' ("The Man Who Doesn't Care") and 'De Man Zonder Gevoel' ("The Man Without Feeling") for publisher Oog&Blik in commission of the Board for the Chronically Ill and Disabled. Both stories start in exactly the same way, but in each version all of the characters suffer from different chronical diseases, which causes different story developments.

'De Man Zonder Gevoel'.

Roos Vink
Since 2007, Jan Vriends is one of the main authors for Sanoma's girls' magazine Tina. His best-known creation is 'Roos Vink', an early teen who regretfully just left primary school and now has to find her way during her first year of high school. Unfortunately for her, comic characters never age. To this day, the poor girl continues to be confronted by complex corridor mazes, unpronounceable school subjects, gruesome bicycle tours with an immense school bag, bullying senior students and other atrocities in a freshman's life. Her main opponents are her sadistic drawing teacher, the school janitor, which she mockingly calls "Snotje" ("piece of snot"), and her terrifying admirer Pieter Brillewieter. She however finds some comfort in her best friend Alana and her loving family.

'Roos' (Tina #3, 2014).

Although 'Roos' is a gag-a-week comic strip and her school life seems to be frozen in time, Vriends applies an underlying continuity. Throughout the years, the girl has received a baby sister, Indi, as well as her own puppy, Marie. Both events were directly inspired by the author's own family life. The 'Roos' pages aren't restricted to a defined lay-out; the panel format is subservient to the gag. Some pages even consist of three thematic but independent comic strips, others are a full-page maze or puzzle. After ten years of publication in Tina magazine, the first book collection was released by Kluitman under the title 'Ukkepuk' in 2017. A second volume followed in 2018. Since 2020, a new book series is released by publisher Syndikaat. The character of Roos Vink also appears in illustrations that accompany the recipes for children of top chef Martien Bos for the Smaakcentrum Foundation.

One of the early Tina episodes. Lay-out by Vriends, finished art by Carmen Pérez (2013).

Creating the Tina mascot
In 2011 Vriends was approached by the editors Thom Roep and Joan Lommen to develop a new mascot for Tina. The original title strip, 'Tina en Debbie', was created by Andries Brandt in the 1970s and drawn for many years by Purita Campos. By 2010 it was cancelled because it didn't connect with the magazine's younger target audience anymore. Vriends kept the character's famous red curls, but his concept involved a much younger and completely different Tina. Her mother Patty is the magazine's editor, and her father Jan an artist. (The parents' names are tributes to Patty Klein and Jan Steeman, the creators of 'Noortje' and Tina's longest serving author team). For different reasons, the entire editorial staff is out of circulation. The enthusiastic Tina and her friends, the serious Puck and the inarticulate Fabio, decide to help out by producing the magazine's pages in Tina's house garage. Most gags revolve around the threesome's efforts in their new office environment, while keeping the rushed courier André and strict publisher Joan (named after editor-in-chief Joan Lommen) at ease.

'Tina', written and drawn by Jan Vriends (Tina #7, 2018). Translation. Tina: "Hey, it doesn't work anymore. The batteries must be low."  Mother: "Batteries? No, we're out of them. But there is a mouse with wire in the junk drawer." Tina: "The junk drawer? Oh yes, this one! Oh gosh, what a bunch of stuff. Haha. Funny thing, such a drawer." Publisher Joan: "Tina? What do you have there?" Tina: "A mouse! Well, look here!" 

The comic strip was introduced in Tina #37 of 2013. Jan Vriends originally wrote and sketched a year's worth of gags, which had finished art by Spanish artist Carmen Pérez of Studio Comicup. By mid-2014, Vriends left the strip, after which several writers made contributions. These included Ruud Straatman, Kirsten de Graaff, Dorith Graef and editors like Bas Schuddeboom, Frans Hasselaar, Tess Dumitru and Kristel van den Brink, while the artwork was provided by Pérez, her son Ruben Montoya and house artist Wilma van den Bosch. Desiring more consistency in their title strip, the editors asked Vriends to resume his role of writer in 2016. Since 2017 he does the full production of the comic, including the artwork and coloring, while cartoons and episodes for special editions are made by Schuddeboom, Van den Bosch and the Comicup artists. On the occasion of the magazine's 50th anniversary, a musical based on the 'Tina' comic was developed by director Dick van den Heuvel and Homemade Productions. It premiered in the Zaan Theater in Zaandam on 22 October 2017.

In addition to 'Roos' and 'Tina', Jan Vriends has made a series of playful photo comics about the art of drawing, called 'Imke's Tekenavonturen' (2017). They feature his pupil Imke van Leeuwen, who was also one of Tina's vloggers.

'Imke's Tekenavonturen' (Tina #30, 2017). Translation: "Hi, I'm Imke. I'm going to show you how to put yourself on a pedestal! Tee-hee, it's very simple: you draw two long lines next to each other and a circle around yourself! Oh no, what have I done now? Is anybody there? Help!"

Music and cabaret
Jan Vriends is additionally active in other artistic fields. Since the late 1990s, he has performed in theaters, on festivals and on house and garden concerts. During the theatre season 1999-2000 he had his own stage show with Joop Vos called 'King of Hema'. Vos was also the pianist on his first album with Dutch-language songs, 'Zo Mooi' (2001). Together with Luc de Graaf, Vriends won the Deltion cabaret festival in Zwolle in 2001. His live album 'Jan Vriends speelt thuis zelf zijn liedjes' ("Jan Vriends plays his own songs at home") appeared in 2007. Since 2003, he has been present on the Lowlands Festival with comic strips and performances, often in collaboration with the Lamelos collective. In 2014 he performed with the band Tribute to Fatal Flowers, and since 2016 he tours with his own band Jan en Alleman. A collection of the band's songs was released in that same year, while an animated videoclip of the song 'Ontbijt op bed' was made with illustrations by Frans Hasselaar and animations by Geert Hagelaar.

Together with his wife, independent artist and entrepeneur Ingeborg Vriends-van der Steijn, Jan Vriends is the founder and driving force behind the Vrijwerkers initiative. Vrijwerkers started in 2011 as a physical spot in Helmond's Markstraat offering workplaces to local creatives and room for workshops, seminars and other gatherings. Vrijwerkers eventually became an imprint/label for the couple's personal art and music projects. Other creatives involved are writer and director John van der Sanden and local Helmond city artist and comedian Luc de Graaf. Either solo or collectively, the Vrijwerkers work on books, short films, performances and other artistic projects. Together with Van der Sanden, Vriends is responsible for 'Het Brabants Vakantieboek' (2012- ), a regional annual holiday book with puzzles, riddles, coloring and craft pages, songs, comics, interesting facts and stories from and about the Brabant region. In 2023, the Vrijwerkers team produced the 'Tijd Voor Jezelf Boek', a self-care book for healthcare professionals, made in collaboration with health scientist and politician Sabine Uitslag.

In addition to his own productions, Jan Vriends gives workshops in drawings comics and cartoons at both primary and secondary schools. He gives trainings in creativity and does motivational speeches at corporations and governmental institutes. He has chronicled his tips for achieving one's full (creative) potential in books like 'Hoe Verzin Je Het?' (Scriptum, 2010) and 'Jij Kan Alles' (Vrijwerkers, 2015).

Jan Vriends signing at the annual Tina-dag in amusement park Duinrell (2013).

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