Een pinguin in Oud West by Wasco
'Een Pinguin in Oud West' (from the comics paper Wat Wil West, January 2014).

Wasco, also known as G. Wasco or Ge Wasco, has been one of the most prominent authors of the Dutch indie comic scene since the late 1980s. From his occasional publication of Wasco's Weekblad (1989, 2006) and other hand-made zines, to the art books 'Het Tuitel Complex' (2015) and '1000 Pinguins' (2018), to the crowd-funded art comic magazine Aline (2019), Wasco's oeuvre has remained original, experimental and free from any commercialism. He is a representative of the Pseudo-Naïve comics school who tries to bridge the gap between comics and so-called "high-brow" visual art forms, and is considered a true "artist's artist" and a specialist in printing techniques. Among the few recurring characters in his work are the 'Apenootjes' gang, the artist's comic persona Tuitel and his dog Phiwi, and hordes of penguins.

Tuitel and Phiwi (2-2006), by Wasco
'Tuitel en Phiwi'. 

Early life and inspirations
Wasco was born in 1957 in Groningen. His real name is Henk van der Spoel, although no one ever seems to call him that. His early interest in drawing and the comics medium was encouraged by his father, but he wasn't the only one in the Van der Spoel household who liked to draw. His brother Arie was an amateur doodler as well, and made Wasco realize that he too could make comics if he would just try. At age 10 he became a member of the comics appreciation society Het Stripschap, and began attending comic festivals on a regular base. Wasco's interests were and are wide and varied. He is an avid collector of the oeuvre of European comic pioneer Alain Saint-Ogan, although he was introduced to the master's signature heroes 'Zig et Puce' through their 1960s adventures written and drawn by Greg. The penguin sidekick Alfred in this series ignited his own interest in drawing these animals, which he calls exotic, weird and oddly similar to humans. Other stylistic influences on Wasco's art are the linework of Saul Steinberg, Javier Mariscal's freestyle rendering, the full-page compositions of Winsor McCay and the modernist look of Yves Chaland. Ge Wasco enjoys traditional comics, but also deems them passé and in desperate need for reinvention; in his own work, that is exactly what Wasco does. Many of his comics have obvious references to classic characters, but with the author's personal touch. But Wasco makes no secret of his sometimes literal quotations, feeling that acknowledging the similarities makes one more perceptive of the differences, while denying them would make one even more eager to spot them. Or, as he joked in an interview in Stripschrift #293 (1996): "When you make a comic about a man with his dog, just call it 'Tintin'... don't beat around the bush."

Wasco studied at the AKI Art & Design Academy in Enschede (nowadays known as ArtEZ). By the mid-1980s he moved to Amsterdam, where he attended the State Academy of Fine Arts (Rijksakademie van Beeldende Kunsten) after having participated in the Prix de Rome contest for young artists. In between he had a stint as jack-of-all-trades with an art book publisher in Dokkum. His pen name Wasco originated during his academy years. In the early 1980s he made a series of semi-autobiographical half-page comic poems under the title 'De Wondere Wereld van Wasco', and the name stuck. The nickname was chosen for phonetical reasons, and has no particular reference to the grease pencil brand.

'Apenootjes' (Zone 5300 #29). Translation: - Wurm: "Can you give me a ride?" - Dog: "One buck, pay it now." - Wurm: "O.K., here we are! This is the place where I work!" - Dog: "Nice." - Wurm: "Thanks, say, where do you keep your money, by the way?" - Dog: "In my cheek pouches, why?" - Wurm: "BOO!!" - Dog: "(gulp?!) - Wurm: "Ha-Ha-Ha!" - Dog: "Damn, now I've swallowed that buck!"

Wasco's Weekblad
In the late 1980s Wasco began his own zine, Wasco's Weekblad. Thirteen issues of this "weekly" appeared irregularly over the course of 1989. This product of meticulous home craft was written, drawn, produced and distributed by the artist himself. He personally distributed and sold them from his bike in the Amsterdam region. Additionally, some local comics shops also sold his zines; one of these was Kees Kousemaker's Lambiek in the Kerkstraat, which always opened its doors to creators of underground and small press comic books. Wasco became part of the store's regular entourage, acquainting him with like-minded spirits such as Typex, Windig & De Jong, Erik Kriek and Joost Swarte. Wasco's Weekblad was an early showcase of the author's idiosyncratic, freestyle working method, and many of its pages were about "Wasco making a comics weekly". This self-aware publication spawned regular features like 'Krnspx de Mosselman', 'De Eenzame Ruiter' and, most notably, 'Apenootjes'.

Debuting in Wasco's Weekblad, 'Apenootjes' (1989) was the first Wasco creation with any durability. This comic strip was a direct reference to Charles Schulz' newspaper comic 'Peanuts', the title even being a literal translation. In fact, the author made no secret of his inspiration. The names of the main characters were translations of their American counterparts as well. Charlie Brown became Karel Bruin, the dog Snoopy appeared as Snoepje, and Lucy was Loesje. But instead of having the children comment on the real world like in 'Peanuts', Wasco's characters lived in a fantasy world, called Apenootjeseiland. Their adventures were also more absurd. The trademark blanket of 'Peanuts' character Linus appeared in 'Apenootjes' as the bed sheet Rinus. In 1989, Wasco released a solo, hand-crafted 'Apenootjes' booklet, of which about 350 issues were sold. Another book followed in 1991, and the feature also appeared prominently in the author's later zines, such as Wasco's Comics (1991).

Midgutopia by Wanda Scott
'Midgutopia' by Wanda Scott (Zone 5300 #102, 2013).

Wanda Scott comics
By the mid-1990s, Wasco ventured into erotic comics, although his works can be considered pastiches of oldskool fetish and bondage comics. His first effort was the futuristic 'Dotty Wervelwind' (1993, published in Oog & Blik's "cahier" ["copybook"] collection), which is set in the year 2030, when there are only women left on Earth. This "post-feminist" comic story needed a female creator, so Wasco used the pen name Wanda Scott, which not only bears a resemblance to his own name but also suggests the great novelist Walter Scott. The name of the protagonist was based on Lennart Ek and Björn Karlström's 'Dotty Virvelvind' (1944-1945), an obscure but sexy Scandinavian superheroine. The characters in 'Dotty Wervelwind' engage in all kinds of sado-masochist activities, while the narrative has the overall tone of a classic girls' comic. Other erotic comics by Wanda Scott, jam-packed with absurdities, are the 'Fantoma' series (2006), 'Wanda's X-Rated Drawings' and 'Jungle Meisje en de Geheime Grot'.

Tuitel and Phiwi, by Wasco
'Tuitel en Phiwi'. 

Tuitel en Phiwi
In 1995 Wasco launched 'Wasco's Comics and Stories' (1995), a new self-published title with a nod to the American comic book series 'Walt Disney's Comics and Stories'. It starred the wizard-like Tuitel, with his hourglass-shaped body and pointed hat, whose name and looks were based on a character from Piet Marée and Willy Willemse's children's book 'Ping-Pong-Ponia' (1960). Since then, Tuitel has served as the personification of the artist in exploring the laws and boundaries of the comics medium. Tuitel and his dog Phiwi walk through abstract landscapes which play with lay-outs, panel borders, narratives, chronology and other conventions of the sequential art form. Some episodes are in strip format, others full pages, but all are boundless experimentations with lines and time. Characters walk over the panel borders in all directions, narratives start in the middle of a page, pages that use color as part of the narrative... everything is possible. Episodes with more text, like the 'Tuitel vertelt' series, have a more philosophical undertone.

Besides 'Comics and Stories', Tuitel and Phiwi appeared in many of Wasco's self-published comic books, including a new series of Wasco's Weekblad (2006), the 'Strip Book' series (2007) the two 'Brol' books (2008), 'Vertigo' (2009), 'Het Magnetisch Park' (2009), 'Meneer Tuitel' (2009), and in the next decade, 'Minimal Comics 1' (2010), 'Meneer Tuitel Slaapt' (2010) and 'Alone' (2010). A choice selection of his small press work appeared in the hardcover collection 'Het Tuitel Complex' (2015), which was published by Scratch Books. After 25 years of creating comics, it was Wasco's first full-blown book publication with an official publisher. The pages gave an interesting look into Wasco's parallel universe, which not only comes from his own mind, but also borrows imagery from Piet Mondriaan and Hergé.

From: 'Vertigo'.

Cats & penguins
During the 2000s several of Wasco's works were cat-themed, including the booklets 'Cats by Wasco' and '1.000.000 katten' (2007). The next decade was however largely devoted to penguins, starting off with a set of 40 match boxes with penguin designs and prints, made in collaboration with Griffioen Grafiek (2011). They were accompanied by three booklets with "the extraordinary adventures" of Phillip de Pinguin. The booklets 'Philip aan zee', 'Philip krijgt een ei' and 'Philip & George', as well as Wasco's later 24 Hour Comics, featuring this penguin character all breathe the atmosphere of J.H. Koeleman's classic 'Pinkie Pienter' comics. Wasco's next penguin project was completely different: In 2018 he devoted a full month to drawing 1000 penguins in all sorts of styles and shapes, from round and comical to cubist and angular. Printed with the wider color spectrum of the Risograph printer, the resulting square-shaped book '1000 Pinguins' (Scratch 2018) was Wasco's ode to paper books and graphic arts. He returned to his favorite animals for his 2020 tear-off calendar '2020 Pinguïns' (Scratch, 2019), which featured - not surprisingly - 2020 penguins in 366 pieces of art! In turn, for the tear-off calendar of 2021 ('Poezen & katten'), he drew a copious amount of cats! 

From: '1000 Pinguins'.

Collective projects
In addition to his solo work, Wasco also enjoys engaging and challenging other artists. Whether he mentors graphic artists as a Riso specialist in the Amsterdam AGA LAB, or initiates frivolous events like "penguin processions" (a walking exposition through Antwerp and Luzern), his activities always remain original and within the realms of the avant-garde. In March 2017 he resided in a pop-up studio in the Antwerp-based gallery The Bries Space, where he organized several happenings. One weekend, he teamed up with Jeroen Funke, Simon Spruyt and Charlotte Dumortier to make hundreds of variations on the ancient joke set-up "Waiter, there's a hair in my soup!".

One month later, in April 2017, Wasco was invited to organize an art project at the WGKunst Gallery in Amsterdam. He and nine other artists worked side by side, both collectively and solo, on the creation of monsters and other gruesome and weird creatures. The result were several paintings, murals, collage artworks, illustrations and comic strips, which were on exhibit at the gallery afterwards. An overview magazine called MONSTER Stripblad was published as well, which featured not only solo work by Wasco, but also collaborations with Anne Stalinski and Lae Schäfer. The other participating artists were Jeroen Funke, Merel Barends, Tommy A, Peter de Wit, René Windig, Dace Sietina and Eliane Gerrits.

WGKunst was also the homebase for the creation of the socially conscious comic magazine Aline, which saw the light through a successful crowdfunding campaign in 2019. Initiated by Wasco, the team consisted of both veterans and young talent such as Sanne Boekel, Shamisa Debroey, Charlotte Dumortier, Jeroen Funke, Typex, Anne Stalinski and Ludwig Volbeda. The first issue was published by The Blue Orange in November 2019, the second appeared in June 2020.

Page from 'Het Tuitel Complex', published in Zone 5300 #100.

Magazine work
In general, Wasco works on pure DIY projects, which he prints and publishes through his Microbe label. His illustrations however also pop up in mainstream magazines, such as Vrij Nederland and VPRO Gids. For the latter, he made a weekly comic called 'Regenland' in 1997. Comics by Wasco have appeared in MUG, a magazine for welfare claimants, and most notably in Zone 5300, the alternative comic magazine from Rotterdam. He has been present since the first issue in 1994, contributing installments of his features 'Apenootjes', 'Tuitel' and 'Philip de Pinguin' over the following decades. In 2006 he participated in the comics contest held by newspaper Het Parool, where he "battled" in one of the qualifying rounds against Pieter Hogenbirk for a regular spot in the paper; the contest was eventually won by Michiel van de Pol. In 2012 Wasco, along with several other Dutch artists, contributed to 'Bommel en de Bovenbazen', a collectively redrawn version of Marten Toonder's classic 'Tom Poes' story, which was serialized in NRC Handelsblad between 2 May through 21 September 2012. Limiting himself to abstract shapes, Wasco's contributions were certainly the most daring of all!

Other artists who have experimented with abstract comics are Roberto AltmannRino Feys, Lewis Trondheim, Andrei Molotiu and Roger Price. 

Comic art by Wasco. 

Style & philosophy
Wasco is one of those artists who likes to reinvent himself with every project. He never thinks up elaborate concepts in advance, or makes preliminary sketches. To him, drawing is thinking, and each concept takes shape along the way. His work is fully devoted to the medium and to art in general, and serves as a mode of expression. His time at the academy fueled his analytical nature, although Wasco only reflects on what he wanted to say with an artwork after he finishes it. While his drawings are mostly freestyle, the artist challenges himself with rules and laws. These can be mathematical, numeric or related to colors and lines. His thousand penguins, for instance, were created in series ranging from one to ten (making it "18.181818 series of 55 penguins"), while the color palette was limited to three color tones: red, orange and blue. This working method works by trial and error, although Wasco never throws away a drawing. For the aforementioned penguin project, not a single piece of art was omitted. Wasco's experimental and abstract art is certainly an acquired taste, and is best appreciated by his peers in the art and graphics industry. Once a year, Wasco makes a comic strip with a traditional narrative, just to prove to himself he can. 

'Het Magnetisch Park'. Translation: "The travellers arrived at the fictional gate, exhausted, hoping for a happy end." 

Wasco's art has been featured in several innovative expositions. In July-August 2006 Wasco's original comic drawings, prints, sculptures and paintings were shown in Gallery Lambiek. In March 2010 he was back in the Amsterdam-based gallery with a selection of his cut-out art. One of Wasco's panel frameworks from 'Het Tuitel Complex' served as the design for the window fence in the back of Lambiek's new location at the Koningsstraat. Comics shop Het Beeldverhaal hosted his exposition 'De Zwarte Kat' in April 2012. His work could be seen in Graphic Design Museum in Breda in 2011 and in The Bries Space in Antwerp in March 2017. In early 2016 he spent an entire month working live on his drawings in the shop window of the Amsterdam bookstore Scheltema. His self-published 24 Hour Comic booklet 'Wolken' (2010) was awarded with the "Stripschappenning" for Literary Comic of the Year in 2010. On 29 January 2020 he was awarded the annual Stripschapprijs for his full body of work. Because of the lockdown due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Wasco could not receive his prize during one of the comic festivals. Instead he was honored on 8 June 2020 in a small event organized by Stripjournaal host Robin Vinck and Comic Artist Laureate of the Netherlands Margreet de Heer in a cinema in the cultural center LAB111. After on-screen congratulations and praise from his publishers Wiebe Mokken and Hansje Joustra, his colleagues Typex and the Lamelos team, Wasco gave an inspiring acceptance speech in which he expressed his philosophy on the comics medium. On the occasion of this award, Scratch subsequently released the 300-page book collection with Wasco's work, titled 'Alles Leeft' ("Everything lives", October 2020). It largely consists of the many 24 Hour Comics that Wasco has made throughout the years.

Throughout his decades long career, Wasco has remained a spearhead of the Dutch small press scene. While operating within his niche, he has served as an inspiration for new generations of indie artists. Typex was an early fan, and became one of his closest friends along the way. The members of the Lamelos collective, Boris Peeters, Sam Peeters, Jeroen Funke and Aleks Deurloo, have "adopted" Wasco as their (creative) father, and praise him for remaining faithful to his personal and uncompromising work.

The Wasco window fence at the comics shop Lambiek.

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