Comics History

Lambiek at Kerkstraat 104 (1976-1980)

Kees on Kerkstraat 104 in 1979 (Photo: Hans Frederiks).

Personnel in the mid 1970s
Halfway the decade new faces popped up in Lambiek. Around 1975 Hans Frederiks joined our team. Originally he only worked on Saturdays, but the next two years he was in charge of the store whenever Kees was absent. Around this period Kees had taken up law studies, trying to obtain his diploma. Regardless of all the fun he had with Lambiek, both the store and his side projects asked a lot of his time. Even weekends were rarely a day of rest. Already in issue 59-60 of Stripschrift (1973) Kees had confessed that he seriously considered leaving Lambiek to others. Therefore he was mostly busy with studying during 1976-1977. Hans Frederiks later became a journalist and photographer, who wrote many articles for comics information magazine Stripschrift. He has also made most of the photographs of Lambiek's first location.

Lambiek's first exhibitions: Jean Dulieu (1976) and Peter Pontiac (1977)
Frederiks was also responsible for Lambiek's very first exposition, a landmark in our history. In the quest to treat comics as a serious artform, the idea rose to combine book signings by a specific artist with an expo. Original sketches and fully worked out pages would be put on display. This would enable people to look at comics drawings from a different perspective, more like art at an exhibition. The first cartoonist to enjoy this honour was Jean Dulieu, creator of 'Paulus de Boskabouter '('Paulus the Woodgnome'). Between February and 13 March 1976 people could come and look at his work. Since 'Paulus' had been a mainstay in the papers, on radio and TV for three decades the exhibition drew quite a crowd. A second exhibition was organized the following year, presenting artwork for the Dutch music magazine Muziek Express by Peter Pontiac, the legendary underground comix artist and pioneer of autobiographical comics in the Netherlands. Pontiac would become Lambiek's non-official home artist, and design various advertisements for Lambiek.

Yet Kees was still somewhat unsatisfied. Since his store was so small they were only humble expos. But the tone was set. In the following decades Lambiek would host more of these exhibitions. And from 1986 on, an actual gallery would be installed, allowing these events to only grow in scale and ambition...

Job Goedhart, Loes van Alphen and Herwolt van Doornen help out in the Lambiek stand during the Breda comics festival (around 1979).

Two other employees helped out customers in Lambiek during the 1970s. One was named Henk (last name lost in history) and another Teun Leopold. Henk later became a theatrical actor and was, according to Kees, "an erudite performer". Leopold later went to work at the rehab center Jellinek. As Kees joked during the 40th anniversary speech: "At least one of my former employees ended up at the right end of a rehab center!" People like Job Goedhart and Herwolt van Doornen were not official employees, but helped out on several occasions. Another significant salesperson around this period was former tourist guide Loes van Alphen. She was a swell and quick typist, which came in handy for Lambiek's new project: our own self-printed magazine!

Covers for the Lambiek Bulletin by Flip Fermin (#3, 1977) and a 17-year old Gerard Leever (#7, 1978).

Lambiek's first newspaper: Bulletin (1977-1979)
On 1 January 1977 Lambiek launched its own comics-related information magazine Bulletin. The publication could be purchased in the store, but also ordered by mail. It announced all upcoming events regarding Lambiek, including the latest available comic books and magazines. The magazine had a charming D.I.Y. approach, not unlike a school magazine or the cut-and-paste punk magazines which were in vogue around the same time. In its first issue, readers found a brochure which enabled them to fill in their personal interests, so Lambiek could keep them informed on a personal base. An interesting and time-consuming piece of customer service during the pre-internet years! Inside the magazine was also a coupon so readers could obtain a free bottle of wine. Kees filled the pages with the latest news from the comics world, book reviews and of course comics and cartoons. He received help from Job Goedhart, Hans Frederiks, Hans Bijman (lay-out) and Loes van Alphen (typing and editing). Over the years various Dutch cartoonists would illustrate its pages and covers, among them Dik Bruynesteyn, Gerrit de Jager, Alex de Wolf, Flip Fermin, Gerard Leever, Frits Jonker, Joost Swarte, J.C. Moonen and Herwolt van Doornen. The Canadian cartoonist Arn Saba sent Lambiek episodes of the 'Neil the Horse' strip for publication in the Bulletin. 24 issues and one flyer would be published right until 1979, all in a print-run of 1,000 copies.

Letters from Van Agt and Wiegel in Lambiek Bulletin 1977-5, with drawings by Peter van Straaten. The three questions proposed to the politicians were: 1) Did you ever read comics, and if yes, which ones? 2) Do you think comics should be forbidden? 3) Which comics character inspires you the most?

Most of the articles were written by Kees in his characteristic witty style, but he also offered room for guest writers. In an issue of April 1977 Real Free Press co-owner Martin Beumer wrote an amusing poem about comics, full with word play. Anton Hermus wrote sonnets about comics. The Bulletin was also home for remarkable stunts. On 25 May 1977 the Netherlands prepared themselves for the upcoming parlementarian elections. Kousemaker did the same by writing each major candidate a letter with a few comics-related questions, promising to put the answers in the next issue of Bulletin, in order to secure the politician's "overwhelming election results". Five politicians, namely Jan Terlouw (D66), Joop den Uyl (PvdA), Dries van Agt (CDA), Hans Wiegel (VVD) and Klaas Beuker (RKPN), sent back their replies which could be read in Bulletin's next issue (#5 of 1977). The answers were illustrated with caricatures by Peter van Straaten, and followed by an extra installment of Van Straaten's political satire 'Bij Ons In Het Dorp', which was originally intended for a TV show but printed with the cartoonist's permission. Perhaps unrelated, but Den Uyl was defeated in the elections that year and Van Agt became the new Prime Minister.

Dedication by Art Spiegelman, published in Lambiek Bulletin #3, 1979.

In an issue of March 1979 Art Spiegelman contributed a drawing of "memories of his visit to Europe", which included an illustrated reference to Lambiek. At that time Spiegelman was still an obscure underground comix artist whose true fame would only arrive seven years later, thanks to the succes of his graphic novel 'Maus' (1986). Also in 1979 Kousemaker managed to obtain the first Tintin stamps on the first day of their official launch in Belgium and published them the very next day in Bulletin before the rest of the Dutch press could report about them.

Some Bulletins were true examples of home craft. Issue #4 of 1977 had a color illustration by Evert Geradts pasted on the front cover (of which variations in different background colors exist). The punk issue (#12, 1977) came with an actual safety pin, one of the icons of the movement.

Speaking of 'Tintin'... the most well known essay prepublished in Bulletin's pages was a study about the story 'Tintin in Tibet', named 'Is Kuifje in Tibet geweest?' ('Has Tintin been to Tibet?'), written by an actual Tibetologist: drs. Ronald Herman Poelmeyer. It compared the artwork and information presented in the comic book with actual facts, documentation and photographs. Kousemaker mailed the entire essay, published in Bulletin #2 of 1979, to Hergé, who wrote back with compliments: "It's an exceptional work (...) I don't have to tell you how much I've been touched, because what I appreciated the most was the preciseness used to write down this study".

The envelope from 'Tintin au Tibet' and the replica.

In 1985 Lambiek published the essay in French as 'Tintin, a-t-il été au Tibet?' with Hergé's letter printed inside. This edition was accompanied by a replica of the envelope containing the letter Tintin received from Tchang, complete with original postmarks, airmail stickers and stamps. All went well, except that the stamps were part of an expensive set, which couldn't be purchased individually. Luckily, regular customer Hans Lodders helped out. Lodders was living in Hong-Kong and worked as director of Agfa-Gevaert, while he ran a jazz café as a hobby side project. He was acquainted with the Hong-Kong police commissioner, who was also amused by the project. They tracked down all the philately shops in the city, and sent undercover police officers to each store at exactly the same time. This way the officers could buy the desired stamps, without giving the store owners the time to pass on the increased demand and boost up the prices, or to buy new stock from their colleagues!

Lambiek's entrance after the visit of the F.C. Liverpool fans.

Vandalism and the Matena brawl
Not all news events around this period were great, though. On 5 August 1977 Lambiek became victim of vandalism. That evening the association football match Ajax - F.C. Liverpool took place, and was won by Ajax. After the game some hooligans sprayed graffiti over the facade of our store. Amsterdam artist Charlie Reuvers therefore painted a new sign. Much like Ajax's most legendary champion Johan Cruijff would say, there was a plus side to the down side: at least the store looked fresh again for our upcoming 10th anniversary on 8 November 1978.

Kees in front of the new shop sign by Charlie Reuvers in 1978.

On 11 October 1978 the tenth anniversary of the Dutch comics appreciation club Het Stripschap was celebrated. On 15 October an official dinner party took place in the Amsterdam bar De Pieper. Many people were invited, including comics artist Dick Matena and our own Kees Kousemaker. What happened next became the stuff of legends. Dick Matena wrote a detailed account for a 2014 issue of Eppo magazine. The artist, visibly and audibly drunk, started ranting against all of his critics. He called for the abolition of Het Stripschap and "the instant removal of that fat wine salesman over there", referring to Kees. When Stripschap chairman Martin Wassington made a snidy comment about Matena's drunkenness, the cartoonist suddenly attacked him! In his article, Matena reflected: "(...) This proves how blind alcohol can make a person (...) if I had been sober I would've thought it over twice before engaging into a fight with Martin, because he was a trained gym teacher, one and all muscle, presumably three times as strong as me. If I hadn't surprised him he would've easily double folded me." As Matena crawled over the table the thing collapsed and all the drinks and food splattered on the floor and the distinguished guests. At this point, Matena and Kees also came to blows. Kees' version was that he eventually pushed Matena, who lost his balance and ended up between some potted plants. Kees later scornfully joked he won the fight because other people then restrained the sloshed comics artist. Allegedly, he even exhibited his torn sweater in the store afterwards. In later years however he spoke with a little embarrassment about the incident.

In later interviews Matena also understood he'd misbehaved and admitted that it didn't make him more beloved in the Dutch comics world. But he also felt that the others should've prevented him from speeching in the first place, since it was so obvious that he was in no state of doing so. In the next decades Matena did make some promotional work for Lambiek, such as an exclusive newspaper comic for our self-published magazine De Reporter in 1981. In 2003 the talented artist was present in our store for a book signing.

Kees with Fred Julsing, Captain Haddock and Dick Matena during better days. Although the latter is lying on the floor, this picture was not taken during the infamous Matena Match.

In 1978 Kees became victim of another regrettable incident, though once again he turned it into a pleasant memory. While driving home through the countryside his car drove off the road. Luckily there were no victims. As a police officer wrote the report, Kees told him his name and profession. To his surprise and pride the officer knew who he was and was even able to give Lambiek's address from the top of his head. Kees always regarded this incident as proof that he "had made it". This also marked Lambiek's first, but not last run-in with the law, as we will see in our next chapter...

The fake Jan Kruis presents his one millionth book to innocent bystander K. Knol.

1978: Lambiek's 10th anniversary party
On 8 November 1978 Lambiek celebrated its 10th anniversary. Among the people to draw a special graphic homage were Dik Bruynesteyn and Joost Swarte. Kees thought of another way to draw attention for this event when he noticed a bearded man who looked a lot like comics artist Jan Kruis, famous for 'Jan, Jans en de Kinderen' ('Jack, Jacky and the Juniors'). He approached him, but it turned out to be an American tourist who naturally hadn't even heard of Kruis. Kees got a great idea for a prank and actually got the American so far to participate along. A photograph was staged, acting as if Kruis had been in the store to celebrate the sale of his one millionth comics album. This copy was then given to a customer, "the Amsterdammer K. Knol". Naturally the series hadn't sold that many albums yet and Klaas Knol was just a regular customer who'd become a store employee in the next decade. The hoax was distributed to as many newspapers and magazines as possible. In order to confuse them even more, tiny facts were deliberately changed in every press announcement. Unfortunately only the newspaper Trouw was fooled and even they published the hoax without the photograph...

The book presentation of Wordt Vervolgd was organized by Het Stripschap in Arti et Amicitiae.

'Wordt Vervolgd: Stripleksikon der Lage Landen'
As we wrote earlier, Kees studied law in 1976-1977 and seriously considered leaving Lambiek. His fortune changed when publisher Het Spectrum asked him to write a follow-up to his book 'Strip voor Strip'. This proved to be the turning point in his career. Kees abandoned his studies, returned to the comics world and never looked back. He and his wife Evelien worked two years on a new encyclopedia. On 20 February 1979 the book 'Wordt Vervolgd - Stripleksikon der Lage Landen' ('To Be Continued – Comics Lexicon of the Low Countries', Het Spectrum, 1979) was presented to the press in Arti et Amicitiae. It offered much of the same information as 'Strip voor Strip', but updated, corrected, expanded and presented in a more structured way. This time Kees and Evelien were aided by about 50 other people for this massive project, most notably co-editors Rob Richard, Albert Tol and Jan Smet. Richard of the comics documentation centre of the university library of Amsterdam tracked down many pre-war artists, while Albert Tol scavenged through a great many comics magazines. Jan Smet lent his expertise from the Flemish side. During one of their meetings, Kees told Smet that Willy Vandersteen had recently won the Award for Best Foreign Comic Story in Angoulême, France. This didn't sit too well with Smet who felt that there ought to be a Flemish comics award as well. Thanks to Kees' casual remark, Smet put his shoulders underneath the creation of the bi-annual Bronzen Adhemar, the most important Flemish comics award!

Front and back of Wordt Vervolgd, which reproduced the chapter illustrations.

Once again the encyclopedia featured an alphabetical overview of all comics artists, series and magazines in the Netherlands and Flanders. Yet this time each chapter had been illustrated by 22 famous comics artists, namely Theo Van Den Boogaard, Marten Toonder, Berck, Piet Wijn, H.G. Kresse, Kamagurka, Peter de Smet, Martin Lodewijk, Thé Tjong-Khing, Jef Nys, Joost Swarte, Willy Vandersteen, Bob De Moor, Marc Sleen, Bert Bus, Jean Dulieu, Willem, Frans Piët, Harry Buckinx, Daan Jippes, Fred Julsing and Gerrit de Jager. Each one made a drawing of a letter of the alphabet and decorated it with well-known comics characters whose name (in Dutch translation) started with that letter. It led to some unique drawings where famous cartoonists drew in different styles and depicted other characters than their own. Topical articles were written by P. Hans Frankfurther (comics and publicity), Professor Mönnich (religious comics) and Rudolf Geel (comics language).

Kees is made honorary member of Karel Driesen's "Strip- en Kartoen Documentatie Centrum". From left to right: Karel Driesen, Merho, Eddy Ryssack, Bob de Moor, Kees and Pol Driesen.

The same year Lambiek also received the Zilveren Dolfijn award from the Belgische Strip Klub and in 1980 Kees and Evelien were declared honorary members of Karel Driesen's comics documentary center "Driesen Strip- en Kartoen Documentatie Centrum". A photograph shows Kees in the presence of Driesen, Merho ('De Kiekeboes), Eddy Ryssack ('Brammetje Bram'), Bob de Moor ('Cori de Scheepsjongen') and Driesen's nephew Pol.

Letterhead for the ill-fated De Trouwe Lezer project.

Kees no longer had to doubt his true goal in life! He stayed with Lambiek and threw himself into new comics-related projects with new found enthusiasm. One of these was the launch of a foundation called De Trouwe Lezer (translation: "The Loyal Reader", 1979), which dedicated itself to reprinting old newspaper comics in book format and back into the papers. Kees was always very concerned with keeping classic comics series in the picture, even if they were no longer syndicated. De Trouwe Lezer would have given nostalgic old-time readers and new generations the chance to (re)discover old favorites, though unfortunately the project never came off the ground. In 1980 seventeen year old Martijn Daalder became an employee. He had just started a study of Arabic when he realized it didn't really interest him at all. He abandoned his studies after six weeks and took a student job in Lambiek instead. Although he only worked for us for a few months he would remain a regular visitor and contributor for the store in the next decades. Like Hans Frederiks, Daalder would later also write many comics-related articles for newspapers and comics information magazines. He was furthermore the author of the comics annuals for publisher Sherpa in the early 1990s, which featured interviews and reflections on the market.

Amsterdam expo and dedications
During the first half of 1980 Lambiek hosted an exhibition about the portrayal of Amsterdam in comics. This expo, 'Amsterdam in de strip' (1980), drew quite some visitors and Kees later donated all visual material to the city archives. On 29 June 1980 U.S. underground comix artist S. Clay Wilson ('The Checkered Demon') dedicated one of his drawings to Kees. Dutch artist Martin Lodewijk also paid tribute by featuring the store in a scene from his 'Agent 327' story 'Dossier Nachtwacht'. The artist presented this new album in our store on 14 August 1980 and unlike his signature character he didn't have to worry about entering the building incognito... Lodewijk would be the guest of honour again in 1981, but by that time our store looked totally different. Because, as of 1 September 1980, Lambiek moved to a different address in the same street. From nr. 104 in the Kerkstraat to nr. 78. A larger location, more fit to serve Kees' equally large future ambitions!

Lambiek in Martin Lodewijk's Agent 327
Martin Lodewijk's Agent 327 in front of Lambiek in 'Dossier Nachtwacht'.

Next chapter: Kerkstraat 78 (1980-1985)