Comics History

Lambiek at Kerkstraat 78 (1986-1989)

Interior drawing of the Kerkstraat 78 store by Peter Pontiac.

Lambiek's rise in reputation in the 1980s
During the 1980s, 1990s and early 2000s Lambiek managed to get more media attention than ever before. The larger store provided more opportunities to fulfill Kees' mission: treat comics as a serious form of art. For this reason the books were ordered on the shelves by author instead of series, just like in general bookstores. This often puzzled customers, but Kees felt the authors should be the focus point.

Lambiek became a meeting place for various internationally famous comics artists who passed by to sign their work and, from 1986 on, exhibit there too. Official visits to Lambiek were turned into huge media events. Kees wrote a personal opening speech for all of them. Art critics and journalists were invited to add more prestige. Certain artists who weren't household names among the general public, gained more exposure by exhibiting their work in Lambiek. Foreign artists became more well known among Dutch readers. Ever since the 1970s, Lambiek had given young amateurs the chance put their own comics on sale or exhibit some of their drawings. Several of them later became professionals, such as Joost Swarte, Gerrit de Jager, Hanco Kolk, Peter de Wit, Windig & De Jong and Jean-Marc van Tol. Many returned the favour by making promotional artwork for the store or by giving Kees cameos in their own comics. This provided Lambiek with a loyal entourage.

Utrechts Nieuwsblad writing about Kees' plans for a gallery (8 March 1986).

Kees' own worldwide notablity rose as well. People invited him more and more to write essays, give lectures and interviews, co-organize events or be a jury member. From all over the world people wrote him letters. Kees kept corresponding with other cartoonists too. Some he tried to invite to the store, others invited themselves. Kees also saved the stamps from every letter he received to sell them to philatelists.

In his spare time Kees documented himself about comics and collected any magazine article about them. Many were research for his own projects. The eager storeowner also published special editions of certain artists' work, regardless whether there was an actual market for it? Most of his investments were paid with money from his own pocket. Whenever foreign artists visited his store he personally took care of their hotel costs and travel expenses. After Kees bought the Kerkstraat 78 building, he let his foreign visitors stay in the studio apartment on the first floor. People therefore sometimes regarded Kees as somewhat of an eccentric, who invested time and money in upgrading cartoonists. Whenever Kees had the feeling people belittled him, his store or the artists he tried to promote, he wasn't afraid to speak up. He could be quite frank in his opinions, but layered it with witty sarcasm. To him all that mattered was doing what he loved best and bringing comics artists together in his store. But let's not forget that above all Kees was a resourceful businessman. Lambiek was the place to go for antiquarian comics, but also for more prestigious articles like silkscreens, posters and original artwork. Setbacks were used as full scale PR-stunts, as the Punch and Judy show with the doll from the previous chapter illustrates.

Joost Swarte's drawing for the official opening of Gallery Lambiek on 18 October 1986.

Gallery Lambiek
Ever since 1976 Kees had tried to host big-scale exhibitions in Lambiek. But there was never enough room to display framed drawings on the wall, nor invite big crowds. Even after moving to a new and bigger building in 1980 most of it was filled with stacks and stacks of comics, as well as a reading table. Kees noticed that most collectors already owned all the antiquarian stuff, so some books would probably never be sold. The cluttered mess was furthermore a paradise for shoplifters. Kees wanted to redesign part of his store into an actual art gallery. In order to do so, sacrificies had to be made. From 1 March 1986 on we tried to sell as much stuff as possible. To avoid Kees trying to protect his proud possessions, he was sent on a holiday. After his return there was definitely enough sold to go ahead with the plans. Goof Mensink and Job Goedhart were put in charge of "re-store-ations", so to speak. Walls were repainted to give the upcoming gallery a classy look. It finally started to look like a mini museum, the way Kees wanted it.

RAW exposition... almost ready to go!

Kees envisioned a classy, prestigious atmosphere. All exhibitions had to revolve around artists whose work was visually interesting or captivating reading. Average museumgoers, art lovers, critics and beau monde were encouraged to come and have a look. Fellow cartoonists and graphic artists naturally were interested too, bringing only more celebrity comics artists to the store. Performances by orators, comedians or musicians were organized. Drinks and snacks were provided while Kees' flamboyant opening speeches topped everything off. While Kees wanted the events to be taken seriously he still enjoyed cracking jokes inbetween and afterparties were encouraged. At the time no other comics store in the world organized events like these. They provided Lambiek with constant publicity and more prestige. Now the store gained fame outside Dutch-language comics circles too. Artists who couldn't afford a hotel could always sleep over upstairs in the building. Many doodled some drawings and signatures behind in the guestbook or on the studio wall. Among them people like Al+Flag, Eric Braün, Hélène Brosseau, Sophie Crumb, Bob Fingerman, Ellen Forney, Janet and Michael T. Gilbert, Roberta Gregory, Lian Ong, Pete Poplaski, Eric Reynolds, David Sandlin, Dan Schiff, Seth, Jeff Smith, Barbara Stok, James Sturm, Willem and Jim Woodring.

Invitation for the RAW exposition. Artwork by Charles Burns.

Exhibitions and book signings (1986-1989)
The first big-scale exhibition in Lambiek took place on 18 October 1986 and revolved around Art Spiegelman and Françoise Mouly's artistically refined comics magazine RAW. RAW was a revelation at the time because it gave adult comics artists the chance to have their experimental vision be represented in excellent printing quality. It aimed to prove that comics could be art and vice versa. This had been Kees' ambition from the start so RAW was the perfect choice for Lambiek's first gallery exhibiton. Coincidentally the first issue of RAW had been published in the summer of 1980, around the same time that our store moved to the address which would enable us to organize actual art galleries. The event was therefore more than symbolic. While Spiegelman had visited Lambiek in 1979, even contributing an exclusive drawing to an issue of the Bulletin, he and Mouly weren't present at the expo. The actual instigator was another artist who published in its pages: Joost Swarte. Works of Swarte, Spiegelman, Mark Beyer, Charles Burns, Kim Deitch, Pascal Doury, Scott Gillis, Kaz, Jerry Moriarty, Mark Newgarden, Gary Panter, Bruno Richard and Ever Meulen were hung on the walls. Many artists had already been featured in museums before, but this was the first time that RAW was exhibited as a collective.

Kees with Ceesepe in 1987.

Between 6 January until halfway March 1987 the innovative Spanish artist Ceesepe ('Dibujos', 'Barcelona By Night', 'Slober') was the subject of an exhibition. After his first visit to the Netherlands three years earlier this attempt to promote his work had arguably more success. His expo 'Tristesse de Luxe' ran for three months. Between 27 November 1987 and 31 January 1988 Lambiek's home cartoonist Peter Pontiac was at the center of attention. A decade earlier he'd already exhibited work, but this was the first time he could be seen in our brand new gallery. For the occasion the Dutch underground comix legend didn't exhibit his art on paper either, but on huge pieces of cardboard. Pontiac would return for signings in 1990 and 2011.

Invitations for the Peter Pontiac and Alex Varenne expositions. The uncensored Varenne image is available by request.

From 26 February until the last week of April 1988 the iconoclastic cartoonist Tanino Liberatore, of 'RanXerox' fame, exhibited his savage drawings in our gallery. The cult cartoonist was succeeded by the refined artwork of Jacques de Loustal, which marvelled audiences from 3 February until halfway March 1988. It was the first time that Loustal's art was exhibited in the Netherlands. Philippe Bertrand, best known for 'Linda Aime L'Art' and his equally magnificent erotic work, could be seen between 31 March and 15 May 1989. In between that period Dutch cartoonists Hein de Kort and Eric Schreurs held a book signing on 15 April. The creators of filthy and provocative series like De Kort's 'Pardon Lul' and Schreurs' 'Joop Klepzeiker' and their collective comic strip 'Dick van Bill' proved that our store hadn't forgotten fans of straightforward entertainment. The futuristic cityscapes of 'Cités Obscures' creator François Schuiten were simply made for a gallery and therefore his detailed illustrations could be admired between 8 September and October 1989. Alex Varenne closed the decade with 'Les Larmes du Sexe', an exhibition which ran from 3 November until December 1989. The artist behind erotic series like 'Erma Jaguar' lived up to his reputation. The illustration on the official invitation card showed an explicit close-up of a penis penetrating a vagina. Kees took the precaution of adding an optional censor badge to it, which could be removed if desired.

Events in 1988-1989
Removal was a major theme at the tail end of the 1980s and we're not just referring to the Berlin Wall. On 25 May 1988 our store was once again victim of a burglary. Four screenprints by Joost Swarte, a couple of illustrations by Marten Toonder and a few statuettes were stolen. Throughout the year we fought a legal battle to get our "Lambik" doll back, but also took a stance in the "Amsterdammertjes" affair. The Amsterdam city council felt the need to remove many of their iconic red-brown traffic bollards. These iron (later steel) objects had always been a typical sight in the city and were therefore nicknamed "Amsterdammertjes". To protest against their removal Lambiek had several stickers made with Lambik's face on it, simultaneously advertising the 20th anniversary of our store on 8 November of that year. When stuck to the pole it made the top half look like Lambik's bowler hat. The design was courtesy of Herwolt van Doornen.

Joop Distel, the brand new Knight in the Order of the "Golden Vacuum Cleaner", surrounded by Mr. Cox, another Dupuis representative, and comics artists François Walthéry and Berck.

Luckily there were more pleasant events that period too. On 5 November 1988 Kousemaker held a survey under his fellow comics storeowners to find out who was the best comics sales representative? Joop Distel, representative of Dupuis in the Netherlands, came out best. So Kousemaker awarded him a humoristic knighthood: "Ridder in de Orde van de Gouden Stofzuiger" ("Knight in the Order of the Golden Vacuum Cleaner"). He gave the prize to Distel during the annual Stripschap anniversary, held in hotel Bel Air in The Hague. Among the people present at this ceremony were comics artists Berck ('Sammy') and François Walthéry ('Natacha').

Another cartoonist, the South African Derek Bauer, drew a graphic homage to our store in 1989. He caricatured the inseparable Kees and Klaas Knol. Yet the most beautiful piece of promotional art ever created for our store was drawn by Peter Pontiac that year. The first illustration depicts a street plan of Amsterdam, helping out tourists on how to find our store. The other offered a look inside Lambiek, picturing Kees and Klaas at their counter while various famous comics characters pick out comics to buy. The drawings were so magnificent that there were made into official brochures and posters. To continue our story about Lambiek's eventful history we cannot provide an illustrated guide by Pontiac though, you just have to follow the link below...

Detail of Derek Bauer hommage to Lambiek, featuring Klaas and Kees.

Next chapter: Lambiek at Kerkstraat 78 (1990-2003)