Comics History

Lambiek at Kerkstraat 78 (1996-2003)

The front of the store in 1996.

During the previous decades, Lambiek had established a worldwide international reputation, with the 1993 Angoulême exposition as a highlight. The store became a tourist hotspot, which also attracted a variety of celebrity visitors.

Klaas vs. celebrity visitors
On several occasions, our salesman Klaas Knol was however unable to recognize celebrity in front of his own nose. Perhaps because of the typical Dutch down-to-earthness, or was it just Klaas' atypical Amsterdam obliviousness?  One day Klaas played a CD by rock musician Beck in the store, when a woman asked him "do you like the music?" When Knol said that he "hadn't heard such excellent music in ages" the wioman revealed she was Beck's girlfriend, and that Beck was also there in rather store with her! Klaas hadn't recognized him, because - after all - what are the odds of rock legends visiting a store? He gave Beck a Lambiek T-shirt, hoping he would wear it onstage. Funnily enough, Klaas failed to recognize Beck once again. Some time after his first encounter, he noticed an American eating a hamburger in the store, and kindly asked him to do so outside. It was only when the man left, and his manager ran in to ask what happened, that Klaas realized that the hungry customer was, once again, Beck! In the early 2010s, Knol told the anecdote about Beck to another customer, who replied "Yes, Beck, I know him well!" It was only then that Klaas realized he was in the presence of another celebrity: Sean Lennon, son of John!

Klaas Knol seated front and center at the counter of Lambiek during the 1990s.

Another wonderful moment happened around 28 October 2000, when Klaas Knol met one of his musical heroes in the store. Jonathan Richman happened to be looking for the latest album by Joe Sacco: 'Safe Area GoraĹžde'. Klaas was a great admirer of Richman, and used to sing his songs to his sons. The creator of 'Egyptian Reggae' even offered Knol a ticket for his planned concert in the Melkweg concert hall. Unfortunately, Klaas had already booked his agenda for the weekend. At yet another occasion, when Klaas reprimanded a customer who shoved a Frank Miller book brutally back on the shelf, the offending customer turned out to be Miller himself!

Kees with Chris Ware at his exhibition, the first one in Gallery Lambiek in 1996..

Expos, book signings and other events (1996-1999)
Whether Kees' ability to recognize celebrities was better than Klaas is difficult to tell, but he certainly could recognize talent. On 12 January 1996, Chris Ware held an exhibition in our gallery. At the time Ware wasn't that famous yet, certainly not in Europe, but Kees liked his work well enough to invite him over to Amsterdam. The creator of Jimmy Corrigan and Quimby the Mouse was quite perplexed. As he wrote himself: "I started to nurse the idea that this was maybe some sort of elaborate tax shelter (...) I mean, what sort of nut flies an obscure comic book artist overseas for an exhibit in a comic shop? There's no way he'd be able to "make back his investment", as any business analyst would say. (...) He told me that he didn't care whether he sold any artwork at all; he simply enjoyed bringing cartoonists into his store, taking them out to dinner, and displaying their drawings. Life was short, and he'd started the Lambiek shop by spending all the money he had, opening the shop without a penny in his pocket." Chris Ware's exhibition was installed by Kees, Typex and Wasco and the honoured artist enjoyed every minute of it. Well, except for the fact that it took a full hour to figure out how the in-line water heater and shower in the "guest apartment" worked. At the expo opening, Ware was particularly thrilled to meet Joost Swarte, whom he described as "my childhood hero."

Visitors of the 100 years of American newspaper comics exxhibition in 1996.

From 22 March until April 1996, the comics of French artist Thierry Guitard were displayed in our gallery. On 4 April, original newspaper comic artwork from the Dutch series 'Wipperoen' by Jan van Reek and Raymond Bär van Hemmersweil was auctioned off in the store. A full-blown exhibition about the influential Canadian comics magazine Drawn & Quarterly began on 7 June, in the presence of two regular Drawn & Quarterly qqqartists Adrian Tomine ('Optic Nerve') and Joe Matt ('Peepshow'). Both stayed over that night, and Tomine kept busy sketching the Lambiek studio apartment. Between 2 August and 15 October 1996, Lambiek celebrated 100 years of U.S. newspaper comics with a huge exhibition of Sunday pages by pioneers like Richard F. Outcault, Winsor McCay, Frederick Burr Opper, George Herriman. From 27 October until November 1996, we looked at the past again with a thematic expo about the work of Yves Chaland, the creator of 'Bob Fish' and 'Freddy Lombard' who sadly died unexpectedly six years earlier in an automobile accident. It marked the first time that Lambiek honored the work of a cartoonist who had passed away. Between November 1996 and January 1997, the eccentric work of Mark Smeets was exhibited. This Dutch cartoonist was never a household name, but the oddness of his work has made him surprisingly enduring. Chris Ware, who also visited the expo, was fascinated enough by Smeets to devote an entire article about him in Kramer's Ergot. The same year Roberta Gregory ('Feminist Funnies') and Julie Doucet ('Dirty Plotte') drew special homages to our store.

Adrian Tomine's drawing of Lambiek's studio appartment, and a souvenir of Roberta Gregory's visit, both from 1996..

On 24 April 1997, Maaike Hartjes presented in Lambiek her collaborative comic book 'Old Cake Comix,' which featured comics drawn by female artists. The work was published in English, because she couldn't find enough female Dutch cartoonists to fill an entire book. On the book signing day, her mother baked cakes for everyone, Barbara Stok's band Txotxo performed and comic artist Gerrie Hondius ('Ansje Tweedehansje') sang.

On 13 March 1998, an exhitibion of the ironic comics by Erik Kriek ('Gutsman') was shown in our gallery. Kriek would pay us another offical visit for a signing session in 2012. Between 29 May and June 1998, the gloomy stories of Daniel Clowes ('Ghost World') haunted visitors of our gallery, and the famed artist signed copies of his graphic novels on the expo's opening night. For the occasion a special silkscreen was made: 'Clowes in Space'. One of the most celebrated expos in our history centered around the work of François Avril. Contrary to Clowes his work has a more upbeat look on life. The creator of titles like 'Doppelgänger SA' and 'Pierrot Blouchon' opened his exhibition on 19 June 1998 and would return with another expo in 2002. Controversial Dutch cartoonist Willem was another notable presence in our gallery between 17 September and 31 October 1998. The house cartoonist of the magazine Libération and the only Dutchman in Charlie-Hebdo paid us another official visit in 2002.

Invitation for the 1998 François Avril expo.

We closed the year on November 1998 with an exhibition of original artwork by Don Lawrence. The artist of 'Storm' and 'Trigan Empire' had been our star exhibition seven years earlier. Between 12 February and the end of March 1999, our gallery highlighted the work of Peter van Straaten, an artist known for his humorous observations of human awkwardness, was saved from embarrassment. Countless people, from colleagues, art lovers to ordinary people, passed by to admire his versatile work. His signature comic strip 'Vader en Zoon' (1968) coincidentally debuted in the same week Lambiek first opened its doors! Two other observers of the human condition, Dupuy and Berbérian ('Monsieur Jean'), held an exhibition which kicked off on 29 April. Their fellow countryman Pascal Doury ('L'Age d'Or de Dora Diamant') held his second expo in our gallery starting 18 June 1999, after having delighted us with his presence nine years earlier. 'Heinz' creators Windig and De Jong also held their second exhibition, 'Proost, Heinz!', at Lambiek on 17 September. Henk Sprenger, famous for his soccer comic 'Kick Wilstra', scored with audiences on 19 November 1999.

The 1999 Henk Sprenger exposition had a beautiful invitation drawn by Peter Pontiac.

Lambiek publications (1996-1998)
In the second half of the 1990s, Lambiek was also involved with several publishing projects. A memorable event of 1996 was Lambiek's publication of the first Dutch translation by Evelien Kousemaker of Jeff Smith's cult comics series 'Bone'. In the following year, we contributed to a special book written by Henk van den Ham and a group of students of the Amsterdam University of Applied Sciences, one of which was future Lambiek employee and store manager Bas van der Zee. The book in question, 'Algemene Bommel Concordantie', provided an alphabetical register of all characters, names, poems, objects, catchphrases, locations in Marten Toonder's 'Bommel' series and in what scene from what story they appear. It was presented in April 1997, but failed to capture a large audience.

Lambiek's book publication of Jeff Smith's 'Bone', and the comics history booklet made for the postal services in 1997.

Also in 1997, Kees and Martijn Snoodijk wrote 'In Strip Gevat - Een Eeuw Beeldverhaal' ("Captured in Cartoons - A Century of Comic Stories"). This publication by the Dutch postal service PTT provided an overview of the century-old history of comics at the occasion of the 1997 day-of-issue comics-related stamps. Kees and Martijn did all research, wrote each chapter and picked out the illustrations. Some of the material was recycled from the '100 Years of U.S. Newspaper Comics' exhibition held in the gallery a year earlier.

To celebrate Lambiek's 30th anniversary, American graphic novelist Chris Ware ('Jimmy Corrigan') drew a special mini-comic starring an overweight and alcoholic superhero, whose life is changed after visiting Lambiek. The booklet has been reprinted several times (the "serial number" on the top left of the cover is related to Lambiek's birthday and thus reveals which edition it is). If available, the booklet is still handed out to our customers. In 1998, Kees also pleased comics fans with the publication of 'The Quick Brown Fax', a written correspondence between cartoonists Typex and Peter Pontiac, livened up with their own illustrations.

Chris Ware's 1998 mini-comic, which served as Lambiek's business card (larger than the actual size).

On 7 July 1998, during the Stripdagen Haarlem, Kees also showed his kind heart to Dutch comic artist Lian Ong. Ong and Kees had crossed each others paths before. One year earlier the feminist comics creator had been subject of a Dutch TV documentary, in which Kees was also briefly interviewed to answer the question "Why do you think that males tended to like comics more than women?" Ong failed to win the major Stripdagen prize: the "Grote Prijs van Haarlem" ("Grand Prize of Haarlem"). Even though she did receive the audience award ("Publieksprijs"), it was still a disappointment since it didn't come with a cash prize. Kees felt she deserved this award more than anyone else and therefore paid her 1.000 guilders (roughly 450 euro or 530 dollars, adjusted for inflation) from his own pocket. In issue #313 of Stripschrift, Ong called this a "very sweet gesture."

Also in the 1990s, Frank Emery gave Lambiek some air with this beautiful ceiling painting.

The "Peekelman" meeting
On 21 March 1999, our store became the center of something other than a book signing or an expo. At the initiative of Jean-Marc van Tol, co-creator of the cartoon series 'Fokke en Sukke', a debate was organized to discuss the state of the Dutch comics industry and what could be done to improve it. In the months prior to the event, several comics authors and aficionados had responded to Van Tol's cry of distress on an online mailing list. Van Tol invited five important comics editors, journalists and publishers at the table: Har van Fulpen (head of Betapress), Joost Pollmann, Martijn Daalder, Huib van Opstal (Dutch Comics Centre), Dirk Snoodijk (Striparazzi) and Ingrid Huysman (Zone 5300). Several comics authors were also present, creating a total attendance of about 50-60 people.

The meeting was renamed the "Hanneke Peekelman Front"; this was a witty remix of the names of Wordt Vervolgd host Han Peekel and Hanneke Groenteman, the host of cultural TV shows, who humorously didn't have anything to do with the debate at all. It inspired Hanco Kolk and Peter de Wit to initiate the 'Pincet' mini-comics collection, which gave Dutch comic artists the chance to create short stories, published in little books and released on the market. Another outcome of the meeting was Nukomix, an online platform for beginning or amateur comic artists.

Kees with culinary journalist and regular customer Johannes van Dam in 1998.

End of the century
In 1999, Kees lent out much of his private comics collection for 'Van Bulletje tot Wentelteefje,' an expo about the history of Dutch comics held in the Warande of Turnhout, Belgium, On 8 December, Kees enjoyed a well-deserved honor when, at the Stripdagen festival in Den Bosch, the Dutch comics appreciation society Het Stripschap awarded him the 1999 P. Hans Frankfurther Prize for his special achievements in the field of comics.

(Most of) the team in 2001: Toon Dohmen, Wout Meijer (Comiclopedia intern), Klaas Knol, Bas Schuddeboom, regular customer Fred Schallenberg, Boris Kousemaker and Kees Kousemaker.

Personnel at the turn of the century
Our store entered a new century with several new employees. From the late 1990s until 2002, regular visitors met with Toon Dohmen behind the counter. While Dohmen only stayed for a couple of years, he did introduce Kees to a bunch of artistically ambitious French comics he had never heard about. Dohmen was also editor of comics news magazine Zozolala, and later became a translator of graphic novels. Rob Bolweg and Kees' son Boris lended helping hands in Lambiek, while former student Bas van der Zee became more active in the store as well. On Sundays, visitors were welcomed by another newcomer behind the counter: André Snaar. Besides his Lambiek work, André was the initiator of a 2003 silkscreen print, drawn by the female comic artists Maaike Hartjes, Margreet de Heer, Farida Laan, Gerrie Hondius and Ilah on the terrace of the Lambiek studio appartment. Sadly André passed away from the results of pancreatic cancer in 2004. Klaas' nephew Steven Knol helped out with the administration during this period, and also filled in behind the counter every now and then. 

The launch of Kees' ambitious online Comiclopedia marked the arrival of Rick Webb, Arjan Vlaming, Margreet de Heer, Bas Schuddeboom and our overseas proofreader Dan Schiff, but more about them in our next chapter.

Cees Sokkenstopper (© Disney).

Comics cameos (part three)
In 2000-2001, Lambiek received three cameos in a comic strip, one of which featured Kees. In September 2000, the Dutch Disney weekly Donald Duck celebrated its 2.500th issue. Their anniversary story by writer Evert Geradts and artist Mau Heymans featured Donald searching for a copy of the first issue of his own magazine. During his quest he not only meets a caricature of comics collector Hans Matla ("Gans Matla"), but also visits a "specialized comics store" lead by a certain "Cees Sokkenstopper" (the last name is a synonym for the word "kousemaker", which literally means "fixer of socks" in Dutch). In a Viva issue of 13 November 2000 Maaike Hartjes drew an episode of her autobiographical comics series where she visited Lambiek during Barbara Stok's book signing in 2000. In 2001, Urbanus and his family visited Amsterdam in the story 'De Laatste Hollander' by Willy Linthout and Urbanus. In one scene, characters pass by our store where a bunch of thieves are beaten up by local policemen. Apart from these homages, South African cartoonist Anton Kannemeyer also paid tribute by making an illustrated advertisement for us, recommending Lambiek as a cure for depression. His cartoon sure made us feel happy too!

Lambiek in the Urbanus comic 'De Laatste Hollander' (2001).

Expos, book signings and other events (2000-2001)
From 17 March to April 2000, Johan de Moor ('La Vache') held an expo in Gallery Lambiek twenty years after his famous father, Bob de Moor. He would return for another exhibition in 2003, this time in the company of his students from the Sint-Lukas art school. On 26 May 2000, the spooky and surreal pantomime comics of Jim Woodring ('Frank') were exhibited in our gallery. Woodring left a beautiful drawing and a little poem behind on our wall: "There is a fine feller named Kees / who created this great comics plees [sic] / when you stay in his huis / you've no reason to gruis/ and it's pleasant to look on his fees [sic]." From August to mid-September 2000, a new exhibition of centuries-old U.S. newspaper comics featured 'Gasoline Alley', 'Little Nemo' and 'Bringing Up Father' among others. Eleven years after his last signing session, 'Joop Klepzeiker' creator Eric Schreurs came back for his own expo, which ran from 29 September 2000 until October. While mostly known for creating comics about vulgar losers, the exposition 'Fresh Strange Flesh' provided audiences a chance to learn about Schreurs' skills as a painter. In November, Barbara Stock, creator of 'Barbaraal', held a book signing in the gallery.

Kees inspecting Eric Schreurs' signing session. The editors of the Dutch Donald Duck weekly always thought Kees was "not amused" by his portrayal as Cees Sokkenstopper in Donald Duck's 2500th issue, but these T-shirts seem to imply otherwise.

The work of Stefan van Dinther and Tobias Schalken was exhibited from 26 January until 28 February 2001. Their poetic and avant-garde book series 'Eiland' was a perfect window into the new century. Van Dinther returned for another book signing in 2005. Our gallery put Willem Vleeschouwer, AKA WéVé ('Duppie', 'Spoortstraat'), at the center of his own exhibition between 15 June 2001 and 11 August. He took this opportunity to present his latest football comic 'Stront Aan De Knikker'. Aloys Oosterwijk, of the popular men's magazine comic 'Willem's Wereld', brought his world to an expo that began on 21 September on. Two beloved newspaper cartoonists followed soon after. Mark Retera ('Dirkjan') amused audiences starting 22 November 2001, and  Peter de Wit ('Sigmund', 'De Familie Fortuin', co-creator of 'S1ngle') opened  his first exhibition, 'Tegen De Muur', on 15 March 2002.This expo was still ongoing when a camera crew of the NCRV in the company of TV host Harmke Pijpers recorded an episode of' 'Opium' about comics and interviewed, besides De Wit, Barbara Stok, Michiel Hoving, Michiel van Nieuwkerk, Yoeri Albrecht, Agata Zwierzyñska, also Kees in Lambiek. De Wit would return for a signing session in 2014.

Samples from the 2001 Eiland and 2002 Avril expositions.

On 1 June 2002 François Avril, a Kees favorite, returned after a four year absence with his second exhibition, 'Urban Landscapes.'. Guido van Driel was proud to present his graphic novel 'Toen we van de Duitsers Verloren' on 7 November, while later in the month, (November 30) notorious cartoonist Willem returned for a second time to Lambiek. When the Charlie Hebdo artist signed his latest book 'Op Stap Met De Reizende Reporter', comedian Kees van Kooten (of comedy duo Van Kooten & De Bie) joined several famous Dutch cartoonists to have a look. The year was closed by Windig and De Jong ('Heinz') who held their third exhibition, on 13 December 2002, this time with miniatures, entitled 'Afhaalexpositie Miniatuurtjes'.

Especially for the 2002 Guido van Driel expo, our gallery expanded to the exterior of Lambiek.

In September 2002, a mysterious and upsetting event occurred; an original sketch by Peter Pontiac was stolen from the wall behind the counter. Most astonishing was that this Beagle Boy thief snatched it away during store hours. On a more positive note, Pontiac was subject of an excellent film by Chris Kijne for the VPRO documentary series 'Het Uur van de Wolf', broadcasted on 8 January 2003. Parts of the film were filmed inside Lambiek. Another uplifting event was Kees and Margreet de Heer's contribution to Onze Taal, a Dutch linguistic magazine. They wrote an article about the use of language in comics, particularly the phenomenon of "text comics". Margreet and Kees' other essay that year focused on artwork - smoking in comics. It appeared in the catalogue accompanying the exhitibition 'Vier Eeuwen Roken In De Kunst. Taboe en Tabak: Van Jan Steen tot Pablo Picasso' ('Four Centuries Smoking in Art. Taboo and Tobacco: From Jan Steen to Pablo Picasso.'), which ran from13 December 2003 until 14 March 2004 in the Kunsthal in Rotterdam.

The making of the picture of the Sint-Lukas crew in 2003!

Thirteen years after first exhibiting in our gallery, on 22 February 2003, Italian artist Lorenzo Mattotti, famous for his graphic novel 'Feux' ('Fire'), returned to our store on 22 February 2003. This time, he was here for a book signing. Another inflammatory artist, Dick Matena, sat himself down in Lambiek on 8 March 2003 to sign copies of his acclaimed graphic novel adaptation of Gerard Reve's literary classic 'De Avonden'. As Reve stated in the famous final line of this book: "It hasn't remained unnoticed." A similar retro-styled Dutch comic artist, Eric Heuvel ('January Jones', 'Bud Broadway'), autographed his work in our store on 15 March. Three months later, on 20 June, a dozen Belgian university students invaded Lambiek. Luckily they were accompanied by their teachers Johan de Moor and Nix, who taught them a course in drawing comics at Sint-Lukas School of Arts in Brussels. The students' comics and drawings were exhibited in our store for several months.

This would be the final major event for a while, because Lambiek had to move in the fall of 2003, for reasons we will explain in later chapters...

Interior of the Kerkstraat 78 shop in 2003.

Next chapters:
Lambiek at
Lambiek at Kerkstraat 119 & Utrechtsedwarsstraat 46-50