Comics History

Lambiek at Kerkstraat 78 (1996-2003)

The front of the store in 1996.

During the previous decades, Lambiek had established a wide international reputation, with the 1993 Angoulême exposition as a milestone. The store was by now a tourist hotspot, which also attracted international celebrity visitors.

Klaas vs. celebrity visitors
On several occasions our salesman Klaas Knol was however unable to recognize them in front of his own nose. Maybe because of the typical Dutch down-to-earthness? One day Klaas played a CD by rock musician Beck in the store, when a woman asked him "if he liked the music?" When Knol said that he "hadn't heard such excellent music in ages" it turned out she was Beck's girlfriend and that he too was present! Klaas hadn't recognized him, because – after all - what are the odds of rock legends visiting a store? He gave the musician a Lambiek T-shirt, in the hope he would wear it onstage. Funny enough Klaas failed to recognize Beck twice. Some time later he noticed an American eating a hamburger 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 had been the singer of 'Devil's Haircut' again! 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!

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 that weekend. At yet another occasion, Klaas reprimanded a customer who rather brutally shoved a Frank Miller book back on the shelve. The man turned out to be Miller himself!

Kees with Chris Ware.

Expos, book signings and other events (1996-1999)
Whether Kees' ability to recognize celebrities was better than Klaas's is difficult to tell, but he certainly could recognize talent. On 12 January 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 future creator of 'Jimmy Corrigan' 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 analist 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... Ware was particularly thrilled to meet Joost Swarte, whom he described as "my childhood hero."

100 years of American newspaper comics.

From 22 March until April 1996 the comics of French artist Thierry Guitard could be admired 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 in the store. A full-blown exhibition about the influential Canadian comics magazine Drawn & Quarterly could be seen on 7 June in the presence of two regular artists Adrian Tomine ('Optic Nerve') and Joe Matt ('Peepshow'). Both stayed over that night, while Tomine sketched the 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 and many more. 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 an early death six years earlier in a road 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.

On 24 April 1997 Maaike Hartjes presented her collaborative comic book 'Old Cake Comix' in Lambiek, 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 had baked cakes for everyone, while Barbara Stok's band Txotxo performed and comics artist Gerrie Hondius ('Ansje Tweedehansje') sang.

On 13 March 1998 the ironic comics of Erik Kriek ('Gutsman') were exhibited. Kriek would pay us another offical visit in 2012. Between 29 May and June 1998 the gloomy stories of Daniel Clowes ('Ghost World') haunted visitors of our gallery as the famed artist signed copies of his graphic novels. 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 home cartoonist of the magazine Libération and the only Dutchman in Charlie-Hebdo paid us another official visit in 2002.

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. Van Straaten, known for his humoristic 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 from 18 June 1999 on, 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 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 in 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 occur? It was presented in April 1997, but failed to capture a large audience.

Also in 1997, Kees and Martijn Snoodijk wrote 'In Strip Gevat - Een Eeuw Beeldverhaal'. This publication by the Dutch postal service PTT provided an overview of the century-old history of comics on the occasion of the 1997 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, who changes his track 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 mini-comic (not the actual size).

On 7 July 1998, during the Stripdagen Haarlem, Kees also showed his kind heart to Dutch comics 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 he thought that males tended to like comics more than women? Ong failed to win the major Stripdagen prize: the "Grote Prijs van Haarlem". Even though she did receive the audience award - de Publieksprijs - it was still a disappointment since it didn't come with a financial retribution. 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 named 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, which became known as the "Hanneke Peekelman Front" (as a pun on Wordt Vervolgd host Han Peekel and Hanneke Groenteman, the host of cultural TV shows), inspired Hanco Kolk and Peter de Wit to initiate the 'Pincet' mini-comics series. This gave many Dutch comics artists the chance to create short stories, which were then collected in various little books and released on the market. Another result of the meeting was Nukomix, an online platform for amateur or beginning comics artists.

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

End of the century
In 1999 Kees also lent out much of his private comics collection for the expo 'Van Bulletje tot Wentelteefje' in the Warande of Turnhout, Belgium, about the history of Dutch comics. He enjoyed a nice end of the year on 8 December at the Stripdagen festival in Den Bosch when the Dutch comics appreciation society Het Stripschap. awarded him the P. Hans Frankfurter Prize 1999 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 could meet 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 even he had never heard about. Dohmen was furthermore editor of comics information 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 silkscreen print by the female comics artists Maaike Hartjes, Margreet de Heer, Farida Laan, Gerrie Hondius and Ilah, which was drawn for a large part on the terrace of the Lambiek studio appartment in 2003. Sadly André passed away 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 and Bas Schuddeboom, 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 'Urbanus' 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 to our store by making an illustrated advertisement for us, recommending Lambiek as a cure for depressions. 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)
Almost twenty years after his famous father, Bob de Moor's son Johan de Moor ('La Vache') also held an expo in Gallery Lambiek between 17 March and April 2000. 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 halfway September 2000 a new exhibition of centuries-old U.S. newspaper comics like 'Gasoline Alley', 'Little Nemo' and 'Bringing Up Father' could be seen. Eleven years after his last signing session, 'Joop Klepzeiker' creator Eric Schreurs came back for his own expo 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 a different side of Schreurs: his skills as a painter. In November, Barbara Stok, creator of 'Barbaraal', held a book signing in our midst.

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 could be seen from 26 January until 28 February 2001. Their poetic and avant-garde book series 'Eiland' was a perfect window to a 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 from 21 September on. Two beloved newspaper cartoonists followed soon after. Mark Retera ('Dirkjan') amused audiences from 22 November 2001 on while Peter de Wit ('Sigmund', 'De Familie Fortuin', co-creator of 'S1ngle') held his first exhibition, 'Tegen De Muur', from 15 March 2002 on. 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 Eiland and Avril expositions.

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

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

A setback occurred in September 2002. An original sketch by Peter Pontiac was stolen from the wall behind the counter. The most astonishing part was that this Beagle Boy snatched it away during office hours. On 8 January 2003 Pontiac was subject of an excellent documentary by Chris Kijne for the VPRO documentary series 'Het Uur van de Wolf', where parts were filmed inside Lambiek itself. Also enjoyable was Kees and Margreet de Heer's contribution to the linguistic magazine Onze Taal. They wrote an article about the use of language in comics, particularly the phenomenon of "text comics". More focused on comics imagery was their essay about smoking in comics for the catalogue '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.') in the Kunsthal in Rotterdam. The accompanying exhibition could be seen from 13 December 2003 until 14 March 2004.

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

Where there is smoke there is fire. On 22 February 2003 Italian artist Lorenzo Mattotti, famous for his graphic novel 'Feux' ('Fires') returned to our store, after exhibiting there 13 years earlier. This time he was here for a book signing. Another flammatory 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 comics artist, Eric Heuvel ('January Jones', 'Bud Broadway'), autographed his work in our store on 15 March. Three months later, on 20 June, 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 St. Lukas, Brussels. The pupils' own comics drawings were exhibited in our store for several months.

This would be the final major event for a while as Lambiek had to move its address in the fall of 2003, though with good reason as we will explain in one of the next chapters...

Interior of the Kerkstraat 78 shop in 2003.

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