Comics History

Lambiek at Lambiek.net (1999-2004)


The Lambiek.Net homepage in 2007

With one foot in the previous century and another in the next Kees Kousemaker launched his most ambitious project yet on 1 November 1999: the Comiclopedia. An online encyclopedia of every comics artist who ever existed and who can be identified. The Comiclopedia can be considered Kees' magnum opus. His ultimate love letter to the medium. It pays tribute to comics artists from all centuries and countries, proving that the medium is indeed timeless and universal like any other artform. Since the 20th century was about to end it was definitely a good time to look back.

Preparations
It must be said that our original ambitions were more modest. By the late 1990s, comics artists began launching their own websites, and fan sites were popping up as well. The initial aim of the Comiclopedia was creating a portal which would guide fans to those third party websites. Kees envisioned a "digital phonebook", which would also provide some basic info and an art sample. But even with this mission, technical adjustments had to be made. The original Lambiek site, hosted by XXlink since 1994, was very basic, to say the least. A new design was necessary to meet up with our plans and the updated standards. One of the companies Kees talked to was Hazel Productions, whose concept proposal not only included a news section and an encyclopedia, but also a message board and a "fun page" with games!


The Lambiek.Net team in 2004: Rick Webb, Kees Kousemaker, Bas Schuddeboom, Margreet de Heer (the actual picture was taken somewhere on the left, but we don't have that one...)

Rick
Help eventually came from overseas. Californian Rick Webb had worked as an Apple Mac specalist in Silicon Valley during the 1980s, and ended up in Amsterdam in the late 1990s after several wanderings. He eventually settled in Lambiek's studio appartment, which was turned into our online department. Much of the site's early design, including its blue font, was provided by Rick (a.k.a. "Spiderman"). Since the project was meant for an international audience, the domain name Lambiek.net was registered, in addition to the then leading Lambiek.nl. With a need for more navigation and bandwith, the server was moved to "The Bunker", a secure underground Internet facility near Canterbury, England. Rick apparently did a fine job, because the International Association of Webmasters awarded our site the Golden Web Award twice in a row, namely in 2001-2002 and again in 2002-2003.


Homepage in 1999 (shortly before the transfer) and in 2001

Early days
On 1 November 1999 the Comiclopedia went online. But we started small. The original list counted 200 artists, and only 15 had their own article yet. The rest was added over the next couple of weeks, while new names were included as well. Looking back, we still had a lot to learn. Some articles were a bit too basic or made irrelevant or corny remarks. Certain illustrations were actually drawn by an assistant, rather than the original artist himself. Some artists had two entries under two different pseudonyms.


Early biographies were written by hand then typed over.

In some cases confusion over these double entries was the result of the different handwriting used in the Arabic countries and South-East Asia, which often leads to different spelling in Western writing. People who are named "Chong" can also be spelled as "Chung", "Tchong" and "Tc'hong", and since there are many people with homonymous names the eternal question may rise whether it's the same person? We should also point out that we've encountered this problem with some Western names too. If you have two U.S. artists who are named "Jack Smith" and who happened to have lived in the same state or era, you better hope there is enough information about them in order to check whether they are one and the same person, or not?

Some entries weren't even about people, like our now obsolete Comiclopedia page about the Xeric Foundation. Info found in encyclopedia was sometimes out-dated. And then there were plain old mistakes. During the early months Kees often used job students to help with the site and some simply knew too little about comics history in general. To them it was merely a typing job. Several of our early efforts can still be watched with the Wayback Machine of the Internet Archive.


Two entries for the same artist...

But even despite these beginners' mistakes the Comiclopedia was still unique in its approach. Kees naturally kept a close watch, personally selecting most of the artists and illustrations. Since comics are a visual medium the illustrations had to be well-picked. Above all Kees wanted to provide a rough cut of an artist's style and capabilities. These could be breathtaking illustrations, atmospheric scenery, dynamic action scenes, interesting lay-outs, captivating cliffhangers, colourful use of language, perfectly timed gags and/or moving emotional scenes. Kees and his staff had a lot of fun collecting beautiful images, strips, book covers, self portraits and publicity stills. Some were scanned from books or magazines, others faxed. Most images came from Lambiek's own inexhaustible archives. Co-workers still remember how Kees would stumble up the stairs with piles of comics, already making himself heard with the all-important question: "Do we have this one, already?" While his interest in comics knew no boundaries, he specialized himself in alternative, artistic and underground comics, and naturally countless obscure pioneers. Arjan Vlaming scanned most of the early images on the site, earning him the nickname "Scan Man". With the project well on its way, Peter Pontiac's beautiful Amsterdam map was printed on mousepads to promote the new website in August 2000. On 1 September 2000 the site Wired.com devoted attention to the Comiclopedia, which helped our site to get more international visitors.


Pontiac mousepad (actually used by the editor for the preparation of thousands of Comiclopedia pages!)

Yet all work still had to be combined with daily business in the store. It frustrated Kees a bit, as he wanted to collect as many artists as possible. Therefore the early articles were still very short: often less than 20 lines for each name before Kees wanted to move on to the next one. The original shortlist for the Comiclopedia contained about 500 artists, and the plan was to expand to maybe 2.000-3.000 articles. A somewhat humble ambition, considering that, as of 2018, the Comiclopedia has over 13.700 articles! As our enthusiasm grew, so did the Comiclopedia.


Part of a strip by Margreet de Heer about her time at Lambiek (from: De Jubelende Jubilaris, 2008)

Margreet de Heer & Bas Schuddeboom
Of all the early contributors to the Comiclopedia two people stand out. On 22 March 2000 Margreet de Heer became our web editor, and she stayed for five years. In February 2001 she received assistance from Bas Schuddeboom, who was initially yet another intern. Both took their job very seriously and upped the ante in terms of quality (and quantity). Margreet was a great writer. She managed to pen down all the essential information in a nutshell and still kept it pleasantly readable. She made it her pride to doublecheck every statement, particularly its spelling. Although Margreet had a huge interest in all kinds of comics creators her speciality were socially conscious artists, literary comics, female artists and Dutch comics artists from the most recent decades. This made her the perfect assistant for Kees' other projects, such as the commissioned articles and essays, speeches, the Almere project and the online overview of the Dutch comics history.


Bas Schuddeboom's first Comiclopedia page about François Walthéry. Still very basic, compared to its current state after umpteen rewrites.

Bas Schuddeboom is rather good with computers, a fast typist and actually able to read French fluently. Given the huge amount of Franco-Belgian artists which needed to be included, Kees naturally took him in, even though he already had two interns working for him when Bas started. Bas has a wide variety of interests, but his first and foremost speciality are Franco-Belgian artists, specially those working for Dupuis/Spirou magazine, Disney comics artists and Dutch comics artists. It therefore came to no surprise that his first two articles were about François Walthéry, creator of 'Natacha', and Marc Hardy, the artist behind 'Pierre Tombal'.

Naturally, following his apprenticeship at the editorial offices of the Dutch Donald Duck weekly, he also started adding more and more Disney artists to the site. At a certain point their amount became so plentiful that it started to annoy Kees: "Don't we have enough of those duck tracers yet?" he used to sigh. Bas even created a separate page to list all Disney artists included in the Comiclopedia. When this list became one of our most visited pages, Kees quickly changed his stance and jokingly complimented himself for persuading Bas to add al those anonymous unsung heroes.


Original home of the "Nederlandse Stripgeschiedenis", with header design by Peter Pontiac

Dutch comics history
With the Comiclopedia only just launched, Kees already embarked upon his next major project in cooperation with Margreet. The native section of the site was revived with an extensive chronicle of Dutch comics history. The section was in fact an updated and extended version of Kees and Evelien Kousemaker's books 'Strip voor Strip' (1970) and 'Wordt Vervolgd' (1980), both the definitive guides regarding Dutch and Flemish comics artists up till then. In January 2001 the first pages were launched, roughly divided by decade and publication type. Kees dictated many articles personally and selected the images, but Margreet took care of the largest part of the research and writing. She also designed the roll-over navigation buttons, which earned her the royal title "Icon Queen" from Rick. Much information was extracted from Kees' books, but the team also contacted artists for more updated biographical data. That we were only at the doorstep of the digital age was illustrated by the fact that many articles were at first written by hand and then typed over, while artists like Joost Swarte, Dick Matena and Peter Pontiac sent their updated résumés by fax.


Faxes sent by Dick Matena and Peter Pontiac with biographical data

Kees, Margreet and later also Bas kept expanding this section. Each decade eventually had a chapter about newspaper strips, comic magazines and advertising comics, and also thematic pages related to the specific time period. Dutch comics magazines received their own article, as did the most important Dutch authors, in addition to their English-language profile in the Comiclopedia. Site visitors regularly helped us out, like Ernst Slinger who provided us with much information about the obscure 1940s comics magazine Stripfilm. Hans Matla's massive comic book collection and handy reference guides were a huge help. Kees regularly dropped in on Jos van Waterschoot, manager of the Special Collections at the University of Amsterdam, which also houses the Comics Documentation Centre. These visits usually resulted in Kees returning with piles of newspaper clippings and obscure magazines to be scanned.


One of the disagreements in the Julsing-Matena clash was about the two artists allegedly breaking into the Toonder Studio's through a bicycle shed to spend the night there. Another incident involved around Julsing's description of Matena boiling with anger whenever a certain former studio chief was even mentioned. Both passages were removed from the article, and these two illustrations were dropped.

The Dutch section also presents some interesting anecdotes or obscurities. A special chapter provides a history of Marten Toonder's studio, with personal recollections by former employees like Albert van Beek, Siem Praamsma, Fred Julsing, Harry van den Eerenbeemt, Patty Klein and Ed van Schuijlenburg. In November 2002 Dick Matena strongly disagreed with Fred Julsing's recollections and let us know by mail. For a short while we had a true polemic on the site, but in the end we settled upon an edited version of Julsing's memoirs. Another page provides some unintentional comedy. While an intern at the editorial offices of Donald Duck magazine in 2002, Bas paged through early issues and noticed that the editor of some editorials - who wrote under the pseudonym "Uncle Donald" - was quite a grumpy person. He would often nag about "today's youth" while these same children were his target audience! The tone of some of his editorials could even be quite aggressive. Probably in tone with Donald's actual short-temperedness, but still quite hypocritical considering this author tried to pass adults off as people whom children should look up to. Bas felt this old grouch was too irrestistible to not devote an article too, and collected some of the most remarkable examples. Unfortunately we can only offer it in Dutch.

Originally the entire Dutch comics history section was written in our native language, but in 2003 Margreet made a trimmed down version in English too.

Virtual expositions and other new sections
During the early years, new sections were steadily added. Simultaneously with the physical expositions in our gallery, Lambiek.net hosted virtual expositions of the artwork, which could be ordered online. Arjan Vlaming spent many hours preparing the code for our first online store, with technical assistance provided by The Bunker's Adam Laurie and his crew at A.L. Digital in London. Arjan's store was online only a short period in 2004-2005, until server issues prevented continuation. It would take eight years before a new webshop went online, but more about that later. New informative sections were added on 21 March 2002, focusing on specific moments in comics history, such as Dr. Fredric Wertham and the Comics Code, as well as various articles about important comics magazines. On 21 June 2002 the first comics publisher received his own article: William Randolph Hearst. The history of specific comics genres, like underground comics and erotic comics, were also given their own pages. It might not be a big surprise that to this day our page about eroticism in comics is our most visited one.


Margreet de Heer in the Lambiek studio, 2002

Technical blah-blah
As the Comiclopedia grew and grew, technical difficulties began to pop up. The original blue site was not a database, but instead contained thousands of individual .html files which had to be updated manually. Rick had done his utmost best to create a consistent underlying source code, which enabled him to do bulk changes. But he didn't take the overenthusiastic writers Bas and Margreet into account, who'd pile new images and articles onto the site every day, regularly messing up his carefully crafted template. Poor Rick spent nights on end repairing the damage, and then an equal amount of time during daytime complaining about it. Luckily he eventually managed to drill the team into meticulous working ethics. But of course other problems were never far away. At one point our site editing software couldn't keep up with the amount of files and simply lost its overview, forcing us to do even more manual work. The site moved to a web-hosting facility in the South West of the United States to keep the cost for bandwith down. But still we regularly reached the maximum of our storage amount, and overseas phone calls were necessary to expand our hosting limits.


Bas Schuddeboom in the Lambiek Studio in 2003, probably destroying source code

The growth of the site also required efforts to make it more user-friendly. Originally artists were listed by "First name last name", which rendered the ever expanding row of names inconveniently arranged. Bas and Margreet spent an entire summer day in 2001 changing each name to the "Last name, first name" format - all manually, one by one. Years later, in 2005, not only our editing software but also the entire operating system had enough of the amount of files, piled up in one folder. Rick had to relocate them into new folders, one for each letter of the alphabet. This meant that each page got a new weblink. For instance, the URL to our Will Eisner entry was originally "lambiek.net/artists/eisner.htm", but now changed to "lambiek.net/artists/e/eisner.htm". Since search engines didn't pick up these kind of changes as quickly as they do now, the entire Internet had to be alarmed about these relocations. Posts by Bas Schuddeboom about this matter can still be found on several message boards, if one does its best (but why would one?).

Anyhow... all these rather technical and at times monotonous executions enabled us to keep on expanding our treasured project. On 23 January 2003 Nick Percival became the 3.500th artist to receive an article. bp Nichol became our 6.000th article on 11 October 2005. And there were many more to come...


Margreet and Kees at work, by Margreet de Heer (from: De Wereld van de Nederlandse Strip, 2005)

Next chapter: Lambiek at Lambiek.net: expansion (2005-present)