Yesterday, Marten Toonder died at the age of 93. For most of you, unless you’re a) Dutch or b) a fanatic comics reader this will mean nothing, but Toonder was one of the pioneers of the Dutch comic strip, who managed to get even the notoriously insular Dutch literary scene to appreciate him. Granted, it was often a patronising appreciation –in those circles his work was seen as illustrated literature rather than comic strip– but even so, they were the only strips found worthwhile enough to teach in literature lessons.
His most famous strip, which brought him this well deserved appreciation was the Tom Poes strip, usually called the Bommel strips. Tom Poes was a white, usually nude cat, clever, smart and utterly bland whose thunder in those comic adventure strips was stolen early by his friend, the brown teddy bear Oliver B. Bommel, “Heer van stand”, in his eternal checkered coat: dumb, vain, but goodnatured and well intentioned and much more interesting to write stories about. The Bommel strips evolved from fairly straight forward adventure stories to a sort of gentle satire, holding a mirror to Dutch society, in the process developing a huge, memorable cast of sidekicks, villains and foils for Toonder’s humour and satire. The Bommel strips appear in the classic two tier format, with the text below the illustrations, which helped in its acceptation as real literature. It also gave Toonder the room to play around with the Dutch language, which in his hands reached a peak of poetry. He created several new words and expressions: from minkukel (nitwit) to denkraam (thoughtframe), still in general use in Dutch today.
But his influence didn’t stop with the Bommel strips. He was also the founder of a long running, flourishing animation and comic studio, Toonder Studios and created several other classic Dutch strips, though none had the same succes as the Bommel strips. Whole generations of comic artists and writers started in his studios.
The studio was as succesful in cartoons as it was in comics, creating a great many short cartoons promoting Philipsmproducts, as well as in 1983 Holland’s first (and so far only) full lenght feature animation film, based (of course!) on the Bommel strips. This became a classic Christmas staple, being shown on tv during the Holidays for years in a row, until the entire country was heartily sick of it.
Toonder had been more or less retired since 1986, when his last Bommel strip, Het Einde van Eindeloos, “the End of Forever” appeared in the Dutch newspapers. He died peacefully in his sleep.
Most Bommel adventures ended with a “simple but nourishing meal”. It seems fitting to use this here as well.