After years of wanting to go but never finding the opportunity to do so, I decided to finally visit the Stripmuseum in Groningen. “Stripmuseum” means “Comics Museum, so don’t get any funny ideas. Then again, I feel like there’s a greater acknowledgement of nudity in Dutch comics compared to especially American comics, and so maybe the joke isn’t too out of place.
The museum is fairly small but it’s easy to spend a few hours there. The first exhibit that greets visitors is the work of Don Lawrence, a British artist who drew the fantasy comic Storm before passing away. Apparently it has always targeted a primarily Dutch audience, to the extent that the later artists who continued the work have all been Dutch. Another early introduction is artist Don Kriek, creator of Gutsman, not to be confused with a certain Robot Master.
There are a lot of comics samples to look at, going from the earlier days of Dutch comics, such as Tom Poes to ones that have been around for ages such as Suske en Wiske, Agent 327, and Franka, as well as more recent works like Dirkjan and Sigmund. It also touched on properties that may not be “Dutch” or even “Dutch-language” necessarily but have left a mark such as Tintin and Donald Duck. As I can’t really read Dutch, I’m sure that my experience was somewhat limited (though remedied to an extent by an English-language pamphlet), and I can only imagine that people who are literate in the language could spend an even longer time there.
One thing I found interesting was that there was a small section dedicated to “Dutch manga.” Given some of the arguments and disagreements that people get into in terms of what “is” or “isn’t” manga, it’s kind of fascinating to see the Stripmuseum just outright state that, yes, there can be such a thing as Dutch manga, and that it operates under a somewhat different visual grammar. Though my experience with Dutch comics history is pretty shallow at this point (most of the museum information was new to me), I wonder if this ability to accept native-produced material as “manga” is but the newest step in a long line of appropriation, and I mean that in the best way possible. Not only is there the example of Donald Duck (where the magazine named after him is the longest-running Dutch comics magazine ever), but Dutch artists even took the American comics character Perry Winkle, renamed him “Sjors,” and paired him with a kid from Africa, essentially turning it into an entirely different work.
I also thought it was notable that Sjors & Sjimmie has been drawn by a number of artists over the years, especially because Sjimmie’s design started off as quite racist but was changed significantly over time. Another interesting fact I learned is that Mark Retera, the artist of Dirkjan, was inspired by Gary Larson of The Far Side. Seeing as The Far Side is one of my favorite comics ever, I feel like I should give Dirkjan a shot.
If you’re ever in the Netherlands, give it a shot, though I must warn that the train ride can be pretty long if you’re traveling from one end of the country to the other. It was also my first time in Groningen and that city is beautiful. Maybe I should stop by there again just to take a look. It reminds me a bit of Los Angeles mixed with Amsterdam.