De Stripdagen happened to fall on the same weekend (September 25-26) as I'd been booked for the Bath Children's Literature Festival (see last entry), and as I didn't want to miss either of these events, I decided I would attend both, the Bath graphic novel panel on Saturday evening, and then catching an early flight to Amsterdam on the Sunday morning.
So, after just over four hours sleep, a drive to Gatwick, a small parking adventure, a bus to the North Terminal and the usual fun of boarding a plane (which I hadn't done for 8 years) Elyssa and I found ourselves bound for the Netherlands and Schipol International airport. At Schipol we were met by John Wigmans, and off we drove down the autosnelweg to Houten.
John deserves special mention - he first got in touch with me last year, expanding my knowledge of Dutch clear line artists such as Peter van Dongen, Eric Heuvel and Dick Briel, and I was able to meet him at last year's MCM Expo when he was in London doing research. As soon as I knew the Silvester Strips deal was going ahead I got in touch with John again and he put into action an idea he'd mentioned before - that of writing an article on The Rainbow Orchid for Stripschrift, the long-running Dutch comics magazine edited by Arco van Os (who also happened to be one of the organisers of De Stripdagen). This appeared in issue 411, the September 2010 issue, featuring a very impressive deeply researched and profusely illustrated 6-page article, plus the Lily Lawrence story, Sword of Fate, translated into Dutch by Mat Schifferstein (also Silvio's translator for De Regenboog Orchidee). This brings me to something I originally had no intention of airing, but as it got found out and mentioned both on Facebook and, more widely, Down the Tubes, resulting in a couple of emails - and as it happens to be an interesting little aside, I thought it should be addressed... the name Thomas Tipps!
The Adventures of...
Being a resident of Holland, and more plugged into the Dutch comics scene than myself, John was in touch with Silvio at Silvester Strips and very kindly did some proof-reading of Mat's translation. As a result of this, he was a little closer to the production of the Dutch edition and was able to include in his Stripschrift article the fact that, in the Netherlands, 'the Adventures of Julius Chancer' were to become 'the Adventures of Thomas Tipps' (seeing the proof of the article was the first I knew of this).
The Down the Tubes article mentioned that this was because the Dutch found this name easier to pronounce, which was indeed my first thought as it reminded me of a letter I received back in 1997 from Andy Konky Kru (as he was then known), who was one of the handful of people I sent early black and white pages of The Rainbow Orchid to, several years before it saw serialisation in BAM! Here's a little extract of what he sent me:
19 Feb 1997: "... the name Chancer is confusing, especially to a German public. If you make your artwork look as perfectionist as Jacobs, that type of strip would sell all over the continent, more so than here [the UK] ..."
And again, in his reply to my reply ...
7 Apr 1997: "... The name Chancer still looks weird. True, Tintin is named differently elsewhere, but wouldn't be nowadays! (In German it's Tim & Struppi, Struppi being the dog, pronounced Shtrooppy). There are so many English names which are perfectly easy on foreign ears, I'd think about it some more. It's much easier to remember a name where you don't have to wonder how it may be pronounced correctly. I'll ask others, but more important is what the French/Belgians think of it ..."
Well, I stuck to my guns, and although I never actually discovered the reason for the Dutch name change, I asked several people in Holland if pronunciation was a problem, and none thought so. My guess was that it may have sounded more British, an aspect Silvester might have wanted to play up as a marketing strength, or maybe - less likely - it was because Dick Briel's Professor Palmboom character also had Julius as a christian name. I did push for keeping the name Julius Chancer - if only because my website would keep its relevance to an international audience.
Stripschrift 411 had already been printed and included the Tom Tipps info, plus an advert declaring 'the Adventures of Thomas Tipps', but when I saw the Silvester Strips September catalogue available for download a few days later, it was Julius Chancer on the banner. On the way to Houten I asked John what he knew - he zipped his mouth and said he'd been sworn to secrecy!
So after a while we reached the Expo centre at Houten, not the most attractive of environments, seemingly an industrial estate of some kind, though the venue itself was much nicer. We collected our guest passes and made our way to the Silvester Strips stand - one of the biggest of the show - and there it was, De Avonturen van Julius Chancer: De Regenboog Orchidee, deel een. Despite not being dead-set against the Thomas Tipps idea, as long as it was for good reason, I was, after all, relieved to see Julius retained.
It was great to meet Silvio at last and also some of his family, plus the other Silvester Strips employees, including Patrice van der Linden who had worked on putting the actual book together. And I was very pleased with the book, a large size hardback using the maps from volume two as endpapers on stylish antique-brown sheet. In pretty much all other respects it's the same as the UK Egmont edition. Later on I met Mat Schifferstein, the translator, and was able to thank him for his hard work and also, with John, to make a plan for working more closely together for the translation of volume 2.
Most of my time at De Stripdagen was spent sitting at the Silvester Strips table, signing - actually for about four and a half hours. Although I did start to droop a bit towards the end, I was really happy to meet new Dutch readers and see the enthusiasm for the book. There's such a difference in attitude towards comics on the European mainland and in the UK. Here in Britain The Rainbow Orchid is mostly marketed as a children's book (which I'm perfectly happy with, by the way), whereas that's not the case in Holland - not that it's marketed to adults, it's there for both, just a book. Comics as a whole are not seen as primarily a juvenile medium, which is still the prevalent attitude in the UK, I'd say.
I did get to have a brief walk around the Expo (though only some of it) and to see tables bursting with lovely comic albums, with all kinds of material available. I got to meet Rob van Bavel, dedicated editor of the bi-weekly Eppo Stripblad (see Rod McKie's excellent Eppo piece here), and Eric Heuvel, a true master of klare lijn comics who I had sent The Rainbow Orchid to last year. Eric presented me with a signed copy of his brand new book, De Terugkeer (The Return), the third book in his series of Dutch World War II stories. The first two have been translated into English by American publisher Farrar Straus Giroux - De Ontdekking (The Discovery, known as A Family Secret in the English language edition) and De Zoektocht (The Search).
These were produced in conjunction with the Anne Frank Foundation in Amsterdam and given to all Dutch middle-school pupils (the same with a German edition, an event which made international news). The new book, created with Ruud van der Rol, deals with the Dutch colony in the East Indies, its independence movement and the Japanese occupation of the territory and its internment camps, a slightly more obscure (though no less fascinating) corner of history that may mean translation into English is less certain - though I hope that's not the case. By the way, Eric is well-known for his strip (with Martin Lodewijk), January Jones, a strip closely related to The Rainbow Orchid in era, subject matter and adventure - fantastic albums if you can get hold of them.
The clear line has a very strong home in the Netherlands. Besides the work of Eric Heuvel described above, Joost Swarte is one of the style's foremost names, indeed he coined the term ligne claire, is largely responsible for its resurgeance in the 1980s, and identified its close cousin, the atom style (atoomstijl). To give you an idea how much comic art is respected in Europe, Swarte was awarded a knighthood from Queen Beatrix of the Netherlands in 2004. Other Dutch klare lijn artists include Henk Kuijpers (Franka), Theo van den Boogaard (Sjef van Oekel), Peter van Dongen (Rampokan), Dick Briel (Professor Palmboom), Michiel de Jong (Operatie Hanuman), Henk 't Jong (Willem Peper), Jan Vervoot (Lila & Merijin, Elno), Erik Varekamp (Agent Orange), Erik de Graaf (Scherven) and Teun Berserik.
The day at De Stripdagen whizzed by, and afterwards John, Elyssa and I went off to get something to eat, finding ourselves nearby at the curious Asian Tower. We'd been sitting for 15 minutes before John pointed out that the top floor was slowly rotating, a very curious sensation once noticed. Despite our changing view consisting of primarily a car park and the neighbouring McDonalds, it was a lovely meal. John then went above and beyond the call of duty and drove us all the way into Amsterdam to our hotel, for which, after a long day for all three of us, Ellie and I are eternally grateful!
Our hotel was lovely - the Eden Amsterdam American Hotel, built in 1900 and very stylish on the outside (not too shabby on the inside either). On Monday Ellie and I treated ourselves to a day of tourism. We'd both been to Amsterdam before, visiting several main attractions, so after a breakfast of bacon and apple pancakes (for me) and a fruit pancake (for Ellie) we made our way to the previously unvisited Rijksmuseum. This enormous depository of Dutch art and history was having an equally large renovation, so only a small portion, consisting of its most important pieces, was available to view, which actually made it a very manageable visit, and totally fascinating, especially given the strong Dutch and English connections throughout the seventeenth century and beyond.
The weather, unfortunately, was very wet, but after a walk into the city centre, and a quick lunch, we decided to take the weight off our feet and have an hour's canal tour, which was just the thing. In the evening Silvio came into the city to take us out to dinner - a lovely Italian restaurant where we talked comics, publishing and life in general, a highly enjoyable evening.
Tuesday was our day for travelling home. We caught an early-morning bus from just outside the hotel back to Schipol, and by lunchtime we were back at Gatwick, then another bus to the car park, and finally back home (after a quick stop at Sainsbury's for supplies).
It was a tiring but lovely couple of days, and I am so grateful to everyone who looked after us and helped to give us such a warm welcome to the world of Dutch comics - first and foremost John Wigmans and Silvio van der Loo, who were both gracious and generous in spades. Thank you also to everyone who bought De Regenboog Orchidee, and thanks for chatting and letting me scribble in your books! And finally, a big thank you to Arco van Os for giving over so much space in Stripschrift for John's article. Next year De Stripdagen will be in the historic southern city of Breda, and with all three volumes out in Dutch by then, I hope to make it over to see what the reaction is, and to see if there might be a possibility for more Julius Chancer in the Netherlands.