For a flight that takes just an hour, you certainly have to spend a lot of hours at the airport waiting around - but it's all part of the 'fun' (if you fly as infrequently as I do). My daughter was very good and had a fellow one-year old in the seat behind us to chat to (well, they mostly just pointed at each other). We arrived at Schiphol just after 6pm where we were met by my publisher, Silvio Van Der Loo of Silvester Strips, and he drove us to Haarlem, and our very nice hotel - the Amrath Frans Hals.
Once in our room I had half an hour before I had to be at Silvio's newest shop on Kleine Houtstraat, just round the corner from the hotel, principally to sign 250 Rainbow Orchid prints that were being included as part of a special Stripdagen portfolio, priced at 50 Euros and produced by Stichting Beeldverhaal Nederland. The other prints included work by Peter Van Dongen (who illustrated this year's Stripdagen poster, above), Hermann, Romano Molenaar, Eric Heuvel, and Wil Raymakers. I also signed a few books for customers as the shop was still open.
After another short break at the hotel I ventured out again to meet up with Silvio and some of his Silvester Strips staff, as well as French comic artist Jacob Damien (Major Arcanum) and his wife, and Croatian comic artist Igor Kordey (Secret History, Empire) and his girlfriend, at a restaurant for a late-night dinner. It was a very enjoyable evening, and I did my best to keep up with the conversations flying around the table in French, Dutch and English. I felt pretty shattered by the time I got back to the hotel at about half-past midnight!
Saturday was the first day of Stripdagen, and as we set off to join the Silvester Strips crew for breakfast in a little café next to their shop, we saw the stalls in the market unloading what seemed to be hundreds of banana boxes - but there were no bananas contained therein, they were full of comics! Part of Stripdagen was a huge number of stalls in the Grote Markt, all selling more comic albums than I think I've ever seen in my life. And walking through the streets we saw that a number of the local shops had comic displays in their windows (you can see Erik de Graaf's here).
With breakfast consumed it was off to the Philharmonie where the hub of the comics festival was set up. To my surprise I didn't have to obtain a pass or a ticket to enter - the event was totally free. The Silvester Strips stand was right opposite the main entrance and within 15 minutes or so I was sat down at their long signing table and sketching and signing all three volumes of De Regenboog Orchidee. This is where I saw my first examples of the beautiful box ('cassette') my Dutch publisher had made to house all three hardback albums, as people brought them up to be signed. The Saturday saw me signing for 5 hours, not including a lunch break where it was a pleasure to catch up with friend of The Rainbow Orchid, John Wigmans.
At various times throughout the weekend my fellow book signers (the ones I met, anyway) included Dirk Verschure (who reduced me to tears of laughter at one point in his attempt to make my daughter smile, she staying stony-faced throughout), Igor Kordey, Damien, Simon Spruyt and Fritz van den Heuvel. I only managed to have time for one brief walk round the main festival, and no time to visit any of the many exhibitions that were taking place across town - I particularly wanted to see those featuring the work of Joost Swarte, Peter Van Dongen and Eric Heuvel. But this was a working visit, and there was more sketching and signing to be done.
After Stripdagen had closed for the day, we took a stroll around Haarlem in the early evening sun. It had been a beautiful sunny day, and even though the Grote Markt was packing up and most of the shops had closed, it was such a relaxing and blissful walk round the beautiful little city that I felt completely refreshed, if a little tired, after hours of sketching in books.
I didn't join up with the Silvester Strips group again for dinner that evening, it was Elyssa and my tenth wedding anniversary so, along with our little one, we headed to a little Italian restaurant and had a lovely meal just ourselves. Besides that, the Silvester Strips meal was rather later in the evening, way past my daughter's bedtime - and I really needed an early night too! Not just because of Stripdagen, but because working on the 'Bald Boy' strip for The Phoenix meant I hadn't been to bed before 2am in quite a while.
We awoke on Sunday to something of a torrential downpour, and after a little expedition out into the city, we decided to have breakfast in our hotel room. Sunday was more of the same at Stripdagen, signing and sketching in books, and - the best part - chatting to those who read and enjoyed my books. I'm made to feel very welcome in Holland, and the enthusiasm for my albums is very heartening. Comics in mainland Europe are treated with another level of respect entirely compared to the UK, though they're both equally marvellous in their ways.
I was only able to stay at the Silvester signing table for three hours on the Sunday as we had a plane to catch back home. After a quick lunch, a few goodbyes, a couple of last-minute signings, and picking up a handful of the wonderful Silvester Strips 20th anniversary Julius Chancer coins, Silvio's wife kindly drove the three of us back to Schiphol and our journey home began. The return flight was not as packed as our outbound one, so we had more room to stretch out on the plane (celebrity passenger spotted on flight home, Andrew Graham-Dixon). It's lovely to get out of the house, away from the drawing desk, and go to these events, but it's also very nice to come back home again!
I must say a huge thank you to Silvio and his Silvester Strips colleagues for, once again, being wonderful hosts and inviting me along to Stripdagen in Haarlem. It was a fabulous experience and I was delighted to have met so many lovely Dutch Regenboog Orchidee readers. I love Holland, and feel so lucky to have my book published there in Dutch, and in such a beautiful format. I can't wait until next time.