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A Survey of Flemish Comic Strips Under Nazi Occupation

20 Nov

A Deceptive Crusade In Flanders Fields – Part 2/3[1]

by Danny de Laet

Translated by Lise Tannahill

Edited by Annick Pellegrin

 

Original publication: de Laet, Danny. « La BD flamande sous l’occupation : Entre croix gammée et croisade faussée. » La Crypte tonique septembre – octobre 2013: 35-44. Print.[2]

 

 

How Did The Situation Evolve?

 

The situation evolved in two ways. Firstly—as noted—with the disappearance of some existing media and then the emergence of replacement media, combined with the (political) evolution of those pre-invasion publications that remained. For some illustrators this meant certain promotion and considerable financial gain; for others, more cautious or politically opposed, it meant putting their careers on ice. Two young artists made the most of this new situation, by hook or by crook: DeBudt and Vandersteen.

Vandersteen, for example, made a huge effort, working for several publishers. He was employed at L’Innovation in Antwerp (he made his real start, drawing the character Kitty Inno in Entre Nous, the company’s staff bulletin) and then he worked at Voedingshulp in Brussels; he worked at night, until the early hours of the morning, for the Antwerp daily De Dag and the weekly Mon Copain. In 1942-43 the supplement Wonderland was reduced to a half page, and at this point Vandersteen contributed few small humorous series. He also submitted work to Bravo! (relaunched this time in Dutch and in French at the end of 1940) and two of his series appeared there: that of the prehistoric man Tor and Simbat [Sinbad The Sailor], two series full of inventiveness and gags. Aside from this, he also worked for Ons Volk, where he contributed art and illustrations for a series of children’s books. Always on the lookout for more work, he of course also met with less honourable people: at De Nationaalsocialist he worked under Bert Peleman, so-called poet and notorious collaborator, whether cultural or otherwise. Thanks to Peleman, he began working for De Illustratie, producing cartoons and small humour comics (the series Peerke Sorgloos). Unfortunately Peleman was, more than anything, the devil on Vandersteen’s shoulder, when he asked Vandersteen to illustrate an anti-semitic pamphlet, a pamphlet that would remain ad infinitum the one great stain on Vandersteen’s reputation and one that he, in vain, tried to draw attention away from, whenever one asked for an explanation.

What happened next is well known: a tidal wave of publications appeared after the liberation in 1944 and Vandersteen threw himself in an abundance of work, publishing multiple series in Bravo! (again), ‘t Kapoentje, Franc-Jeu, Le Petit Monde, Ons Volk, De Nieuwe Gids, etc., before he concentrated his efforts on his star series Suske en Wiske and De Famillie Snoek. These series would make him the leading light of Flemish bande dessinée, drawing attention away from decisions he made during the war; decisions he would unfortunately never really explain. Shame.

Completely different—and even more unfortunate—is the wartime work put together by DeBudt. Adrift after the death of his mentor, Van den Berghe, in 1939; the end of Bravo! in 1940; and the change in political stance at Vooruit and its related publications, DeBudt went looking for work in the now German-controlled Vooruit and he was welcomed by his new bosses with open arms. There he was given the opportunity of publishing his first comic, Mijnheer Dingens [Mister Thing], after which, encouraged by ‘Verwalter’ Gaston de Vos, (who not only oversaw Vooruit but also the Ontwikkeling printworks), DeBudt found work at Volk en Staat. At that newspaper he published De wereldeis van Flip en Flop (with texts by the poetess Blanka Gijselen) and collaborated often on the children’s section Voor ons jonge Volkje. Thanks to Gijselen, DeBudt also drew, in Balming, a nice example of a fantasy comic, Gawain de Dappere. By now caught in the system, DeBudt produced several series and illustrations. Leo Poppe, subeditor of Vooruit, also worked at De Nationaal Socialist and Jonge Nationaalsocialist, into which he dragged the young DeBudt. In the latter publication, DeBudt published two gag comics: Hanske de Vendeljongen and Grietje, het Kerlinneke. And the list got ever longer with Die Blauwvoet, De SS-Man, De Vlaamsche Post, Stemmen uit Duitsland as well as Ons Rakkersblad! In short, DeBudt worked himself to death, without realising his misdeeds. In all of this work, there are several innocent comics, but unfortunately there are also illustrations and comic strips of a pro-German, anti-semitic and anti-allied bent.

Happily for DeBudt, after the war and now working under the penname Buth, his career would take an entirely new direction, as he found refuge in the Catholic press, where he would remain incredibly productive, much more pacifist and even pious. However, he suffered from another obnoxious flaw: barefaced plagiarism. This excellent artist had an apparently typical case of cryptomnesia: mentally noting the images of other artists, which he would then shamelessly copy. His works of most note are his first comics, those produced under the occupation—at least, the apolitical ones—and, above all, his post-war comics based on the often wild stories of John Flanders, another penname of Jean Ray, also known as De Kremer.

It’s difficult to blame Jan Waterschoot for continuing to work during the war. Having started working in Averbode, at La Bonne Presse, in the second half of the 1930s, he would work there on his series Johnny l’orphelin and many illustrations for as long as possible during the occupation. He also worked for De Gazet during the years 1943-44 (though only on two bandes dessinées, one of which was an adaptation of Jules Verne), when La Bonne Presse was censored by the occupying forces. Waterschoot came back to La Bonne Presse, Petits Belges and Zonneland in 1945 and would also work at Gazet van Antwerpen, Tam-Tam, Franc-Jeu, Vriendschap, Kleine Zondagsvriend and Kerkelijk Leven, in other words, across the whole range of the Catholic press, but his wartime record, however, remains spotless.

Panis became one of the mainstays of Volk en Staat; his character Klopstock reappeared, but he mostly drew hundreds of illustrations, amongst others, propaganda images for the eastern front in De Nationaalsocialist. A proud militant Fleming, he would gradually distance himself from pro-German militantism. After the war he would work for Tintin/Kuifje for a short time and publish a few more albums, but he remains far more an illustrator than a comics creator.

Of all the artists active during the occupation, Olrac (Carlo Delien’s penname) was the most talented in graphics terms, with an adaptable style and marvellous technique. He nevertheless limited himself to humour and satire, without really ever venturing into longer strips. Very politically engaged, he was sentenced to fourteen years in prison and disappeared from view upon release but his work is worth rehabilitating, if only for its artistic prowess. Whatever happened to the highly talented Olrac?

Van Immerseel, mentioned above, did not produce much of value in terms of comics during the occupation, he was content with parading in his SS uniform in Averbode, where he worked as the head censor, which earned him jail time for a few years after the war. Later, he stuck to illustration and became a renowned glass painter, although he was dogged (rightly) by his past, for those who remembered him. Since he wasn’t exactly a star of comics before the war, he quickly abandoned the medium.

[1] This is the second part of a three-part essay. The first part can be found here: comicsforum.org/?p=8592

[2] The original text has been very lightly revised for style and context.

 

 

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