Marten Toonder at 90

Goatsbeard, de Canteclaer, Panda, Joost and Oliver B Bumble: only when the Dutch have been out of their country for a very long time they would not be familiar with at least one of these creations of cartoonist Marten Toonder. The “Charles Dickens of The Netherlands” enriched his language with a string of immortal words and expressions like (for those among you who speak Dutch) “minkukel,” “zieleknijper” and “kommer en kwel.” A monument in his honour has been unveiled in his native city of Rotterdam to celebrate his 90th birthday.

Marten Toonder was born in Rotterdam on 2 May 1912. His father, a skipper, was away from home very often. Young Marten always imparted his inventive imagination on his baby brother Jan Gerhard, who lacked the patience to listen to the elaborate descriptions of his brother’s fantasy characters. Marten then decided to draw them for him, because ‘what you draw you don’t need to tell’.

A Special Meeting
When he was nineteen, Marten Toonder made a sea voyage with his father to Buenos Aires. That’s where he met cartoonist Dante Quinterno, who had been trained by Walt Disney. Marten Toonder was so impressed by Quinterno’s work, that he decided to become a cartoonist himself. He married his childhood friend and neighbour Phiny Dick, who also worked as a cartoonist. For years they worked together on their stories in one room. They raised five children: two sons, two adopted daughters and a younger cousin.

During wartime in 1941 the American cartoon Mickey Mouse disappeared off the pages of the Dutch daily De Telegraaf. The newspaper decided to fill the gap with Toonder’s comic strip Tom Puss. Not much later he started the Toonder Studios. But he stopped working for De Telegraaf when a member of the SS was appointed as the new editor. Together with his brother Jan Gerhard, Marten started working for the underground journal Metro and occasionally he was involved in helping out people in hiding.

After the end of the war Tom Puss surfaced again and appeared in no less than fifty domestic and foreign newspapers. In addition to this Toonder wrote a number of new comic strips: Kappie, Panda and King Hollewijn. By that time Toonder Studios employed several artists and text-writers, who between them produced nineteen comic strips.

Irish Years
In 1964 the Toonder family emigrated to Greystone in Ireland, mainly to enjoy the beautiful landscape, which is quite similar to the landscapes in Toonders’ comic strips. There he started work on the Oliver B Bumble movie Als je Begrijpt Wat Ik Bedoel, wrote a book for National Book Week as well as numerous comics for papers like the NRC Handelsblad, Volkskrant and De Tijd. The last Oliver B Bumble story, in which Mr Bumble finally weds his sweetheart neighbour Doddel, was published in 1986.

Then disaster struck. In 1990, after 55 years of marriage, his wife Phiny died and soon his brother Jan Gerhard and his son Onno followed. Marten Toonder met his second great love, the composer Tera de Marez Oyens, but she died of cancer the same year he married her. On top of all that both his adopted daughters passed away as well.

No Point
When Toonder himself was struck down by double pneumonia, his family organised for his return to The Netherlands in 2001. He now lives in the Rosa Spierhuis, a senior people’s home for artists in the village of Laren. To celebrate his ninetieth birthday his native city of Rotterdam honoured him with a monument and a tribute. The tribute took place on his birthday 2 May and the monument unveiled ten days later. But Marten Toonder now lacks the will to keep going much longer: “there is no point in getting as old as I am now.”

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Marten Toonder at 90
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