Franka #14 - 'Het Portugese Goudschip'.

The Dutch allround comics author Henk Kuijpers is one those rare artists who has devoted his entire career to one single series. Created in 1974, 'Franka' is one of the longest ongoing adventure comics in the Netherlands, topped only by Martin Lodewijk's 'Agent 327' (1966), although the latter's publication rhythm has seen long intermissions. But 'Franka' is notable for more reasons than that. It was the first adventure comic in the Netherlands with a strong, independent female protagonist. The stories are furthermore imbued with their author's meticulous perfectionism. Both storywise and artistically, Kuijpers' albums are true tours de force, characterized by their well-crafted plots, appealing cast of characters and highly detailed realistic backgrounds. 'Franka' also enjoyed success abroad. The series was translated into French, German, Danish, Norwegian, Swedish and Catalan. 

Early life and influences
Henk Kuijpers was born in 1946 in Haarlem, and raised in Santpoort-Zuid. As a child he was an avid reader of both Kuifje (Tintin) and Robbedoes (Spirou), the two major Belgian comics magazines. Both have remained a lasting influence on his career. Kuijpers' comics reveal elements of not only Hergé's Clear Line tradition, but also the dynamism and slick designs of Spirou's André Franquin and Maurice Tillieux. Other influences on his later work are classic American illustrators like Norman Rockwell, and a fascination for history, movies, art, classic cars and ships.


'Uit de memoires van George Longfellow' (Pep #6, 1974).

First comics work
Kuijpers had been drawing comics from a young age. In 1971 he and another Dutchman, Robert van der Kroft participated in a contest for amateur artists, organized by Kuifje magazine, yet neither were selected as the winners. Kuijpers had no plans to turn professional, and studied sociology in Amsterdam instead. Nearly finished with this education, he decided to present his work to the editors of the Dutch comics magazine Pep. Both Frans Buissink and Jan de Rooij were impressed by the young man's talent, and published his first short stories in issue #51 of 1973 ('Het aller-aller-allerlaatste kerstverhaal'), issue #6 of 1974 ('Uit de memoires van George Longfellow') and issue #37 of 1974 ('De muiterij op de Meermin'). Additionally, 'Talentenjacht' (1974) appeared in the sole issue of Baberiba, another publication of publisher Oberon. Later that year, in Pep #48, the first serial by Henk Kuijpers was launched under the title 'Het Misdaadmuseum' (1974-1975).

Franka, by Henk Kuijpers
Franka #2 - 'Het Meesterwerk'.

Het Misdaadmuseum
Starting point of the story was the so-called "Crime Museum", which collects and treasures items of evidence from criminal lawsuits and other pieces of "criminalia". With its expertise in all things crime-related, the institute is often consulted by investigators and other researchers. In the first story a phoney movie director called Oscar Bühne wants the museum's help in determining if the crime plot of his latest script is practicable? The crook actually wants to use the plan to break into the Royal Printing Company and stage a coup in the republic of Oceanaqua. Luckily the perceptive crew of the Crime Museum manages to put an end to this ploy. 'Het Misdaadmuseum' had an ensemble cast. Initially, the main character appears to be the somewhat clumsy applicant Jarko Jansen, but the resourceful female secretary Franka quickly steals the show. Other employees of the museum are the retired police commissioner Arend Noordenwind with his inseparable bulldog, and the archivist Philip Factotum. By the second story, 'Het Meesterwerk' (1975), Franka took the main stage and the museum gradually faded to the background. In later stories, Franka's allies are often women, most notably the fortune teller Furora (introduced in 'Het Meesterwerk', 1975), who lives in a houseboat across the street, and the talented French fashion designer and socialite Laura Lava (introduced in the short story 'De Saboteur', 1981). However, her most loyal companion is the playful bulldog Bars, one of the pups of commissioner Noordenwind's dogs.


Franka #3 - 'De terugkeer van de Noorderzon'.

Franka: a series of firsts
'Het Meesterwerk' was pre-published in Eppo, the new comics magazine emerging out of the ashes of Pep and Sjors. With 'Franka' as its title hero, the series was an innovative move. For the first time in the Netherlands, a young, independent woman served as the lead star in an adventure comics series, instead of being mere eye candy or support for a male hero. As such, Franka followed in the wake of other modern female heroes like François Walthéry's 'Natacha' (1970) and Roger Leloup's 'Yoko Tsuno' (1970), who had claimed their rightful spots in Spirou earlier that decade. Like her predecessors, Franka is very much capable of solving her own problems, which not only arise through her association with the Crime Museum and her own detective agency, but also by sheer bad luck. On many occasions, Franka is simply in the wrong place at the wrong time, witnessing break-ins, kidnappings, murder attempts, forgeries and (supposedly) supernatural threats. Unfortunately(?) Franka's clothing doesn't withstand most of the action. Already from the earliest episodes, the more visually oriented supporters of female empowerment are treated with a fair amount of nudity. Clothes ripped apart by accident, shirts revealing hard nipples, boob slips, topless swimming, obligatory scenes where Franka is undressing or taking a bath/shower and later on also passionate love scenes... Kuijpers knows how to please his predominantly male readership. In addition to being the first author with a female lead character, Kuijpers was also the first to present female nudity in a Dutch mainstream comics magazine. Although it must be said that in the earliest episodes hands, blankets and soap bubbles were delicately placed over the more revealing parts of Franka's body... 


Franka #8 - 'De Ondergang van de Donderdraak'.

Franka: publication history
The groundbreaking 'Franka' remained one of the most popular series throughout Eppo's run, and it was continued in the magazine's successors Eppo/Wordt Vervolgd (1985-1986), Sjors & Sjimmie Stripblad (1989-1993) and SjoSji (1995-1997). The final incarnation Striparazzi focused on short stories instead of serials, and 'Franka' disappeared from its pages. Kuijpers had by then already found a new home in the TV guide of the "young, fast and wild" broadcasting company Veronica. Between 1990 and 2003 Veronica Magazine prepublished the adventures of 'Franka' with one page a week. Later stories were serialized in MYX (2003-2006) and Algemeen Dagblad, or published directly in album format, until the series returned in Rob van Bavel's relaunched Eppo magazine in 2009. Albums were originally published by Oberon (1978-1986) and Big Balloon (1990-2001), until Kuijpers turned to self-publishing under his own Franka imprint in 1998.

Franka, by Henk Kuijpers
Franka - 'De Tanden van de Draak'.

Development
As the series' target audience gradually matured, so did the stories. Early episodes often had fantastic plot elements, such as a ghost ship which arises through inflatable toy animals (the diptych 'Het Geheim van het Spookschip', 1977-1978), a grotesque master of disguises ('Circus Santekraam', 1980) or a lost valley with living dinosaurs ('De Tanden van de Draak' and 'De Ondergang van de Donderdraak', 1983-1986). Later stories were more rooted in reality, and mostly dealt with scams or crimes set in artistic environments. Science fiction elements have however continued to pop up. By the thirteenth album, 'De Dertiende Letter' (1995), Franka began her own detective agency. Her services are regularly required by Erika Bentinckx, head of security of the Amsterdam Rijksmuseum. Other plots are schemes set in the movie industry ('Gangsterfilm', 1991-1992, 'Kidnap', 2003-2004) or deal with the conniving world of haute couture, when Franka helps her friend Laura Lava against the ice cold Madame Maud.


Franka debating with her "alter ego" in 'De Blauwe Venus'.

Kuijpers also deepened Franka's personality. From the start, she was a no-nonsense girl with a keen sense for justice. In later episodes she is portrayed as a redheaded vamp, who can also be driven by impulses or fears. In 'De Dertiende Letter' (1995), Franka is haunted by panic attacks after a failed murder attempt. She later looses herself in her alter ego, which she uses during her investigation. In 'Het Portugese Goudschip' (1996), Franka falls madly in love with her target, a wanted art thief called Rix (a.k.a. "Risk Number One"). The romance lasted several albums, giving Franka's character an edge. While Rix redeems himself and helps his girlfriend with her investigations, Franka on the other hand seems to enjoy breaking into a suspect's home in 'Eigen Risico' (2001) and accepts a stolen necklace in the same story. Perhaps the most emotional installment in the series is 'De reis van de Ishtar' (2006-2010), a trilogy about the mythical sword of Alexander the Great. Tempted by the artefact, Rix doublecrosses his girlfriend and gets killed, leaving Franka heartbroken. For the first time in the series, her background is explored, from the early death of her father to Franka being raised by her mother and stepfather. At this point Kuijpers' paper-and-ink heroine became a three-dimensional character of flesh and blood.


The death of Rix in 'Het Zwaard van de Iskander'.

Amsterdam
Even though Henk Kuijpers has lived in the small Drenthe town Benneveld since the early 1980s, the city of Amsterdam remains his main inspiration. In the semi-caricatural early years, the settings were fictional. Franka rented an attic room in Groterdam, a city that shared its typical squares, trams and canals with the Dutch capital. As realism crept in and the drawings became more schematic and stylized, Franka became an official citizen of Amsterdam. From 'De Vlucht van de Atlantis' (1993) on, famous spots like the Leidse Square, Dam Square and Central Station are explicitly portrayed. The former worker's quarter Haarlemmer Houttuinen, where Kuijpers lodged as a student, was a major setting in 'De Blauwe Venus' (1993). Other fictional settings like the hamlet Luttel and the republic of Oceanaqua also disappeared from the narrative, and Franka's later adventures brought her to Paris, Puerto Rico, Berlin, Lisbon, London, Mexico and other cosmopolitan hotspots.


The Dam Square in Franka #18 - 'Kidnap'.

Perfectionist working method
Overall, Henk Kuijpers' oeuvre is characterized by its perfectionism and aim for authenticity. The plots are meticulously crafted, and require the reader's focus. Some storylines span several albums. Graphically, Kuijpers is a master in establishing scenery. His pages are filled with large city scenes, classic cars and shady harbors. The panels are carefully staged, and offer a lot of detail. Background characters are not simple "extras", but provide their own tiny stories with little jokes. Still, all remains readable through the artist's Clear Line approach. Kuijpers takes many pictures of the scenes he wants to depict, often with his wife as model. He then sketches all the elements on separate sheets of semi-transparent paper until he reaches the required lay-out. Characters are dressed according to the latest fashion, while interiors have slick and modern designs. Kuijpers has explained in interviews that he is very much influenced by cinematic techniques, and that he carefully studies the work of Hollywood set designers.


Franka #10 - 'Gangsterfilm'.

It goes without saying that this labour-intensive process makes it difficult to complete one album every year. In fact, only four albums were published during the 1980s. When 'Franka' ran non-stop in Veronica Magazine, Kuijpers was required to complete one album every year. To keep up with his deadlines, he adjusted his working method. Starting with 'Gangsterfilm' (1991), the artist switched from four to three panel rows per page. Since 2001 the albums again appear with longer interludes. To keep in touch with his fans, Kuijpers launched the irregularly appearing Franka Magazine in 1997. It provides news, background information and sneak previews of upcoming stories. Since he switched to self-publishing, all 'Franka' albums are available in both softcover and hardover, while Kuijpers' books also released as luxury "making of" editions, collector's versions or special editions for auction website Catawiki. For their album publications, stories have been remounted or partially redrawn from their original serialized versions, while Kuijpers has also revised his earlier stories for reprint editions with new covers and extra pages.


Comic with a talking cow for the annual report of dairy corporation Coberco in 1996.

Commercial work
While 'Franka' has remained his main focus, Kuijpers worked on a couple of other projects throughout the years. Not tied to strict deadlines during his Eppo years, he earned some extra income with commercial art assigments through Hans Buying's Comic House agency. These include comic strips and detailed overview drawings for clients like Coberco, the University of Amsterdam, PTT Post, the Dutch Association for Health Services ('De Familie Leefgoed' strips in 1988), the Ministry of Education, Philips, Mitsubishi and Margriet magazine. Many of his advertising drawings feature Franka. In 1984 he developed a comics correspondence course for the LOI. The 2002 "comic book gift" 'Felle Flitsen' collected some of Kuijpers' advertising comics. 


Henk Kuijpers' contribution to 'Strips in Stereo'.

Ever since the 1980s, Henk Kuijpers has released several silkscreen series with his heroine. For instance 'De Cadillac Club' (1988) and 'De Harley Collection' (1998) allowed the artist to indulge in drawing classic American cars and motorcycles. These were later transformed into text stories and collected in the special album 'Chroom' (2014). In 2006, he adapted the song 'Den Poot op 't Gas' by the cult rock band Normaal into comics format for the 'Strips in Stereo' project of Jean-Marc van Tol and Gerrit de Jager (2006). He was also was one of several Dutch artists to contribute a page to a new collective version of Marten Toonder's classic 'Bommel' story 'De Bovenbazen' (De Bezige Bij, 2012). Kuijpers has guided Danker Jan Oreel and IJsbrand Oost at the start of their comics careers. For Oreel, he wrote the script of 'De koffers van Raz Fadraz', starring the heroine Hel van Helder. They began working on the story in the late 1980s, but it took until 2010 before it's publication began in Eppo.


From: 'De Cadillac Club'.

Recognition
'Franka' is one of the longest ongoing Dutch adventure comics, along with 'Agent 327' (1967) by Martin Lodewijk and 'Storm' (1976), created by Martin Lodewijk and Don Lawrence. Henk Kuijpers is therefore one of the most recognized Dutch comics authors, both in his home country and abroad. By 1985 he already had his own fanclub, which released the fanzine Furora. Kuijpers was awarded the Dutch Stripschapprijs in 1990, while his album 'Het Zilveren Vuur' earned him the Stripschap Badge for "Best Album" in 2011. In 2010 Franka was named the "Biggest Comics Hero" of the Netherlands in a contest held by comics magazine Eppo. Kuijpers' original artwork has been exhibited in Gallery Lambiek (1992), the Haarlem Comics Festival (1994), Galerie Animaux in Rotterdam (2007) and the Breda Comics Festival (2009, 2011), among other events.


Franka discovers she is fooled by yet another lover in 'Geheim 1948' (2016).

'Franka' has been translated to French, German, Danish, Norwegian, Swedish and Catalan, which all keep her original name intact. Kuijpers had the honor of seeing his series published in his favorite magazine, Spirou/Robbedoes in the period 1981-1983. Albums in the French language were published subsequently by Dupuis, Les Humanoïdes Associés and BD Must. In 2007, Kuijpers was the only Dutchman asked to pay tribute to Albert Uderzo in the collective album 'Astérix et ses Amis' (2007).

Besides the aforementioned Oreel and Oost, Henk Kuijpers has been named an influence by artists such as Henk 't Jong, André Gerrits and Robby van der Meulen. The Belgian artists Turk and Willy Linthout have also expressed their admiration.

Franka poster, by Henk Kuijpers
Henk Kuijpers exhibited his artwork in Kees Kousemaker's Gallery Lambiek in December 1992.

www.franka.nl

Henk Kuijpers in Lambiek's Nederlandse Stripgeschiedenis
(in dutch)

Series and books by Henk Kuijpers in stock in the Lambiek Webshop:

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