Starting the Engine


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Hello again, and thanks for being back here! In my first column, I promised I would tell you about the journey I’m taking: starting my own comic book publishing company. What better place to start that story than at the beginning?

As I told you last time my love for comics is something I discovered at a very young age. While I didn’t get everything that was happening on the pages, the stories intrigued me even at a young age.

Like almost every young child in the Netherlands, I read Suske & Wiske, known in English as Willy and Wandy, or more recently, Spike  and Suzy. It’s a comic strip about two children who have adventures and together with their aunt and two friends, the funny Lambik and the super strong Jerom, journey through the world and even through time. When I got older, though, I found I missed something in these comics. It was not the quality or the characters, they were excellent, but it was something I also missed reading the adventures of Donald Duck. But, back then, I didn’t know what it was…

I was twelve years old at the time and had hurt my ankle playing sports, so I couldn’t participate in gym class at school and had two hours to kill by myself.  And what does a twelve year old when he has some time to kill and has some money? He goes to the shop to buy candy or chips. Why would I be any different? However, when I walked to the counter to pay for my dose of sugar, I saw a comic of the Fantastic Four. It was one of the issues were Reed and Sue had quit the FF and Ben was the new leader. And although I knew my already seriously low cool factor would again drop a lot of levels, I bought the comic instead of the sweets. I didn’t care. In the school cafeteria, I read the comic, but when I finished it, the story wasn’t. The last words were: “To be continued”.  I wanted to know how it ended, what would happen next and what the effects were from the things that I had just read.

And that’s the thing I missed in the other comic strips I had read growing up: it didn’t matter what happened. One time Donald Duck could be really good at repairing cars and in the next story the problem was he didn’t know anything about cars. With Suske & Wiske, it didn’t matter in what order you read them. The status quo never changed. In US comics there are consequences—well, if they don’t get retconned, but that’s something you’re unaware of as a kid. There is a continuity and that makes every issue a potentially important part of the story.

I think that is also the moment I started to write. I wrote a lot of short stories, a few unfinished longer ones, and even some fan fiction (maybe some of it can still be found at uncannyx.net under the name Xtence). I was always trying to make the story count. And up to this day, I still love long stories. That’s probably the reason why I enjoy TV series more than movies. 

All that said, being a comic book fan growing up and discovering a love for words is not the same as starting your own comic company.  The thing that made me take the first step was when someone said to me: “Why don’t you just start writing?”. And that’s what I did. I had this idea for a comic in my head and I just started putting the story together and started writing.

Maybe it could have stopped there. I mean, I only had this idea of a comic story. I did not have an artist and drawing it myself was a really, really bad idea. I did not have a publisher or any knowledge of the business – or any business; I am a civil servant for crying out loud! 

The only thing I had was the love of the medium and an idea.

While I was writing this story, my father was getting sick. Sadly, it turned out to be cancer and – to make a long story very short – he wasn’t going to live very long once we found out. (The picture on the right shows my dad holding my oldest son, Timo. It was taken 5 years ago.)

When the time comes that you realize the end is near, you try to tell each other  everything you think they need to know. Everything! One of the things I told him was, “Dad, I am going to make comic books.”

Of course, he knew I was heavily into comics, so it wasn’t a total surprise… he even asked me some questions about it. And even though he died before he could see anything we have accomplished today, it feels like I’m living up to the promise I made to my dad. It also means that quitting this journey just is not an option.  The only way is forward.


Gert-Jan van Oosten, co-founder of Dutch  comic book publisher, Drop Comics, talks about his efforts to find his place on the American/English comics market from across the pond.

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