The Stripstrijd, an Idols-style competition for cartoonists organised by the Amsterdam newspaper Het Parool was won by Michiel Van de Pol of the webcomic Cartoondiarree last Saturday. In the first rounds of Stripstrijd, twelve cartoonists faced off against one another in the newspaper’s comics pages, two at a time for two weeks at a time, with only one of each pair going on to the semi-finals. The semi-finals also lasted two weeks each and returned three finalists who competed in a three-way battle. In all rounds, votes from the public made up 50% of a contestant’s total score, with a jury’s marks making up the other half. The winner got a three-month contract with Het Parool.
The competition was the subject of an ad campaign on Dutch radio and was generally widely publicized. It created quite a buzz in cartoonists’ circles in the Netherlands, even before it kicked off in January. The range of initial submissions was very wide, and so was the stylistic range of comics that were selected to compete: from straight-forward gag comics to more philosophical, observational work to absurdism; from Disneyesque polish to scrawly Euro-Manga and from autobiography to topical work based on hot-button issues. Actually, the amount of autobiographical work was a bit surprising – you don’t find much of that in newspaper comics generally.
Winner Michiel Van de Pol has been a bubbling-under sort of creator for over a decade now. He debuted in small-press comics magazines in the mid-1990s with the crudely-drawn but hysterically funny early version of a comic called Mol, which was later picked up and edited to death by the national comics anthology Sjosji. For the past ten years, van de Pol has concentrated on autobiographical work, resulting in one book, Medicijnman and the Cartoondiarree webcomic. "Cartoondiarree", by the way, means exactly what you think it means. In the book, Van de Pol does interesting things with eye paths on the canvas; the webcomic and the newspaper strip are simpler in form but have the same combination of frankness and exuberant humour. In the article about Van de Pol’s win, he claims that he trained as a sculptor but switched to cartooning because his sculptures kept falling over. In comics, that kind of clumsiness actually adds to the charm.
(Author’s note 1: As far as I know, there is no work by Michiel Van de Pol in English. If I find some, I’ll post it.)
(Author’s note 2: Sorry if this story is a bit rambling in places. The heatwave that’s been hitting the Netherlands is making it very hard for me to string any coherent thoughts together, let alone whole sentences. What with me wanting to both explain the context and say a few words about the winner, this story ended up a bit longer than I’d expected. I think the contest itself is probably the most interesting item for international audiences; do you know about similar contests being held elsewhere? Update: I suppose the Comic Book Challenge qualifies, and that, too, got a lot of buzz in webcomics circles.
However, I’m a long-time fan of Michiel Van de Pol’s work and so I wanted to write him up briefly as well.)