News Articles

Cartoonist Marten Toonder of Mr. Bumble achieved international fame

Comics a hit from Sweden to Indonesia

Tags: Excerpts from the Windmill

LAREN, the Netherlands - Dutch comics artist Marten Toonder, whose long-running cartoon series 'Tom Puss and Mr Bumble' (in Dutch known as Tom Poes en Olivier B. Bommel) was a mainstay of Dutch newspapers, recently died aged 93. The cartoonist’s creature Oliver B Bumble achieved a following in numerous countries but with a different identity in most of the twenty languages in which he was published. Toonder is internationally viewed as arguably one of the most influential Dutch authors, illustrators and animators.

Of the post-war Dutch comic writers, Toonder perhaps is the best-known through his appeal to readers of all ages. Furthermore, the appearance of Tom Puss in a number of national dailies helped his popularity. Other cartoonists, such as Pieter Kuhn, who made ‘Kapitein Rob’ a household name, enjoyed more limited exposure. ‘Rob’ appeared in Amsterdam-based daily ‘Het Parool.’ Hans G. Kresse, the creator of among others ‘Eric de Noorman,’ had his start as an artist for the Toonder Studio during WWII.

Born in 1912, the son of a skipper, Toonder at an early age began imparting his fantasies in drawings to his younger brother Jan Gerhard who also went on to become a wellknown author. At the age of 19, Marten Toonder traveled by ship with his father to Buenos Aires, Argentina. That's where he met Dante Quinterno, a cartoonist 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, also a cartoonist. For years, they closely worked together on their stories, raising five children: two sons, two adopted daughters and a younger cousin.

Fills WWII void

In 1941, with the Netherlands under Nazi occupation, the popular American Mickey Mouse cartoon disappeared from the pages of the daily De Telegraaf. The newspaper decided to fill the gap with Toonder's comic strip Tom Puss, a great opportunity for the Dutch author who then with fellow illustrator Joop Geesink set up the Geesink-Toonder Studios.

Before he introduced his Tom Puss character, Toonder already had created such characters and cartoons as Bram’s Adventures, Tobias, Uk and Puk; Thijs IJs, Jim and Soe, and Japie Makreel. Phiny Dick, who wrote many children’s books and created ‘Olle Kapoen,’ wrote the text for the first six Tom Puss adventures.

Oliver B Bumble, who was introduced in the third of what was to become a series of 174 stories, is portrayed as a real gentleman but one with a fragile constitution. His young friend Tom Puss regularly needs to get him out of trouble. This white cat is Mr Bumble's opposite number in many ways: rational, bold, clever but also somewhat boring.

Toonder stopped working for De Telegraaf when a Dutch SS-member was appointed as the daily’s new editor. Together with his brother Jan Gerhard, Marten started working for the resistance Metro publication and occasionally helped out people in hiding.


After the end of the war, Tom Puss reemerged and soon appeared in no fewer than 50 domestic and foreign newspapers, all over Europe as well as in Indonesia and other non-continental papers, always with the proper translations of the captions. In the Netherlands, Tom Puss switched to other newspapers and gained fame through appearing in the Algemeen Handelsblad, which eventually repeated most of stories. Olivier B Bommel was known by such number of names: Teddy Bjorn (Denmark, Norway), Monsieur Bommel (France), Herr Bummel (Germany), Olivero B. Bomel (Spain), and Oliver B. Bumble (Sweden).

Expanding rapidly, Toonder Studios employed several artists and text-writers, who together produced nineteen comic strips. Toonder kept control and eventually inked the strips again himself.

In 1964, the Toonder family emigrated to Ireland, mainly to enjoy the landscape, which seems quite similar to the landscapes in Toonders' comic strips. There he started work on an Oliver B Bumble movie ’Als u begrijpt wat ik bedoel,’ one of Bommel’s favourite expressions, meaning ‘if you know what I mean.’ He also published an annual book for the give-away National Book Week and wrote countless comics for national dailies 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. Toonder who introduced various new words and phrases in the Dutch language, receive numerous (literary) awards.

Going home

In 1990, after 55 years of marriage, his wife Phiny died and soon followed in death by his brother Jan Gerhard and his son Onno. Marten Toonder married his second great love, the composer Tera de Marez Oyens, but she died of cancer that same year. Both his adopted daughters preceded him in death as well.

In 2001, after Toonder was struck down by double pneumonia, his family arranged his return to the Netherlands where he celebrated his 90th birthday. Toonder's native city of Rotterdam honoured him with a monument and a tribute. For the last four years, Toonder had resided in the Rosa Spier House, a carehome for elderly artists.