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Bart Beaty Reads Fokke & Sukke, Drinks A Free Beer
posted March 18, 2008
 

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By Bart Beaty

I was introduced to the world of Fokke & Sukke at the Oog & Blik stand at this year's Angouleme, when both Hansje and Mara Joustra began singing the praises of this strip. Shortly thereafter I was introduced to Jean-Marc van Tol, co-writer and illustrator of the strip, in a bar. My friends and I asked him to buy us drinks, not because we are boorish (though we may be that) but because we reasoned Jean-Marc could afford it -- after all, as the covers of the books point out, "2 Million copies in stock -- Buy one!" He may have been the best-selling cartoonist in the whole place, though few Frenchmen were likely to recognize his success as the strip is not widely translated.

But buy one, indeed. Fokke & Sukke, I now know, are a Dutch comics phenomenon. I mean, there are only about 17 million people living in the Netherlands, which means that they've sold a Fokke & Sukke book to about 1/8th of the whole population. That sort of falls into the "holy crap" category for me.

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The strip, a one-panel gag that appears in NRC Handelsblad, an evening daily newspaper, was begun in 1994 by Van Tol and two other writers, John Reid and Bastiaan Geleijnse, in a student magazine. It is also connected to the youth-oriented BNN news network in Holland (a DVD is advertised for sale in the back of the book), bringing the strip a whole other audience.

The strip depicts the misadventures of Fokke, a duck, and Sukke, a canary. In the tradition of great Barksian anthropomorphic strip characters neither wear pants. Breaking with that tradition, each has his genitals proudly on display. And, yes, even though the names Fokke & Sukke are not that uncommon in the West Frisian language of northern Holland, in the context of the humor of the strip the names do mean what you suspect that they mean.

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To give you an even better idea of the tone, when I first met Van Tol, he was wearing a t-shirt depicting Fokke & Sukke at a rally, holding a banner reading "Menstruation is Murder." If not all their gags are that blunt, they are close. Fokke & Sukke take a hammer to any notion of political correctness, riffing on religion, illness, politics, sexuality, popular culture, and any other target that drifts into their sites. They are mean-spirited but somehow lovable doofuses. They have a bit of Beavis and Butthead about them, but the strip is generally much smarter than that show (and I am aware of how smart Beavis and Butthead could be...).

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The drawings are simple, the gags are simple, the pleasures are simple, but also very real. It took me about five minutes to read the only collection of the strip that exists in English (which is titled, appropriately enough, Fokke & Sukke (published by De Harmonie), but it's also something that I'm likely to read again. In all honesty, I laughed, which is more than I can say for a lot of American newpaper strips.

Oh, and thanks for the beer!

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