Agent 327

I don’t think there’s much doubt that the Agent327 comics by Martin Lodewijk are among the best, or even the best Dutch comics; and they shine even among Belgian or French comics. There are currently 18 volumes, with two more expected, and I count myself very fortunate to possess all 18. True, in various states of dilapidation, because these are comics to read, re-read and re-read again.

There are three series — the short stories rendered with wavy lines, first drawn for the Dutch comic weekly Pep, longer stories rendered with clear lines and gorgeous backgrounds for Pep’s successor weekly Eppo, and the new series drawn with fairly fat black lines and not as much precision (but a lot of graphical inventiveness, e.g. in De wet van alles) for the Rotterdam newspaper Algemeen Dagblad. Martin Lodewijk is being remarkably productive nowdays; this last series counts 8 albums published in four years.

There’s also one so-called mini-album, the smallest comic in the world —  Dossier Minimum Bug, in which Olga Lawina (a reference to Dutch yodel singer Olga Lowina), manages to enlarge her already impressive breasts even more; a change that doesn’t particularly appeal to me.

And recently it happened that I found myself re-reading all of them, and I was struck with how accurately and surprisingly these comics document the world as it was when they were drawn. Agent 327 is quintessentially Dutch, even though it started as a spoof of James Bond; and much of the scenery, many details and even plot points center around what’s considered typically Dutch, even though the stories branch out around the world.

If you re-read the first few albums, filled mostly with short stories, some things immediately are apparent: how empty Holland was, how ubiquitous smoking was (although Hendrik IJzerbroot, Agent 327 has never smoked). The stories are filled with little details that deserve, analogous with the Annotated Pratchett File, an Annotated Agent 327 File. For instance, while I do get the references to Victor Baarn (the alias HRH Prince Bernhard, the husband of Queen Juliana, used to cash his cheques from Lockheed), I am very hazy on modern popular culture, so I must be missing a lot in the second series of albums. For instance, who’s that particular young man Olga Lawina guards so closely? He must be a “Bekende Nederlander”…

Early next year a book titled “The Making of Agent 327” will apparently be published; perhaps it will fill this lacuna.