The Cartoon Days Fair in Gorinchem is not going by unnoticed at the museum this year. The connection between chess and cartoons is easily made, since cartoon characters like playing a bit of chess every now and then.

The Chessmen Museum owns various games with cartoon chess pieces. Disney characters, The Muppets from The Muppet Show and Lucky Luke and the Dalton brothers are standing side by side in their show cases. This bricolage of cartoon characters is hardly surprising if we look at the popularity of cartoons. Ever since the nineteen twenties, cartoon figures have been on a true victory march. Cartoons were swiftly adapted to the big screen to satisfy the huge demand for them. American sailor Popeye, for example, made his first appearance in a cartoon in 1929 and four years later he moved on to be a motion picture.

Popeye en Brutus ruziën bij schaakspel

Popeye and Brutus fighting over a game of chess

War and cartoons
World War Two advanced the popularity of the early cartoon characters enormously. People were happy with any distraction they got and just couldn’t get enough of heroic adventures. Popeye became a true national hero in the United States when he enrolled in the US Navy. At first, the sailor was mostly popular among soldiers, but he gained popularity worldwide quickly. In the Netherlands this tiny sailor became a loved cartoon character as well. The new cult heroes not only went on exciting adventures but were also depicted doing ordinary things. Playing a game of chess is one of them and in many cartoons it is a favorite pastime.

Jolly Jumper cheats
Grass halm in mouth, gun in hand, and faithful horse Jolly Jumper at his side, that’s Lucky Luke. Together, man and horse fought injustice on the prairie grounds and at night they used to play a game of chess by the campfire. At those times, friendly Jolly Jumper turned out to be a lot less friendly: many times he would cheat.

Lucky Luke’s creator was Maurice de Bevere, better known as Morris (1923-2001). He was raised in a strict Jesuit college and to kill time Morris would draw figures in his notebooks. Without knowing it, many teachers from the Jesuit College modeled for the characters in the future Lucky Luke cartoons. Morris not only loved to draw, he also loved westerns. He thought that the cowboys of the motion pictures took themselves much too seriously. With this in mind, in 1947 Morris drew Lucky Luke, the somewhat awkward cowboy. It wasn’t until 1991 that this popular gun hero would make his debut on the big screen.

A noble Bear
It was inevitable: the creator of the cartoon about the noble Olivier Berendius Bommel had to include the game of chess, as for Bommel this is the perfect Sunday afternoon pastime. He finds a clever opponent in Tom Poes. Author Marten Toonder (1912-2005) created a cartoon about Tom Poes in 1941 and soon after that, Bommel was sent in to reinforce the troops. Since the creation of the cartoon, Toonder has drawn three adventures that are entirely inspired by the chess game. The game fitted well into the atmosphere of the cartoon, with the clever Tom Poes and the elitist Bommel. Their adventures have also made it to the big screen but unfortunately none of the chess adventures was chosen to be adapted to the screen.

Muppet Show figuren in het Schaakstukkenmuseum

Muppet Show figures in the Chessmen Museum

The popularity of cartoon characters is not only translated into chess pieces and movies. The place to be for the die-hard cartoon fans is the Cartoon Days Fair in Gorinchem. At this event one can see, do and buy all sorts of things. The rest of the year, cartoon maniacs are welcome to visit the Chessmen Museum and admire the happy and colorful collection of cartoon characters on chess boards.

By Marjolein Overmeer