Thursday, October 15, 2009

A New 'Golden Age' (IV)

This is my first post in a while, and I noticed that some cobwebs have gathered on this blog. I left them alone on account of Halloween coming soon.

Anyway, in honor of National German Heritage Month, this special edition of ANGA will feature The Katzenjammer Kids. Wunderbar!

This comic is the oldest surviving comic strip, meaning that new strips are being produced. The comic was created in mid-December 1897 by German immigrant Rudolph Dirks. The principal characters included two misbehaving (and non-identical) twins Hans and Fritz; their rotund mother 'Mama'; der Kapitan (the Captain); and der Inspektor (the local truant officer). The Captain and the Inspektor were often the victims of the twins' malevolent pranks, and usually the comic ended with the twins in tears after a spanking. (Mama was usually oblivious to her sons' impudence.) But sometimes the twins put their cunning to practical use against actual antagonists who would bully the twins' foils--just to show that Hans and Fritz weren't beyond redemption, I'm guessing. That, or to provide a change of pace and a much-needed break for der Captain and der Inspektor.

In 1912, Dirks went on sabatical to pursue other hobbies for a time and returned to find that he had been replaced by another German-American cartoonist, Harold Knerr. William Randolph Hearst, the newspaper magnate and Dirks' boss refused to give Dirks back his job, and a court battle ensued. The issue was settled where Hearst kept the strip (continued under the steady hand of Knerr), whilst Dirks kept the characters but had to use another title, The Captain and the Kids.

Thus in 1914, Hans and Fritz lived under two simultaneous incarnations for the next 65 years. Jeez.

World War I broke out and in 1917, all things German became verboten. (Stupid America.) As a result the Germans of the strip became Dutch until 1920, then reverted back to Deutsch.

Dirks continued to work on The Captain and the Kids with his son John, until Dirks' death in 1968. Knerr continued to work on The Katzenjammer Kids until his death in 1949, after which followed a succession of artist/writers up to the present day. Meanwhile, The Captain and the Kids lasted until the end of 1979.

Both are first-rate comics, and I'd like to point out that Harold Knerr to his credit (and through no fault of his own becoming Dirks' replacement) had superb talent and mimicked the style of Dirks admirably. He even introduced a mini-comic strip called Dinglehoofer und His Dog in 1926. But the dog was named Adolph (!) and was replaced by a dachshund named 'Schnappsie' in 1936. This was a good comic in and of itself and ran alongside Knerr's comic until 1953, a few years after his death.

Here's a comparison of Dirks (below) and Knerr (also below, but then some):

It's comforting to think that the strip still lives on (if a little mediocre), but it's confounding that in the midst of this great era of comic strip reprint collections being steadily churned out by several publishers, that not one is reprinting (or has yet announced) any reprint at all of either The Katzenjammer Kids or The Captain and the Kids. I can only slowly shake my Teutonic head in annoyance and resignation...

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