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6 • The German Citizen •March - April 2024
     The Katzenjammer Kids

     By Martin Ederer              family. Rudolph found some suc‐
           on-Germans rarely place  cess in Chicago as an illustrator.
           comedy high on the list of  Both he and his brother Gus moved
     Ncommon German talents.       to New York. There, Block noticed
     Fairly or not, a few fictitious Ger‐  Rudolph Dirks’ talent.
     man kids kept Americans enter‐    Responding to Block’s request
     tained for decades, evidently in spite  for a cartoon, Dirks submitted
     of growing sensitivities about ethnic  sketches. Block named them The
     humor in more recent decades.  Katzenjammer Kids.  “Katzenjam‐
     Meet the Katzenjammer Kids and a  mer” literally means a cat wail or
     second spinoff with a more English  caterwaul. In German, the meaning
     title, The Captain and the Kids.  is associated with depression or be‐
     There are multiple German-Ameri‐  wilderment, often after things end
     can aspects to The Katzenjammer  badly. It has come over into English
     Kids – and even a bizarre plot twist  to mean a hangover. Indeed it is
     in the story worthy of a Katzenjam‐  closely related to the colloquial Ger‐
     mer comic strip itself.       man word for the same: Der Kater
        The story starts with a German  (literally means tomcat).  Either
     inspiration in the heyday of Ameri‐  way, things ain’t good!
     can Yellow Journalism and the     The first Katzenjammer Kids
     newspaper circulation wars be‐  rolled out in 1897. Major characters
     tween William Randolph Hearst  – among others – included Hans
     (New York Journal) and Joseph  and Fritz, Der Captain, Der Inspec‐  ready been drawing a similar strip,  also rebranded as The Shenanigan  Winner took over. For the Captain,
     Pulitzer (New York World) in the  tor and Mama.  More unhinged  The Fineheimer Twins, which was an  Kids for the same reason.  Dirks’ son John took over the draw‐
     1890s. Not to be outdone by the  characters joined the cast later, in‐  imitation of The Katzenjammer Kids  After the anti-German hysteria  ing in 1955, although the father
     success of Pulitzer’s Yellow Kid car‐  cluding Ginga Dun (no typo) the  anyway. Knerr’s father was a physi‐  subsided, Knerr’s Katzenjammer  continued to sign the strips until his
     toon, which launched cartoons as a  Indian and King Bongo. The core  cian and an immigrant from Ger‐  Kids name returned at the Journal,  death in 1968. John Dirks contin‐
     fact of life in newspapers, New York  cast all spoke a German-American  many.               but Dirks’ Captain and the Kids be‐  ued the strip until 1979. Both man‐
     World’s editor Rudolph Block asked  immigrant  English.  As  things  Anyhow, two years of lawsuits  came permanent.  During both  aged to appear as shorts for the big
     Rudolph Dirks to launch a Sunday  turned out, Dirks transformed the  and legal wrangling followed after  world wars, the characters of both  screen.  The Captain even had a
     comic based on Wilhelm Busch’s  cartoon world, showing people see‐  Dirks sued Hearst. The final ruling  strips were identified as Dutch  short run on television. The Katzen‐
     Max und Moritz, a German chil‐  ing stars to show pain, and sawing  was that Dirks retained rights to his  rather than German.  jammer Kids ended its run as the
     dren’s story dating to the 1860s.  wood to denote snoring. His work  characters and could therefore cre‐  The fact that there were dueling  longest running newspaper cartoon
     Max and Moritz were two boys al‐  also helped to further standardize  ate an almost identical strip, but  identical strips didn’t seem to harm  in 2006; it continues to be distrib‐
     ways intent on getting into trouble  the use of panels and speech bal‐  Hearst retained rights to the Katzen‐  either one of them. Knerr contin‐  uted in syndication reprints. The
     until they are ultimately executed  loons.                   jammer Kids title. Dirks signed on  ued to produce Katzenjammer until  Captain ended its run in 1979.
     for their pranks. Child psycholo‐  Now for the Katzenjammer-  with Pulitzer’s syndicate (Hearst’s  his death in 1949. Then Charles
     gists could now have a field day with  worthiness of this story. In 1912,  competitor) and began his new
     that.                         Dirks asked for time off from the  strip, Hans und Fritz. World War I
        Rudolph Dirks was a German  strip. Hearst’s Journal steadfastly re‐  hostility  to  German-Americans
     immigrant from Heide who grew up  fused the request, but Dirks walked  brought about a name change in
     in Chicago. His father was a wood‐  anyway. The Journal reassigned the  1918: The Captain and the Kids.
     carver. Artistic ability ran in the  strip to Harold Knerr, who had al‐  Knerr’s Katzenjammer Kids were
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