Max and Moritz: Great Uncles of the Comic Strip

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You know the Brothers Grimm, but maybe you haven’t heard of some other famous German brothers: Max and Moritz. They’re some of the most beloved characters in all of German literature.

Published in 1865, Max and Moritz is the story of two naughty brothers whose adventures range from mischievous to vicious. Their darkly comical story is told in a series of seven pranks, and in the end….well, let’s just say they don’t get away with their crimes. It’s not exactly a Disney fairy tale.

The subversive  humor of the book and the boys’ flippancy toward adults represented a departure in the children’s literature of the time, which was strictly moralistic.

The book’s action-filled sequential line drawings are paired with relatively little text. It’s widely believed that Max and Moritz was the direct inspiration for the Katzenjammer Kids, the “oldest American comic strip still in syndication and the longest-running ever.” (from Wikipedia)

The other day I made a date with myself to go to the Wilhelm Busch Museum here in Hannover. The creator of Max and Moritz, illustrator and poet Wilhelm Busch, lived in and around Hannover for several years of his life. The museum is located on the edge of the royal Herrenhauser Gartens. It’s my favorite kind of museum: small, intimate, a beautiful space with really strong exhibits. It houses some of the original Max and Moritz sketches—I love seeing the rough beginnings of things.

Here’s the museum below:

The museum also hosts temporary exhibits of illustration and caricature, and I was lucky enough to catch the show of Lisbeth Zwerger, famed Austrian illustrator. I’ve been a fan of her whimsical fairy tale illustrations for a long time, so it was really interesting to see them in person. Along with German and English editions of Max and Moritz, I couldn’t resist getting Zwerger’s Noah’s Ark, also in the original German—I guess it’ll be good for my language skills.

Also on display, and equally interesting, was a large retrospective show of  influential British carticature artist Ronald Searle. I snapped a quick pic of this machine in the corner of the gallery:

What do you think it is? I’m guessing it’s a hygrometer to make sure the air doesn’t get too damp and damage the artwork, but I don’t know.

I can’t wait to get back to the museum for the next exhibits.

The Max and Moritz image above, which is in the public domain, was found at wikipedia. Information in this post comes from the English and German wikipedia entries for Wilhelm Busch.

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