holy Mackerel! Look at that (above)!
If anyone deserves the accolade, "Father of the Modern Comic Strip," it would have to be Wilhelm Busch, who did his best work (above) in the 1850s and 1860s.
Okay, technically that honor belongs to another German (well, actually Swiss), Rudolphe Topffer, who did sequential strips as early as 1839 (above), but he wasn't as funny or as skilled as Busch. Busch had what it took to set other artists' imagination on fire.
With a lead like that you would think Germany would have dominated comic strip art for decades to come, but that wasn't the case. Eventually German cartoonists retreated back to stolid and far less funny one-panel cartoons like the one from Simplicissimus magazine above.
What an odd thing to do! Why did the country repudiate an art form (comic strips) that the public loved, and which seemed destined for success?
The answer, so far as I can tell, is that the funny German cartoonists didn't repudiate it, they simply moved to America and practiced the art form there. Look at the names of the early American strip artists: Outcault, Opper, Dirks, etc....they're all German!
Many of them were second and third generation German Americans whose parents had fled from the wars of German unification. When they came over here they brought with them the sense of humor that was in the air in Germany at the time they left, and that sense of humor included Wilhelm Busch's brand of slapstick comic strips.
America was fertile soil for that sort of thing. Over here we just wanted to be happy and make money. European cartoonists, on the other hand, were living under the clouds of a growing ideological storm and cartoonists found themselves under increasing pressure to dump the slapstick and be serious.
At the turn of the 20th century a lot of newspaper editors were convinced that only Germans could make good comic strips. American scouts scoured Germany for talent and succeeded in luring away some pretty heavy hitters, like Lyonel Fenninger (above).
Fenninger did some brilliant comics here but missed Germany and went back home. Once there he found he couldn't shake off the influence of the German American comics, and he painted weird syntheses of comics and fine (above) art that were beautiful, but somehow awkward in the extreme. Eventually he settled into abstraction. Too bad. In my opinion he did his best work here.
The German cartoonists who stayed transformed our graphic arts, and when I refer to the Germans, I'm talking about an awful, awful lot of Germans. There were a lot of newspapers in those days, and syndication was in its infancy. Every small town newspaper had German cartoonists toiling away, drawing pratfalls and farmers getting kicked by mules.
When I talked to John K. about this he said something like, "Well, that explains Hitler! We siphoned off all the funny cartoonists from Germany, and then they had no humorists left to stand up to the Nazis. Funny cartoonists would have shredded Hitler before he got big enough to hurt anybody!"
BTW, how do you like "Hairbreadth Harry," in the cartoons above? It's by the German American cartoonist, Charles W. Kahles.