Thursday, December 08, 2016

BOOK REVIEW! KATZENJAMMER by Rudolph Dirks and Harold Knerr (Coachwhip, 2015)

Y'know, I wasn't that surprised when I discovered that King Features had discontinued THE KATZENJAMMER KIDS a good eleven or so year back (even though reprints are still flooding those small town newspapers where an audience for such strips thankfully remains)...after all the comic hasn't been funny one bit for over sixty years, or at least since longtime artist Harold Knerr died leaving it in the hands of a long succession of people of varying talents who still didn't really get it. I must admit that the Doc Winner era KATZENJAMMERS, or at least the ones I copped via some coloring book-sized repros that came out in the seventies, were rather dreadful what with their rather unfunny gags and less-than-true to the original vision art while the Joe Musial-era ones I grew up with, while quaint enough for my tastes, really paled next to the originals that were being done up during the days when combing through a comic strip section of any paper was a highlight of a true suburban slob's mere existence.

This book captures the KATZENJAMMERS at their height in the thirties and forties with not only some classic Knerr-era Sunday pages, but a whole slew of Rudolph Dirks-period CAPTAIN AND THE KIDS which is really great in case you are an anal retentive like me and wanted to compare both the creator's (in this case Dirks) version with the knockoff (Knerr's) side-by-side. Yes, you can judge for yourself who did the better job of presenting the dueling Hanses and Fritzes to a public confused by the fact that there were two strips with the same characters competing against each other.

After eyeballing this recent collection lifted from forties-vintage comic book reprint titles (complete with covers, some actually drawn by future strip artist Musial!) all I gotta say is that both takes on the same characters are good 'nuff especially in the light of the form as it stands now. However I gotta give Knerr the nod because his version was overall comic page copasetic what with the finer art, Machavellian intent intertwined into the scripts and of course the over-the-top violence the way I always liked my KATZENJAMMERS (and violent the strip was and remained for quite some time...I even remember a 1905 episode where the brothers beat up a classmate just to get his lunch basket!).

Not that creator Dirks' version for United Features wasn't dull, but he just lacked the grit and warmth of the Knerr take even though both strips were so identical in approach that it would be hard for a neophyte to tell them apart. Both of 'em take place on some African island (either "Weegee" or "Cannibal") and although the likes of Miss Twiddle, Rollo and Lena occupy the KATZENJAMMER universe there's a Chinese cook in the CAPTAIN AND THE KIDS take who bears a striking resemblance to the cook from KING KONG. The Chinese must have liked to get jobs on ships as cooks back in those days. One striking difference between the two THE KATZENJAMMER KIDS the black natives speak perfect Queen's English (unless they're little kids like "Sepia" or somethin') while in CAPTAIN they enunciate just like Tonto!

Compare and contrast and all that fun stuff for yourself with this 'un! Whoever the winner may be this'll at least getcha back into enjoying the funny pages back when they really were a highlight of your day along with playing with your dinkies and tuning in for the early-evening reruns. Fun, wild, even really can't get much laffs outta anything these days but these classic comics'll be pleasing your retinals 'stead of your rectum! And as you know we can use a whole lot more fun and deadly wholesomeness in our lives these sad 'n sorry times!

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