'Séta Alomországban' #196 (1912).

Nándor Honti was an early-20th century Hungarian painter, illustrator and comics artist. His entire comics career is concentrated in the early 1910s. He made newspaper comics such as 'Nagyapó Mozgószínháza' ('Grandpa's Movie Theatre', 1911-1915) and 'Tréfás Természetrajz' ('Funny Biology', 1913-1914) for the Hungarian paper Újság. Under the pseudonym Bit he drew the pantomime comics series 'Séta Álomországban' (1911-1913) for the magazine Fidibusz. One episode of this series, 'A Francia Bonne Álma' (popularly translated as 'The French Nurses Dream', 1911, though a more accurate translation would be 'A French Nanny's Dream'), drew praise from famous psychologists Sándor Ferenczi and Sigmund Freud, who analyzed its deeper meaning. Later in his career Honti moved to the United States, where he worked as a cartoonist and illustrator for The New York Times, Buffalo Sunday Express and McCall's.

Early life and career
He was born in 1878 as Hermann Nándor in Budapest as the son of a Jewish contractor. Like many Hungarian Jews at the time he later changed his name - in his case to Nándor Honti - to avoid antisemitic prejudice. His brother Rezsö Honti (1879-1956) later became a well known linguist and historian, while the man's son János Honti (1910-1945) also enjoyed fame as a folklorist. Nándor Honti studied art in Munich from 1897 on under painter Simon Hollósy, and at the Painter School of Nagybánya. Around 1901 he continued his studies at the Julian Academy in Paris. In 1903 the artist moved to the United States, where he worked as a poster and portrait painter. Among his early important works were his illustrations for the Anthology of Holnap (1908), a Hungarian poetry collection. Although Honti returned to his home country by 1907 his stay in the U.S. was still significant, because he was introduced to the work of comics legend Winsor McCay. McCay's imaginative newspaper comics swept Honti away, especially 'Dream of the Rarebit Fiend' (1904-1911, 1913) and 'Little Nemo in Slumberland' (1905-1914), in which the main characters experienced masterfully drawn dreams and nightmares. It inspired him to create similar comics.


'Séta Alomországban' #201 (1912).

Comics in Újság
One of his first jobs back in his home country was illustrating 'A Holnap' (1908), an important anthology of Hungarian poetry. Honti then started drawing comics for the Sunday section of the Hungarian newspaper Újság. His first series was 'Nagyapó Mozgószínháza' ("Grandpa's Movie Theatre", 1911-1915), which starred two small children, Évi and Peti. He also created 21 episodes of 'Tréfás Természetrajz' ('Funny Biology', 1913-1914) for the same publication, a series of comics based on nursery rhymes.

Séta Alomországban
For the children's section of the Hungarian satirical magazine Fidibusz, Honti created the pantomime comics series 'Séta Álomországban' (1911-1913), which featured a nameless boy character experiencing wild dreams and nightmares, only to awake in the final panel. Most stories were written by himself, but after a while he invited young readers to send in ideas for new episodes too. Honti signed most of his work in this magazine with the pseudonym Bit.

The French Nanny's Dream
In 1911 Honti created a notable episode of 'Séta Álomországban', titled 'A Francia Bonne Álma' ('A French Nanny's Dream', 1911). The comic depicts a French nanny who helps a little boy to urinate against a tree on the sidewalk of a street. However, the child keeps whizzing away until he creates an entire river on which a gondola, sail boat and a steam boat float by. In the final panel the nanny wakes up. It was all just a dream and the boy is safely crying in the bed next to her, presumably because he wet himself and his sheets. Once again the influence of Winsor McCay is obvious, though what makes this comic special is that it centers around urination, which was still a taboo topic in the early 20th century. Most cartoons and comics never hinted at toilet activities, or, if they did, kept it offscreen. It's therefore quite exceptional that a comic strip from that era would make urination the focus of an entire gag. And, not only that, exaggerate a stream of piss to such extremes!

It has not been recorded whether readers at the time found this comic strip to be in bad taste. However, it did attract some remarkable interest from celebrity intellectuals! A patient of the famed Hungarian psychoanalyst Sándor Ferenczi cut the cartoon out and gave it to him. Ferenczi wrote his own analytical observations on the cut-out page and mailed to his colleague Sigmund Freud in a letter dated 3 May 1911. He told him that the cartoon was from a “humoristic obscene weekly” and depicted some "very characteristic comical dreams". On 11 May Freud replied: "Dear friend. The illustrated dreams are magnificent. The artist apparently understands dreams much better than Bleuler, Havelock Ellis, et al." He then asked Ferenczi if he knew who the artist was and whether he was Hungarian or German? Freud found the comic strip interesting enough to publish in the fourth edition of his classic psycho-analytical book 'Die Traumdeutung' ('The Interpretation of Dreams') in 1914. Ferenczi apparently tracked down Honti at one point. In a letter to Freud, dated 28 July 1916, Ferenczi said that Honti brought him "a whole stack of dream drawings, some of them excellent representations of dreams". He asked Freud whether they could print these comics in Imago, adding Ferenczi's own commentary? Ferenczi furthermore mentioned that Honti dedicated the original artwork of 'The Dream of the French Nanny' to Freud. He closed his letter with the statement: "When you come to Budapest I will hand it over to you, since I don't want to entrust it to the mails." Indeed Freud showed Honti's cartoons to the Vienna Society on 17 May 1917.

This wasn't the only comic strip Freud and Ferenczi discussed, by the way. Freud kept a cartoon album of Wilhelm Busch's 'Max und Moritz' in the waiting room of his office. In a letter posted to Ferenczi on 6 April 1911 Freud even compared Alfred Adler and Wilhelm Stekel, the editors of the Centralblatt, with 'Max und Moritz' since he was so annoyed by them.


The cartoon from Fidibusz, with handwritten comments by Sándor Ferenczi.

Final years
Honti's promising comics career was interrupted by the First World War (1914-1918). He was drafted and wounded in battle, but managed to survive the war. In 1917 he designed the poster for Otto Ruppert's horror film serial 'Homunculus'. But by 1920 he decided to look for safer ground and emigrated to the United States, where he found a job as cartoonist in William Randolph Hearst's papers The New York Times and The American Weekly, at the time the best-paid vocation for any aspiring comics artist. Honti made many paper doll cut-outs for The Buffalo Sunday Express and McCall's magazine all throughout the 1920s. Through The Readers' Syndicate, he also made cut-out and fold-jokes for newspapers. He passed away in New York City in 1961, at the age of 83.


The Los Angeles Times (19 July 1925).

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