Max und Moritz, by Wilhelm Busch
'Max und Moritz' (1865).

The German nineteenth-century artist Wilhelm Busch is regarded as one of the founders of modern-day comics. He pioneered several elements which have become staples of the medium, such as onomatopeia and expressive movement lines. His iconic series 'Max und Moritz' (1865), about two naughty young boys, was the first children's comic in history. Its success proved that young readers were the most important market for comics, which has been both a blessing as well as a curse for the medium. 'Max und Moritz' were translated all across the globe and inspired countless gag comics about mischievous children, some even blatant rip-offs like Rudolph Dirks' 'Der Katzenjammer Kids'. Because of their subversive tone Busch' series also became the first comics to be subject of a media scare. In some countries his work was even banned. Busch is the first significant German comic artist and therefore the historical starting point of all German-language comics that followed. He is also one of the few 19th-century comic artists whose work is still read today and recognizable to a large cultivated audience. Particularly in his home country he is revered with the same awe and respect usually reserved for novelists, writers and graphic artists. Together with Lyonel Feininger, Winsor McCay and George Herriman he is one of the earliest comic pioneers whose work is considered high art.  

Early life
Born in 1832 in Wiedensahl, Germany, he started studying mechanical engineering in Hanover in 1847. However, in 1851 -a few months before graduation- he dropped these studies in favor of a course in lithography in Düsseldorf. A year later, he moved to Antwerp, Belgium, where he continued his studies at the Royal Academy of Fine Arts, but discontinued these too in 1853, after running out of money and suffering from tyfus. He did have the ability to study Flemish classical painters such as Frans Hals, Adriaen Brouwer, David Teniers and Peter Paul Rubens. An attempt to continue his studies in Münich once again failed.

Unfeiwillige Spazierritt, by Wilhelm Busch (Bilderbogen)
'Der unfreiwillige Spazierritt' (1865).

Max und Moritz
While in Münich, Busch met several artists with connections to magazines. Thanks to them he could publish cartoons and caricatures in the satirical newspapers Münchener Bilderbogen and Fliegende Blätter, which also enabled him to make a living. Initially influenced by the Swiss artist Rodolphe Töpffer, Busch's art style eventually developed into a more fluid one, while his storytelling became more satirical. In 1865, he drew his "pictorial stories" with the characters 'Max und Moritz', two unscrupulous and sadistic boys. Historically 'Max und Moritz' are important for being one of the earliest comic strips and the birth point of German comics.The stories can be classified as text comics, where the images were accompanied by rhyming couplets beneath, which explained what happened in the pictures. Busch also pioneered the use of onomatopeia, another element closely associated with comics, though he used them in the text rather than in the illustrations. Max and Moritz are also the earliest child characters in comics. Their antics caused controversy among some pedagogues, who felt their naughtiness made them bad role models for the youth. In some countries the stories were banned as a result. Yet, despite their anti-authoritarian streak, 'Max und Moritz' is still a moralistic tale. After their seventh prank, the boys are put inside a grain sack and mashed to death in a mill in Ebergötzen, after which their remains are eaten up by ducks.

Max und Moritz by Wilhelm Busch
'Max und Moritz' - 'Letzter Streich' (1865).

Max und Moritz: success and cultural impact
Although the characters only appeared in one story (which consisted of seven episodes) 'Max und Moritz' were a smash success. Their adventures entertained audiences all throughout the German-speaking world and are still read to children to this day. Many parents named their twin sons after the characters. One of their celebrity fans was German emperor Wilhelm II who praised Busch's "exquisite works full of genuine humour", which he predicted would "last forever". Austrian psychologist Sigmund Freud kept a cartoon album of ‘Max und Moritz’ in the waiting room of his office. In a letter posted to his colleague Sándor Ferenczi on 6 April 1911 Freud even compared Alfred Adler and Wilhelm Stekel, the editors of the Centralblatt, to 'Max und Moritz' since he was so annoyed by them. This wasn't the only comic strip which fascinated Ferenczi and Freud, by the way. They also corresponded about Nándor Honti, aka Bit's comic strip 'Séta Álomországban'. 

Another fan of 'Max und Moritz' was World War I pilot Manfred von Richthofen, better known as "The Red Baron", who named his pet dogs Max and Moritz. Even German military material often carried the boys' names. Allied forces during World War II noticed that two German military cars in North Africa, as well as two self-propelled guns at the Eastern Front, had the names "Max" or "Moritz" written on the side of them. A proposed Focke-Wulf Ta 183 jet fighter was to be named "Hans Huckebein", after one of Busch's other characters, but never built. German composer Richard Mohaupt and choreographer Alfredo Bortoluzzi co-wrote a dance burlesque called 'Max und Moritz' in 1949.

Der Heilige Antonius von Padua, by Wilhelm Busch
'Der heilige Antonius von Padua' (1870).

Plagiarism and other imitations of Max und Moritz
'Max und Moritz' were not just a local phenomenon, though. Their antics were translated in over 30 languages and were the first foreign children's book to be imported and published in Japan in 1887. The series also had an immeasurable impact on gag comics about naughty children. Busch can practically be credited with inventing and popularizing the genre. The most famous (and blatant) example is Rudolph Dirks' 'Katzenjammer Kids' (1897-2006), whose title characters were completely similar in designs and personalities, down to the German accents. Harold Knerr further copied the copy with his series 'The Fineheimer Twins' (1903-1914) and 'The Captain and the Kids' (1914-1949). Comics such as Frank Holland's 'Those Terrible Twins' (1898-1900), Gene Byrnes' 'Reg'lar Fellers' (1917-1949), George van Raemdonck's 'Bulletje en Boonestaak' (1922), A.D. Carter's 'Just Kids' (1923-1957), Martin Branner's 'Perry and the Rinkydinks' (1923), Sergije Mironovic's 'Maks i Maksic' (1925-1934), Hergé's 'Quick and Flupke' (1930-1941), Eugeen Hermans' 'Filipke en de Rakkers' (1933), Frans Piët's 'Sjors en Sjimmie' (1936), Ronald Searle's 'St. Trinians' (1946-1952), José Escobar Saliente's 'Zipi y Zape' (1947), Willy Vandersteen's 'De Vrolijke Bengels' (1947), Marc Sleen's 'De Lustige Kapoentjes' (1950), David Law's 'Dennis the Menace and Gnasher' (1951), Barrie Appleby's 'Roger the Dodger' (1953), Leo Baxendale's 'Minnie the Minx' (1953) and 'The Bash Street Kids' (1954), Willy Linthout and Urbanus' 'Urbanus' (1983), Tome and Janry's 'Le Petit Spirou' (1987) and Urbanus and Dirk Stallaert's 'Plankgas en Plastronneke' (2004) can all be seen as the great-great grandchildren of Max and Moritz. The same can be said about Bart Simpson in Matt Groening's 'The Simpsons' (1989) or Stan, Kyle, Cartman and Kenny in Trey Parker and Matt Stone's 'South Park' (1997). 

Schnurrdiburr oder die bienen by Wilhelm Busch
'Schnurrdiburr oder die Bienen' (1869).

Innovative style
Busch was also significant for breathing life in his drawings. While his predecessors mostly drew characters frozen in one stiff motion, Busch had the ability to suggest movement, just by adding a few extra suggestive lines. This is most noteworthy in 'Der Virtuos' (1865), a story about a pianist. As the story progresses the musician plays faster and more energetic, which is very reminiscent of later comic strips. In the story 'Bilder zur Jobsiade' (1872), a man is interrogated by twelve clergymen, which again shows a progression of different actions. German painter August Macke, most famous as part of the "Blaue Reiter" movement, said that Busch's skills in capturing time and movement make him almost a predecessor to the early 20th century art movement Futurism.

Bilder zur Jobsiade by Wilhelm Busch
'Bilder zur Jobsiade' (1872).

Other picture stories
Busch drew several other picture stories: 'Drei Bilderbogen' (1860-62), 'Bilderpossen' (1864), 'Die Kühnen Müllerstöchter' (1868), 'Pater Filuzius' (1872), 'Die Fromme Helene' (1872), 'Dideldum!' (1874), 'Flipps der Affe' (1879), 'Mahler Klecksel' (1884), 'Von mir über mich' (1879), 'Eduards Traum' (1891), 'Der Schmetterling' (1895), 'Zu Guter Letzt' (1904), 'Hernach' (1908) and the posthumous released 'Schein und Sein'. Several of these proto-comics featured satirical attacks against the Church and hypocritical moral guardians. One of his stories, 'Der Heilige Antonius of Padua' (1870), was accused of "vilificating religion and offending public decency" and banned. While the publisher Moritz Schauenberg was acquitted in 1871, he refused to bring out more of Busch's books. In Austria the comic remained banned until 1902.

Tobias Knopp, by Wilhelm BuschTobias Knopp, by Wilhelm Busch
Tobias Knopp - 'Abenteuer eines Junggesellen'.

Tobias Knopp
Busch's trilogy with the character 'Tobias Knopp' is also ranked among his best-known work. We follow the main character, a prototype of the wealthy philistine, in his search for a wife, and his subsequent first steps in marriage and fatherhood. The series consists of the stories 'Abenteuer eines Junggesellen' (1875), 'Herr und Frau Knopp' (1876) and 'Julchen' (1877). He also contributed about 50 "Münchener Bilderbogen" to this series of popular prints by the Verlag Braun und Schneider.

Final years and death
Apart from being a graphical artist, Busch was also a poet, playwright and collector of folk tales. He was so famous that he became the first comic artist to have a biography published about him, while he was still alive, in 1886. The book, 'Über Wilhelm Busch und seine Bedeutung' ('About Wilhelm Busch and His Importance') praised the artist, but still Busch felt some things needed to be corrected. He wrote his own essay, 'Von mir über mich', which consequently also makes him the first comic artist in history to publish an autobiography.  Yet he was more willing to discuss his poetry, plays and paintings, which he deemed far superior than his comics. To him his comics were just worthless children's entertainment, whose only value lay in the public demand. Wilhelm Busch died in 1908, after battling alcoholism for many decades.

Max und Moritz, by Wilhelm Busch

Media adaptations
Busch's works have been adapted in various media. Richard Mohaupt and Alfredo Bortoluzzi adapted 'Max und Moritz' into a comedic ballet. In 1956 Norbert Schultze directed the children's film 'Max und Moritz' (1956), while Axel von Ambesser made the comedy picture 'Die fromme Helene' (1965), directly based on Busch's work. The latter picture starred famous German actor Theo Lingen as Onkel Nolte, while Ambesser himself played the part of Wilhelm Busch. In 1978 two animated TV specials were produced around 'Max und Moritz', with narration by Heinz Rühmann. Among the people who worked on this special was Harold Whitaker. In 2005 Max und Moritz were satirized by Thomas Frydetzki and Annette Stefan in the black, politically incorrect and subversive comedy film 'Max und Moritz Reloaded' (2005). The picture is set in the modern age and reimagines the iconic child characters as teenage juvenile delinquents who are sent off to a boot camp to correct their behaviour.

Legacy and influence
Busch is so revered in German culture that his name is almost a badge of honor. In 1930 fans and admirers founded the Wilhelm Busch Society. Seven years later his former house in Hanover became a museum, which can still be visited today. Apart from his own work it also harbors satirical illustration work by many world famous illustrators, cartoonists and comic artists. In 1984 the Max und Moritz Preis was established, an award for comic artists. Busch's name also lives on in the annual satirical literature award: the Wilhelm Busch Prize, that was established in 2006. In 2003 Germany organized the "Unsere Besten" contest, where people could vote for "The Greatest German". Wilhelm Busch was elected to a 118th place. Together with Loriot (Victor von Bülow) at number 54, he was the only comic artist in that list.

Wilhelm Busch had a direct and strong influence on artists like Rafael Bordalo PinheiroRudolph Dirks, Harold KnerrF.M. Howarth, Gus Mager, Sergije Mironovic, Marten ToonderHarvey KurtzmanTomi UngererRené FolletJean-Louis Lejeune and Heinz Schubel. His artwork was also a source of inspiration for Walt Disney's animators, particularly when creating adaptations of European fairy tales. The raven in Busch's story 'Hans Huckebein' (1867), for instance, inspired the design of the raven who listens to the Wicked Witch in 'Snow White' (1937).

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