Born in Heide, Germany, Rudolph Dirks moved with his parents to Chicago at the age of seven. By 1894, he was already selling cartoons to Judge and Life magazine. He was employed by the New York Journal in 1897. His editor asked him to create a strip that could compete with the popularity of 'The Yellow Kid' by Outcault, which was published in a rival newspaper, The New York World. Dirks came up with 'The Katzenjammer Kids', a strip strongly inspired by 'Max und Moritz' by Wilhelm Busch. The strip was one of the first strips to use a permanent cast and a frame sequence. It also featured speach ballons, in which Dirks made hilarious use of German slang (for instance, "Katzenjammer" stands for hangover).
In 1912, Dirks wanted to go to Europe to devote himself to painting, and his strip was taken from him by the publisher William Randolph Hearst. A legendary court battle followed, after which Dirks regained the right to draw his characters, but the use of the title remained the sole right of the newspaper. This battle became a precedent for many cartoonists in trouble with their newspaper or syndicate. The result was that the artist Harold Knerr continued the 'Katzenjammer Kids' strip in the New York Journal, while Dirks resumed resumed the strip in the New York World under the title 'Hans und Fritz'. He later renamed it to 'The Captain and the Kids', because of the anti-German sentiment during World War I.
Dirks retired in 1958, leaving 'The Captain and the Kids' to his assistant and son, John Dirks. A pioneer in American newspaper strips for his graphical style and his use of text balloons, and an inspiration to several new generations of comics artists, Rudolph Dirks died in 1968 at the age of 91.