Lyonel Feininger was a German-American Expressionist and Cubist painter, who also had an interesting career in comics. He was born in New York City as the son of German violinist and composer Karl Feininger and American singer Elizabeth Feininger. At the age of 18, he left the States to study arts. He attended the Berlin Art Academy (1887-1891) and the Colarossi Academy in Paris (1892). When he returned in Berlin, he initially became known as a caricaturist and cartoonist, having his work published in magazines and papers from all over the world. These included German, French, British and American magazines like Harper's Round Table, Harper's Young People, Humoristische Blätter, Das Narrenschiff, Berliner Tageblatt and Ulk. He was one of the most notable artists in the satirical weekly Lustige Blätter. His art was represented at the exhibitions of the annual Berliner Secession in the 1901-1903 period.
In 1906, he was one of the German artists picked by Chicago Tribune editor James Keeley to publish in that paper's Sunday comics section. Other German cartoonists that appeared in that section were Victor Schramm, Karl Pommerhanz, Hans Horina, Lothar Meggendorfer, Karl Staudinger and August von Meissl. Although his tenure as a comic artist was short, Feininger effectively made his mark in comics history with the avantgarde Sunday pages 'The Kin-der-Kids' (29 April 1906 - 18 November 1906) and 'Wee Willie Winkie's World' (19 August 1906 - 20 January 1907). Like his contemporary Winsor McCay did with 'Little Nemo in Slumberland' in The New York Herald, Feininger shaped highly imaginative and surreal worlds. The Sunday pages itself were true works of art, where the artist ornamented his panels to one entity. Feininger drew the pages, which he often signed "Your Uncle Feininger", while living in Weimar and Paris.
'The Kin-der-Kids' told the adventures of the three Kin-der kids brothers: the brilliant Daniel Webster, the boy with the enormous appetite Pie-Mouth and the incredibly strong Strenuous Teddy. Accompanied by the clockwork mechanical boy Little Japansky and the blue dachshund Sherlock Bones, the kids set sail for dreamlike adventures in their family's bathtub. Additional characters are the ever-worried Aunt Jim-Jam and the ghostly Mysterious Pete, who makes sudden appearances every now and then. The feature was unique because it was a continuing story, which was not common at the time.
'Wee Willie Winkie's World' painted an even more surreal world, in which a little boy's imagination makes anthropomorphic creatures out of objects and elements in the countryside. Where 'The Kin-der-Kids' used speech balloons, the narrative in the 'Wee Willie Winkie' pages is through captions. Feininger never returned to comics, but he would later use similar designs for his wooden landscape sculptures. The pages had found their way back to Europe through the Italian publisher Aldo Garzanti in the 1970s. The entirety of Feininger's comics were collected in a single volume by Kitchen Sink Press: 'The Comic Strip Art of Lyonel Feininger' (1994).
The artist moved on to become a well-known Expressionist and Cubist painter. He was affiliated with the German expressionist groups Die Brücke, the Novembergruppe, Gruppe 1919, the Blaue Reiter circle and Die Blaue Vier (The Blue Four). He was a teacher in printmaking at the Bauhaus for many years from 1919. He returned to the USA after the Nazi Party came to power in 1933, because the new regime deemed his work "degenerate". He taught at Mills College in San Francisco's Bay Area, before returning to New York. Besides a painter, Feininger was a hobby photographer from the 1920s through the 1950s, as well as a composer, with several piano compositions and fugues for organ extant to his name.
In the later years of his life, Feininger expressed the desire to continue working on his comic strips, but he never did. He remains an important part of comics history however, for his innovative contributions to the medium.