Children’s Comics

Comics for children

Although there are numerous examples of German children’s comics, particularly at the beginning of the history of German comics, production after the Second World War declined considerably, only receiving a new lift after reunification in 1989. There are many reasons for this, which can best be understood in retrospect.

One of the first comics to appeal to both young and old was Erich Ohser’s comic strip Vater und Sohn from the daily newspaper Berliner Illustrierte, which was published under the pseudonym of e.o. plauen. First printed in 1934, the silent comic strip with the two lovable family members very quickly won a large following. The sequences of pictures have lost none of their relevance or humour, and so even nowadays they still make the reader smile.

After the Second World War, the market produced comics that were aimed at more specific target groups, and so a division was created between comics for children and comics for adults. One example of this was the publication Sternchen, the children’s supplement of the weekly illustrated magazine Stern. Alongside puzzles, games and articles for children, this contained Roland Kohlsaat's comic strip Jimmy das Gummipferd. The adventures of the gaucho Julio and Jimmy, his wonder horse, took them to foreign lands where they had to fight against fabulous beasts. Kohlsaat drew this exciting and funny series, one of the absolute classics of German comic history, for 24 years, until his death.

Distant, unknown lands and even worlds were the focus of a children’s comic in the former DDR: Die Digedags. Hannes Hegen created the adventurous trio Dig, Dag and Digedag, drawing them until the 1970s. The ‘Abrafaxe’ have now taken up where the Digedags left off, travelling all over the world just like their predecessors.

For decades, the comic markets for children and adults were separated from each other. Whilst it was an easy matter for readers to disregard the boundaries, comic artists feared that any change would have a negative impact on their ‘good’ reputation, particularly with the appearance of the ‘adult comic’ in the 1970s.

The initial impulse for a change only came about with the pleasure that the German-language comic avant-garde found in experimentation. Without thinking twice about it, artists such as CX Huth disregarded unnecessary conventions and took on the challenge of making comics for all age groups. In Huth’s album Das 23 fünf acht neun, Lillpop and Mops meet the fantasy creature Keziban during a visit to the zoo, and they both try to win Keziban as a friend. Visually, CX Huth’s comic is reminiscent of a fairytale painting book that a child has scribbled all over with crayons. At the same time it’s a successful experiment in how comics can use words and pictures that have been freed from panels and traditional narrative structures.

The children’s book illustrator Ole Könnecke first attempted a comic with Doktor Dodo schreibt ein Buch, which is indeed aimed at children, but needs no upper age limit, because the humorous story is about the difficulty of writing a book, from coming up with the idea to organising the plot. The numerous literary cross-references also make it entertaining for adults.

Mond und Morgenstern, the children’s book illustrated by Henning Wagenbreth and based on a story by Wolfram Frommlet, was awarded the title of ‘Schönstes Buch der Welt’ (most beautiful book in the world). Wagenbreth’s illustrations are a successful mixture of art, graphics, illustration and comics and captivate the reader with their extravagant variety of colour and shapes.

The former comic artist Walter Moers is now completely devoting himself to his first love: writing novels. However, he still can’t help illustrating his fantasy fairytale stories such as Ensel und Krete or Rumo with magnificent pictures, because he is still interested, albeit to a lesser extent, in bringing together words and pictures on an equal footing.

Ulf K. works as a comic artist and illustrator of children’s books. The publications of this artist and author, with their very clear and filigree artistic style and their poetic stories, are made for a readership without age limits. And Ulf K.’s illustrations for Martin Baltscheit’s book Der kleine Herr Paul are so charming and expressive that they complement the text in a most appealing manner.

In the meantime, acting as Professor of Illustration, Atak is now mostly devoting himself to the design of children’s books. For the French publisher Thierry Magnier he illustrated the African fairy tale Comment la mort est revenue à la vie, based on a story by Muriel Bloch, and for the German publisher Jacoby und Stuart he designed the children’s book Verrückte Welt. On the 200th birthday of Heinrich Hoffmann, Atak, together with Fil, resurrected one of the most successful children’s books in Germany: Der Struwwelpeter. Lustige Geschichten und drollige Bilder was published by the Swiss publisher Kein & Aber. Fil’s new textual interpretations of Zappelphilipp, Hans-guck-in-die-Luft & Co., take the strict morality of the original to an even higher plane and are appealingly complemented by Atak’s illustrations.

The illustrator Nadia Budde sees word and illustration as a powerful unity. No wonder her pictorial narratives for children and young people receive both comic and literature awards. Tellingly, she has been distinguished with both the Max and Moritz Award for the best children's comic and the 2010 German Children's Literature Award for her book Such dir was aus, aber beeil dich!.

German comic artists have finally emancipated themselves and are nowadays once again experimenting with comics and illustration for all age groups.

Matthias Schneider
is a cultural researcher and freelance cultural journalist. He also designs film programmes and exhibitions on the theme of comics.

Copyright: Goethe-Institut Stockholm
March 2005

Reading List

Suggestions for libraries abroad who wish to buy German-language comics