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      Simplified drawings and discreet humour – e. o. plauen

      e. o. plauen. Copyright: Südverlage. o. plauen. Copyright: SüdverlagUnder the name of e. o. plauen, Erich Ohser created one of the most popular German comic strips with his Vater und Sohn, which still remains an unforgettable classic for young and old. The pseudonym is made up of the initial letters of his first and last names and from Plauen, his birthplace. The reason behind this was his political caricatures, which from 1929 he regularly drew for the social-democratic newspaper Vorwärts. After the Nazis seized power, this proved his undoing, because cartoons such as Dienst am Volk, in which a man pees a swastika into the snow at night, were not tolerated by the new powers-that-be. And so Ohser was refused membership of the ‘Reichsverband der deutschen Presse’ (German Press Association), which amounted to blacklisting.

      After Erich Kästner, his friend of many years’ standing, intervened and put in a good word for him, he was the given the opportunity of working for the daily newspaper Berliner Illustrierte. In September 1934, the first Vater und Sohn episode appeared under the name of e. o. plauen. The Vater und Sohn duo are charming anti-heroes, who are both anarchic and affectionate, constantly laughing at their own mistakes. The simplified drawings and the discreet humour resulted in great success for the series, particularly as they offered a successful alternative to the rigidity of National Socialism. After only a year the first anthology based on the pair was published and very quickly sold more than 90,000 copies.

      When, at the beginning of 1936, Ohser was once again banned from carrying out his profession, the Berlin publishing house Ullstein Verlag entered into an arrangement with the Press Association. Because the strip was so popular, the Ministry of Propaganda couldn’t resist the publisher’s offer to use the Vater und Sohn characters to advertise for the National Socialists’ Winterhilfswerk (Winter Charity Campaign). And although Ohser knew that this deal secured his survival he still didn’t hesitate to make his displeasure about the situation known. When his drawings were supposed to be given an anti-Semitic text one day, he withdrew them and prevented publication.

      Ohser was arrested by the Gestapo in 1944, because of an alleged defamation of Himmler and Goebbels. Aware of the merciless sentencing of the Volksgerichtshof (People’s Court), Ohser committed suicide in his cell on 6 April 1944, the morning before the trial. Ohser’s wordless sketches and his subtle humour characterise his comic strips. He does not only invite his readers to smile and chuckle to themselves, but prompts them to reflect, so that his stories don’t just dissolve in the moment of entertainment, but still resonate long afterwards.

      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
      Mail Symbolinfo@stockholm.goethe.org
      March 2005