Children's Comics

Creator of the Digedags – Hannes Hegen

Copyright: Tessloff VerlagThe history of the comic in the DDR is basically linked with the name of Hannes Hegen, alias Johannes Hegenbarth, the father of the successful Mosaik series and creator of the Digedags.

It was a lucky break for the ambitious artist when he presented himself with his portfolio at the Neues Leben publishing house in 1955. The central council of the Freie Deutsche Jugend (FDJ, Free German Youth) organisation, of which the publishing house was part, had just commissioned the development of a counterpart to the Western comic, in particular Mickey Mouse. Hegen’s artistic versatility and quality convinced them to give him the opportunity to design a new comic series for young people from the age of nine.

On 23 December 1955, the first Mosaik von Hannes Hegen appeared, with the Digedag trio, consisting of Dig, Dag and Digedag. As Western comic production had been completely denigrated in the 1960s as the epitome of trashy capitalist fiction, comics that were produced in the DDR were referred to as ‘Bilderzeitschriften’ or ‘picture magazines’. The stylistic analogies to the publications of the class enemy, such as speech bubbles, humour and onomatopoeia meant that Mosaik was subject to harsh criticism and constant observation.

So that Mosaik did not only deliver exciting entertainment, but was also ideologically valuable, the publisher and the party began to reduce Hegen’s influence on content and style. An editor who was put in charge of censoring Hegen’s work made sure that as of 1958 the progressiveness of the socialist system was praised, with the help of contemporary themes from the fields of politics and science. A special role in this would be played by the Soviet lead in space exploration. The Mosaik team reacted in their own way and symbolically had the Digedags carried off into space in a rocket. On the planet Neos they met colonies of people whose political situation corresponded to those of the East-West conflict and the separated Germany.

After Mosaik moved to the Junge Welt newspaper and magazine publisher in 1960, the historical and scientific content was expanded further, in order to create increased interest in these themes and professions amongst young people. And whilst most DDR citizens were not permitted to travel, the Digedags travelled all over the world in time and space, even visiting the class enemy, the USA. In 1973, after Hegen had yet again fallen out with the directors of the publishing house, he handed in his notice and insisted on retaining the rights to his Digedags. Today, Mosaik is still published: with a modified style and a new trio of heroes, the Abrafaxe.

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

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