Loriot

The Godfather of the Cartoonist’s Profession

Loriot. Mit freundlicher Genehmigung des Diogenes Verlags ZürichLoriot. Mit freundlicher Genehmigung des Diogenes Verlags ZürichHe ranks as one of the greatest entertainers of the post-war period. In Germany he is known above all as a film satirist. But he also influenced Germans’ concept of comedy and inspired an entire generation of caricaturists. Loriot died on 22 August, 2011.

When Loriot, born Bernhard-Victor Christoph Carl von Bülow in 1923, enrolled as a student at the Landeskunstschule Hamburg für Malerei und Grafik (i.e. Hamburg state academy of the fine arts for painting and graphics) in1947, his drawing instructor is said to have contemptuously remarked about one of his first work samples, an ink-brush drawing of a parrot, “Sure, you can make a lot of money with scribbles like that.” That remained stuck in the student’s mind, because he remembered it even decades later. By then he had long since become famous under his artist’s name, Loriot (after the French word for the heraldic animal of his family’s coat of arms, the Golden Oriole), and his teacher’s mockingly intended prognosis had turned out to be correct.

Early career as a cartoonist

When Vicco von Bülow, as he called himself in private life, left the Landeskunstschule in 1949 with a degree in draughtsmanship, he quickly found customers for his humorous illustrations, but no sign of an independent artistic profile had yet emerged. His first published drawing, already signed with “Loriot,” drew stylistically on the great tradition of German caricature, which at that time however lay a long while back. Lyonel Feininger’s works for the Lustige Blätter around the turn of the twentieth century, Olaf Gulbransson’s caricatures that arose somewhat later, and Thomas Theodor Heine’s works for Simplicissimus were recognisably his models: a little man in a voluminous dress is sitting on a chair in a narrow chamber, while above him a hat, coat, flour and a guest dangle from cords from the high ceiling because there is not enough room below. The illustrated magazine Stern, still new at the time, was looking for cartoonists, and Loriot submitted this drawing, among others, to the magazine along with his application, but was rejected. Four years later, the magazine made good their mistake, but his sample drawings from 1949 had found other customers as well; thus began the career of the most significant German cartoonist of the post-war era. .

Potato-nosed gentleman as contrast

Today, Loriot owes his fame primarily to his satirical television broadcasts and his two feature films Papa ante portas and Ödipussi. But his drawings paved the way here, and at least in the television series (at first entitled Cartoon and then unabashedly Loriot), his own animated films with his typical potato-nosed figures made up a major portion of the material. , In the early 1950’s ,with these heroes lacking any sharp angles or edges whatsoever, Loriot created a stark contrast to the Aryan ideals of the National Socialist era with their aggressively prominent chins and elbows. His West German gentleman wore a bow tie, suit jacket and pinstripe trousers instead of an SA brown shirt, his hair was stringy, always a bit dishevelled, and if there was an enemy in the world at all, it was everyday life. But this potato-nosed gentleman who made Loriot famous only rarely lost his countenance, and it was this stoic calm that made him, apart from his opposite number, the excitable HB manikin – a cartoon advertising figure of the German cigarette brand HB – the epitome of the German cartoon of the period.

Godfather and pioneer of the cartoonist’s profession

The drily mannered humour in the texts of Loriot’s cartoons, which above all rested on a decidedly stilted choice of words, influenced Germans concept of comedy through Hans Traxler and Bernd Pfarr. Into the mid-1960’s, he was the godfather of the cartoonist’s profession. Even the first edition of the satirical magazine pardon, which later on was to cultivate a drawing style that differed diametrically from Loriot’s, had one of his drawings as the cover picture of its debut issue in 1962: the upright, well-mannered gentleman with the potato nose hands the readers a bouquet of flowers; “your pardon,” after all. But soon there were no more pardons granted at the new magazine. Starting with the second issue, F.K. Waechter with his rougher, bolder and at the same time far more malicious cover pictures was to shape the magazine’s image. The take-over in Germany’s paradise for cartoonists took place here, and was quickly completed. Now, nonsense was in demand, the satire was sharper, with no holds barred where taboos were concerned. But this did no damage to the respect Loriot and his colleagues Robert Gernhardt and F. W. Bernstein enjoyed. He remained the much admired pioneer.

Not just a cartoonist, a comic artist too

Loriot also did a comic, Reinhold das Nashorn (i.e. Reinhold the rhinoceros), an appealing series for Stern that ran for one and a half decades, until 1970 - by German standards an unusually long run in this field. The first cooperation between a magazine and the artist, the cartoon series Auf den Hund gekommen (i.e. gone to the dogs), was cancelled in 1953 after just seven episodes. The reversal of the relationship between dog and master depicted by Loriot was too disturbing for readers. A little manikin in bowler hat and suit who chases around a herd of sheep at the behest of a large guard dog?

That was not to the taste of a post-war public that was not yet ready for such travesties. Nonetheless, Auf den Hund gekommen found an enthusiastic Swiss reader: Daniel Keel, founder of Diogenes Verlag. Er asked Loriot to continue past the first seven episodes and published the final result as a book. This was Diogenes Verlag’s first cartoon book, and many more titles by Loriot were to follow, which were soon supplemented with books by his renowned colleagues Sempé, Chaval, Tomi Ungerer and Waechter – a “Who’s Who” of European humorous artists.

Loriot, with a style schooled in the classics of the metier and then rounded off into a nicely upright bourgeois image, exactly suited the taste of his epoch, which also produced a decidedly kindred spirit in Charles M. Schulz and his “Peanuts.” But in Germany, Loriot stands as alone as a cartoonist and comic artist as he does as a film satirist.
Andreas Platthaus
s an editor for the literary supplement of the “Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung” (FAZ).

Copyright: Goethe-Institut e. V., Online-Redaktion September 2011

Any questions about this article? Please write to us!
Mail Symbolonline-redaktion@goethe.de
Related links