Chaos and amusing characters – Manfred Schmidt

Copyright: Lappan VerlagManfred Schmidt’s detective comic Nick Knatterton was a direct reaction to the first American comics in post-war Germany. The GIs of the occupying power gave away their superhero comics to German children, whose parents were not at all enthusiastic about this. Manfred Schmidt was also one of those adults who saw the colourful, action-packed picture stories from the USA as ‘one of the most primitive of all narrative forms’.

In his own way, he set about parodying and satirising the medium with the character and series of Nick Knatterton. He based his protagonist, who wears a checked suit and smokes a pipe, on Dick Tracy and Sherlock Holmes, and, unlike the superheroes, Knatterton did not shine in terms of muscle power, but through his unbeatable logical mind. His favourite expression, ‘Kombiniere!’ (kombinieren: to deduce), which he uttered in particularly tricky situations, became his trademark and entered the German language as a catchphrase.

As comics were generally criticised for their ‘fitful narrative style’, this is exactly the point where Schmidt’s parody begins. He allows chaos to reign in his comics and fills his stories with amusing characters, who are extremely exaggerated in terms of character and disposition. And the individual images are so packed with contemporaneous sequences of events, excessive blocks of text and speech bubbles that you stagger drunkenly to and fro between words and pictures when you read the comics. What was intended as a pastiche became a huge hit not only in Germany, but also abroad.

With lots of slapstick and tension, Schmidt captivated a readership of both young people and adults. Male readers in particular enjoyed the portrayal of the female characters, which was for the time rather risqué, and the chauvinistic depiction of women. The master detective in plus fours had his first slapstick adventures in Quick magazine in 1950. Only two years later, prompted by the cartoon’s great success, the first of seven Nick Knatterton anthologies was published. In spite of the relatively rapid discontinuation of the series in 1959, Nick Knatterton still lives on in adverts, cartoons and films.

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