Starting in mid-February, German Museum for Caricature and Draughtsmanship Hannover has set out to present a new perspective on one of the most popular German artists and writers of all time, with their exhibition „Deutschsprachige Comics von Wilhelm Busch bis heute“ (German Comics From Wilhelm Busch Till Today) – thus placing Wilhelm Busch's sequential stories within the realm of comic books.
In Germany, almost everyone will know the famous lines announcing the next prank of the two mischief-makers Max and Moritz. So famous are their doings and their fatal ending indeed that Busch – who had started his career as a student of mechanical engineering, before turing to the fine arts – is today perceived as one of the most influential German poets and draughtsmen. For some years now, he has also been officially looked upon as „co-founder of modern German comic art“. So, Karikaturmuseum Hannover has placed him in a new context with their latest exhibition, - the context of comic books.
Some 150 years ago his two pranksters brought sweat and tears to the Widow Bolte and are today among the most famous heroes of German graphic fiction. They have made their creator, humourist Heinrich Christian Wilhelm Busch, immortal.
Wilhelm Buschs visual creations haven entered the collective German mind for good – and for good reason.
Their highly figurative (and hard to translate) language, strong character development and focus on the central characters makes them unique. The artist's underlying humour supports the stories, of which the punchline is only detectable when one looks at, and understands, the whole narration.
Though at first glance the verse-like text seems to stand out as the most important part of the Busch universe, it would not have worked quite so well, lacking the artistic illustrations – without which a good deal of the stories' entertaining and memorable qualities would be lost. It comes as no surprise that, in fact, the illustrations were Busch's main issue: He always produced them prior to the text. This would follow only to exalt the meaning of his artwork. But it was always the combination of both that showed his matchless and caricature-like humour – one which really affects his readers to the day.
While alive, our heroes had actually had quite a bad start, fame-wise: Max and Moritz is yet another proof for a publisher's grave mistake of misinterpreting a market. Right after their creation, Dresden publisher Heinrich Richter refused to take them on, as he felt they were not providing „the chance for a good sale.“ Despite the fact that he was offered the now famous manuscript for free by Wilhelm Busch, to compensate a former flop. It was Kaspar Braun who finally managed to get the two scoundrels on the German market, where they were welcomed fervently by the readers.
Today Busch's orignal works belong to the „most precious collectibles of Caricature Museum Wilhelm Busch“. Starting February 16, 2014 the new exhibition displays the complete original manuscript of Max-and-Moritz-Pranks. The objets exposé mainly have been supplied by private collectors from Germany, Austria and Switzerland. Caricature Museum Wilhelm Busch added a number of illustrious works from their own collection as well as from those of other museums.
Next to Max and Moritz you will find other cartoons and strips by Wilhelm Busch, ca. 250 of his original works and 100 historic first-prints produced by German comic culture.
Within 15 departments, the museum has arranged and sorted by topics and artists, numerous important comic artworks originating from various German speaking countries:
Comic book series like Sigurd, Silberpfeil, Mosaik, or Fix and Foxi are presented next to hardcover books and popular German magazine and newspaper strips like Vater und Sohn (Father and Son), Nick Knatterton, or Strizz. Graphic novels by Isabel Kreitz or Reinhard Kleist are on display next to other popular genres like German manga, web comics and blog comics.
Comic book connoisseurs will probably find a special highlight with the rare original drawings of Emmerich Huber (1903-1979) and Otto Waffenschmied (1901-1971), or the original pages of the first German post-war comic book series.
The section of avantgarde comic artworks supplied by contemporary artists, such as Hendrik Dorgathen, Anke Feuchtenberger or Martin tom Dieck, probably shows best that a modern „definition of comic books“ consists of much more than the rather narrow-minded but widely spread idea of „funny pictures with a speech balloon“. To give Busch the credit of „prime father of comic books“ is probably a huge overstatement – though understandable from a German point of view, in which he represents a most important cultural influence that may well have had its say in the development of German comic book culture. And of course a good deal of his own fame reflects on a rather handicapped German medium. Yet one thing is obvious:
Max and Moritz is comic book art at its best. This gets even more obvious, as soon as we understand what comics really are: an individual form of expression that through the art of character building and development, expert storytelling and exceptional interaction of images and text, is able to create a vision of a whole new world.
Deutschsprachige Comics von Wilhelm Busch bis heute (German Comics From Wilhelm Busch Till Today) is on display until March 23, 2014 in Hannover.