The Katzenjammer Kids is an American comic strip created by the German immigrant Rudolph Dirks and drawn by Harold H. Knerr for 37 years (1912 to 1949). It debuted December 12, 1897 in the American Humorist, the Sunday supplement of William Randolph Hearst's New York Journal.
After a series of legal battles between 1912 and 1914, Dirks left the Hearst organization and began a new strip, first titled Hans und Fritz and then The Captain and the Kids. It featured the same characters seen in The Katzenjammer Kids, which was continued by Knerr. The two separate versions of the strip competed with each other until 1979, when The Captain and the Kids ended its six-decade run. The Katzenjammer Kids is still distributed by King Features, making it the oldest comic strip still in syndication and the longest-running ever.
Creation and early years
The Katzenjammer Kids was inspired by Max and Moritz, a children's story of the 1860s by the German Wilhelm Busch. The Katzenjammer Kids (three brothers in the first strip but soon reduced to two) featured Hans and Fritz, twins who rebelled against authority, particularly in the form of their mother, Mama; der Captain, a shipwrecked sailor who acted as a surrogate father; and der Inspector, an official from the school system. Other characters included John Silver, a pirate/sea captain and his crew, and the "Kink", a typical African-American stereotype, who ruled a tropical island. Several of the characters spoke in stereotypical German-accented English. Katzenjammer translates literally as the wailing of cats but is used to mean contrition after a failed endeavor or hangover in German (and, in the latter sense, in English too).
The comic strip was turned into a stage play in 1903. It inspired several animated cartoons and was one of 20 strips included in the Comic Strip Classics series of commemorative postage stamps.
Dirks and Knerr
The Katzenjammer Kids was so popular that it became two competing comic strips and the subject of a lawsuit. This happened because Dirks wanted to take a break after 15 years, but the Hearst newspaper syndicate would not allow it. Dirks left anyway, and the strip was taken over by Harold Knerr. Dirks sued, and after a long legal battle, the Hearst papers were allowed to continue The Katzenjammer Kids, while Dirks was allowed to syndicate an almost identical strip of his own for the rival Pulitzer newspapers.
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