Kidstuff

kinder

Click to enlarge. And then it all happens.

I was always dimly aware of The Kin-Der Kids, in a collected volume of newspaper cartoons by Lyonel Feininger, lurking on a shelf in Edinburgh College of Art library, but something had kept me from taking it out. Now I realize it was probably the unreadable text — Feininger, like his near-contemporary Winsor McCay, believed in drawing the artwork and speech balloons first, before writing the dialogue, and then would cram whatever he had to say into the available space (McKay sometimes goes the opposite way, finding his balloon to capacious for the plotline, he’ll bung in random cries of “Oh!” until the bubble is snugly used up) — also, the original broadsheet-sized hugeness has been shrunk to half its original scale, meaning that I had to dig out a green magnifying glass I found in the back yard to read it (I can’t think what I did with the nice steel magnifier I bought for M. Natan to use in the documentary “reconstructions” of NATAN).

kinderkids1

Anyway, it’s worth it. The surreal adventures of Daniel Webster (a child with a stovepipe hat and male-pattern baldness), Piemouth, Strenuous Teddy and Little Japansky (a clockwork Japanese boy of unexplained origin) are worth anybody’s time. And not much time is required — the strip was a flopperoo and was cancelled in short order, leaving behind a scant few pages that promised some kind of long-form continuing madness, more eccentric even than Little Nemo and Popeye and the other, later greats. It couldn’t last, but the bold experiment of putting a Bauhaus painter in charge of a piece of mainstream entertainment at least left us with 29 pages of madness (plus another 18 of Wee Willie Winkie’s World.)

A modern-day follower of Feininger’s approach seems to me to be Tony Millionaire, whose Maakies strip, dealing with the adventures of an alcoholic crow and a sock puppet monkey, at sea, have a similar cockamamie picaresque rambunctiousness. There was a TV show which you can watch. It, too, was cancelled. In fact, in its pilot episode, a harpooned sea monster jets blood from its blowhole/s, an image incredibly present in The Kin-Der Kids (children’s entertainment was tougher then). Feininger, apparently sensing that having anthropomorphic animals with their own speech balloons might be problematic when it’s time for them to be killed and eaten, resolves the tonal difficulty by giving his sea creatures crap dialogue, such as, “Who would have thunk it” (no question mark, making it even lamer) and “Drat it all! This is one on me” — the implication being that they are not so much living thinking sentient characters like Daniel Webster and (debatably) Piemouth, as pasteboard caricatures jerked into the simulacrum of life by a quill-wielding kraut.

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To give you some idea of Feininger’s eccentricity, here is his dramatis personae, in which he sees fit to include the Kin-Der family bathtub — which never appears again.

 

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