1877 (Heide, Germany)
1968 (New York City)
New York / Germany
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cartoonist, landscape painting, engraving
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New York Armory Show of 1913
San Francisco Panama-Pacific Exhibition 1915
|This biography from the Archives of AskART:|
|Rudolph Dirks was on of the major figures in the development of newspaper comics. He invented the Katzenjammer Kids
in 1897, and drew them for roughly the next half century.
Although he remained fond of Hans and Fritz throughout his long
lifetime, his major interest was painting.|
Dirks was born in
Germany and grew up in the Chicago area. His initial intent was
to be a woodcarver like his father, but "one week in the shop settled
that. I almost cut off one hand." He decided on cartooning
and painting, and in the late 1890s followed his older brother, Gus,
also a cartoonist, to Manhattan. "I decided to go to New York
where all the jokes came from". After working at a variety of
jobs, including painting dime novel covers, he went to work for
Hearsts' New York Journal.
There, at the age of 20,
Dirks created the Katzenjammers. Since comics were brand new, he
was among the first to use such devices as the dialogue balloon.
In the opinion of historian August Derleth, "the two artists who more
than any others were responsible for the popularity of the comics" were
Richard Outcault and Dirks.
Dirks took occasional leaves from
his creations, suspending work during the time he was in the Army
during the Spanish-American War. He was also on hiatus after a
1912 conflict with William Randolph Hearst, which resulted, after
considerable litigation, in Dirks taking his characters but not the
Katzenjammer name, over to Pulitzers' New York World in 1914. This version of the Hans and Fritz saga eventually came to be called The Captain and the Kids. At the same time, Dirks continued his painting and became part of the 'gritty group' known as the Ash Can School.
Sunday page drawings continued to improve. In the 1920s, he came
to rely increasingly on continuity, mixing fantasy, political satire,
and assorted burlesques of popular adventure tales. The feature
became more than just a succession of pranks played on Mama, the
Captain, and the Inspector by the kids. In 1932, Dirks quit his
feature after the general manager of United Features, Monte Bourjaily,
refused to give him a raise. Dirks assistant, Bernard Dibble,
started drawing and signing The Captain and the Kids in May
1932. He stayed with the page until 1933. The syndicate
then invited Dirks to return. He resumed the Sunday, and for a
while also drew a newly launched daily version. Dirks soon
deserted that to concentrate on the Sunday page while Dibble assumed
Rudy Dirks had several close friends in the
cartooning profession. These included Jimmy Swinnerton and George
Herriman, with whom he made trips to the wilds of Arizona, as well as
Cliff Sterrett, a Maine neighbor and frequent golf partner. He
took an active part in the drawing and writing of his strip until the
late 1940s, when his son, John, assumed most of the work.
Dirks died in New York City. When asked why he never just discarded
Hans and Fritz in order to concentrate on his painting, Dirks usually
answered, "They gave me my start and I certainly owe them their living."
Ron Goulart, Editor, The Encyclopedia of American Comics
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