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 Rudolph Dirks  (1877 - 1968)

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Lived/Active: New York / Germany      Known for: cartoonist, landscape painting, engraving

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Ad Code: 3
Rudolph Dirks
from Auction House Records.
The Katzenjammer Kids Sunday Comic Strip Original Art (New York Journal, undated).
Artwork images are copyright of the artist or assignee
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.

Dirks 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 the daily.

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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Rudolph Dirks is also mentioned in these AskART essays:
New York Armory Show of 1913
San Francisco Panama-Pacific Exhibition 1915

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