It must have been with some trepidation that newspaper editors witnessed the invasion of their domains by advancing hordes of cartoonists. It couldn't be denied that circulations were higher, but comic strips were mostly crude and vulgar, appealing to a broad and low audience that the fourth estate elite disdained and sought to elevate. As a tonic to this creeping gaucherie, the editors of the Chicago Tribune in 1906 decided to axe practically all of the features it had been running and replace them with what they considered to be more genteel and sophisticated fare.
The source for these high-toned comics? Why, that renowned comedy powerhouse: the Kaiser's Germany. German magazine cartoonists were considered to be the finest purveyors of a least fine art, and if the masses clamored for funnies, the Tribune was determined to give them a dose of culture whether they wanted it or not.
The German cartoonists were undoubtedly fine, as is evinced by this feature, but they didn't catch the imagination of the public the way that it was hoped they would. With the exception of Lyonel Feininger's standout strips, the Kin-Der-Kids and Wee Willie Winkie's World, the American audience paid little attention to the "high-tone" comics, and wished for the return of the home-grown comics, vulgar and crude as they may have been. The lesson, clearly, is never to underestimate the American public's taste for the Low. If capital-A Art is to be found in the funnies, it must arise organically, under the cover of night.
All of this said, there was some fine cartooning produced by the German artists. This feature showcases the works of Hans Horina, the most prolific of the Tribune's Teutons. Horina produced several features that were run weekly; on many weeks, half of the comic section was made up of Horina's cartoons. Unlike the other German cartoonists (again to except Feininger), Horina worked with running characters, including the Absentminded Aunt, Hungry Tommy, and the Rhino Family. The balance of his work focused on animal/jungle themes, almost all presented in pantomime, as would befit the cartoonist's continental origins.
Enjoy the works of Hans Horina. Maybe the Tribune editors were on to something, and you'll wind up smarter and more refined. I wouldn't count on it, but you never know.
By Hans Horina