I have been rummaging around in a peculiar book, The Genius of Wilhelm Busch edited and translated by Walter Arndt, who I know as a translator of Pushkin. Busch was an artist who inadvertently invented the comic strip, or at least a plausible prototype, particularly with the 1865 Max and Moritz, which Arndt calls “possibly the most universally cherished and quoted work of art in the German language,” which explains a lot.
Ah, the wickedness one sees
Or is told of such as these,
Namely Max and Moritz; there!
Look at the disgraceful pair!
Max and Moritz are a pair of hideous children who play seven hideous tricks which culminate in a hideous punishment, which they either deserve or do not, depending on whether Max and Moritz are actual children or kobolds, evil spirits.
The woodcuts are always accompanied by rhyming children’s’ verse. The text is integral to the images. Busch never tells a story with nothing but images – or Arndt does not include any examples where he does. I am drawn to the images that do stand on their own, like this unusually complex heist:
I need the text, though, to know what the woman in the basement is doing:
With a ladle to scoop out
Just a dab of sauerkraut,
Which she has a passion for
When it is warmed up once more.
Ah, so that is the cellar sauerkraut bucket. Mmmm. Those chickens were murdered by Max and Moritz as their first trick, stolen and eaten in the second. At least gluttony and greed is a motive here, but the little monsters mostly spread chaos among complacent working people – a tailor, a baker, a miller. There is also a teacher, but as an educated person he presumably deserves to have his pipe filled with gunpowder.
Master Lampel’s gentle powers
Failed with rascals such as ours;
For the evilly inclined
Pay preceptors little mind.
Max and Moritz are destructive chaos agents, gleefully destructive, with no independent existence, meaning Busch never made a panel with just one of the pair. They are sinister critters. They can be baked in an oven with no lasting consequences. The barnyard fowl get their revenge in the end, though.
Well, this has not been much besides “Look, ain’t that something.” I’ll keep looking. More Busch later, maybe. “Painter Squirtle” or “Jack Crook, Bird of Evil,” Max and Moritz rolled into one ugly, drunken crow.
I borrowed the color images from this Gutenberg.org file. The book was published by the University of California Press in 1982.