by Jimmm Kelly
SEPTEMBER 3rd – 2013
walking through vienna/wandern in wien
5 October ’30: Tobias Seicherl and Struppi introduce themselves in the first installment of their strip.
Ringo Starr and John Lennon–GOODNIGHT VIENNA (’74) ad…
the first european daily strip/der erste europäische daily strip
The illustrated story by Willhelm Busch, MAX UND MORITZ, published in Germany in 1865, is considered by some to be an early innovation on the road to the modern comic book. Yet, the funnies had a hard time taking root in continental Europe. It wasn’t until 1929 that the first homegrown, ongoing daily comic strip came out of the continent [so far as anyone knows–and if anyone knows different they’re not telling]: this is the funny by Ladislau (aka Ludwig) Kmoch, featuring Seicherl and Struppi, published in the Vienna daily, DAS KLEINE BLATT.
Sometimes the name of this paper is translated as THE SMALL LEAF or THE SMALL BLADE, but in German Blatt can mean a leaf, a blade, a sheet of paper or a newspaper, so really a better translation is THE SMALL PAPER as Blatt was a common enough title for many newspapers. This newspaper wasn’t thick, but that wasn’t so unusual at the time and the smallness in the name really refers to the dimensions of the pages which were smaller than the usual broadsheets of the day.
DAS KLEINE BLATT was meant to be an advocate of democratic socialism and as such it appealed to a broad audience of common people. In line with this end, the Seicherl and Struppi strip was easily enjoyed by the average Vienner, as all the characters talk in Viennese dialect rather than formal German.
[This dialect is called Wienerisch–for a better understanding of Wienerisch see the Wikipedia article on Viennese German.]
From October ’30, the first month of the strip: Seicherl doesn’t get along with women. He thinks about getting married and then thinks better about it.
Ladislau Kmoch [b. 14 June 1894 – d. 10 March 1971] was a self taught cartoonist and seemed to invent his own way of doing things. One of the other unusual things about the Seicherl and Struppi strip, besides the Viennese dialect, was the use of dialogue balloons which other European cartoons didn’t do. And where it was usual to see one panel gags in other newspapers of the day, Kmoch was doing an actual sequential strip just like in the American funnies.
According to scholars who know about these things, Kmoch was writing a satire of the petit bourgeosie. I don’t really catch that reading the strips–except for the occasional example, where the class divisions and the politics are clearly drawn. But Tobias Steicherl is dressed in the mode of a middle class man about town. The word Seicherl in Viennese dialect means small sieve, but that also came to mean someone who is lacking in moral character–someone who allows everything to pass right through them. And Seicherl is a bit of an ass. Always getting drunk and doing stupid things–which is pretty funny.
From August ’31: Seicherl always seems to fall into trouble–felling trees that fall on him, falling into rivers, failing to remember to bring his wallet to the restaurant. One of his favourite exclamations is Marandjosef—Mary and Joseph!
Struppi is his talking dog [there are also other talking dogs and other talking animals, so Struppi isn’t alone in this regard]. The both of them go around town, to various places in Vienna (or even just lazing about their own apartment–Seicherl can find lots of trouble there, also) and Seicherl gets himself in all kinds of fixes, while the savvy Struppi looks on and makes wry observations. Seicherl is meant to sympathize with the Fascists [again according to sources–I don’t get a lot of that, but then reading Viennese dialect is not my talent], while I suppose that Struppi is meant to represent the ordinary working man (or dog).
From early ’32: Having made a hash of things in moving apartments, Seicherl decides to up sticks and travel abroad–Struppi shares the load.
Even before the politics in Vienna started to heat up, Seicherl and Struppi began to broaden their horizons and would travel outside of Vienna for more silly misadventures. The strip gained in popularity and was collected into several volumes for sale beginning in ’33.
With the change in government in Austria to a homegrown Fascist regime, under the May Constution of ’34, DAS KLEINE BLATT toned down its rhetoric and became a mouthpiece for the government. Seicherl and Struppi went on more travels out of the country, so Kmoch managed to avoid saying too much about the politics of the time.
With the Anschluss on March 12 ’38–when Nazi Germany took over Austria–DAS KLEINE BLATT became purely an instrument of Nazi propaganda. Seicherl and Struppi travelled some more and their strip was seen less frequently. By the second half of ’39, weeks would go by between appearances of Seicherl and Struppi who were having adventures in fictional exotic lands. By early ’40, the strip was toast. DAS KLEINE BLATT held on for a couple more years as a propaganda rag until it was put out of its misery.
In later years, Ladislau Kmoch tried to revive the strip, but it never managed to catch on like it had in the early ’30s.
lost in vienna/verloren in wien
On extended stays in Vienna, a couple of times in the last few years, getting lost was routine for me.
The wanderer might think he’s in one place and when he looks for a familiar landmark, believes this is the building I saw before, but what he doesn’t know is that was a different building and he’s in another place all together.
Even walking with resident Vienners, we’ve all gotten lost together.
My first stay in Vienna, I was at an apartment supplied by the language school. This apartment adjoined the offices of an elderly architect who had his home residence elsewhere.
In the morning he would arrive on his bike, but the rest of the time I rarely saw him. His offices were full of blueprints and plans–for what buildings I had no idea.
One building in Vienna that always helped me orient myself–if I found it–was the Secession building. This isn’t a very tall building–but then, in the inner part of the city, most buildings are not that tall–however, it has a unique golden, globe dome on the top that makes it unmistakable.
With a name like Secession, you’d think there was some political reason behind it. But the Secession movement were a group of artists in the late 1800s that distanced themselves from the formal group of artists of the day.
The president and one of the lead founders of the movement was the famous artist Gustav Klimt [b. 14 July 1862 – d. 16 February 1918].
Another leader of the movement was the architect Joseph Maria Olbrich, who designed the Secession exhibition hall, built in 1898–now simply called the Secession (Die Sezession).
website for the Secession:
wittgenstein house/haus wittgenstein
One place I wanted to find in Vienna was Wittgenstein’s house. So one day, late in the afternoon. my Austrian friend and I set out to find it.
My friend insisted that I should practice my German and ask for directions myself.
The few people I communicated with had no idea what I meant. There was one woman who seemed to guess what I might mean and offered some suggestions on how to get there. So my friend and I found our way to the house in a round about kind of way, climbing over railings skirting parking lots, until we were in the main entrance way.
What I didn’t know then, but what I found out later, is that this house had been acquired some years before by the Bulgarian government. We were essentially on Bulgarian private property, but we didn’t know it. Everyone there was talking some strange language that I couldn’t recognize.
And at that time of the day, the house would have been closed, but by dumb luck it was open, because they were getting ready for some cultural event at the house. We walked right in and nobody paid us any attention. Just visitors. It was a nicely styled house with clean straight lines, but kind of vacant of ornamentation.
I was interested in the door fixtures because I knew this is one thing that Wittgenstein had given a lot of attention, spending a whole year on designing just those alone.
The house was designed in the ’20s by Ludwig Wittgenstein and Paul Engelmann for Ludwig’s sister, Margaret Stonborough-Wittgenstein. At this time in his life, Wittgenstein was a genius in search of an occupation. He came from one of the wealthiest families in Europe, so he didn’t really need a job, but he was not interested in living off his family’s wealth and gave away his fortune (having three brothers who committed suicide might have also convinced him the money was cursed).
Prior to the First World War, Ludwig Wittgenstein [b. 26 April 1889 – d. 29 April 1951] had studied aeronautical engineering in England, but lost interest when he became obsessed with mathematics. His interest in math brought him in contact with Bertrand Russell at Cambridge University, who had authored THE PRINCIPLES OF MATHEMATICS (’03).
Russell was keen on mentoring someone as his philosophical protege and Wittgenstein had the kind of mind for that, but Ludwig returned to Austria at the outbreak of the First World War and became an officer in the Austro-Hungarian Army, being decorated several times for bravery. During this time he wrote his first great work of philosophy–the TRACTATUS LOGICO-PHILOSOPHICUS.
Near the end of the war, Wittgenstein was captured and spent nine months in Italy as a prisoner of war–which took its toll on him mentally and physically.
When the TRACTATUS was published, in the early ’20s, it was hailed as a great work of philosophical genius by Russell and others. But having figured he had solved the problem of philosophy, Ludwig was done with that and looked for another occupation. His attempts at other work were failures, however, so when Margaret’s house was being designed, Wittgenstein became obsessed with his new project and called himself an architect.
Vienna seems to have a lot of architects.
Nobody wanted to live there and even Ludwig found it too forbidding. Later, at the close of the Second World War, the house was taken over by the Red Army–who occupied much of Vienna. They used the house as barracks and to stable their horses.
The house was owned by Margaret’s son, who sold it to a developer in ’68 and it was to be torn down, until it was saved by the Vienna Landmark Commission who made it a national landmark in the ’70s, at which point the Bulgarian embassy took it over.
By the way, Wittgenstein eventually realized he wasn’t done with philosophy and returned to Cambridge, where he took a completely new approach to philosophy–and as such is considered one of the greatest philosophers of the 20th century.
Not far from the severe straight edges of the Wittgenstein house, in the same Landstrasse district of Vienna, is the Kunsthaus–the polar opposite in design.
This was originally a furniture factory built in 1892, but it has been completely redesigned according to the aesthetic principles of Friedensreich Hundertwasser [b. 15 December 1928 – d. 19 February 2000], not far from a residential complex called Hundertwasserhaus, also designed by the same artist. The renovations to the Kunsthaus were completed in 1991.
Hundertwasser was born Friedrich Stowasser. Growing up in Vienna during the Second World War, his father–who was Catholic–had died when Friedrich was only a baby. Though his mother was Jewish, they pretended to be Christian and Friedrich joined the Hitler Youth, to escape suspicion and for their survival.
Stowasser took the name Hundertwasser after the war, when he began his artistic studies–Sto being slavic for hundred [Hundertwasser means one hundred water]. The name Friedenreich can be translated as realm of peace or rich in peace. He also adopted various other names to express his different identities.
Hundertwasser’s interest was in applied arts–not only in architecture but interior design, postage stamps, posters and flags. His experience during the war, with military drills in perfect line and the authority they represented, gave him a fierce contempt for right angles, which explains the odd off-kilter reality he designed.
Top: Part of the interior of the Kunsthaus, where not even the floors are straight.
Bottom: Hundertwasser standing in front of Hundertwasserhaus.
He railed against the uniform architecture of Austria, as exemplified by the architect Adolf Loos, and believed that it was the duty of citizens to plant trees in urban landscapes. Hundertwasser became a strong advocate for environmentalism and protested against nuclear power. His architectural designs incoporate plants as part of the building–on the facade, on the roof, and inside.
He believed that the residents in apartments should have a Window Right: to be able to reach outside their windows and paint the facade around them to express their own identity.
Paintings for me are gateways, which enable me, if I have
been successful, to open them into a world which is both
near and far for us, to which we have no admission, in
which we find ourselves, but which we cannot perceive,
which is against the real world
The first skin is the skin of our bodies, the second skin is the skin of our clothes, the third skin is the skin of our homes, the fourth skin is the skin of our family and society in general, and the fifth skin is the skin of the Earth and the universe.
website for the Kunsthaus:
The Kunsthaus is close by the Donaukanal–not the Danube itself (which is much further out from the centre) but a side branch that threads though the city.
Just on the other side of the Donaukanal, from the Kunsthaus, is the Prater–a large green space within the city, which also includes the amusement park and the famous Riesenrad. The Prater is a perfect place to go for a long walk, a bike ride, a run–there’s even horseback riding–or just to stop and sit as the clouds go by.
website for archived Austrian newspapers:
Wien Prater Hauptallee:
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8 Days, Louise!
. . . try to remember the kind of September when grass was green and grain was yellow, the second week in September . . .
WALT DISNEY’S COMICS AND STORIES Vol. 1, No. 1 (October ’40) from Dell Publishing–with Donald Duck on the cover–goes on sale around September 9 ’40.
September 9 2013, the Royal Canadian Mint celebrates the 75th anniversary of Superman by striking a set of coins to honour the Man of Steel (co-created by Canadian-born Joe Shuster). Not to be outdone, Canada Post will start selling a set of Superman stamps the following day.
Dell debuts the first issue of THE FUNNIES (October ’36) on September 10 ’36.
Timely’s top three super-heroes get together on the cover and in their own individual stories for the first issue of ALL SELECT COMICS (Fall ’43) on sale September 11 ’43. Alex Schomburg provides the cover featuring Human Torch, Captain America and Sub-Mariner.
Wonder Tot meets Mr. Genie for the first time in WONDER WOMAN 126 (November ’61), at newsstands September 12 ’61.
Siegel & Shuster’s supernatural creation Doctor Occult (with Rose Psychic) debuts in NEW FUN No. 6 (October ’35), in which Doc and Rose lay a trap for a vampire; and also by Jerry & Joe, Henri Duval debuts, a feature about a swash-buckling hero along the lines of THE THREE MUSKETEERS–note this is the last issue called NEW FUN, the next issue is called MORE FUN. On sale September 13 ’35.
Gold Key launches the first issue of SPACE FAMILY ROBINSON (December ’62)–which predates LOST IN SPACE–on or about September 13 ’62.
Mike Friedrich, Dick Dillin and Joe Giella continue the unfolding drama of the JUSTICE LEAGUE OF AMERICA in issue No. 94 (November ’71), with additonal pages provided by artist Neal Adams, in a complex episode that brings together the plots of Deadman, Batman, Superman and Green Arrow (among others), as the League of Assassins sends out Merlyn to kill the Emerald Archer, in Where Strikes Demonfang? Plus reprints of the first Starman story and (arguably) the first Sandman story, at your newsstand September 14 ’71.
Canadian Heritage Minute