Today I want to write a bit about one of the biggest german cult comics of all times, which is Manfred Schmidt´s masterpiece Nick Knatterton .
Which is no hyperbole on my part, I assure you of that. Nick Knatterton is one of the best known german comics of my generation because it was one of the many comics that was published in a magazine, QUICK.
Yes, back then magazines often included comic strips to attract younger readers although to be fair : with it´s stabs at the politics of its time and the often quite exaggerated physique of the sexy female characters in the strip it was probably enjoyed by adults as well. The black and white comic strip ran in two weekly installments in 11 to 38 parts from 1950 to 1959.
You know, people always say that we are now living in a new golden age of comics with all the adaptions being the big blockbuster movies but you don´t see that many comic strips in magazines now. Maybe I´m biased here but I remember that when I was a kid comics were in magazines, newspapers, the local school paper - everywhere. And you didn´t have to go to a special comic shop to get your comics. You could buy them at the stationary shop or the corner shop or the gas station and even if you lived in a tiny town there was a Mom and Pops store where they sold comics.
The condition of the comics was not as pristine as the copies you might get bagged and boarded in Todays comic shops and you could forget about reading consecutive issues but nobody cared about that since comics were a disposable read and more episodic in nature with little or no changes from issue to issue. Marvel Comics was one of the first companies to break the mold with the first stories that built upon another, continuity evolving from issue to issue, the hero getting older and changing and plotlines that went on for years with repercussions for the characters.
It was the reason for Marvel´s huge success turning them into the second big american comic company when it started. But let´s not dwell too much on that before I start to think about the mess Disney has turned it into.
At this point I should probably explain what the comic Nick Knatterton ( what a magnificent sounding german name ) is all about for my readers outside of Germany before I go into too much detail about its genesis and how immersed it is, not only in pop culture but in german culture period.
By the way, if I´m referring to Nick Knatterton as a strip I´m talking about the art of comic it is. Because unlike most american strips that have only three panels ( one for the recap, one to move the story forward and the last one for the cliffhanger ) Nick Knatterton´s weekly strips had many panels and took up at least half a page. This is why when the german newspaper BILD included it in its CLASSIC COMIC LIBRARY they printed the comic sideways so they would not have to reduce it in size.
Nick Knattertton is the name of the main character, a master detective in the vein of Sherlock Holmes, indeed it´s one of the big inspirations for him. Not only in the way he is clothed but also in the way that he is the embodiment of a competent and effective private detective. He is not extraordinarily physically strong ( although he keeps in good shape ) and does not possess many fancy gadgets ( some of them would make James Bond envious and show Manfred Schmidt´s great knack for coming up with brilliant contraptions and gimmicks ), but his mental capabilities, his power of deduction, his senses, his memory and knowledge of various topics are incredible to the point of caricature. As an example, Knatterton was able to pinpoint his location after being thrown tied and blindfolded into the back of a van, thanks to memorizing the entire map of the city and feeling the van's momentum with his body when turning corners.
DEDUCTION : LIVING MEN DO WEAR PLAID
As for a visual inspiration he looks a lot like Hans Albers in the german classic DER MANN DER SHERLOCK HOLMES WAR ( The Man Who Was Sherlock Holmes ) which is no big surprise since the movie came out in 1937, when Schmidt came up with the first version of the character.
To my shame I must confess that I have never seen the movie although I have seen most of Heinz Rühmann´s movies and some of Hans Albers movies like GROSSE FREIHEIT NUMMER SIEBEN ( Big Freedom Number 7 ).
But I know the basic plot : Hans Albers plays Morris Flynn, a luckless detective who has the brilliant idea to impersonate Sherlock Holmes with his assistant Macky McPherson - played by Heinz Rühmann - taking the role of Doctor Watson to get hired. Of course it works - especially after they tell everybody that they are NOT Sherlock Holmes and Doctor Watson - they get hired to solve a case and while they manage to do that they are accused of impersonating the famous detective and his trusty sidekick.
But then Sir Arthur Conan Doyle reveals himself in the court room who has followed the case rather amused and explains that Sherlock Holmes and Doctor Watson are fictional characters that he invented. Then follows the usual Happy End but because of protest by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle´s heirs the scene where he protests couldn´t be shown on television until 1970.
Which I guess led to the ending not making much sense. I tried to find a video of the full movie on YouTube - for those who have not seen it like me - but I only found this one in eight parts ( german with english sub ).
But back to Nick Knatterton. Like I said, as a character he was inspired by Sherlock Holmes but as far as looks are concerned he was molded after Hans Albers as Morris Flynn who did wear tweed but had a different hat.
If you have seen the brilliant new adaption of Sherlock Holmes by the BBC you know how much people like the original hat but Nick Knatterton wore a beret like Hans Albers. They both smoked pipe like Holmes though.
Another source for the character was Superman and since his birth Nick Knatterton has always been compared to him for some strange reason.
DEDUCTION : NICK KNATTERTON`S SECRET ORIGIN BACKFIRED
That is something you read in almost every article about Nick Knatterton ( there will be some links to a few of them in the link section further down ) and which I don´t understand. But that´s the german press for you : some things are repeated constantly until they are taken for true. And while Nick Knatterton has nothing in common with Superman except maybe a strict code of honor and his attitude towards women ( Nick has no super powers and no secret identity ) a Superman comic was what prompted Manfred Schmidt to come up with the comic in the first place.
" This was a picture story where bubbles filled with text came out of the acting characters mouth, nose and ears or head, depending on if they were saying, hearing, smelling or thinking something. Helixes around the head were a sign of fading consciousness, stars for an earlier blow to the chin or other delicate parts of the body. A course of action that would fill many pages in a novel was here compressed into a small panel, thus the reader was able to skip 95 percent of the necessary reading. "
Initially Manfred Schmidt wanted to make a parody to dispel people´s interest in this baloonfilled formed trash literature aimed at illiterates. But his laudible intention to ridicule the comics backfired completely and turned into one of those happy accidents for the history books. Even more so he created one of the first strips for adults and set his own standards.
" Because of Nick Knatterton the germans began to get an appetite for comics in earnest and devoured more and more of the stuff. " the artist once complained, tongue - in - cheek, about the success of his hero.
After World War II comics were not very widespread in Germany. When publishers tried to establish the unaccustomed form of representation they mostly catered to a young audience. Nick Knatterton was the first comic in Germany for an adult readership. Eckart Sackmann, author about Nick Knatterton : " Something like this had not be seen here. This was new, this was funny - and also intelligent, if you knew how to read it. Nick Knatterton was a sensation. " No matter in which setting the master detective ended up - he not only encountered bad guys, blondes and brilliants but also many ( embosomed ) cliches : wise guys riding Vespa motorcycles and singing Capri fishermen in Italy, roughneck cowboys and proud indians in America, weird lords and swirling mists in England.
Over the years this parody of comic and crime fiction became more and more a parody of german reality in the 50s. Readers of QUICK could find much of what the detective underwent while solving his cases in the editorial section. Schmidt hit the nerve of the german " We are somebody again society " in a humorous way and anticipated something that would be rediscovered much later by the german satire publication PARDON.
Favorite targets of his potshots and low blows were politics and the authorities as well as the police, military and secret services.
Nick Knatterton´s recipe for success was taking the comic genre in itself completely ironical. Furthermore the strips looked like technical user manuals than picture stories : sectional drawings of secret lairs and disguises, detailed explanations about the workings of technical devices or zoomed in panels could be found in almost every episode. Aside from that caption boxes often explained the course of action although they could be deducted from the pictures in most cases - or caption boxes contained ironic or in some cases information that made no sense.
After more than 350 episodes the strip was closed in 1959 because after almost ten years creator Manfred Schmidt didn´t want to subject himself anymore to the constant pressure of producing content. In following years he wrote and illustrated travel reports for QUICK, later on he directed travel movies and commercials. Nick Knatterton stayed present since various companies used the detective as a vehicle for advertising and in the 80s fifteen animated shorts were produced for the WDR tv station.
But we will come to the movie adaptions and the animated series later.
DEDUCTION : SCANDAL ON THE MUNICH TRAMWAY
Here I want to make a quick break and talk a bit about Nick Knatterton outside of comics. Because like I said, Nick Knatterton became a big part of german culture. There is a " Nick - Knatterton - Honor - Cap " from the German Detective Association and ten motives were made for Munich´s tramway tickets . Although there was a big hallabaloo because a local politician took offense with how women were drawn on the tickets.
About ten years readers followed their " german Sherlock Holmes " on his hunt for gangsters between back alleys and high finance every week. Nothing could cloud his keen wit - except from buxom beauties.
While he certainly enjoys the female form - he is often distracted by femme fatales like Virginia Peng or Mi - Tse Meyer although he rather looks than touches - he has no significant other. " Justice is my bride. "
His catch phrase : " Conclusion " or " I conclude " ( " Kombiniere " or " Ich kombiniere " in german ) which was then followed by the conclusion itself quickly became a part the language. He´s still Germany´s best known detective and there are many articles about him like this one about an art exhibition in Hannover celebrating Manfred Schmidt´s 100th birthday .
It´s also covered by this article that has nice pictures of Knatterton paraphernalia like a Faschings mask ( Fasching or Fasnacht is the german version of Halloween only with lots of beer instead of candy ),
a Nick Knatterton board game " Who has me wins. "
and even Nick Knatterton fretsaw saw patterns.
Now this is something that I probably have to explain for the younger people because this is something we used to do when I was a kid.
DEDUCTION : THE MOVING TOOLSHOP
A fretsaw is a tool we used to make things and you hold it like this.
You buy it at the hardware store and it comes in a little toolbox like this.
Now when I was a little boy kids used to do this a lot and there were tv shows like ZUGESCHAUT UND MITGEBAUT which was one of the few things my father let us watch without fighting because he also wanted to see it.
Okay, what you do with the fretsaw saw pattern is you put in on top of a piece of wood, then you take the fretsaw and cut the wood following the pattern. And this way you can build toys like mobiles or figurines.
DEDUCTION : THE DIRECTOR NEVER RINGS TWICE
Now it is time to talk about the adaptions of Nick Knatterton to movies and cartoons, and this is the part where I found out a lot of new things.
The first was that there had been a Nick Knatterton movie made in 1959 called NICK KNATTERTONS ABENTEUER - DER RAUB DER GLORIA NYLON
( The Kidnapping of Miss Nylon ) with Karl Lieffen as Nick Knatterton,
Susanne Cramer as innocent millionaire´s daughter Gloria Nylon,
Maria Sebaldt as VERY seductive female gang leader Virginia Peng
and Günter Pfitzman as Max and Gert Fröbe as Hugo.
This is another movie I haven´t seen yet and while it´s probably not the greatest comic book movie ever it seems to be a rather entertaining and funny one judging by the great reviews I´ve read on the internet so far.
There was also another movie produced in 2002 called simply NICK KNATTERTON - THE MOVIE but the movie company went bankrupt and because the movie is part of the assets it has never been shown.
And judging by the way how german cinema mugged such properties like HUI BUH, WICKIE or JERRY COTTON in a dark alley I´m not sure that´s a bad thing. You can see a trailer here to judge for yourself but it looks rather bland to me. At least they got the part of Virginia Peng right.
Another movie that never got made - at least according to this post - was a cartoon by the producers of the WERNER movies around the year 2000.
DEDUCTION : FIFTEEN TALES OF MYSTERY AND IMAGINATION
But there were 15 cartoon shorts produced in the 80s for the WDR ( West German Radio ) and they are indeed still available on DVD. And to show you how old the cartoons really are here´s the picture of a VHS tape.
Now the cartoons are the reason why I started this post in the first place, which was instigated - once again - by a comment from Comic Bits Online blog mastermind Terry Hooper about german comic book documentaries.
Or rather the total lack thereof. You see, the case is : there are no german documentaries about comics. What you see on german tv are either documentaries from Amerika or France ( which means you are probably watching arte ). Apart from that you get short clips from the news or a report on comics from tv but those are filled with the usual prejudices about comics. Despite any hopes of success I went on YouTube to look for videos about some classic german comics - which is how I discovered a Nick Knatterton cartoon existed. I know. I shouldn´t be allowed to call myself a comic fan. Anyway, the first video I found was episode 5, MIEZEN MACHER UND MONETEN which has the first appearance of Mi - Tse Meyer.
But not only is it the first epsiode with the hasian femme fatale it also has the part where Nick Knatterton finds his nemesis Virginia Peng completely naked in the sauna ( sorry, no full frontal nudity on this one guys ).
DEDUCTION : LAST SEEN WEARING . . . NOTHING
One of the reasons why the cartoon was so successful is that like in the comic there are a lot of scantily clad women in it like underworld boss Virginia Peng, probably Nick Knatterton´s arch villain and main foil.
She can often be found at the ALIBI BAR, a seedy bar where the scum of the underworld meets to make deals and while she is alternating between capturing Nick or blowing him up she rather enjoys using her booming body to distract Nick and escape the grip of justice again and again.
Like I have said, there is no frontal nudity in episode 5 which doesn´t mean there is none at all. The series is filled with all kinds of gangsters, shady artists, starlets who want to get famous fast or any other kind of woman that isn´t above using her womanly wiles to achieve her goals.
It´s not like it´s especially explicit or graphic but it´s also not shying away from nudity since most readers of the original comic series were adults.
When it´s there it´s enbedded in the story like in episode 7 - BARGELD, BETTEN UND BRILLIANTED where Nick only gets a quick partial glance at some nude pics and is able to recognize Viginia Peng and Mi - Tse Meyer.
From memory. Which is not as easy as it sounds since he did see Virginia´s butt in the episode above but had to guess the form of Mi - Tse´s breasts.
DEDUCTION : LINKS ( AND VIDEOS ) COME AT THE END
And I guess this is all I can say on the subject. I know there are some audio dramas but I haven´t heard one yet so I can´t comment on that. So I guess this means it´s time to wrap up things and acknowledge the many websites that have made this post possible so I can watch all those Nick Knatterton cartoons as well as THE MAN WHO WAS SHERLOCK HOLMES.
First and foremost, this really extensive post on COMPUTER SPIELE MADE IN GERMANY has lots of pictures and all kinds of useful information that helped me tremendously. Also kudos to this article about the special limited edition of OH, NICK KNATTERTON in celebration of Manfred Schmidt´s 100th birthday. The book was written by german comic historian Eckhardt Sackmann who is also the author of this exhaustive article about Nick Knatterton on ZEIT ONLINE and another article on Nick Knatterton can be found on FLENSBURG ONLINE . You also might want to check out Joseph Huber who takes a look at the similarities between Nick Knatterton and Kottan , of austrian cult tv cop series KOTTAN ERMITTELT.
The always excellent CHRISTOPH ROOS has a post on the magazines and comics he got at the kiosk like QUICK, a solo post on Nick Knatterton and one about pulp / tv series detective Honey West which doesn´t have anything to do with the subject of this post but which is a fun read.
ROSARIEDLSCHUTZGESPENST´S BLOG also has a personal comic reading history that includes Nick Knatterton. No idea what this website is all about but it seems to be dedicated to people using the phone in comics.
Nick Knatterton is not only popular in Germany. I found this long french article and I want to include it even if I have no idea what it´s about.
During my research I also stumbled upon GARGAMEL´ IN MEKANI, a turkish website ( I think ) with two posts about the comic. It also has posts on RACHEL RISING , DYLAN DOG , TORPEDO , TARZAN artist Rex Maxon and especially for my good pal Terry Hooper posts on CLIFTON , DOCTOR WHO with Peter Cushing and EAGLE and MS PEEL and LION .
Wow, once again this post has become longer than I thought but I guess as always it takes far less time to read it then it takes to write this stuff.
In this post´s video section I want to start with one last Nick Knatterton cartoon ( I know, another one ? ), the second episode ( or is it the third ? ) which I want to include because it tells the SECRETS OF THE ALIBI BAR. And because it´s the only episode I found which has english subtitles.
If you don´t want to watch it just skip the video and if you want to see even more Nick Knatterton you can find all of the episodes on YouTube.
Since this is a reworked version ( you can find a re - post of the original Nick Knatterton post here ) I´m adding another video about an exhibition on Nick Knatterton and the depiction of women in his time period.
I want to end this post with another comic interview, this one about the great Milo Manara. It´s in italian but you can see a lot of his artwork.
New to the blog ? Everything you need to know about TALES FROM THE KRYPTONIAN : top ten posts / more posts of interest / best of the best
I'm the bad guy. I don't save the day, I don't fly off into the sunset and I don't get the girl.