April 15, 2013 - Happy Birthday, Wilhelm Busch!

We might say that Wilhelm Busch was one of the first people in the world to write “graphic novels” or “comic books.” But he wouldn't say that, because those terms hadn't been invented yet. (Plus, he spoke German!)

Wilhelm Busch was born on this date in 1832 in the village of Wiedesahl, in the Kingdom of Hanover (today part of Germany). In his early 30s, Busch wrote a very famous and influential book about two boys: Max and Moritz – A Story of Seven Boyish Pranks.

The story of the “terrible duo” is told in rhymed couplets and through pictures. It is considered a very inventive example of “black humor”—that is, it makes light of otherwise solemn subjects. Some people say it is the first children's book that acknowledges that any child has ever done anything wrong or mischievous.

And, as I said, some consider it an early example of a comic book.

Even today, parents in Germany, Austria, and Switzerland read the seven tales to their young children, and people are assumed to know the story and the rhymes. There are many references to Max and Moritz in popular culture, and the illustrations of their smiling faces are used in both advertising and graffiti. People who have twin boys often name them Max and Moritz!

I am amazed at the continued popularity of these stories with parents of young kids, and especially the fact that parents name their kids after the main characters—given the horrible fate that befalls the boys at the end of the book! I guess when critics say the book is an example of “black humor,” they really mean it. Gallows humor, even!

To celebrate Busch's birthday...

...read Max and Moritz. In this Rosetta Project presentation of the book, English translations are available when you click the button marked “English.”

...read other comics, either online or in comic books. 

...create your own comic book. It's most fun to create your own characters and draw your own stories by hand. However, it can also be fun to use online tools such as Professor Garfield's X-treme Comics tool and this Marvel comic maker. 

Also on this date:

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