Well, I thought that I was all done with Fritz Gareis, at least for the time being; but then I discovered the Illustrierte Wochenpost (“Illustrated Weekly Post”). The Wochenpost, or as it liked to style itself, the Illwo, was one of Vienna’s most entertaining newspapers from late 1928 to mid-1939; it proudly bore on its masthead the subtitle Unterhaltungsblatt für Jedermann (“entertaining paper for everyone,” though literally “every man”).
It was the function of the daily papers, the Tageszeitungen, to keep readers informed on current events; the Wochenzeitungen or weekly papers, by comparison, could either provide a summary of the week’s happenings, with appropriate commentary depending upon the paper’s political position… or they could choose to deliver sensational infotainment. The Illwo took that escapist ball and ran with it, hard, which made it very popular in a Vienna that was just getting back on its economic feet when the Great Depression hit and put the nation, and the city, back to square one.
The headlines of every issue of the Illwo were redolent with murder, mystery, secrets and sex (though that word was never used; Liebe, “love,” and its compounds transparently stood in). Usually the headlines referred to a “human interest” story, which might date back to the eighteenth century, but sometimes they advertised one of the serialized novels that the paper carried, often three at a time in different stages of their respective plots. Because western European countries generally had high literacy rates and a common official language, serialized novels served to attract and hook newspaper readers in a fashion similar to the function performed by comics in American newspapers. This is one reason comics were less common in European papers: they were less necessary.
Either way, the best headlines read like the track list on a death metal album: Der geheimnisvolle Todesstrahl (“The secret death ray,” 16 Aug. 1929); Das tödliche Rätsel des Mannweibes (“The deadly puzzle of the man-woman,” 24 Jan. 1930); Menschenfleisch!! (“Human flesh!!,” 31 Jan. 1930); Auferstehung im Seziersaal (“Resurrection on the autopsy table,” 28 Mar. 1930);Venus mit der Dornenkrone (“Venus with the crown of thorns,” 15 Aug. 1930).
My personal favourites are Dämon Weib! (which, in the context, might best be rendered “Demon floozy,” 21 Mar. 1930) and Von der Mumienhand erwürgt (“Strangled by the mummy’s hand,” 31 Aug. 1934). Just reading that list, I have half a mind to work on my shredding and record that album myself. None of these headlines, incidentally, refers to a novel; this is the real-life stuff. But the fact that so many of the Illwo‘s juicy, scandalous stories were taken from the history of the imperial Hapsburg family apparently did not endear the paper to the conservative and monarchist crowd (Rohregger 14-15), even though Austria had been a republic for over a decade and the remaining Hapsburgs were in exile (the last emperor, Karl, had died young of pneumonia in exile in 1922; his son, Otto, the last crown prince, only passed away in 2011!).
Mere politics of the day thus carried little weight for this paper. Even the week of the Austrian civil war (12-16 Feb. 1934), you wouldn’t find out it happened from the Illwo (although frankly, if you lived in Vienna, you’d have heard the army shelling the Social Democrats holed up in the Karl-Marx-Hof firsthand). A few months later the Illwo did make room for a lengthy and florid eulogy to the recently assassinated Chancellor Engelbert Dollfuss, who was shot in a failed coup attempt by members of the banned Austrian Nazi Party; the unfortunate Dollfuss bled to death while the ill-prepared rebels were dithering about what to do next. Otherwise, however, current events were not the Illwo‘s forte for most of its existence.
Neither were comic strips. Paul Kolisch, the Illwo‘s liberal-minded publisher, and his wife Stella Kolisch, the editor, seemed to want to publish comics, but not very much. Given that the paper was not aimed at young readers, their ambivalence may be understandable. In the first year of the paper’s existence, however, they published three months’ worth of George E. Studdy’s charming Bonzo the Dog, using strips that had run in the British weekly Tit-Bits (a paper with a similar “human interest” approach) from 1925 on.
These cut off abruptly at the end of 1929 and were replaced in the new year by Bud Fisher’s Mutt and Jeff, which also lasted only three months. Curiously, the Bonzo strips retained the original speech balloons, which were generally well translated and nicely hand-lettered; the German Mutt und Jeff, on the other hand, had its speech balloons retouched out, and printed the dialogue (and sometime additional descriptive narration) in stilted German below the panels.
The result was that one of the quintessentially American comic strips looked more like something out of England’s Comic Cuts than the veddy British Bonzo did. In both cases, however, the Illwo was likely taking over previously published material, and not translating and adapting it in-house. Bonzo, for example, had already appeared in German in Berlin’s Grüne Post since 1927 (Sackmann 61).
Mutt und Jeff would turn out to be the longest-lasting comic ever published in the Illwo. At the turn of the year 1930/31 and into the spring, there were four installments of a captioned strip about a certain Herr Klops, interspersed with one-shots. Then nothing until three vignette comics (a series of unpaneled images connected by a single theme, rather than a plot; common in humour magazines from the ’20s to the ’40s) at the turn of 1934/5. (I’m not counting single-panel gag cartoons, which were fairly common in most of the newspapers of the era.) Then nothing again, until the beginning of the fateful year 1938, when there was a sudden explosion: almost every week of January, February and March, there was a comic strip. Even now, however, there was no attempt at consistency, and nothing seemed to stick. A mediocre family comedy called Familie Waserl (“The Waserl Family”), whose artist signed only as “Bannert,” lasted five episodes, but not consecutively. After only two Waserl strips, the run was interrupted on 21 Jan. 1938 by a different comic, entitled “Frau Blaserl kauft ein Hündchen” (“Frau Blaserl buys a puppy”):
Recognize it? It’s Fritz Gareis’s first Riebeisel comic, from 2 Nov. 1923 in the Götz von Berlichingen! Frau Riebeisel has simply been renamed Frau Blaserl (“little bubble”; there is nothing more Austrian than the -erl diminutive suffix–except possibly Sachertorte with Schlagobers for dessert–which is why “Waserl” and “Blaserl” both end in -erl. At some point we’ll get to Wamperl und Stamperl). The prices have been updated: in the first panel, from the “200,000 Kronen” of the inflationary period to “60 Schilling” (spelled “Schülling” to reflect the seller’s dialect); and in the last panel, from “another million” to “another 200 Schilling.” The dog’s only utterance, in the third panel, has been altered from “Götz!” (which is not only a shout-out to the paper the strip was appearing in, but also means “Kiss my ass,” for reasons we’ll examine another time) to a simple “?”; finally, the technological advances of the intervening decade and a half forced changing the final words of the strip from “Give him here! I’ll sell him as a carriage-horse” to “Deal! Give him here! I’ll sell him as Vienna’s last carriage-horse.” Seems a much less practical investment somehow.
Over the next two weeks, two further installments of “Frau Blaserl” appeared, “Frau Blaserl is sick” and “Frau Blaserl goes to a masked ball,” reprinting Gareis strips from 14 Dec. 1923 and 18 Jan. 1924, both of which needed no updating. As the titles indicate, Frau Riebeisel/Blaserl was now portrayed as the protagonist, though in all three strips her husband is present.
At this point, Fritz Gareis had been dead for over twelve years; the last Riebeisel strip. drawn by Gareis’s successor Karl Theodor Zelger, had appeared almost four years previously, at the end of March 1934; the Riebeisels’ paper, Der Götz von Berlichingen, had been terminated by order of the Dollfuss government by the end of June 1934, and its publisher Maximilian Schreier forced out of journalism. Why these three strips should resurface in the Illwo just at this moment, then, is as much a mystery as the sudden prevalence of comics in the paper; “Frau Blaserl” then disappeared equally mysteriously, replaced by the final three episodes of Familie Waserl, which then abruptly ended and was followed by three installments of a new strip, Amandus Wichtig, by none other than Karl Theodor Zelger. The last episode of this strip appeared on 25 Mar. 1938.
But on 13 Mar. 1938, Austria had ceased to exist as a nation, and was officially incorporated into Hitler’s Germany. The first transport carrying about 150 political prisoners from now-German Vienna to the concentration camp in Dachau, Bavaria, left on 1 April 1938, packed with journalists, publishers and jurists who ranged across the political spectrum from members of Dollfuss’s right-wing Fatherland Front through liberals to socialists and communists. Among them were the director of the Austrian National Library, Josef Bick; future Austrian vice-chancellor Fritz Bock (not the cartoonist of the same name mentioned below); future Austrian chancellors Leopold Figl and Alfons Gorbach; and Paul Kolisch, publisher of the Illustrierte Wochenpost.
The urgency of Kolisch’s arrest probably stemmed from his activity as a liberal publisher; but the list of detainees drawn up by the Gestapo took pains to single out the Jewish targets (the Jews on the list also spanned the political spectrum from nationalists to communists), and Kolisch’s Jewish origins undoubtedly coloured how he was handled. The 55-year-old was tortured at Dachau and transferred on 23 Sept. 1938 to another infamous camp, Buchenwald, near Weimar. At Buchenwald, it is possible that Kolisch crossed paths with both Theodor Waldau (né Dorku Goldberg), former editor of Der Götz von Berlichingen, who was sent to Dachau in Sept.1938 and transferred to Buchenwald that November, and with Maximilan Schreier, who was likewise sent to Buchenwald at some point in 1938 after being arrested on 13 April.
The Illwo, as a popular, profitable and generally non-political newspaper, was continued almost without a break, skipping only the week of 18 Mar. 1938. In the next number, on 25 Mar., Kolisch’s name had disappeared from the impressum, replaced by a “Franz Schöffel.” This was the only sign that the paper had been, in the parlance of the Nazi regime, “aryanized.” This issue also featured the last Amandus Wichtig strip; the artist Zelger apparently died on 6 June of that year at the age of only 49 (Dostal 71-2). Comics disappeared from the Illwo for the remainder of 1938.
Oddly, they made a comeback in March of 1939, as the new leadership began trying out several series by different local artists, including the prolific Franz Kraft and Fritz Bock; the longest-lasting, Didi, was by an artist who signed only “Niessl”; it is uncomfortably dreadful, but lasted eight weeks. (We’ll look at it sometime.) The Illwo‘s days were numbered, however; it ceased publication after the last week of August 1939, cutting off its serialized novels in the middle, a week before Hitler invaded Poland and began the Second World War.
The brief resurrection of Fritz Gareis’s Riebeisels was a trivial occurrence against the backdrop of the political events that culminated in the Anschluss, but it drew together by association several figures whose fates were decided by Austria’s demise. Paul Kolisch survived the Illwo by only a few months, dying in Buchenwald on 15 Dec. 1938. Theodor Waldau also died in Buchenwald, on 14 Mar. 1942; Maximilan Schreier was returned to Vienna for further trial in 1940; he was forbidden to emigrate to Sweden and sentenced to incarceration. He fell gravely ill and was hospitalized, but was nonetheless due to be deported to Poland, which by then can only have meant one of the extermination camps, when he committed suicide in Vienna mid-June 1942.
A lengthy article by Nicolas Dostal on the Viennese publisher Hans Steinsberg contains pretty much all of the little available biographical information about Karl Theodor Zelger, in the most recent (2018) volume of Sackmann’s Deutsche Comicforschung. Sackmann himself has an article in the same volume about Berlin’s Grüne Post, describing its publication of Studdy’s Bonzo. The entire run of the Illustrierte Wochenpost is available in digitalized form at the website of the Austrian National Library/Österreichische Nationalbibliothek.
“Der erste Dachau-Transport aus Wien, 1. April 1938. Dokumente und biographische Angaben zu den Häftlingen.” Dokumentationsarchiv des österreichischen Widerstandes/ Documentation Centre of Austrian Resistance (DÖW). https://www.doew.at/erinnern/fotos-und-dokumente/1938-1945/der-erste-dachau-transport-aus-wien-1-april-1938
Dostal, Nicolas. “Der Verlag Steinsberg.” Deutsche Comicforschung 2018. Hildesheim: Comicplus+ Verlag Sackmann und Hörndl, 2017. 60-77.
“In re Holocaust Victim Assets Litigation Case No. CV96-4849.” Claims Resolution Tribunal 24 Oct. 2002. http://www.crt-ii.org/_awards/_apdfs/Kolisch_Paul.pdf
“Kolisch Paul.” Dokumentationsarchiv des österreichischen Widerstandes/ Documentation Centre of Austrian Resistance (DÖW). http://www.doew.at
Kornberger, Monika. “Waldau, Theodor (eig. Goldberg, Dorku; Pseud.e Wauwau, Theo Arbinger),” Oesterreichisches Musiklexikon online. 23 Oct. 2008. http://www.musiklexikon.ac.at/ml/musik_W/Waldau_Theodor.xml
Rohregger, Peter. “Einleitung.” Das Geheimnis des Sacher-Separees: und 33 weitere Liebes- und Lebensdramen aus dem kaiserlichen Österreich. Ed. Peter Rohregger. Norderstedt: Books on Demand, 2017. 9-15.
Sackmann, Eckart. “Die Grüne Post.” Deutsche Comicforschung 2018. Hildesheim: Comicplus+ Verlag Sackmann und Hörndl, 2017. 37-59.
“Schreier Maximilian.” Dokumentationsarchiv des österreichischen Widerstandes/ Documentation Centre of Austrian Resistance (DÖW). http://www.doew.at
Venus, Th. “Schreier, Maximilian (1877-1942), Journalist und Zeitungsherausgeber.” Österreichisches Biographisches Lexikon online. http://www.biographien.ac.at/oebl/oebl_S/Schreier_Maximilian_1877_1942.xml
“Waldau Theodor.” Dokumentationsarchiv des österreichischen Widerstandes/ Documentation Centre of Austrian Resistance (DÖW). http://www.doew.at