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Wilhelm Busch was a 19th century German painter and poet, who became famous for his (black and white) picture stories with rhymed texts. He's still widely known today, especially for his children's stories, like Max And Moritz, the success of which has made him one of the most-quoted poets in the German language right next to Goethe and Schiller. He's not however the author of Der Struwwelpeter, which is yet a bit older, although from the 19th century too.

Due to the lack of Speech Bubbles not really Comics yet, but definitely Sequential Art. Influenced The Katzenjammer Kids by Rudolph Dirks and found many other imitators.

Recurring topics in his work: Naughty boys playing pranks (not always going unpunished, however); mischievous animals; alcoholism; failing would-be artists; and anti-Catholicism. Still Better Than It Sounds.

A list of his works:

  • The Virtuoso: A short story without talking about a truly awesome piano player. Uses several comic tropes long before they became mainstream.
  • Max and Moritz: Two boys play pranks on a widow (twice), a tailor, a teacher, uncle Fritz, a baker and a peasant. But he catches them, brings them to the mill and has them grinded to grit. And after that, two ducks eat their remains. Busch's single most famous story; can be read online here.
  • Hans Huckebein: A raven is caught by a boy, causes a lot of havoc but dies after drinking alcohol at the end.
  • Saint Anthony of Padova: A young man decides to become a monk after having trouble with his girl (and another guy who also loves her). Has visions of Mary, resists Satan and does other saintly things. The strip makes fun of the Catholic church (Busch was Protestant, and you find this topic throughout his work), although Anthony himself isn't exactly unsympathetic.
  • Pious Helene: The story of a girl who's sent to the countryside where people are supposedly better than in the city. However, Helene is more hypocritical than pious, and likes to play pranks on her relatives. Not however on her cousin Franz, with whom she falls in love, despite the fact he's supposed to become a Catholic priest. They keep up their relationship even after she marries, and he becomes the real father of her twins. Then, in short order, her husband and lover die, and she becomes an alcoholic. This leads to an accident in which she dies. Afterwards, she goes to hell.
  • Pictures for the 'Jobsiad': Differs from the other stories insofar as Busch just drew the pictures to a (much) older story. Tells the biography of a Hieronymus Jobs, son of rich parents, who becomes a failure in every possible way.
  • Father Filucius: A Sinister Minister (and Jesuite) tries to get influence on the family of Gottlieb Michael. It doesn't end well for him, and he gets his ass kicked.
  • The Birthday, or The Particularists: Some villagers try to make a present for the exiled Hannoverian king. They fail several times; the only one profiting is mother Köhm, owner of the local pub, since the guys are heavy drinkers.
  • The Knopp Trilogy: The life of Tobias Knopp, a fat bald guy.
    • Adventures of a Bachelor: Knopp feels depressed from his single life, so he goes to the world to visit old friends and find a wife. Several kinds of funny mischief occur to him, but at the end, at least he finds a wife - his until then housekeeper.
    • Herr and Frau Knopp: The married life of Knopp and his Dorothee with its ups and downs. Essentially, a Dom Com, except not being on TV. Ends with the birth of Julchen (lil' Julia), their only child.
    • Julchen: The third part centers on Julchen growing up from a baby to a young woman. At the end, she marries the hot forest warden Fritz; Knopp feels that his duty on this world is done, and dies soon afterwards.
  • Fipps the Monkey: How he's caught in Africa, brought to Germany and creates a lot of mischief. But also saves a baby from the fire once.
  • Plisch and Plum: Two dogs are thrown into the water by an evil guy, but they're saved by two boys. Much mischief happens, but things turn out quite well, except for bad guy Schlich who drowns in a pond.
  • Balduin Bählamm[1], the Would-Be Poet: A man hopes to become a famous poet, but the circumstances prevent him from creating any art.
  • Klecksel the Painter: Boy Kuno becomes a painter, plays some pranks on other men, literally fights a critic who ripped apart his work, has some affairs with women, but ends up taking over the pub of his father.

And several smaller stories.

Tropes used in Wilhelm Busch include:

  • Action Girl: An unnamed miller's daughter. She's alone when three robbers enter the mill, one of them implied to be a rapist. But without feeling in trouble for a moment, she flattens the wannabe rapist with a millstone, rolls up the second robber to a spiral (with the help of the turning axis of the mill-wheel), and beheads the third one (who apparently doesn't care for the fate of his mates) when he tries to rob the gold from a chest. The author comments: "This is how one single girl gets three men into trouble." Read it here.
  • An Aesop: Many, against alcohol and mischief. Several stories end with "Und die Moral von der Geschicht..." (and the moral of the story is: ...)
    • Although very often parodistically such as "Und die Moral von der Geschicht/Ist: Bad' zwei ein einer Wanne nicht!" (And the moral of the story is: don't bath two boys in one tub!)
  • The Alcoholic: Appear in several stories.
  • Alliterative Name: Hans Huckebein, Kuno Klecksel, Balduin Bählamm, and others.
    • Including Max and Moritz.
  • Amusing Injuries: Up to Amusing Death. Note that these stories are more than 100 years old, and even decades older than The Yellow Kid, often said to be the first comic.
  • Animals Not to Scale: Two ducks (no Funny Animals, real ducks) which can pull a grown man out of the water, and may beetles as big as a human hand.
  • Arson, Murder, and Jaywalking: After Max and Moritz put gunpowder into the teacher's pipe and it explodes, the author (or Lämpel?) muses: Who shall teach the children now? Who shall multiply the knowledge? What should the teacher use for smoking now?
  • Ash Face: Happens to Lämpel the teacher.
  • Author Tract: Best example may be "Pater Filucius". Gottlieb Michael (the good guy) is generally seen as a stand-in for the good German people, whom the evil Catholic church wants to harm.
  • Black Comedy: See the other tropes
  • Book Dumb: When asked by the professors on his final exam how many parts (and what kind) a good sermon should have, Hieronymus answers (sorry for not rhyming): "Two parts: One part that noone can understand, and one part that's understandable."
  • Break Out the Museum Piece: What some villagers do to hunt and kill Fipps at the end.
  • But You Screw One Goat! / Get Thee to a Nunnery: Max and Moritz provoke a tailor by calling him "goat-Böck". Nowadays it just sounds like a pun on his name (well, in German). At this time though, it implied he was doing improper acts with goats...
  • Camp: The hairdresser in the story of Fipps the monkey. Some things never change, do they?
  • Chocolate Baby: After Helene marries rich fat guy Schmöck (whose name doesn't coincidentally sound like shmuck), she bears twins who look very much like her lover Franz.
  • Covered in Gunge
  • Delivery Stork
  • Disproportionate Retribution: Worst things Max and Moritz do: Putting gunpowder into the pipe of the teacher (OK, that's pretty harsh, but he survives.) Their punishment at the end (not by him): They're killed in the mill.
  • Domestic Abuse: Played for laughs, mostly.
  • Editorial Synaesthesia: Notes to indicate music in "The virtuoso"
  • Everything's Better with Monkeys: The story about Fipps.
  • Cute Kitten: Helene has one. Though the trope gets subverted when her cat and another one (a tom) first kill Lene's canaries and then wreak havoc in the house.
  • Everything's Worse with Bears: A bear eats the donkey of Saint Anthony, but Anthony makes the bear carry him instead.
  • Everything's Worse with Bees: As these boys learn.
  • Fat Idiot: The appropriately named Schmöck.
  • Funny Foreigner / Cloudcuckoolander: The Englishman Mister "Pief" (Peeve?) who walks around while always looking through a telescope.
  • German Dialects: Wilhelm Busch came from the northern part of Germany, and some characters speak the local dialect.
    • Which is actually a dialect of Low German. Since Busch lived in Munich for a time and worked for some Munich-based publications, there's also a bit of Bavarian in some of his stories and cartoons.
  • German Humor
  • Gratuitous Iambic Pentameter: One professor speaks in perfect hexameters.
  • The Grim Reaper: In the last story about Tobias Knopp.
  • He Also Did: Most Germans wouldn't know that he did more (like oil paintings, novels and serious poems) than pictured stories. Or even all of these.
  • Heroic Sociopath: Max and Moritz
  • Holier Than Thou: Busch criticized the Catholic church several times.
  • I'm a Humanitarian: A witch and her evil husband (though she turns the boy into a pig before; does that count?)
  • I'm Melting: This story.
  • Kissing Cousins: Helene and Franz.
  • Meaningful Name: Or rather often, names with a meaningful sound. The guy Dümmel isn't exactly the sharpest tool in the shed. (May not work in other languages, though.)
    • Pater Filucius abounds with this, especially as it is to a large extent an allegory of religious conflicts of the era. Thus Gottlieb Michael is Germany (Der deutsche Michel - the German Michael is the German counterpart to John Bull or Uncle Sam, named after the Archangel Michael, patron saint of Germany), his aunts Petrine and Pauline (named after St. Peter and St. Paul) represent the Catholic and Protestant churches, and his lady love, Angelica, refers to the Anglican church (Bush recommding to end the interdenominational strife by establishing something like the Church of England in Germany).
  • Money, Dear Boy: Busch rather wanted to become a "real" artist, like a poet or a painter, but found that people preferred his simpler, funny picture stories.
  • Naked People Are Funny
  • Names to Run Away From: Surely you can trust someone who is called "Father Filucius".
  • Napoleon Bonaparte: How do draw him.
  • Overprotective Dad: Knopp becomes this. Justified because three of the suitors of his daughter aren't exactly Nice Guys.
  • Panicky Expectant Father: Knopp makes a great example.
  • Paper People / Squashed Flat: The robber / rapist crushed by the millstone. Other than typical for this trope, he doesn't exactly revert.
  • Preacher's Kid: In the story about Saint Anthony of Padova. The bishop has to decide whether Anthony is worthy to be a saint. Anthony asks a boy who's supposed to be mute who his parents are. The boy starts: "The bishop Rusticus is -" and is instantly interrupted by the bishop who decides that Anthony is indeed worthy.
  • Prophecy Twist: A gypsy woman predicts that Hieronymus Jobs "will speak, and many will hear him; he'll scare the thieves and console the ill". Which is why his parents pay for his studies to become a priest. At the end of the story, he'll become instead a nightwatch man.
  • Ravens and Crows: Hans Huckebein, the unlucky raven
  • Red Scare: In one story, an "Inter-Nazi" appears. (No relation to Those Wacky Nazis.) Probably supposed to be an internationalist / social democrat.
    • To further explain, "Nazi" is an old Bavarian and Austrian diminutive of the name Ignaz (Ignatius). Not surprisingly it has fallen into disuse since 1933...
  • Running Gag
  • Satan: Appears in some stories, to take Helene's soul to hell.
  • Schadenfreude: Schlich is made of this.
  • Serious Business: The people of a Hannoverian village who want to celebrate the birthday of their ex-king (Hannover was conquered by Prussia in 1866; some people nursed a grudge because of this, and pro-Prussian Wilhelm Busch wrote this story as a Take That).
  • Sinister Minister: Cousin Franz, and Pater Filucius (even with a Meaningful Name - "Filou" is French for "crook")
  • Starving Artist: Kuno Klecksel, sometimes
  • Straw Hypocrite: Several Catholics
  • Theme Naming: Max and Moritz; dogs Plisch and Plum; Hiebel, Fibel and Bullerstiebel, the friends of Gottlieb Michael; the aunts Petrine and Pauline from the same story; and more.
  • The Tooth Hurts: In one story. Hilarity Ensues (well, for the reader). You can read it online here (in German).
  • Visual Pun: Cousin Franz is drawn blackhanded in the picture with the Chocolate babies and their not-father.
  • What Do You Mean It's Not Heinous?: Killing her chickens was mean, but the widow reacts in a way you could think they had killed her children.
  • What Happened to the Mouse?: Helene's twins only appear on one panel as babies, and we don't learn what happened to them after Helene's husband Schmöck and their real father Franz die. Or Helene herself, for that matter.
  • Why Do You Keep Changing Jobs?: Hieronymus Jobs
  • Would Hit a Girl: The three boys Klingebiel, Mickefett and Sutitt, who push Julchen into a ditch. Fortunately, Fritz is there to kick their ass.
  • Written Sound Effect: Busch was pretty good at them. "Klickeradoms", "Rickeracke", "Klingelings"... these wouldn't be out of place in a modern comic either.
    • The dogs Plisch and Plum are even named after sound effects (which are used when evil guy Schlich throws them into a pond).
    • "Klickeradoms" actually was used as a sound effect in the German translation of Donald Duck comics; for a time it was falsely credited to the legendary translater Dr. Erika Fuchs.
  1. "Baa-lamb", so to speak.