LYONEL FEININGERBorn: 1871 : : : Died: 1956
Job Description: Artist
Worked in: Newspaper comics, among other things
Noted for: Everything except his work on Kin-Der-Kids and Wee Willie Winkie's World
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Lyonel Charles Feininger (1871-1956) is a well-known figure in the world of 20th century art, the kind you see in all the right reference works and overviews. There, you'll find information about
his birth in the "Little Germany" quarter of Manhattan, his position on the faculty of the famous Bauhaus from 1919 until that institution closed in 1932, his relocation to the land of his birth when the Nazis came to power, and all the other important facts about the career of this influential and highly acclaimed artist.
What you won't always find is any mention of his stint in newspaper cartooning. Nor are his two short-lived but vividly remembered Sunday comics pages, The Kin-Der-Kids and Wee Willie Winkie's World, considered prominent among his achievements. And this is a shame, because his work in The Chicago Tribune of 1906-7 shows the same design sense, the same point of view, the same fascination with planes and spaces — the same everything as his work in less disreputable media, where he became famous.
Feininger was already an accomplished artist when Tribune editor James Keeley asked him to create a comics feature for the paper — in fact, promotional materials billed him as "the famous German artist" (as he was by then living in his parents' homeland). It's been said Keeley wanted something to compete with The Katzenjammer Kids, which had long been been a great success for the rival Hearst organization. But it seems at least equally likely he had his eye on matching a far more recent hit, Little Nemo in Slumberland, in which cartoonist Winsor McCay was beginning to demonstrate the ability of comics to qualify as art.
Whatever the intention, Feininger's first creation for the Trib, The Kin-Der-Kids, which began April 29, 1906, wasn't really comparable to any other strip — its juvenile cast didn't resemble the Katzies in the least, nor were Feininger's artistic sensibilities very similar to McCay's. In general ambience, his second, Wee Willie Winkie's World, which began August 19 of the same year, was closer to Nemo than some of that feature's outright imitators. Its protagonist, long associated in story and song with children's bed-time, drifted like Nemo through a dream-like fantasy land. But again, in style and outlook, Feininger and McCay were worlds apart.
Reportedly, the artist had originally agreed to do the features mainly because they represented steady income — something most artists can put to good use. But he was temperamentally unsuited to the deadline-oriented newspaper business; and besides, seems to have had personal difficulties with the publisher. The Kin-Der-Kids came to an end on November 18, 1906, and Wee Willie Winkie's World on January 20, 1907. So brief was their passage, they are scarcely even mentioned in early histories of comics.
But Feininger's growing reputation as an artist ensured they would never quite be forgotten. And his stunningly original work remained on the printed pages to be re-discovered by new generations of cartoon enthusiasts. In 1980, Dover Books (whose other toon-related publications include editions of Buster Brown, The Brownies and the work of Gelett Burgess) brought out an edition of The Kin-Der-Kids — complete in one volume, which still made rather a thin book. In 1994, Kitchen Sink Press (which has produced excellent editions of Polly & Her Pals, Li'l Abner, and many others) published both comics in one volume, along with an introduction by comics scholar and historian Bill Blackbeard, and it was still pretty thin.
Lyonel Feininger's cartoon work may be ignored by some of the more hoity-toity art critics — but it isn't in danger of being swept under the table.