Aftermath of Fineheimer mayhem. Artist: Harold H. Knerr.


Original Medium: Newspaper comics
Published in: The Philadelphia Inquirer
First Appeared: 1903
Creator: Harold H. Knerr
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If imitation is, as they say, an especially sincere form of flattery, then the non-Hearst, non-Pulitzer papers were flattering their big-city colleagues from the very beginning …

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… of the comics subset of the newspaper industry. Just running Sunday comics pages was a form of imitation/flattery, but the comics themselves often assumed flatteringly imitative forms.

Harold H. Knerr was an early cartoonist for the Philadelphia papers. Because syndicates weren't as big a part of the comics scene as they later became, and because he didn't live in New York, he became a prolific imitator of the more famous comics. Not all of his comics were exactly like existing ones — his That Irresistible Rag, about a badly stereotyped black street musician whose repertoire included a tune that compelled everyone hearing it to dance, for example, didn't owe very much to others; and his Wooly Willie & Little Chief Rain-in-the-Face didn't much resemble other comics offerings.

But his Hard Luck Bill was a lot like Opper's Happy Hooligan; and his Mr. George & Wifey was just like Swinnerton's Mr. Jack, but with humans for characters instead of funny animals. And his Der Fineheimer Twins was practically a clone of Rudolph Dirks's The Katzenjammer Kids — and by most accounts, the best of a large number of Katzie copies in the contemporary market.

Of course, this made it a copy of a copy, since The Katzenjammer Kids was an acknowledged imitation of Wilhelm Busch's popular 1865 German-language comic, Max und Moritz. But comedy derived from the spectacular misbehavior of a pair of incorrigible youths is universal. It translated as easily from the very urban Katzenjammer residence into the less densely-populated Fineheimers' town, as it had from the German home of the earlier boys into the slums of New York City.

Adding to the similarity was the fact that both the Fineheimers and the Katzenjammers were immigrant families, speaking a dense dialect that was supposed to remind readers of native speakers of German, in a way that would never appear in the politically-correct publications of today. But that was incidental to the Fineheimer family being, character-for-character, very nearly clones of the Katzenjammers. Johann and Jakey Fineheimer were just like Hans and Fritz Katzenjammer, their Mamas were very similar, and Uncle Otto corresponded to The Captain.

This Katzenjammer copy started in The Philadelphia Inquirer, which distributed it to a few other papers starting on Sunday, February 15, 1903. An alternative title, used in some places, was Doings of the Fineheimer Twins. It ran ten years, without change in personnel. When Knerr left, it was continued by Joe Doyle, who took over several other comics from him. It was reportedly still being published more than a decade and a half later, but not every week.

The occasion of Knerr's departure is what makes the Fineheimer series notable. After more than a dozen years, Dirks took a leave of absence from The Katzenjammer Kids, but Hearst's organization made no provisions for cartoonists to take sabbaticals. Instead of simply suspending the series, Hearst replaced him with the creator of a very similar comic — this one. When Dirks returned, he found Knerr doing the job that had formerly been his. The lawsuit that followed resulted in yet another Katzie clone, The Captain & the Kids, this one by Dirks himself.

Knerr took over The Katzenjammer Kids in 1914, and stayed with it for the rest of his life. He died in 1949.


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