Well, being that I am off to Cardiff on Thursday to see the touring Young Vic production of Hergé’s Adventures of Tintin, I thought I’d make this serial and comic strip week here on broadcastellan. “Blistering barnacles” and “Cushion footed quadrupeds”! I am smack in the middle of the “Funny Book War” as staged by Michael Chabon in The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay; and even though my comic treats were generally of not of the superheroic kind (to which this recent portrait attests), comics are very much on my mind.
It so happens that the aforementioned (and by now controversial) boy reporter and his creator are also the subject of the BBC Radio 4 documentary “Tintin’s Guide to Journalism” (available online here until 23 November). In this broadcast, which also features the voice of Tintin creator Hergé, journalist Mark Lawson investigates cases of real-life reporters who were inspired to enter their profession by books like King Ottokar’s Sceptre. In my case, comics simply inspired imitation.
The Germans are said to have papered the way to the comics with the picture books of Wilhelm Busch (Max und Moritz), which is where I started out as well. After graduating from the Katzenjammer Kids inspiring Max und Moritz, I became an avid comic collector, spending virtually all of my Taschengeld (distributed as it was back then in Deutsch Marks) on weeklies like Fix und Foxi.
Sigh! My family could not afford to have me shod there; but I still sneaked into the Salamander shoe stores to browse just long enough to grab my copy of Lurchi, another treat being the stories of Mecki the hedgehog I clipped from the pages of the German radio and television magazine Hörzu. More inclined toward the buzz of Maya the Bee than to the “THWIP!” of Spiderman, my comic book phase ended as I entered my teenage years. Make that my “comic reading phase,” since I kept drawing them. My own creations often mocked those among my pubescent schoolmates who kept up with the exploits of guys like Superman or The Phantom.
It was only after I graduated from the comics that I discovered a connection between cartoon bubbles and comic speech, the kind of connection to which the Americans owe the serial adventures of Amos ‘n’ Andy, the kind of affinity that made it possible for New York City Mayor La Guardia to read Little Orphan Annie on the air during the 1945 newspaper strike. Even though I had very little exposure to radio drama, being the walking TV Guide in my family, I created in the character of Inspektor Bullauge (Inspector Bull’s Eye) a comic for the ear. I made up the story as I played the parts, more interested in the sound effects I could use and record to bring my cardboard creation to life.
Zowie! Despite dedicating an estimated 300,000 words of this journal to popular culture (and radio dramatics in particular), I have never explored here the relationship between onomatopoeia and the equally imaginative world of sound effects . . .