The Katzenjammers’ Secret
By Helen Lawson (Circulation, September 1922)
I asked H. H. Knerr, the man who draws the Katzenjammer Kids, to reveal the secret of the enduring charm and popularity of the famous comic.
“You ask me,” said H. H. Knerr, “what is the secret of the popularity of the Katzenjammer Kids.”
“Exactly,” I said. ” I ask you—what is the secret of the perpetual popularity of the Katzenjammer Kids?”
Presently H. H. Knerr said:
“I imagine the Kids preserve their appeal from year to year because they express to childhood the dreams that childhood feeds upon, and to maturity the dreams that were cherished in childhood but never came true because the dreams of childhood never do come true.
“As boys we set ourselves some goal or mark of achievement. As men we progress toward that goal, or some other one, limiting ourselves to three meals and a place to sleep until we step across a line some day and taste the thrill of achievement. And just a little later than that we recognize what we have achieved—three meals a day and a place to sleep. The food may be of a little better quality and the couch perhaps more deeply tufted and more yielding, but will be about the only measurable difference.
“Let my own case—since I know most about it—illustrate the point I am trying in illustrate.
“I wanted to be an aeronaut, or aviator as the term is now. Behold me shackled to a drawing board making pictures of the Katzenjammer Kids instead of up in the clouds, soaring at heights where strange birds fly and losing all sense of motion as you do when you journey through the air.
“Perhaps I am better able to draw childhood effectively because my own, in the respect at all events of desiring to become an airman, persisted long into manhood and desisted only in the face of overwhelming discouragement.
“My first experience as an aerialist was on a roof, a hipped affair, such as you still see in cities where families live in houses instead of in three or four rooms nailed together and rented at three times their value as apartments. The roof was next to my father’s home, with a galvanized iron gutter at each of its eaves to catch the rain. It was fine fun to sit at the peak of the hip and slide down the slate roof, catching with my heels on the gutter. I really had two chances before falling the thirty feet to the ground. If I missed with my heels, as I sometimes did, I could catch with my hands, which I always did. I never fell. but I was compelled to stop this childish prank by parental authority. Grown people are always interfering with the amusement of children.
“Then I transferred my talents to the dumbwaiter. I would pull myself up to the top of the house and turn loose, thus securing a swift ride to the bottom of the shaft accompanied by a terrific bump. Again my parents became nervous and I was forced to desist. Then I got a glider. It was great.
“We young chaps in Philadelphia had some of the first gliders in the country. They were big planes, without motors, which were attached by ropes to automobiles. We would swing into them, using our bodies to balance the planes, and fly like kites when the automobiles speeded up. The trick was to keep from turning over.
“The gliders were followed by balloons. Those were days of real sport. Once the crew I trained with reached an altitude of 13,000 feet by the simple process of throwing overboard too much sand by mistake.
“Ballooning, gliding and all the rest of it ended when I came to New York to draw the Katzenjammer Kids, but that doesn’t stop me from dreaming of the old life.
“The world is full of men like me. Citizens in a settled way of life who at one time wanted to be something romantic—policemen, firemen, sailors, taxi drivers or even an iceman. And how many boys do you think there are today who are dreaming the dream of themselves at the window of an engine cab, eyes on the track ahead, one hand on the throttle of a monster locomotive and the other on the air brake controller, master of a trainful of precious lives while the giant engine plunges through the blackness of the night.
“The secret then of the hold on human hearts of the Katzenjammer Kids lies with all the fat men who want to be thin and the thin ones who want to put on weight. I have no doubt that many a burglar dreams of the sermons he could preach if he only had the education to enter a pulpit, and probably many a harassed clergyman believes in his heart that he would have made the most efficient safe blower in the world if it hadn’t been for the conscience that tied his hands.
“In other words only the cold necessity of three meals a day and a place to lay our heads down, has prevented the phenomenon of a world filled to overflowing with overgrown Katzenjammer Kids.”