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Still Splitting Fog

September 23, 2020 in Comment, General

Pandemic cartoon from Nebelspalter (1918) by Fritz Boscovitz. (The crowd is gathered round a sign saying, Flu – no assembly…’)

Rupert Besley writes:

As a student I had the good fortune several times to work abroad on holiday jobs in the north-east of Switzerland. Happy days. Swiss newspapers then were hard work to get through – great slabs of dense print, well beyond my linguistic skills and I’m pretty sure even those with German as first language found much the same. This was 50 years back and more, but I don’t think much has changed since (or not when I last tried reading a copy of the Neue Zürcher Zeitung and collapsed under its weight).

From Nebelspalter 2012: cover page, cartoon by Oliver Ottitsch (to accompany a feature on mis-measurement). The boy on the right is saying, ‘you’ve got that ruler the wrong way round.’

But there was one publication that stood out on the news-stands and that was Nebelspalter, a satirical magazine with an eye-catching cartoon on its cover. The name means Fog-splitter, preferably with a heavy cleaver or axe. (All of which brings to mind Foghorn, the PCO’s own subversive publication for several years.) Inside were fine cartoons, including ones by the likes of Bosc, whose work needed no language skills to be able to enjoy.

Nebelspalter 2012: Mark Zuckerberg caricature by Michael Streuen.

Nebelspalter was founded in 1875, as ‘an illustrated humorous political weekly’, heavily modelled on Punch. Its finest hour was through the 1930s and 40s, when it took on Nazism in Germany and followers in Switzerland. Since then the publication has had its ups and downs. By 1998 its circulation (70,000 in the 1970s) had dropped to 8,000. But a last-minute rescue plan enabled the magazine to continue, appearing more or less monthly. In 2017 it had a print run of 21,000 and according to a market research study had 160,000 readers per issue (all such details taken from the entry on Wikipedia). These days it is into online subscribers. Nebelspalter reckons to be the oldest illustrated humour/satire publication still in circulation.

From Simplicissimus: 1903 caricature by Gulbransson of composer and Bayreuth Festival director Siegfried Wagner.

Another tribute act to Punch was Germany’s Simplicissimus, named after the hero of a raunchy 17th cent novel recounting the tales of one surviving the Thirty Years War. Simplicissimusfirst appeared in 1896 and was published weekly till 1944, suspended for 10 years and then revived, coming out bi-weekly in its last three years to 1967. For its first issue, 480,000 copies were printed – and 10,000 sold. Munich based, the magazine found easy targets for humour in Prussian military types and entrenched class snobberies. There were top names among the contributors – writers like Thomas Mann, Hermann Hesse, Frank Wedekind, Hugo von Hoffmansthal and the illustrators included such stars as George Grosz, Käthe Kollwitz, Ernst Barlach, John Heartfield and Olaf Gulbransson.

Simplicissimus, 1908: characteristically dark but powerful study by Käthe Kollwitz. In 1898 the work of Kollwitz was nominated for a gold medal in Berlin’s Great German Art Exhibition, but was denied it after Kaiser Wilhelm II was said to have opined, ‘I beg you gentlemen, a medal for a woman, that would really be going too far… orders and medals of honour belong on the breasts of worthy men.’

Both magazines owed a bit, too, perhaps to their counterparts in France with its strong tradition of satirical magazines. The German and Swiss publications are generally reckoned to have been always somewhat tamer and more restrained than the no-holds-barred swipes of their French equivalents.

I’ve not got to see a full copy of Nebelspalter for many years and am in no position to give any kind of review. But I’m cheered to see it is still going and long may that continue.

Copyright: illustrations 1-3 reproduced by kind permission of Nebelspalter.ch. The magazine has also most kindly provided the following link to its archive, enabling lovers of fine cartoon and caricature to enjoy its superb collection of work published in past issues from 1875 to 2010. Our thanks.