Writer, researcher, translator, critic

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1923: Karl Arnold

 

This week I'm thinking about a sequence of twenty-six drawings by Karl Arnold that appeared in the magazine Simplicissimus from 1921 to 1924.

I have a lot of affection for the German satirical magazines of the Weimar era, even though they were so ineffectual at combating the rise of fascism. Arnold, like the rest of his Simplicissimus peers, jeered at the Nazis until they took power, and then, just as the magazine had mocked militarism and the Kaiser until WWI, when they became fervent patriots, Arnold drew pro-Hitler cartoons during World War II. As the images below demonstrate, he had worked in a softer version of George Grosz's contemptuous, excoriating idiom, but when it came to it, his nerve failed, and unlike Grosz, who emigrated to the US in order to denounce the Nazis all the more strongly, he was pressed, like the rest of civilian Germany, into supporting the Reich.

But these pictures are all from before that time. Arnold was born in southern Germany, and trained as a painter in Munich, and it was the Munich satire and arts magazines where he honed his caricaturists' craft. Although he (like Simplicissimus) aimed plenty of scorn and mockery toward his conservative, ignorant, and mulish Bavarian neighbors, in this series, "Berliner Bilder" or "Berlin Pictures," he draws representative and almost entirely unflattering images of the social life of Weimar Berlin, hotbed of aesthetic radicalism, sexual liberation, and up-to-the-moment fashions.

You don't need to know the specific places or scenes he's depicting in order to enjoy the sharp cut of his thin line and curdled physiognomies. Arnold's illustrative brio and gift for abbreviated caricature makes him a sort of jaundiced forerunner to Al Hirschfeld or even certain aspects of Franco-Belgian ligne claire. But none of that postwar optimism is present here: sardonic, meticulously composed, and determinedly unimpressed, Arnold's cartoons are a critique of modernity that were not remotely fascist in intent, but like all critiques of modernity could be used by fascists to advance their own agenda.

Not that there's any such thing as a fascism-proof aesthetic. Political action, not drawing-boards, is the only really effective resistance.

Speaking of which: there's racist, homophobic, and anti-Semitic caricature herein. I mean, it's Germany in the Twenties, no shit, but it's good to acknowledge it. And I'm not translating the titles and captions. I might later. We'll see. Enjoy!

 
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All images sourced from the wonderful  Simplicissimus archive .

All images sourced from the wonderful Simplicissimus archive.

 

If you look carefully, you'll notice that Arnold (or his editors) lost track of how many Berlin Pictures he had drawn not once, but twice. The numbering eventually resolves itself, though.

 
Jonathan BogartJazz Comics