Monday, April 22, 2019

Rudolph Dirks Anticipates the Group of Seven

by BK Munn

Rudolph Dirks took the characters of his Katzenjammer Kids strip around the world many times before they more or less settled down on a tropical island, and one of their earliest adventures was a search for the North Pole. As part of this epic 1907 quest, the trio of The Captain, Hans and Fritz travelled through the arctic, battling polar bears and meeting other northern inhabitants, including racist caricatures of Inuit people who speak in gibberish. The Captain, like Dirks himself, just wants to travel and paint pictures, but is constantly pranked by the kids. In the sequence below, he likens the painting of a pine tree to poetry, echoing Robert Service’s "The Pines” and presaging both Joyce Kilmer’s famous poem “Trees” (“I think that I shall never see/a poem lovely as a tree...”) and the paintings of Tom Thompson and the Group of Seven, notably Thompson’s “The Jack Pine”. Dirks was a fellow traveller of The Ashcan School of painters and was one of the cartoonists who exhibited in the Armoury Show of 1913.