Friday, 17 October 2014

Letter to a Dead Cartoonist



DEAR HANS BENDIX,

Photo: Niels Larsen. Museum der Dinge, Berlin.

From now on we go our separate ways. Well, we have actually never even met. Truth be told, you died 30 years ago. But you were the cartoonist whose archive I organized at the Royal Library when I was still just a teenager. I was a freshman at uni and it was my job to sort out and catalogue 6000 of your original drawings.

There was one corner of your life's work which was wholly absent. The years when you drew against Hitler and his gang. Everyone nodded that this was but a parenthesis in your life's work anyway. You were the happy-go-lucky figure. And I nodded along, we were at the Department of Manuscripts and words had an aura to them that images and cartoons in particular seemed to be lacking. How could a mere cartoonist set a project such as Hitler's in jeopardy?

Hitler obviously thought you could. Nazi-Germany kept a keen eye on all that was drawn from day one, which was actually not a bad idea considering you drew him only three days later, refusing to stop although you constantly had to find new ways to go about it. And the thing is, you not only drew him. You created a critical scene with one cornerstone in the daily paper, whose drawings would then be reprinted in one of your pro-democratic, anti-Fascist magazines and they were in turn reviewed by your editor-in-chief in the daily paper, giving each drawing maximum exposure.

The photos in this post were taken at the Museum der Dinge in Berlin. Someone kept the Nazi propaganda crap in pristine condition to this day. Moveable right arms and blue (!) eyes that almost waters, not to mention an embroidered cushion. These are not innocent items, they helped giving the Nazis an aura of a natural and necessary development in the history of mankind. You made certain that perspective never took on in Denmark. The Nazis were not allowed even for a moment to pretend to do good and even if you and your team players were contradicted and battled, the battle alone created a noise that could sorely be overlooked.


Photo: Niels Larsen. Museum der Dinge, Berlin.

On closer inspection that particular section of your life was not even the exception. You were already battling for cartoon art as en expression of Modernism and as such ART long before 1933, making certain your colleagues became members of the collective of artists exhibiting together as Grønningen. And when that did not prove to be the game changer as hoped, you moved on after the war and succesfully negotiated cartoonists the status of journalists.

No wonder you made basket cases of those in power in 1933. The democratic ones at home as well as the anti-democrats south of the border.
Photo: Niels Larsen. Museum der Dinge, Berlin.

To a degree that you had to burn your original drawings and flee the country in 1940. They have not been reprinted nor much known since.

Nor will they be now.

I could not help writing on all of this. My timing was hopeless, though. The manuscript was ready a week before the notion of Danish cartoons became a matter of burning down embassies and no publisher dared having anything to do with cartoons and certainly not of the political sort.

So it was laid aside and many other things happened, until chance had it that now was the time.

It was not, as it turned out.

Your family does not want a book focusing on your political drawings and has forbidden any use of them. They dream of a coffee table thing. Which is their right and it will be a sweet book. Perhaps with a handful of "oh and ah"-speeches printed in it. I doubt anyone will risk three years of their life writing the thing only to see it all go to waste when met with the Red Queen of Alice in Wonderland: NO, off with her head!

I am afraid you will remain Tutu-Bendix, but at least you are in good company with Degas and his ballet girls. Those has of course prevented him from ever becoming respected in the art world, and let us be blunt: You will not be part of it now.

On the contrary your family's rejection has opened a wave of criticism. I have been met with questions such as if you were any good as a cartoonist anyway?  Maybe your person was the actual work of art and once gone there is nothing left?


- the embroidered cushion in question
Photo: Niels Larsen. Museum der Dinge, Berlin.


Sorry, old thing. Those are questions you will have to battle on your own. The book on your courage and daring to go against the tides shall remain a blind one. I have decided to make it free for anyone interested as a last reverence for the example you set: Nervestregen can be downloaded from here.

It will be another 40 years before your cartoons are set free and if I should happen to be around, there will have been so much water under the bridge by then. As in so many cartoonists to write about, just look around you on this blog. And each and every one of them has a story to tell as dramatic as yours.

You were the first cartoonist I was introduced to in a professional capacity. Now I bow and walk on.

LOUISE


Life is a beauty without Nazis!
Berlin, August 2014, Photo: Niels Larsen


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