Lyonel Feininger (1871-1956) was born in New York City, USA. His parents, who were both professional musicians, sent him to Germany at age 16 to study music. Young Lyonel instead took to art, and became well known as a painter and printmaker. Later on in his life, he became the only faculty member of the famed German art school the Bauhaus to teach from its inception in 1919 until the Nazis closed it in 1933. In 1937, Feininger returned to the United States, where he resumed teaching at Mills College in Oakland, California.
One of several German artists recruited by the Chicago Tribune, Feininger began to draw comic strips for its syndicate in 1906. Feininger drew two strips, The Kin-der-Kids1 and Wee Willie Winkie's World. The Kin-der-Kids debuted on 29 April, 1906, and ended abruptly on 18 November, 1906, following disputes with the syndicate. Wee Willie Winkie's World continued to run until early 1907.
Story and Characters
The Kids are headed around the world, leaving New York and crossing the Atlantic Ocean in the family bathtub, visiting England and Russia. They must fend for themselves, fishing in the ocean for food, and avoid various human threats as well.
The Kin-der-Kids consist of:
Daniel Webster, the intellectual of the group, who prefers to read rather than take much notice of the action around him. Conservatively dressed, and nearly bald on top, Daniel looks quite old for his age. His dog, Sherlock Bones, accompanies him.
Strenuous Teddy is the muscle to go with Daniel Webster's brains.
Piemouth (aka Fatty) is all appetite. Round and eager-eyed, he thinks of nothing but food.
Japansky is not really a character. He (It?) is a motor built in the shape of an Asian boy. He is operated by a series of controls on his back. Despite being non-sentient and without any personality, Japansky still manages to play an important part in several strips. Japansky was once referred to as a 'clockwork waterbaby'.
Not all dangers come from other lands. The Kids are soon pursued by:
Aunt Jim-Jam (or Jim-Jams, or JimJam) and her bottle of castor oil. She seems to be the only parental figure in the Kids's lives. Her concern for the Kids's welfare turns to annoyance as they dodge her attempts to dose them with the oil. Her cat, who has no name, accompanies her, along with...
Cousin Gussie (aka Augustus), who is easily recognizable by his huge blue hat. He is not completely on Aunt Jim-Jam's side, and rejoices at times, when the Kids evade the dreaded oil.
Mr Buggins is a helper picked up quite by accident while Aunt Jim-Jam and Gussie pursue the kids. A squat, unattractive fellow, with a rudimentary Mohawk hairdo, Buggins gets an occasional chance to help out.
Mysterious Pete is, as you might guess, mysterious. He flies about on his own cloud ('Private Cloud, keep off' reads the sign on the cloud) and acts as a deus ex machina, moving the story along for his own unknown purposes. His dog, who is un-named, accompanies him.
What's Going on Here?
As with any half-finished story, questions abound about the adventures of the Kin-der-Kids. Some concern the plot, others Feininger's eccentric continuity. For example, why does the spelling Aunt Jim-Jam's name keep changing? JimJam seems to be the most prevalent version.
The Kids have a trunk in their bathtub boat, which sometimes has a label affixed to it reading 'Trunk Cabin'. Other times the words are written directly on the trunk, and spelled 'Trunk Kabbin.'
Feininger drew two pages to introduce his characters to the audience before the story began. However, Mr Buggins does not appear in these drawings; Uncle Kin-der, who never appears in the strip, does.
What is Mysterious Pete up to? He delivers a sealed envelope of instructions to Daniel Webster ('It's him!' says Daniel when he sees Pete approach) but nothing more is said of them. Pete then appears to Aunty JimJam and Gussie, to let them know where the Kids are.
And What Happened Then?
Lyonel Feininger regretted having stopped The Kin-der-Kids so suddenly. He carved wooden figurines of the characters for his children, and considered reviving the strip to bring the story to a proper close. Imagination is the most important part of any story - the imagination of the storyteller, and the imagination of those who follow the story. For The Kin-der-Kids, the rest of their adventures are left for readers to supply.