I love my copy of Pierre-Crignasse so much, that I keep it by the bed. With illustrations by Atak and a ‘reinvention’ of the Heinrich Hoffman text by the comic book artist Fil, it’s a version of Hoffman’s Der Stuwwelpeter (Shock-headed Peter), the rhymes and illustrations for which were a significant part of my childhood.
Just look at him! there he stands,
With his nasty hair and hands.
See! his nails are never cut;
They are grimed as black as soot;
And the sloven, I declare,
Never once has combed his hair;
Anything to me is sweeter
Than to see Shock-headed Peter.
Konrad, as depicted above by Atak, bleeds to death after his thumbs are scissored off in punishment for sucking them! I greatly like the vintage Mickey Mouse, the Blue Meanie from Yellow Submarine, and the Batman ‘action-figure’.
Atak is the nom de plume of Georg Barber, a German artist from Frankfurt. Rich with cultural references and boldly graphic, his illustrations combine unfussy brushwork with an admirable directness of expression more usually the province of the outsider artist.
Above: Friedrich is a bully and a torturer, but gets his comeuppance when the dog he has brutalised, bites him on the leg. The boy falls ill and dies in short order, and the last image shows his mother, another victim of his bad-temper, looking rapturously happy as she feeds the dog, sitting in Friederich’s place at the dinner-table!
Atak’s direct-from-the-heart expression can be a little misleading, because when you start looking closely at his work, his draftsmanship is impeccable and the textures are ravishing. He is a painter to his fingertips. His vitality flirts with the notion of crude, though is far from it in detail. On top of all this, he conjures worlds I want to wander freely in. Page after page unfolds, offering enticing vistas, swathes of uncharted terrain and characters I long to follow. He layers his surfaces seductively, making no attempt to obliterate what he has chosen to abandon beneath by painting over. The paintings feel like pools you look into, with layers and layers beneath their surfaces. He is the real deal. Seek him out.
Der Struwwelpeter oder lustige Geschichten und drollige Bilder was originally published in 1844, and such was its popularity that it was translated into English four years later as Struwwelpeter: Merry Tales and Funny Pictures. That ‘Merry Tales’ is a tad misleading, because while the jauntiness of the verses and their sprightly gallop might lend a gloss of merriness, the horrors that unfold within them have probably given nightmares to more children, than saved the lives of those dissuaded from the cautionary exhortations not to play with matches.
In 1998 the text was set to music by the Tiger Lilies for a stage production, and with such mesmerising effectiveness that I simply can’t read the verses any more without hearing Martin Jacques voice in my head.