Cartoon artist Rötger Feldmann (pen name Brösel [“crumb”] , b. 1950 in Travemünde, northern Germany) is best known for his quasi-autobiographical character Werner, named after one of Feldmann’s own middle names. The main themes of the Werner cartoon are his professional life as an apprentice plumber and his personal life as a biker, both against the specific background of flat coastal northern Germany and its characteristic dialect influenced by Low German. The Werner franchise started in the late 1970s as a cartoon in a local city maganize and matured to book-length cartoon narratives by the 1980s with the help of Feldmann’s brother Andreas (Andi). It has also released animated movies starting in 1990.
Growing up in a working-class family, Feldmann completed an apprenticeship as a lithographer, at the time a common printing technology, but mainly worked as an unskilled laborer, for example, in construction and building, similar to his brother, who is a trained plumber. Especially during longer periods of unemployment, these practical skills were used for working on motorcycles, famously a Horex Regina and Harley Davidson choppers, and cars and for modifying them with illegal upgrades. This frequently led to run-ins with the police, another frequent topic of the cartoons.
Slowly, as drawing cartoons started to generate a small income, Feldmann devoted more time to this skill and was able to produce a regular strip for the well-known left-wing satirical monthly Pardon (now reincarnated as the magazine Titanic). His first regular strip were the Bakuninis, an anarchist family collective, soon followed by the first Werner strips.
In 1981, with the help of family and friends, Feldmann published the first book Werner – oder was? [“Werner – or what?”] with their own publishing house, Semmel Verlach. This book presents several shorter narratives, partially redrawn from older material, but now all centered around the Werner character. Originally an underground niche product with a small cult following, the subsequent five Werner books reachedsteadily increasing audiences. Feldmann founded a new publishing house, Achterbahn, with professional management in 1991 and published five more Werner books and two compilations. Dropping sales and overly aggressive merchandising of Werner products led to Achterbahn’s bankruptcy in 2002 and the final Werner book being published by European comic book giant Ehapa (German publisher of Disney), who tried a series of new editions of the original books, which was canceled because of lagging sales.
Themes from the comic books were also converted into 5 animated movies, released between 1990 and 2011, several featuring music by well-known German bands. Another product from the Werner franchise is the character’s favorite beverage, a beer, which is called Bölkstoff [“burp stuff”] in the cartoon, and now marketed under that name in reality.
Feldmann’s drawing style is simple, usually black-and-white outlines with little shading,some panels were colored at the height of commercial success. Humans have exaggerated simplified features, Werner a long nose, four hairs, and huge front teeth, but motorcycles and cars are often drawn true to nature and with attention to technical detail. Language use is very characteristic, including biker slang, and unconventional spelling aims to be true to dialect and the specific speech patterns of the characters. In addition to Bölkstoff, several phrases from the Werner comics have found their way into the German language, especially in northern Germany, most famously “Tass Kaff” (instead of “Tasse Kaffee” [cup of coffe]), “Schüssel” [“bowl” for motorcycle], and “Hau wech den Scheiss” [“down with the shit”, meaning “bottoms up”].
The Werner comics never aimed to be art, but they fared well, from cult following to a festival reenacting a race from one of the comic books with more than 200,000 people attending in 1988.with their vaguely left-wing, non-aggressive and often punning humor hitting the spirit of the time.
— Christian F. Hempelmann
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