Please click on the album picture to view my personal library collection on : Karl May


By Willy Vandersteen 


Karl May

Country of origin: België

Original language : Nederlands

Creation team Author (s)  : Willy vandersteen

Artist (s) : Willy vandersteen

Publication: 1962-1985

Portal Comics

The Karl May strip series was formed in 1962, when Willy vandersteen came up with the idea to create a comic series involving the books of the German writer Karl May. Main characters in these books are  Winnetou and Old ShatterhandIn 1962  the first album was released: Old Shatterhand, where the Karl May stories,direct source, were used. As the series progressed,the stories were more taken away from this subject and here were told the stories set in the typical Wild West. Eventually there would appear 87  albums , the last part appeared in april 1985.Karl May


Karl Friedrich May
February 25, 1842(1842-02-25)
Ernstthal, later Kingdom of Saxony
March 30, 1912(1912-03-30) (aged 70)
Radebeul, German Empire
Writer; author
Western, Travel Fiction, ‘Heimatromane’, Adventure Novels

Karl Friedrich May (pronounced /ˈmaɪ/ “my”; February 25, 1842 – March 30, 1912) was a popular German writer, noted mainly for adventure novels set in the American Old West, (best known for the characters of Winnetou and Old Shatterhand) and similar books set in the Orient and Middle East (with Kara Ben Nemsi and Hadschi Halef Omar). In addition, he wrote stories set in his native Germany, in China and in South America. May also wrote poetry and a play, as well as composing music; he was proficient with several musical instruments. Many of his works were filmed, adapted for the stage, processed to audio dramas or transcribed into comics.

Life and career

Karl May’s birth house


Karl May was born into a family of poor weavers in Ernstthal, Schönburgische Rezessherrschaften (later part of the Kingdom of Saxony). He was the fifth child out of fourteen, nine of whom died within several months of birth. According to his autobiography, he suffered from visual impairment shortly after birth and regained his eyesight after treatment at the age of five. Possibly a lack of vitamin A led to night blindness, which got worse.During his school time he got private music and composition lessons. 1856 he started his teacher training in Waldenburg, but was excluded 1859, because he embezzled six candles. After a petition he was allowed to continue his education in Plauen. His career as a teacher ended 1861 abruptly after few weeks when he was accused by his roommate of stealing a pocket watch. Therefore he had to be in gaol in Chemnitz for six weeks and his license to teach was revoked permanently.During the following years he tried to earn a living by giving private education, writing tales, composing and declaiming. But these did not secure his livelihood. As consequence he started thefts and frauds. He was sentenced to four years in a workhouse. From 1865 to 1869 he was in gaol in the workhouse Osterstein Castle (Zwickau). Because of good behaviour he became administrator of the prison’s library and had the chance to read much including travel literature. He planned to become an author and made a list of titles of works he planned to write, named Repertorium C. May. Some of the planned works on this list he actually did write later. After his release he failed starting a good existence and continued with thefts and frauds. Compared to the effort the loot was meagre. He got caught, but during judicial investigation, when he was transported to the crime scenes, he freed himself. May fled beyond Saxon boundaries to Bohemia, where he was detained for vagabondage. He was in gaol again in Waldheim from 1870 to 1874. There he met the catholic prison’s catechist Johannes Kochta, whose influence helped May to find to himself.After May’s release in May 1874 he went back to his parents in Ernstthal and started writing. The first known publication of a Karl May tale (Die Rose von Ernstthal) was in November 1874.[1] It was a time when the German press was on the move. Industrialisation, increasing literacy and economic freedom lead to many start-ups of presses (especially in the field of light fiction). Already in the time between his two long imprisonments he had contacted the publisher Heinrich Gotthold Münchmeyer in Dresden. Now Münchmeyer engaged May as editor in his press. For the first time his livelihood was secure. He stewarded several entertainment papers (e. g. Schacht und Hütte) and wrote and edited numerous articles, some published under his own name, some under pseudonym or anonymously (e. g. Geographische Predigten, 1875/76). May quit in 1876, because his employer tried to bind him to his company by marriage with Münchmeyer’s sister-in-law and the firm had a bad reputation.[1] After a second engagement as editor in the press of Bruno Radelli, Dresden, in 1878 he became freelance writer and moved to Dresden together with his girlfriend Emma Pollmer, whom he married in 1880. But his publications did not result in a regular income yet; there were rent and other arrears.[1]In 1879 Deutscher Hausschatz, a catholic weekly journal from the press of Friedrich Pustet in Regensburg, published the tale Three carde monte. After some more stories, they made the offer May should present them all of his tales first: In 1880 he started the Orient Cycle, which ran with interruptions until 1888. But at the same time he also wrote for other journals, used pseudonyms and different titles to get multiple payment for his texts. Until his death more than one hundred tales were published in instalments in diverse journals. Another important journal was Der Gute Kamerad of Wilhelm Spemann, Stuttgart, later on Union Deutsche Verlagsgesellschaft, which was a magazine for boys in secondary school. There his first tale was published in 1887 (Der Sohn des Bärenjägers) and it printed one of his most famous stories: Der Schatz im Silbersee (1890/91). In 1882 there was new contact with H. G. Münchmeyer and May started the first of five very large colportage novels for his former employer. One of them, Das Waldröschen (1882–1884) had a total print run of several hundred thousand copies until 1907. But May made just a verbal agreement with Münchmeyer and later on this would become a problem.

Karl May as Old Shatterhand, 1896


In October 1888 May moved to Kötzschenbroda (a part of Radebeul) and 1891 into Villa Agnes in Oberlößnitz (another part of Radebeul). The key breakthrough came in 1891 through contact with Friedrich Ernst Fehsenfeld, who offered to print the Deutsche Hausschatz-stories as books. With the start of the new book series Carl May’s Gesammelte Reiseromane in 1892 (since 1896 Karl May’s Gesammelte Reiseerzählungen) for the first time May experienced financial security and glory. But after a short time he had problems differentiating reality and fiction and went so far as to say that he himself had experienced the adventures of Old Shatterhand and Kara Ben Nemsi, respectively, which he had written about. This was the so called “Old Shatterhand Legend”. A gunsmith in Kötzschenbroda manufactured the legendary guns of the heroes in his novels for him, first the “Bärentöter” (Bear Killer) and the „Silberbüchse“ (The Silver Gun), later on the “Henrystutzen” (Henry Rifle). Many readers accepted the equating of author and protagonist and sent numerous letters to him that assumed it to be true. In the following years he conducted talking tours in Germany and Austria, allowed autographed cards to be printed and photos in costume to be taken. In December 1895 he moved into the Villa “Shatterhand” in Alt-Radebeul, which he bought from the Ziller Brothers.In 1899/1900 May travelled to the Orient. In the first part he was for nearly three-quarters of a year just accompanied by his servant Sejd Hassan and went from Egypt to Sumatra. In 1900 he met his wife and his friends, the couple Klara and Richard Plöhn. Together they continued the journey and returned to Radebeul in July 1900. For a year and a half May wrote a travel diary, which is extant in fragments and transcription parts. According to his second wife Klara (widowed Plöhn, see below) May twice had a nervous breakdown during the journey, each lasting over a week. Hans Wollschläger and Ekkehard Bartsch believe that this was due to an irruption of the reality into May’s dream world.[2] He overcame the crisis without medical benefit.While May was on his Orient journey, attacks in the press set in, especially pursued by Hermann Cardauns and Rudolf Lebius. They criticised – with different motivations – May’s self-promotion and the associated “Old Shatterhand Legend”. Simultaneously they reproached his religious sham (he wrote as protestant for the catholic Deutscher Hausschatz and several Marian calendars), immorality and later on his criminal history. These polemics and several trials about unauthorized book publications lasted until his death. His broken marriage was dissolved in 1903 through a suit brought on by May. According to May, Emma, who was a friend of his adversary, Pauline Münchmeyer (widow of H. G. Münchmeyer), embezzled documents, which could have verified the verbal agreement with Münchmeyer. In the same year he married the widow, Klara Plöhn.Since his initial employment as editor, May illegally added a doctoral degree to his name. 1902 he got an Doctor honoris causa from the Universitas Germana-Americana in Chicago for his work Im Reiche des Silbernen Löwen. Christian Heermann assumes this happened at the behest of May or Klara Plöhn to give the false doctoral degree a legal basis.[3] This university was a known diploma mill, where degrees could be bought for money.

Karl May and Sascha Schneider, 1904


In 1908 Karl and Klara May travelled for six weeks to North America. They visited among other cities, Albany, Buffalo, the Niagara Falls and some friends in Lawrence. But he did not reach the Wild West. May used the journey as inspiration for his book Winnetou IV.

Tomb of Karl and Klara May


Since his Orient journey May wrote in another way. He called his former works “preparation” and started then writing complex, allegoric texts. He was convinced that he could solve or at least, discuss the “question of mankind”. He turned deliberately to pacifism and wrote several books about the raising of humans from “evil” to “good”. His friendship with the artist Sascha Schneider lead to new symbolistic covers for the Fehsenfeld edition. An exultant approval May experienced on the March 22, 1912; he was invited by the Academic Society for Literature and Music in Vienna to hold the talk Empor ins Reich der Edelmenschen (“Upward to the realm of noble men”). Thereby he met his friend the Nobel Peace Prize laureate Bertha von Suttner. Karl May died one week later on March 30, 1912. According to the register of deaths, the cause was “cardiac arrest, acute bronchitis, asthma“. Today an (unrecognised) lung cancer is not excluded. May was buried on the graveyard at Radebeul-East. The tomb was inspired by the Temple of Athena Nike Klara had seen during their travels to the Orient.



May used many different pseudonyms, including Capitan Ramon Diaz de la Escosura, D. Jam, Emma Pollmer (name of his first wife), Ernst von Linden, Hobble-Frank (figure of his work), Karl Hohenthal, M. Gisela, P. van der Löwen, Prinz Muhamel Lautréamont and Richard Plöhn (name of his friend). Today most pseudonymously or anonymously published works are identified.

Karl May as Kara Ben Nemsi, 1896


For the novels set in America, May created the characters of Winnetou, the wise chief of the Apache Tribe, and Old Shatterhand, the author’s alter ego and Winnetou’s white blood brother. Another successful series of novels is set in the Ottoman Empire. Here the narrator-protagonist calls himself Kara Ben Nemsi, i.e. Karl, son of Germans, and travels with his local guide and servant Hadschi Halef Omar through the Sahara desert and the Near East, experiencing many exciting adventures.There is a development from an anonymous first-person narrator, who is just observer and reporter (e. g. Der Gitano, 1875), over addition of heroic skills and equipment (e. g. Old Firehand, 1875, later within Winnetou II) to the full formed first-person-narrator-heroes Old Shatterhand (Deadly dust, 1880, later within Winnetou III) and Kara Ben Nemsi (”Giölgeda padiśhanün”, 1881, later within Durch Wüste und Harem). Some first-person-narrator-heroes are called “Charley” (English for Karl) by friends and fellows. For a long time equipment (e. g. Henry rifle and Bear Killer) and skills (e. g. dash struck) were the same for all first-person-narrator-heroes. Then in Die Felsenburg / Krüger Bei (1893/94, later Satan und Ischariot I/II) May let occur the first-person narrator in the American Old West, in the Orient and in Germany. Therefore he identified Old Shatterhand, Kara Ben Nemsi and Charley with Dr. Karl May in Dresden.With some exceptions later on (Und Friede auf Erden!, 1904, and Winnetou IV, 1910), May had not visited the places he described. He compensated successfully for his lack of direct experience with these places by a combination of creativity, imagination, and factual sources including maps, travel accounts and guide books, as well as anthropological and linguistic studies. Also the work of writers such as James Fenimore Cooper, Gabriel Ferry, Friedrich Gerstäcker, Balduin Möllhausen and Mayne Reid served as models.Non-dogmatic Christian feelings and values play an important role, and May’s heroes are often described as being of German ancestry. In addition, following the Romantic ideal of the “noble savage” and inspired by the writings of writers like James Fenimore Cooper or George Catlin, his Native Americans are usually portrayed as innocent victims of white law-breakers, and many are presented as heroic characters. He also wrote about the fate of other suppressed peoples. Karl May and his works are deeply rooted in the belief that all mankind should live together peacefully; all of his main characters try to avoid killing anyone, except when necessary to save other lives.May deliberately made himself stand out of ethnological prejudices and also wrote against the public opinion (e. g. Winnetou, Durchs wilde Kurdistan, Und Friede auf Erden!). Nevertheless in his work are some phrasings, which today are seen as “racialistic”. These phrasings underlay the paradigms of his time. For example there are broad-brush pejorative statements about Armenians, black people, Chinese people, Irish people, jews and mestizos. Therefore May was not uninfluenced by the nationalism and racism, which were characteristics of Wilhelmine Germany at that time. But in his novels there are also positive depicted Chinese people and mestizos, who contradict the common clichés. In a letter to a young jew, who planned becoming a Christ after he had read May’s books, he advised him first to understand his own religion, which is holy and exalted, until he is experienced enough to choose.[4]In his late work (since 1900) May turned away from the adventurous style and wrote symbolic novels with religious and pacifistic content. The break is best shown in Im Reiche des silbernen Löwen. Herein the first two parts are adventurous and the last two parts belong to the late work. In the context of this literarily developmental stage the friendship with art nouveau painter and sculptor Sascha Schneider is important, who painted symbolic covers for May’s books. Karl May himself repeatedly stressed the importance of his late work, though it was never as popular with the general public as his earlier adventure stories.For a long time, literary critics tended to regard May’s literature as trivial, but recent research has reversed this assessment, at least partially.

Early work

In his early work Karl May tried several genres until he show his proficiency with travel stories.[5] During his time as editor he published many of this works within the periodicals, for which he was responsible. The time of the early work lasted until about 1880.[6]

Das Buch der Liebe (1875/76, educational work)Geographische Predigten (1875/76, educational work)Der beiden Quitzows letzte Fahrten (1876/77, not finished by Karl May)Auf hoher See gefangen (1877/78, also entitled as Auf der See gefangen, parts later revised for Old Surehand II)Scepter und Hammer (1879/80)Im fernen Westen (1879, revision of Old Firehand (1875), later revised for Winnetou II)Der Waldläufer (1879, revision for the youth of “Le Coureur de Bois”, a novel by Gabriel Ferry)Die Juweleninsel (1880–82) 

Im fernen Westen and Der Waldläufer are the first book editions of Karl May texts known.[1]Beside these texts there are many shorter stories, which can be divided into categories. There are village stories from the Erzgebirge (e. g. Die Rose von Ernstthal, 1874), novellas (e. g. Wanda, 1875), humoresques (e. g. Die Fastnachtsnarren, 1875) and historical stories such as the series about „the Old Dessauer“ Leopold I, Prince of Anhalt-Dessau (e. g. Ein Stücklein vom alten Dessauer, 1875), as well as the first travel stories. Especially in his early work May used home settings, but there are also exotic scenes. His first non-European tale Inn-nu-woh, der Indianerhäuptling (1875) contains a rough draft of Winnetou. Later some of these tales were published in anthologies, e. g. in Der Karawanenwürger und andere Erzählungen (1894), Humoresken und Erzählungen (1902) and Erzgebirgische Dorfgeschichten (1903).Also to the early work belong articles such as natural philosophic tractates or popular scientific works about history and technology (e. g. Schätze und Schatzgräber, 1875), published answers to letters send to him as editor as well as poems (e. g. Meine einstige Grabinschrift, 1872).

Colportage novels

There are five large (many thousands of pages) colportage novels May wrote mostly pseudonymously or anonymously for the press of H. G. Münchmeyer from 1882 to 1888. When May’s authorship of these works emerged, he was publicly confronted, because contemporaneously the novels were seen as indecent, especially as they were written parallel to the commendable works in Deutscher Hausschatz.

Das Waldröschen (1882–84, a part was later revised for Old Surehand II)Die Liebe des Ulanen (1883–85)Der verlorne Sohn oder Der Fürst des Elends (1884–86)Deutsche Herzen – Deutsche Helden (1885–88, also entitled as Deutsche Herzen, deutsche Helden)Der Weg zum Glück (1886–88) 

From 1900 to 1906 Münchmeyer’s successor Adalbert Fischer published the first book editions. These were revised by third hand and published under May’s real name instead of using the pseudonym. This edition was not authorised by May and he tried to stop the publication.[7]

Travel stories

In the book series Carl May’s Gesammelte Reiseromane, later entiteld Karl May’s Gesammelte Reiseerzählungen, 33 volumes were published from 1892 to 1910 in the press of Friedrich Ernst Fehsenfeld. Most of them were published before in Deutscher Hausschatz, but some of them were directly written for this series. The most famous titles are the Orient Cycle (volume 1–6) and the WinnetouTrilogy (7–9). Generally there is no reading order, because May himself produced unintentionally chronological inconsistencies. Most of them arose, when he revised earlier texts for the book edition (e. g. within the Winnetou-Trilogy).

  1. Durch Wüste und Harem (1892, since 1895 entitled as Durch die Wüste)  2. Durchs wilde Kurdistan (1892)  3. Von Bagdad nach Stambul (1892)  4. In den Schluchten des Balkan (1892)  5. Durch das Land der Skipetaren (1892)  6. Der Schut (1892)  7. Winnetou I (1893, temporarily also entitled as Winnetou der Rote Gentleman I)  8. Winnetou II (1893, temporarily also entitled as Winnetou der Rote Gentleman II)  9. Winnetou III (1893, temporarily also entitled as Winnetou der Rote Gentleman III)10. Orangen und Datteln (1893, an anthology)11. Am Stillen Ocean (1894, an anthology)12. Am Rio de la Plata (1894)13. In den Cordilleren (1894)14. Old Surehand I (1894)15. Old Surehand II (1895)16. Im Lande des Mahdi I (1896)17. Im Lande des Mahdi II (1896)18. Im Lande des Mahdi III (1896)19. Old Surehand III (1897)20. Satan und Ischariot I (1896)21. Satan und Ischariot II (1897)22. Satan und Ischariot III (1897)23. Auf fremden Pfaden (1897, an anthology)24. „Weihnacht!“ (1897)26. Im Reiche des silbernen Löwen I (1898)27. Im Reiche des silbernen Löwen II (1898)25. Am Jenseits (1899)28–33 are travel stories, which belong to the late work 

There are some shorter travel stories, which were not published within this series (e. g. Eine Befreiung within Die Rose von Kaïrwan, 1894). On this edition (so called “green volumes”) bases the series Karl May’s Illustrierte Reiseerzählungen (illustrated “blue volumes”, since 1907). This edition was revised by May himself and is the definitive edition. It contains just the first thirty volumes which have partly another numbering.After foundation of the Karl May Press in 1913 in the new series “Karl May’s Gesammelte Werke” many volumes were revised (partly radically) and many got new titles. Texts from others than Fehsenfeld Press were added to the new series.

Stories for the youth

These stories were written from 1887 to 1897 for the magazine Der Gute Kamerad. He intentionally wrote for young readers. Most of the stories are set in the Wild West, but here Old Shatterhand is just a figure and not the first-person narrator as he is in the travel stories. The most famous volume is Der Schatz im Silbersee. In the broadest sense the early works Im fernen Westen and Der Waldläufer belong to these category.

Der Sohn des Bärenjägers (1887, since 1890 within Die Helden des Westens)Der Geist des Llano estakata (1888, since 1890 correctly entitled as Der Geist des Llano estakado within Die Helden des Westens)Kong-Kheou, das Ehrenwort (1888/89, since 1892 entitled as Der blaurote Methusalem)Die Sklavenkarawane (1889/90)Der Schatz im Silbersee (1890/91)Das Vermächtnis des Inka (1891/92)Der Oelprinz (1893/94, since 1905 entitled as Der Ölprinz)Der schwarze Mustang (1896/97) 

Between 1890 and 1899 Union Deutsche Verlagsgesellschaft published them as illustrated book edition.Parallel to this major work May also published shorter stories and some puzzles anonymously or pseudonymously from 1887 to 1891. These were written mostly to given illustrations. One of the pseudonyms was “Hobble-Frank”, which was a popular character in his stories for the youth with Wild West setting. Also his answers to letters by the readers were published within Der Gute Kamerad.

Late work

Ardistan und Dschinnistan, 1909, cover by Sascha Schneider showing Marah Durimeh


The late work consists of the publications after May’s travel to the Orient, from 1900 on.[6] Many of them were published in the press of Fehsenfeld. Within the series Karl May’s Gesammelte Reiseerzählungen the volumes 28-33 belong to the late work.

Himmelsgedanken (1900, poem collection)28. Im Reiche des silbernen Löwen III (1902)Erzgebirgische Dorfgeschichten (1903, anthology)29. Im Reiche des silbernen Löwen IV (1903)30. Und Friede auf Erden! (1904)Babel und Bibel (1906, drama)31. Ardistan und Dschinnistan I (1909)32. Ardistan und Dschinnistan II (1909)33. Winnetou IV (1910)Mein Leben und Streben (1910, autobiography) 

Some shorter stories also belong to the late work (e. g. Schamah, 1907), also some essays and articles (e. g. Briefe über Kunst, 1906/07) as well as texts he wrote in the context of lawsuits against him, to defend himself before the public (e. g ”Karl May als Erzieher” und “Die Wahrheit über Karl May” oder Die Gegner Karl Mays in ihrem eigenen Lichte, 1902).

Other works

Karl May wrote also musical compositions, especially when he was member of the singing society “Lyra” about 1864. Well known is his version of Ave Maria (together with Vergiss mich nicht collected within Ernste Klänge, 1899).[8]During his last years May hold talks about his philosophic ideas.

Drei Menschheitsfragen: Wer sind wir? Woher kommen wir? Wohin gehen wir? (Lawrence, 1908)Sitara, das Land der Menschheitsseele (Augsburg, 1909)Empor ins Reich der Edelmenschen (Vienna, 1912) 

After May’s death there were publishings of his residue: Fragments of stories and dramas, lyrics, musical compositions, his self made library catalogue and mostly letters.


Number of copies and translations

It is stated that Karl May is the “most read writer of German tongue”. The total number of copies published is about 200 millions, half of this are German copies.[9]The first translation of May’s work was the first half of the Orient Cycle into French 1881 (just ten years after the French-German War), which was published in Le Monde.[10] Since that time May’s work has been translated into more than thirty languages including Latin, Esperanto and Volapük. In the 1960s the UNESCO stated May being the most translated German writer.[9] Outside the German-speaking area he is most popular in the Czech language area, Hungary and the Netherlands. In France, Great Britain and the USA he is nearly unknown.[10] In 2001 Nemsi Books Publishing Company located in Pierpont, South Dakota, opened its doors to become one of the first English publishing houses dedicated to the unabridged translations of Karl May’s original work.List of languages: Afrikaans, Brazilian, Bulgarian, Chinese, Czech, Danish, Dutch, English (British), English (American), Esperanto, Finnish, French, Greek, Hungarian, Icelandic, Italian, Japanese, Latin, Latvian, Lithuanian, Malay, Modern Hebrew, Norwegian, Polish, Portuguese, Romanian, Russian, Serbo-Croatian, Slovakian, Slovene, Spanish, Swedish, Ukrainian, Vietnamese, Volapük, Yiddish[9]There are also braille editions[9] and editions read for visually impaired or blind people.[11]


Karl May had a substantial influence on a number of well-known German-speaking people – and on the German population itself.[12] The popularity of his writing, and indeed, his (practically always German) protagonists, are considered by some as having filled a lack in the German psyche which had few popular heroes until the 19th Century.[13] His readers longed to escape from an industrialised, capitalist society, an escape which May offered them.[14] He was noted as having “helped shape the collective German dream of feats far beyond middle-class bounds”.[13]The image of Native Americans in Germany is greatly influenced by May. The name Winnetou even has an entry in the main German dictionary Duden. The wider influence on the populace also surprised post-WWII occupation troops from the US, who realised that thanks to Karl May, “Cowboys and Indians” were familiar concepts to local children (though fantastic and removed from reality).[12]Many well-known German-speaking people used May’s heroes as models in their childhood.[15] E. g. physicist Albert Einstein was a great fan of Karl May’s books and is quoted as having said “My whole adolescence stood under his sign. Indeed, even today, he has been dear to me in many a desperate hour…”[13] Many others have given positive statements about their Karl May reading.[16]Adolf Hitler was an admirer, who noted that the novels “overwhelmed” him as a boy, going as far as to ensure “a noticeable decline” in his school grades.[17] According to an anonymous friend, Hitler attended the lecture given by May in Vienna in March 1912 and was enthusiastic about the event.[18] Ironically, the lecture was an appeal for peace, also heard by Nobel Peace Prize laureate Bertha von Suttner. Claus Roxin doubts the anonymous description, because Hitler had told much about May, but not that he had seen him.[19] Hitler defended May against critics in the men’s hostel where he lived in Vienna, as the evidence of May’s earlier time in jail had come to light; although it was true, Hitler confessed, that May had never visited the sites of his American adventure stories, this made him a greater writer in Hitler’s view since it showed the author’s powers of imagination. May died suddenly only ten days after the lecture, leaving the young Hitler deeply upset.[20] Hitler later recommended the books to his generals and had special editions distributed to soldiers at the front, praising Winnetou as an example of “tactical finesse and circumspection”,[21] though some note that the latter claims of using the books as military guidance are not substantiated.[13] However, as told by Albert Speer, “when faced by seemingly hopeless situations, he [Hitler] would still reach for these stories,” because “they gave him courage like works of philosophy for others or the Bible for elderly people.”[21] This influence on the German ‘Fuehrer’ was later castigated by Klaus Mann, a German writer who accused May of having been a form of ‘mentor’ for Hitler.[12] In his admiration Hitler ignored May’s Christian and humanitarian approach and views completely, not mentioning his – in some novels – relatively sympathetic description of Jews and persons of non-white race.The real or imagined fate of Native Americans was abused during the world wars for anti-American propaganda. The National Socialists in particular tried to use May’s popularity and his work for their purposes. May was criticised as having offered those mateials for exploitation by the Nazis.[13] Several novels of Karl May were re-edited in an antisemitic style during the years of Nazism and led to serious misunderstandings about May’s original intentions.[22] Due to these undesired developments the authorities of the new Eastern Germany were less favouring of May’s work, and officially considered him a “chauvinist” – though this could not break his popularity,[13] and during the 1980s there was a Karl May renaissance.

Impact on other authors

The German writer Carl Zuckmayer was intrigued by the May’s great Apache chief and named his daughter Maria Winnetou (* 1926).[9]Max von der Grün used to tell that as a young boy he had been a reader of Karl May. On the question if reading May’s books has given anything to him, he answered: “No. It took something away from me. The fear of bulky books that is.”[23]Also Heinz Werner Höber, twofold Glauser prize winner, was a self-confessed follower of Karl May: “When I was about 12 years old I wrote my first novel on Native Americans which was of course from the beginning to the end completely stolen from Karl May.” He had beseeched his friends to get him to Radebeul “because Radebeul meant Karl May”. There he was deeply impressed by the museum and stated: “My great country fellowman from Hohenstein-Ernstthal and his immortal heros have never left me ever since.”[24]


After Karl May published the whole poem Ave Maria in 1896 at least 19 other persons wrote musical versions. Other poems, especially from the collection Himmelsgedanken were set into music. As present for May Carl Ball wrote “harp clangs” for the drama Babel und Bibel. The Swiss composer Othmar Schoeck made an opera from Der Schatz im Silbersee in the age of eleven. Others wrote music inspired by May’s works (e. g. around Winnetou’s death).[25]The first stage adaptation was Winnetou by Hermann Dimmler in 1919. Revisions by him and Ludwig Körner were played in the following years. After the Second World War first adaptations were conducted in Austria. In East Germany they started not before 1984. Different novel revisions are played on outdoor stages since the 1940s. The most famous “Karl May Festivals” are held every summer in Bad Segeberg (since 1952) and in Lennestadt-Elspe (since 1958). At both places movie actor Pierre Brice played Winnetou. Another festival is on the rock stage in Rathen, in the Saxon Switzerland near Radebeul (1940, then since 1984).[26] Many other stages in Austria and Germany show or showed plays after Karl May. In 2006 these were 14 stages. May’s own drama Babel und Bibel has not been played on a bigger stage yet.

Main article: Karl May movies

Karl May’s friends Marie Luise Droop and her husband Adolf Droop among others founded in cooperation with the Karl May Press the production company “Ustad-Film” (the name refers to May himself in Im Reiche des silbernen Löwen III/IV) in 1920. They produced three silent movies (Auf den Trümmern des Paradieses, Die Todeskarawane and Die Teufelsanbeter) after the Orientcycle in 1920, which are lost. Due to the low success “Ustad-Film” went bankrupt in the following year.[9] The first sound movie Durch die Wüste was shown in 1936. “Die Sklavenkarawane” (1958) and its sequel “Der Löwe von Babylon” (1959) were the first colour movies. Famous is the Karl May movie wave from 1962–1968, which was the one of the most successful German movie series.[27] While most of the 17 movies were Wild West movies (beginning with “Der Schatz im Silbersee”), three were based on the Orientcycle and two on Das Waldröschen. Most of these movies were made separately by the two competitors Horst Wendlandt and Artur Brauner. Following actors played main characters in several movies of the series: Lex Barker (Old Shatterhand, Kara Ben Nemsi, Karl Sternau), Pierre Brice (Winnetou), Stewart Granger (Old Surehand), Milan Srdoč (Old Wabble) and Ralf Wolter (Sam Hawkens, Hadschi Halef Omar, André Hasenpfeffer). The film score by Martin Böttcher has also become famous and together with the landscape of Yugoslavia, where most movies were shot, it participate to the great success of the series. After the series more movies for cinema (“Die Spur führt zum Silbersee”, 1990) or TV (e. g. “Das Buschgespenst”, 1986) and TV-series (e. g. “Kara Ben Nemsi Effendi”, 1973) were produced. Most Karl May movies are far from the original, some even contain nothing more than May’s main figures.[27]No other German writer has more audio dramas than Karl May,[9] which have a number of about 300.[11] Günther Bibo wrote the first one (Der Schatz im Silbersee) in 1929. A greater wave was during the 1960s.[9] There are also Czech and Danish audio dramas.[11]After the ending of the term of copyright and with the success of the Karl May movie series of the 1960s the first German comic wave occurred. A second comic wave came during the 1970s. The first and qualitative best German comic was Winnetou (# 1-8) / Karl May (# 9-52) (1963–1965). It was drawn by Helmut Nickel and Harry Ehrt and published by Walter Lehning Verlag. The most comprehensive comic was published by the press Standaard Uitgeverij. This Flemish comic Karl May was drawn by the studio of Willy Vandersteen in 87 issues from 1862–1987. Also in other countries comics were produced: e. g. Czechoslovakia (often reduced to the wild west plot), Denmark, France, Mexico, Spain and Sweden.[28]In 1988 Der Schatz im Silbersee was read by Gert Westphal and published as audiobook. “Wann sehe ich dich wieder, du lieber, lieber Winnetou?“ (1995) is a compendium of Karl May texts read by Hermann Wiedenroth. Since 1998 different presses (e. g. Karl May Press) have released an increasing number of about 50 audiobooks.[11] Another famous reader is movie actor Peter Sodann.Karl May and his life were basis for screen adaptations: Freispruch für Old Shatterhand (1965, dir. Hans Heinrich) and Karl May (1974, dir. Hans-Jürgen Syberberg) as well as a 6-episode TV series Karl May (1992, dir. Klaus Überall). There are also novels with or about Karl May, e. g. “Swallow, mein wackerer Mustang” (1980) by Erich Loest, “Vom Wunsch, Indianer zu werden. Wie Franz Kafka Karl May traf und trotzdem nicht in Amerika landete“ (1994) by Peter Henisch, “Old Shatterhand in Moabit” (1994) by Walter Püschel and “Karl May und der Wettermacher” (2001) by Jürgen Heinzerling. A stage adaptation is “Die Taschenuhr des Anderen“ by Willi Olbrich.

Copies, parodies, and sequels

Already during May’s lifetime he has been copied or parodied. While some just wrote similar wild west stories to participate on his literarily success (e. g. Franz Treller), others even used May’s name to publish their works.[29] Also today novels with May figures are published. In “Hadschi Halef Omar” (2010) Jörg Kastner describes the first contact of the titular character with Kara Ben Nemsi. Franz Kandolf wrote “In Mekka” (1923) a sequel to Am Jenseits, which is official part of Karl May’s Gesammelte Werke as vol. 50. An alternative to Im Reiche des silbernen Löwen III/IV by Heinz Grill (“Die Schatten des Schah-in-Schah”, 2006) has been written in the adventurous style of the first parts. As sequel to Winnetou IV May had planned Winnetous Testament. A series of eight volumes with this title has been written by Jutta Laroche and Reinhard Marheinecke. Other famous writers of sequels are Friederike Chudoba, Otto Emersleben, Thomas Jeier, Edmund Theil and Iris Wörner (Her pseudonym Nscho-tschi refers to Winnetou’s sister).[29]The 2001 film Der Schuh des Manitu by Michael Herbig is a parody on the Karl May Films of the 1960s and spoof extensively the characters and motives of May’s Winnetou trilogy.

Karl May Foundation

By will May made his second wife Klara to his sole heiress. He conditioned that after her death all of his property and the following earnings of his work should go to a foundation. This foundation should support poor gifted people for their education and help writers, journalists and editors, who had got into straits through no fault of their own. Klara May established the “Karl May Foundation” (“Karl-May-Stiftung”) already one year after May’s death on March 5, 1913. Contributions are made since 1917. With contracts of inheritance and wills of Klara May the whole property of both went to the Karl May Foundation. After her conditions the foundation had to establish a Karl May Museum with the Villa “Shatterhand“, the real estates and the collections (foundation of the museum already took place during Klara May’s lifetime) as well as to maintain the tomb.[30][31] In 1960 the Karl May Foundation leaved the Karl May Press, which belonged to her by two-thirds. Thereby the press got parts of May’s properties.[31]

Karl May Press

July 1, 1913 Klara May, Friedrich Ernst Fehsenfeld (May’s main publisher) and the jurist Euchar Albrecht Schmid established the “Foundation Press Fehsenfeld & Co.” (“Stiftungs-Verlag Fehsenfeld & Co.“) in Radebeul. In 1915 the name changed into “Karl May Press“ (”Karl-May-Verlag“ = KMV). They ended the civil disputes (e. g. about the colportage novels) and got the rights of works from others presses (e. g the colportage novels and the stories for the youth).[32] Third hand revisions of these texts were added to the series Karl May’s Gesammelte Reiseerzählungen, which was renamed to Karl May’s Gesammelte Werke (und Briefe). The existing 33 volumes of the original series also were (partly radically) revised. Until 1945 there were 65 volumes. The press nearly only publishes works of Karl May and secondary literature. Beside the Gesammelte Werke (the classical “green volumes”), which have 91 volumes today, the press has a huge reprint programme. Other targets of the young press were rehabilitation of May against literary criticism and support of the Karl May Foundation. Since the contractual quitting of Fehsenfeld in 1921 and the separation from the Karl May Foundation (as Klara May’s heir) in 1960 the press lies in hands of the Schmid family. Due to the attitudes of the authorities of the Soviet occupation zone and East Germany towards May (his works should not be printed) the press moved to Bamberg (West Germany) in 1959. After the German reunification the press has a second place of residence in Radebeul since 1996. When in 1963 the term of copyright ended the press lost its monopoly. The press started a commercialisation of May. The name “Karl May” is registered trade mark of the “Karl May Verwaltungs- und Vertriebs-GmbH”, which belongs to the Karl May Press.[32]



Karl May’s Villa “Shatterhand”


Villa Bärenfett


The “Karl May Museum” in Radebeul started December 1, 1828 in “Villa Bear Fat” (Villa Bärenfett) as museum about history and life of Native Americans. This villa was built as a log house in the garden of Villa “Shatterhand” after ideas of the widely travelled artist Patty Frank (Ernst Tobis). Karl May’s collection about Native Americans, which was added by Klara May, and the whole collection of Patty Frank were joined, therefore Frank became the first curator and got life estate in “Villa Bear Fat”. During the time of the GDR the museum was renamed “Native Americans Museum of the Karl May Foundation” in 1956 and Karl May related exhibits were removed in 1962.After rethinking of the GDR authorities the museum got its former name back and the street even was renamed “Karl May Street” in 1984. While “Villa Bear Fat” further on contains the exhibition about Native Americans, where the fireplace room today is used for events, Villa “Shatterhand” shows an exhibition about Karl May since 1985. Beside the library, which can be used for research, the work room and parlour (so called “Sascha Schneider Room”) are originally arranged. Among others the replicas of the “famous guns” and a bust of Winnetou are shown. Opposite to Villa “Shatterhand” May’s fruit garden has become the “Karl May Grove” (“Karl-May-Hain”).[33]


The “Karl May House” (“Karl-May-Haus”) is the about 300 year old weaver house, where May was born. During the May renaissance in the GDR it has become a memorial and museum since March 12, 1985. Beside the permanent exhibition about May’s life rebuild rooms like a weaver chamber and non-German book editions are shown. The garden has been arranged according to May’s description in his biography. Opposite the house lays the “International Karl May Heritage Center” (“Karl-May-Begegnungsstätte”), which is used for events and special exhibitions. In Hohenstein-Ernstthal, which is called “Karl May Home Town” since 1992, every May related place has a commemorative plaque. These places are connected by a “Karl May Path” (“Karl-May-Wanderweg”). Outside the city lays the “Karl May Cave” (“Karl-May-Höhle”), where May found shelter during his criminal time.[34]


Some associations have been founded during Karl May’s lifetime, e. g. “Karl May Clubs” in the 1890s.[35] Today, various work groups, societies, and clubs are devoting their activities to Karl May’s life and work, and organize related events. While early associations often understood their role as rendering homage to the writer or defending him against critics, they focus today more on research.[36] Most societies are in German-speaking areas (e. g. booster clubs of the museums), but some can also be found in the Netherlands, Australia and Indonesia. While the societies are responsible for the release of most Karl May-related periodicals (e. g Der Beobachter an der Elbe, Karl-May-Haus Information, Wiener Karl-May-Brief, Karl May in Leipzig), the magazine Karl May & Co. is published independently.The “Karl May Society” (“Karl May Gesellschaft e.V.” = KMG) is the largest society with approximately 1800 members. The KMG was founded on March 22, 1969. One of its main objectives is to conduct research on Karl May’s life and work and to promote his recognition in the official history of literature and the general public.[37] Among the various publications of the society are the Jahrbuch, the Mitteilungen, the Sonderhefte der Karl-May-Gesellschaft, and the KMG-Nachrichten as well as a huge reprint programmme. Since 2008 and in cooperation with the Karl May Foundation and the Karl May Press, the KMG publishes the critical edition of “Karl Mays Werke”. This project had been initiated by Hans Wollschläger and Hermann Wiedenroth in 1987. After initial disruptions and changes also regarding the printing[7] the project is now conceptualized to more than 99 volumes.[38]

See also



  1. ^ abcd Sudhoff/Steinmetz: Karl-May-Chronik I
  2. ^ Bartsch, Ekkehard & Wollschläger, Hans: Karl Mays Orientreise 1899/1900. Within: Karl May: In fernen Zonen. Karl-May-Verlag, Bamberg and Radebeul, 1999.
  3. ^ Heermann, Christian: Winnetous Blutsbruder. Karl-May-Verlag, Bamberg and Radebeul, 2002.
  4. ^ May, Karl: Letter to Herbert Friedländer from April 13, 1906. Cited within: Wohlgschaft: Karl May – Leben und Werk, p. 1555f.
  5. ^ Lowsky, Martin: Karl May (Metzler Sammlung, vol. 231). Metzler, Stuttgart, 1987, p. 38.
  6. ^ ab Schmid, Euchar Albrecht: Gestalt und Idee. pp. 369-376. In: Karl May. „ICH“ (39th Edition). Karl-May-Verlag, Bamberg, 1995, pp. 367-420.
  7. ^ ab Wehnert, Jürgen: Der Text. In Ueding: Karl-May-Handbuch, pp. 116-130.
  8. ^ Kühne, Hartmut & Lorenz, Christoph F.: Karl May und die Musik. Karl-May-Verlag, Bamberg and Radebeul, 1999.
  9. ^ abcdefgh Petzel, Michael & Wehnert, Jürgen: Das neue Lexikon rund um Karl May. Lexikon Imprint Verlag, Berlin 2002.
  10. ^ ab von Thüna, Ulrich: Übersetzungen. In Ueding: Karl-May-Handbuch, pp. 519-522.
  11. ^ abcdKarl May audio drama database
  12. ^ abcIch bin ein CowboyThe Economist, 24 May 2001
  13. ^ abcdefTales Of The Grand Teutons: Karl May Among The IndiansThe New York Times, 4 January 1987
  14. ^The American Indian in the Great War, Real and Imagined – Camurat, Diane
  15. ^ Müller, Erwin: Aufgespießt. In several issues of KMG-Nachrichten
  16. ^Karl May (German)
  17. ^ Hitler’s Mein Kampf attribution of his poor grades in secondary school (his primary school marks, in grades first through fifth, had been quite good in general) to his fascination with May is not entirely reliable. There were a number of factors which contributed: attendance at a larger school in Linz, segregation of classes by subject matter rather than by age, and more difficult subject matter are several identified by Kershaw (Adolf Hitler 1889-1936: Hubris, chapter 1).
  18. ^ (Anonymus): Mein Freund Hitler Within: Moravsky ilustrovany zpravodaj. 1935, No. 40, p. 10f.
  19. ^ Roxin, Claus: Letter from 24.2.2004. Cited within: Wohlgschaft: Karl May – Leben und Werk, p. 2000.
  20. ^ Hamman, Brigette (1999). Hitler’s Vienna: A Dictator’s Apprenticeship. New York: Oxford University Press. pp. 382–85. ISBN 0-19-512537-1
  21. ^ abMein Buch – Grafton, Anthony, The New Republic, December 2008
  22. ^Harder, Ralf: Mißbraucht im Dritten Reich
  23. ^Thor-Heyerdahl-Gymnasium – Anecdotes (German)
  24. ^ Eik, Jan: Der Mann, der Jerry Cotton war. Erinnerungen des Bestsellerautors Heinz Werner Höber. Das Neue Berlin, Berlin, 1996. EAN 9783359007999
  25. ^ Kühne, Hartmut: Vertonungen. In: Ueding: Karl-May-Handbuch, pp. 532-535.
  26. ^ Hatzig, Hansotto: Dramatisierungen. In: Ueding: Karl-May-Handbuch, pp. 523-526.
  27. ^ ab Hatzig, Hansotto: Verfilmungen. In: Ueding: Karl-May-Handbuch, pp. 527-531.
  28. ^ Petzel, Michael: Comics und Bildergeschichten. In: Ueding: Karl-May-Handbuch, pp. 539-545.
  29. ^ ab Wehnert, Jürgen: Fortsetzungen, Ergänzungen und Bearbeitungen. In: Ueding: Karl-May-Handbuch, pp. 509-511.
  30. ^ Schmid, Euchar Albrecht: Karl Mays Tod und Nachlaß. pp. 352ff., 362ff. In: Karl May. „ICH“ (39th Edition). Karl-May-Verlag, Bamberg, 1995, pp. 327-365.
  31. ^ ab Wagner, René: Karl-May-Stiftung (Radebeul). In: Ueding: Karl-May-Handbuch, pp. 549-551.
  32. ^ ab Wehnert, Jürgen: Der Karl-May-Verlag. In: Ueding: Karl-May-Handbuch, pp. 554-558.
  33. ^ Wagner, René: Karl-May-Museum (Radebeul). In: Ueding: Karl-May-Handbuch, pp. 547-549.
  34. ^ Neubert, André: Karl-May-Haus (Hohenstein-Ernstthal). In: Ueding: Karl-May-Handbuch, pp. 546-547.
  35. ^ Wohlgschaft: Karl May – Leben und Werk. p. 1029
  36. ^ Heinemann, Erich: Organe und Perspektiven der Karl-May-Forschung. In: Ueding: Karl-May-Handbuch, pp. 559-564.
  37. ^Satzung der Karl-May-Gesellschaft e.V. 02.03.2010.
  38. ^Edition plannings




  • Karl Mays Werke: historisch-kritische Ausgabe. Für die Karl-May-Stiftung herausgegeben von Hermann Wiedenroth und Hans Wollschläger. F.Greno, Nördlingen 1987 ff. / then by Haffmans: Zürich / then by Bücherhaus: Bargfeld 1993-2007 / now: Karl-May-Verlag, Bamberg and Radebeul (Karl May’s Works: historical critical edition. On behalf of the Karl May Foundation edited by Hermann Wiedenroth and Hans Wollschläger / changed publisher 3 times / The German National Catalogue presently shows 58 entries under the name of this project, including improved re-editions, supplementary volumes, documents etc.).
  • Mein Leben und Streben (autobiography). Freiburg i. Br., Friedrich Ernst Fehsenfeld, 1910. Reprint: Hildesheim and New York, Olms Presse, 1975 (third edition 1997), with preface, comments, epilogue, index for subjects, persons and geograhical names by Hainer Plaul. Online version in English

Secondary literature

  • Bugmann, Marlies: Savage To Saint, The Karl May Story. BookSurge Publishing, 2008, ISBN 1-4196-5585-X, ISBN 978-1-4196-5585-2 (First English biography of Karl May).
  • Frayling, Christopher: Spaghetti westerns: cowboys and Europeans from Karl May to Sergio Leone. Routledge, London and Boston 1981; revised edition I.B.Taurus, London and New York 2006, ISBN 978-1-84511-207-3.
  • Michalak, Michael: My Life and My Mission. Nemsi Books Publishing, 2007, ISBN 0-9718164-7-6, ISBN 978-0-9718164-7-3 (English autobiography of Karl May).
  • Plaul, Hainer: Illustrierte Karl-May-Bibliographie. Unter Mitwirkung von Gerhard Klußmeier. Saur, Munich, London, New York, Paris 1989, ISBN 3-598-07258-9 (Bibliography in (German)).
  • Sammons, Jeffrey L.: Ideology, nemesis, fantasy: Charles Sealsfield, Friedrich Gerstäcker, Karl May, and other German novelists of America. University of North Carolina Press, Chapel Hill 1998, ISBN 0-8078-8121-X.
  • Sudhoff, Dieter & Steinmetz, Hans-Dieter: Karl-May-Chronik (5 Volumes + companion book). Karl-May-Verlag, Bamberg and Radebeul 2005-2006, ISBN 3-7802-0170-4 (Chronicle in (German)).
  • Ueding, Gert (Editor): Karl-May-Handbuch. Second enlarged and revised edition. Königshausen & Neumann, Würzburg 2001, ISBN 3-8260-1813-3 (Handbook in (German)).
  • Wohlgschaft, Hermann: Karl May – Leben und Werk (3 Volumes). Bücherhaus, Bargfeld 2005, ISBN 3-930713-93-4 (Most extensive biography in (German); Online-Version of first edition).
  • Wollschläger, Hans: Karl May. Grundriß eines gebrochenen Lebens. (First edition under a different title 1965;) Revised edition Diogenes, Zürich 1976; latest edition Wallstein, Göttingen 2004 (303 pp.), ISBN 3-89244-740-3 (Major biography in (German)).

Life and works



Compositions by Karl May



Karl May Winnetou I bis III 001.jpg
Created by Karl May
Gender Male
Occupation Indian Chief

Winnetou is a fictional Native American hero of several novels written by Karl May (1842-1912, with about 200 million copies worldwide one of the best selling Germanwriters of all time) in German, including the sequels Winnetou I through Winnetou IV.





According to Karl May’s story, first-person narrator Old Shatterhand encounters Winnetou and after initial dramatic events, a true friendship between Old Shatterhand and the Apache Winnetou arises; on many occasions they give proof of great fighting skill but also of compassion for other human beings. It portrays a belief in an innate “goodness” of mankind, albeit constantly threatened by ill-intentioned enemies.Non-dogmatic Christian feelings and values play an important role, and May’s heroes are often described as German Americans.Winnetou became the chief of the tribe of the Mescalero Apaches (and of the Apaches in general, with the Navajo included) after his father Intschu-tschuna and his sister Nscho-tschi were slain by the white bandit Santer. He rode a horse called Iltschi (“Wind”) and had a famous rifle called “Silberbüchse” (“The Silver Gun”, a double-barrel rifle whose stock and butt were decorated with silver studs). Old Shatterhand became the blood brother of Winnetou and rode the brother of Iltschi, called Hatatitla (“Lightning”).[edit] Themes

Karl May’s “Winnetou” novels symbolize, to some extent, a romantic desire for a simpler life in close contact with nature. In fact, the popularity of the series is due in large part to the ability of the stories to tantalize fantasies many Europeans had and have for this more untamed environment. The sequel has become the origin of festivals, and the first regular Karl-May-Spiele were staged 1938 till 1941 in Rathen, Saxony. East Germany restarted those open air theater plays in 1984. In West Germany, the “Karl-May-Festspiele” or “Karl-May-Spiele” in Bad Segeberg were started as early as 1950 and then expanded to further places like Lennestadt-Elspe in honor of Karl May or, rather, of his Apache hero, Winnetou. Now, they are never difficult to find in either Germany or Austria.The stories, indeed, were so popular that Nazi Germany did not ban them despite the heroic treatment of “colored” races; instead, the argument was made that the stories demonstrated the fall of the Red Indians was caused by a lack of racial consciousness.[1]May’s heroes drew on archetypes of Germanic culture and had little to do with actual Native American cultures. “Winnetou is noble because he combines the highest aspects of otherwise “decadent” Indian cultures with the natural adoption of the romantic and Christian traits of Karl May’s own vision of German civilization. As he is dying, the Apache Winnetou asks some settlers to sing an Ave Maria for him, and his death is sanctified by his quiet conversion to Christianity.” [2]In the 60’s, French nobleman and B-movie actor Pierre Brice played Winnetou in several movies coproduced by German – Yugoslav producers. At first, Brice was not very excited about the role beside Lex Barker but his very reduced text and stage play brought Winnetou to real life in Germany. Pierre Brice not only became a star in Germany, but a significant contributor to German-French reconciliation as well.[edit] Original German Winnetou Stories

Travel Stories

  • Old Firehand (1875)
  • Winnetou (1878, titular character Inn-nu-wo, der Indianerhäuptling (1875) is changed)
  • Im fernen Westen (1879, revision of Old Firehand, later revised for Winnetou II)
  • Deadly Dust (1880, later revised for Winnetou III’)
  • Die Both Shatters (1882)
  • Ein Oelbrand (1882/83)
  • Im »wilden Westen« Nordamerika’s (1882/83, later revised for Winnetou III)
  • Der Scout (1888/89, later revised for Winnetou II)
  • Winnetou I (1893, temporarily also entitled as Winnetou der Rote Gentleman I)
  • Winnetou II (1893, temporarily also entitled as Winnetou der Rote Gentleman II)
  • Winnetou III (1893, temporarily also entitled as Winnetou der Rote Gentleman III)
  • Old Surehand I (1894)
  • Old Surehand II (1895)
  • Old Surehand III (1896)
  • Satan und Ischariot I (1896)
  • Satan und Ischariot II (1897)
  • Satan und Ischariot III (1897)
  • Gott läßt sich nicht spotten (within Auf fremden Pfaden, 1897)
  • Ein Blizzard (within Auf fremden Pfaden, 1897)
  • Mutterliebe (1897/98)
  • „Weihnacht!“ (1897)
  • Winnetou IV (1910)

Stories for Young People

  • Im fernen Westen (1879, revision of Old Firehand)
  • Unter der Windhose (1886, later also within Old Surehand II)
  • Der Sohn des Bärenjägers (1887, within Die Helden des Westens since 1890)
  • Der Geist des Llano estakado (1888, within Die Helden des Westens since 1890)
  • Der Schatz im Silbersee (1890/91)
  • Der Oelprinz (1893/94)
  • Der schwarze Mustang (1896/97)

Other Work

  • Auf der See gefangen (1878/79, also entitled as Auf hoher See gefangen)

Karl May movies with Winnetou character

In all the following movies, Winnetou was played by French actor Pierre Brice who was usually teamed with Lex Barker as Old Shatterhand. The music for all Winnetou movies (with its famous title melody played on the harmonica by the late Johnny Müller) was composed by German composer Martin Boettcher, except Old Shatterhand, which was composed by Italian composer Riz Ortolani, and Winnetou und sein Freund Old Firehand, which was composed by German composer Peter Thomas. The films were so successful in Germany that their budgets could be increased almost every time. Principal shooting usually took place in Paklenicakarst river canyon national park, Yugoslavia (now Croatia). The early films preceded the spaghetti western.

  • Der Schatz im Silbersee (1962) – Treasure of Silver Lake (1965) (Germany) (Yugoslavia)
  • Winnetou 1. Teil (1963) – Apache Gold (1965) (Germany) (Yugoslavia)
  • Old Shatterhand (1964) – Apaches Last Battle (1964) (UK) (Yugoslavia)
  • Winnetou 2. Teil (1964) – Last of the Renegades (1966) (UK) (Germany) (Yugoslavia)
  • Unter Geiern (1964) – Frontier Hellcat (1966) (Germany) (Yugoslavia)
  • Der Ölprinz (1965) – Rampage at Apache Wells (1965) (Yugoslavia)
  • Winnetou – 3. Teil (1965) – Winnetou: The Desperado Trail (1965) (Germany) (Yugoslavia)
  • Old Surehand 1. Teil (1965) – Flaming Frontier (1969) (Germany) (Yugoslavia)
  • Winnetou und das Halbblut Apanatschi (1966) – Half-Breed (1973) (Germany) (Yugoslavia)
  • Winnetou und sein Freund Old Firehand (1966) – Thunder at the Border (1966) (Germany) (Yugoslavia)
  • Winnetou und Shatterhand im Tal der Toten (1968) – Winnetou and Shatterhand in the Valley of Death (1968) (Germany) (Yugoslavia)

All of the Winnetou movies are available on VHS tape (PAL) (some also dubbed in English under the above mentioned English titles). “Winnetou I – III”, “Der Schatz im Silbersee”, “Old Shatterhand” and “Winnetou und Shatterhand im Tal der Toten” are also available on DVD (region-code 2) – but all in German only. In 2004/2005, the missing movies will also appear on DVD. In 2001, a parody of the Winnetou films, “Der Schuh des Manitu“, was directed by Michael Herbig.In April 2009, DVDs of the cleared reconstructed movies were issued in the Czech Republic, selling as an add-on to the Metro newspaper for 50 Czech crowns. All movies dubbed into Czech and German, with subtitles in Czech and Slovak.[edit] TV miniseries

Also in the following series, Winnetou was played by French actor Pierre Brice.

  • Mein Freund Winnetou (1980) – My friend WinnetouWinnetou le Mescalero, 7 episodes at 52 min.
  • Winnetous Rückkehr (“The return of Winnetou”) (1998), 2 parts, 171 min. in total


The German writer Carl Zuckmayer was intrigued by the Apache and named his daughter Maria Winnetou (* 1926). She was unhappy with this name.[3]DirectorQuentin Tarantino mentioned Winnetou in his 2009 film Inglourious Basterds.[edit] English translations of Karl May’s works


  1. ^Lynn H. Nicholas, Cruel World: The Children of Europe in the Nazi Web p. 79 ISBN 0-679-77663-X
  2. ^Karl May’s books, exhibit notes
  3. ^ Michael Petzel & Jürgen Wehnert: Das neue Lexikon rund um Karl May. Lexikon Imprint Verlag, Berlin 2002.


External links


Old Shatterhand



Karl May as Old Shatterhand, 1896


Old Shatterhand is a fictional character in western novels by German writer Karl May (1842-1912). He is the German friend and blood brother of Winnetou, the fictional chief of the Mescalero tribe of the Apache. He is the main character in the Eurowesternby the same name from 1964, starring Lex Barker.

Old Shatterhand is the alter ego of Karl May, and May himself maintained that he experienced all the adventures in person, even though in fact he did not visit America until after he wrote most of his well-known Western stories, and never traveled west of Buffalo, NY. Most of the stories are written from a first person perspective, and Winnetou often calls Old Shatterhand my brother Scharlee (‘Scharlee’ being a German phonetic approximation of ‘Charlie’, and ultimately meaning Karl in German). May also wrote stories about the same character traveling the Orient, where he is known as Kara Ben Nemsi.

May attached the prefix Old to the names of several of his characters, considering it to be typically American and a sign of the characters’ great experience. In the stories, Old Shatterhand is given the name by his friend Sam Hawkins (who also originates from Germany but is already an old-timer in the American West), as he was able to knock his opponents unconscious with a single punch from his fist aimed at the head (specifically the temple).

Old Shatterhand owns two famous rifles, the Bärentöter (Bear Killer) and the Henrystutzen (Henry Carbine), both made by a fictional gunsmith called Henry in St. Louis (based on gunsmith Benjamin Tyler Henry 1821-1898). The Henrystutzen was able to fire 25 shots without reloading, probably a hyperbolic reference to the Henry rifle. Old Shatterhand rode a horse called Hatatitla (Lightning), which he got from Winnetou, who rode the horse’s brother, called Iltschi (meaning Wind).

The tales may have been an influence on the creation of the Lone Ranger media franchise.



Original German Old Shatterhand stories

Travel stories

  • Deadly Dust (1880, later revised for Winnetou III’)
  • Ein Oelbrand (1882/83)
  • Im »wilden Westen« Nordamerika’s (1882/83, later revised for Winnetou III)
  • Winnetou I (1893, temporarily also entitled as Winnetou der Rote Gentleman I)
  • Winnetou II (1893, temporarily also entitled as Winnetou der Rote Gentleman II)
  • Winnetou III (1893, temporarily also entitled as Winnetou der Rote Gentleman III)
  • Old Surehand I (1894)
  • Old Surehand II (1895)
  • Old Surehand III (1896)
  • Satan und Ischariot I (1896)
  • Satan und Ischariot II (1897)
  • Satan und Ischariot III (1897)
  • Gott läßt sich nicht spotten (within Auf fremden Pfaden, 1897)
  • Ein Blizzard (within Auf fremden Pfaden, 1897)
  • Mutterliebe (1897/98)
  • „Weihnacht!“ (1897)
  • Im Reiche des silbernen Löwen I (1898)
  • Winnetou IV (1910)

Stories for the youth

  • Unter der Windhose (1886, later also within Old Surehand II)
  • Der Sohn des Bärenjägers (1887, since 1890 within Die Helden des Westens)
  • Der Geist des Llano estakado (1888, since 1890 within Die Helden des Westens)
  • Der Schatz im Silbersee (1890/91)
  • Der Oelprinz (1893/94)
  • Der schwarze Mustang (1896/97)

In some early stories (Old Firehand (1875), Im fernen Westen (1879), Der Scout (1888/89)) there is an anonymous first-person narrator, who was changed to Old Shatterhand by revision for Winnetou II.

In the story Im Reiche des silbernen Löwen IV (1903) Kara Ben Nemsi says he was Old Shatterhand.


The character of Old Shatterhand was played in the German Karl May movies of the 1960s by American actor Lex Barker.

  • Der Schatz im Silbersee (The Treasure of Silver Lake) (1962), dir.: Dr. Harald Reinl
  • Winnetou 1. Teil (Apache Gold) (1963), dir.: Dr. Harald Reinl
  • Old Shatterhand (Apaches Last Battle) (1964), dir.: Hugo Fregonese (
  • Winnetou 2. Teil (Last of the Renegades) (1964), dir.: Dr. Harald Reinl
  • Winnetou 3. Teil (The Desperado Trail) (1965), dir.: Dr. Harald Reinl
  • Winnetou und das Halbblut Apanatschi (Half-Breed) (1966), dir.: Harald Philipp
  • Winnetou und Shatterhand im Tal der Toten (Winnetou and Shatterhand in the Valley of Death) (1968), dir.: Dr. Harald Reinl

In contrast to the stories in the movies Unter Geiern (1964) and Der Ölprinz (1965) Old Surehand (starred by Stewart Granger) was the hero instead of Old Shatterhand. Old Surehand is another character created by Karl May. Karl May dedicated three volumes to him, who is like Old Shatterhand a renowned Western hero and best friends with the Native Americans. Unlike Old Shatterhand, Old Surehand is a half-blood Native himself, though raised in a white family.

English translations of Karl May’s works



Willy Vandersteen

Man with short hair and horn-rimmed glass, and wearing a cardigan sweater and tie, sits at a desk holding a pencil and drawing.
Born Willebrord Jan Frans Maria Vandersteen
15 February 1913(1913-02-15)
Antwerp, Belgium
Died 28 August 1990(1990-08-28) (aged 77)
Antwerp, Belgium
Nationality Belgian
Area(s) Writer, Artist
Pseudonym(s) Kaproen,[1] Wil, Wirel
Notable works Suske en Wiske
De Rode Ridder
Robert en Bertrand
Awards full list

Willy Vandersteen (15 February 1913 – 28 August 1990) was a Belgian creator of comic books. In a career spanning 50 years, he created a large studio and published more than 1,000 comic albums in over 25 series, selling more than 200 million copies worldwide.[2]

Considered together with Marc Sleen the founding father of Flemish comics,[3] he is mainly popular in Belgium, the Netherlands and Germany. Hergé called him “The Brueghel of the comic strip”, while the creation of his own studio and the mass production and commercialization of his work turned him into “the Walt Disney of the Low Countries“.[4]

Vandersteen is best known for Suske en Wiske (published in English as Spike and Suzy, Luke and Lucy, Willy and Wanda or Bob and Bobette), which in 2008 sold 3.5 million books.[2] His other major series are De Rode Ridder with over 200 albums and Bessy with almost 1,000 albums published in Germany.





Willebrord Jan Frans Maria Vandersteen was born in Antwerp in 1913.[5] His family lived in the Seefhoek, a poor quarter of the city, where his father Francis Vandersteen worked as a decorator and stone sculptor. His studio lay next to a printer that produced De Kindervriend, one of the first weekly youth magazines in Flanders. Willy Vandersteen, only four years old, read the new magazine there every week, including Blutske, an early comic strip. His mother Anna Gerard was more interested in ballet and singing. One of her favourites, Wiske Ghijs, may well have been the inspiration for the name “Wiske” he gave to one of the main characters in his main series “Spike and Suzy”.[6]

Vandersteen was creatively active from his youth. He drew pictures with crayons on sidewalks, and invented stories for his friends about knights and legends. He even convinced his young friends to buy him crayons so he could depict the local cycling championship. At school as well, he was more interested in telling stories and learning about art than anything else. His best memory of these schooldays is of a teacher who introduced him to the works of Pieter Brueghel.Template:Citation needed:February 2011 Outside school, he spent most of his time with comic magazines and adventure books by Jules Verne or books about Nick Carter and Buffalo Bill. At 13, he enrolled at the Academie voor Schone Kunsten in Antwerp to study sculpture, and two years later he started working as sculptor and decorator, just like his father.[7]

The same year, the family moved to Deurne, a suburb of Antwerp, where he came in contact with nature and with scouting, which both had a profound impact on his character and his later work. With the scouts, he became the troop reporter, writing down heavily illustrated reports on their outings and adventures, in a similar vein as what Hergé did in his scouting period. Through the scouts, he also came into contact with Le Boy-Scout Belge, the Walloon scouting magazine where Hergé made Totor, his first published comic. Vandersteen made a few sequels to these adventures for his friends as amusement, which are the earliest preserved comics he made. He continued to follow the work of Hergé later on. Meanwhile, Vandersteen combined his studies at the Academy with his work in his father’s workshop until 1935, when the market for stone decorations for houses collapsed.[8]

In between some odd jobs, Vandersteen became an avid sporter, from gymnastics over cycling to wrestling. His chances improved in 1936 when he was hired as a decorator for the shop and the display windows of L’Innovation, a Belgian chain of supermarkets. In the same year, he met Paula Van Den Branden, whom he married on 9 October 1937. After living in Antwerp for two years and having a daughter, Helena, in 1938, the first of their four children, the couple moved to the more rural Schilde in 1939.[9]

While doing research for his decorations, he read in an American magazine the article Comics in your Life. Fascinated, Vandersteen searched for more information on the subject. He rediscovered Hergé with The Adventures of Tintin in Le Petit Vingtième, but also the realistic work of Hal Foster in Prince Valiant. But it took a few more years before this fascination translated into steady publication of his own comics. Meanwhile, his first published drawings appeared in Entre Nous, the internal magazine of L’Innovation.[9]


In March 1940, two months before the start of World War II in Belgium, Bob, his second child, was born. When the first tribulations of the war were over, Vandersteen could restart his work at L’Innovation. From November 1940 until August 1942, he created his first published comic, Kitty Inno, for the company, consisting of short, simple gags. When the German occupier forbade the publication of American and British comics in the Belgian newspapers and magazines, opportunies arose for local people. On 19 March 1941, the first comic strip of Tor de holbewoner (Tor the troglodyte) appeared in the newspaper De Dag. It continued until January 1942. Already on 26 March 1941 it was joined by De lollige avonturen van Pudifar (The funny adventures of Pudifar), a weekly comic strip about a cat. This was in May of the same year replaced by Barabitje, another comic about a cat, which ended in October 1941.[10]

In 1942, Vandersteen quit his job at L’Innovation and started working at the Landbouw- en Voedingscorporatie (a government organisation for the agricultural sector), where he illustrated some magazines. In those years, the family Vandersteen moved yet again, this time to Wilrijk, another suburb of Antwerp.[11]

That same year, he illustrated the pro-occupation book Zóó zag Brussel de Dietsche Militanten under the pen name Kaproen.[1] In the 1970s Willy denied rumors, based on drawing style, that he had been the real artist behind Kaproen, but in 2010 these allegations were confirmed after an investigation demanded by his own family.[1] Unlike his partners, Vandersteen was later not persecuted for his part in publishing the antisemitic drawings, which were considered collaboration with the Nazis.[1]

At the Corporatie, Vandersteen met a colleague whose wife worked at Bravo, a weekly Flemish comics magazine that appeared since 1936 and had a French language version since 1940. Due to the war conditions, they were desperately in need of local artists to replace the American comics they used to publish. Led by established Walloon illustrator Jean Dratz, a young team was gathered, with artists like Edgar P. Jacobs and Jacques Laudy. Vandersteen joined in 1943, and here his comics career really took off. First he created Tori, a reprise of the prehistoric Tor, and a few weeks later his new comic Simbat de Zeerover (Simbat the Sailor) was published on the cover and in colour, a first for Vandersteen.[12]

For the Antwerp publisher Ons Volk, he created three comics, were published as books without a prepublication in a newspaper or magazine. Piwo, about the adventures of a wooden horse, became his first comic album in 1943, and was followed by two more in 1944 and 1946. Those comics were also published in French. For the same editor, he illustrated 11 children books. In the same years, he also created the cover illustration for a number of novels from other publishers. In 1944, he also started working for two more magazines, De Rakker and De Illustratie, where he created some comics and made numerous illustrations. To help him with all this work, his wife Paula inked many of his pencil drawings in these years.[13]


After the liberation of Belgium in September 1944, there was a boom of new magazines for the youth, both in French and Dutch. Many of those tried to mix American comics with local artists. Vandersteen worked in these early years for countless publications. He continued publishing in Bravo, with the medieval gags of Lancelot. Having moved to the suburbs of Brussels to avoid the bombardments of Antwerp, he came into contact with some French language editors. French language magazines he contributed to included Franc Jeu, Perce-Neige, and Le Petit Monde. Two of the comics he created for Franc Jeu were also published in albums. By 1947, all these magazines had disappeared.[14]

Defining for his career was the invitation he got in 1944 from the people of Standaard Boekhandel, a chain of libraries who were also active as publishers. They were interested in his work and wanted to publish some books. Vandersteen presented them with the first designs for a daily comic strip, but they put that on hold and first ordered four juvenile books from Vandersteen. These were published in 1945 and 1946 in Dutch and French (by Casterman).[15]

On 30 March 1945, the daily comic strip Rikki en Wiske started to appear in the newspaper De Nieuwe Standaard, after a positive review by the young illustrator Marc Sleen. It was an immediate success, and the first story ran uninterrupted until 15 December 1945.[16] Vandersteen though was disappointed to see the editor had renamed the strip Rikki en Wiske instead of his suggestion Suske en Wiske,[17] and also felt that Rikki too closely resembled Tintin.[18]

The next story, Rikki disappeared, and the long series of adventures of Suske en Wiske began with the story Op het eiland Amoras, achieving success beyond the author’s expectations. The first album appeared in 1946.[19] This story introduced most of the recurring figures and means of transport through space and time, and set the framework for the complete series.[20] Already in 1946, it was also published in the Dutch newspaper De Stem.[21]

On 22 December 1945, three days after the start of Suske en Wiske op het eiland Amoras, appeared the first page of De Familie Snoek (The Family Snoek), a weekly series of gags revolving around a contemporary Flemish family. It lasted for 11 albums.[22]

Apart from these two long lasting newspaper comic strips, Vandersteen made a number of other comics in these years. Most important was his work for Ons Volkske, the youth supplement of the weekly magazine Ons Volk, which from the end of 1945 on became an independent comic magazine. Marc Sleen was editor-in-chief and filled most pages together with Vandersteen. Vandersteen created a number of realistic stories of about 20 pages each, where he developed his own style after starting very much as a follower of Harold Foster. In his usual more caricatural style, he created in August 1946 the recurring gagstrip De Vrolijke Bengels (The Happy Rascals). More adult comics appeared in the magazine Ons Volk.[23]

In 1947, two publishers started a legal battle for the right to the names of the newspapers and magazines. Vandersteen, caught in the middle, worked a while for both, but eventually switched to the new owners of De Standaard. He continued to work for Ons Volkske, which was now renamed ‘t Kapoentje for a few more months. The publishers of De Standaard also continued the album series of Suske en Wiske, which started modestly with one album in 1946 and one in 1947. By 1947, seven albums were available, and the first ones were already reprinted. The first albums of De Familie Snoek had also appeared by then. Supported by large publicity campaigns, they sold very well: the first Snoek album was in its third impression by 1948.[24] The popularity of Vandersteen, and the impact comics had in Flanders, is attested by the 25,000 readers who switched to the Standaard at the same time as Vandersteen did.[25]

Vandersteen worked the rest of his life for De Standaard, but contributed also to the other publications of the publisher: Ons Volkske, a new newspaper supplement continuing the name of the older magazine, and Het Nieuwsblad, the more popular newspaper of the group. Vandersteen made illustrations and comics when needed. For Ons Volk, which also reappeared, he made realistic stories until 1951.[26]

Vandersteen was now at the height of his productivity as a solo artist. Apart from his work for De Standaard and Het Nieuwsblad, he contributed to Ons Volk and Ons Volkske, he made a special Suske en Wiske story for het Parochieblad (a weekly Christian newspaper), and he started to collaborate with Kuifje (the Dutch name for Tintin), the magazine that published Hergé. The magazine was very popular in Wallonia, but struggled in Flanders, where The Adventures of Tintin were not yet as well known. A popular Flemish author would give the sales a boost, while it could mean the breakthrough on the French language market for Vandersteen. However, Hergé, as editor-in-chief, set a very high quality standard for his magazine, and Vandersteen had to improve and stylize his drawings, and had to remove the more Flemish, popular aspects of his comics. Vandersteen obliged, and the stories of Suske en Wiske he created for Kuifje are now considered the best of his career, with the first one, Het Spaanse Spook (The Spanish Ghost), which started on 16 September 1948, as his masterpiece.[27] It was because of his work for Kuifje that Hergé nicknamed Vandersteen “The Brueghel of the Comic Strip”.[21]

Vandersteen’s contributions appeared in both the Flemish and French-language versions of Tintin magazine.


Vandersteen could no longer handle the work load on his own. In 1949, he hired his first collaborator, François-Joseph Herman. Herman only stayed with Vandersteen three years, but his tenure was the start of the large Studio Vandersteen that has continued the series until the present.[28] He was followed by Karel Boumans in 1952, who was an anonymous contributor until 1959. He worked mainly for De grappen van Lambik, a Suske en Wiske spin-off Vandersteen created for the weekly newspaper De Bond, which ran from 24 January 1954 on. But he also inked many Suske en Wiske comics, including those in Tintin.Vandersteen devoted himself more and more towards the storytelling and the initial pencil drawing, which he considered the artistic process, while the inking was more of a craft.[29]

Those years, from 1949 until 1953, are often considered as the highlight of Vandersteen’s career, when he combined a large production with a constant high quality, both in his stories, the jokes and the many characters, as in the graphical aspects, where the charming quirkyness of the early years was balanced with the more rigorous Ligne claire of Hergé. Many of these stories were loosely based on popular classics, ranging from Alexandre Dumas over Buffalo Bill to Richard Wagner‘s Der Ring des Nibelungen, with as culmination his comic in two parts of the legend of Till Eulenspiegel, made for Kuifje.[30]

Vandersteen spent a lot more time at documentation from this point on. While the early comics were mostly filled by his imagination and visited imaginary countries or stayed close to home, he now started travelling to visit locations for new comics. Visits to Bruges, Monaco and Venice were the inspiration for three stories in Kuifje[31]

In 1953, when Tijl Uilenspiegel was finished, Vandersteen created a new comical strip for Kuifje. ‘t Prinske told the humorous adventures of a young prince in a fictional country. It lasted until 1959 and ran for some 300 comics.[32]

In 1951, Vandersteen encountered Karel Verschuere, a young unemployed artist. Vandersteen hired him, and Verschuere soon became his mayor artist for the realistic series. His first series was Judi, a retelling of the Old Testament in four albums, which first appeared in Ons Volkske. The series was not very successful, and Verschuere later finished a fifth part on his own. Verschuere also contributed to the second part of Tijl Uilenspiegel, just like Bob de Moor and Tibet did, but his main contribution to the output of Vandersteen was his work on Bessy, a Western series inspired by the success of Lassie, which started in 1952 in the Walloon newspaper La Libre Belgique. The series appeared under the pseudonym WiRel, a combination of Willy and Karel, indicating the importance of Verschueren’s work. He continued working with Vandersteen until 1967, helping with many of the realistic series Vandersteen created in these years, including Karl May, Biggles and especially De Rode Ridder.[33]

The success of Bessy, which from 1953 on also appeared in Dutch, led to the creation of the Studio Vandersteen, acknowledging, albeit mostly anonymously, that many of the comics were no longer made by Willy Vandersteen on his own. Together with the publications in Kuifje, it made Vandersteen a popular artist in Wallonia as well, and all Bessy and Suske en Wiske comics were published by Erasme in French.[34]


In 1966, Vandersteen finally moved back from Brussels, where he had lived at different locations since World War II, towards Antwerp, and more precisely Kalmthout, a rural village to the north of Antwerp. There, next to his villa, he created the location for his main Studio.[35]

The Bessy comics were also published in Felix, a German comic magazine by Bastei Verlag. From 1965 on, they wanted to publish a complete new story every month, a rhythm they increased to twice a month in 1966. Unable to produce so fast, Vandersteen had to expand his Studio considerably. Led by Karel Verschuere, a team of some ten young artists mass produced the comics, which were of considerable lower quality. The most important of these artists were Frank Sels and Edgar Gastmans, while many stories were produced by Daniël Janssens. When in late 1967 Verschuere quit, and at the same time Bastei increased the rhythm again, now to one complete comic a week, the Studio was disbanded and Sels and Gastmans started to work on a free lance basis. The next year, they decided to go behind Vandersteen’s back and to sell directly to the Germans. Vandersteen then had to reorganize the Bessy Studio and hired Jeff Broeckx. The Studio continued until 1985, with artists like Patrick van Lierde, Ronald Van Riet, Eugeen Goossens, and Walter Laureyssens. It produced more than 900 Bessy-comics.[36]

Bastei Verlag, enamoured by the success of Bessy, asked Vandersteen to provide a second weekly series. With the popularity of superheroes, especially Batman, in Belgium and Germpany in these years, Vandersteen proposed a spinoff series of Suske en Wiske, based on Jerom, the strongman of the series. Called Wastl in German, 173 stories were produced between 1968 and 1972, with a publication that reached 150,000 copies at its summit. The best of these stories were published in Dutch as well, just like it was done with the later Bessy’s, but the weakness of the stories ended the series after only four years.[37]

The main artists in the Studio Vandersteen in the 1960s and later were Karel Verschuere, Frank Sels, Eduard De Rop, Eugeen Goossens, Karel Biddeloo and Paul Geerts. Eduard De Rop joined the Studio in 1959, after Karel Boumans departed, and stayed for over thirty years. He worked mostly on minor series like Jerom and Pats, but contributed to almost all series, including Suske en Wiske. One of his main contributions was the early adventures of De Rode Ridder. De Rode Ridder was in 1946 created by writer Leopold Vermeiren, and published in books since 1954, with illustrations by Karel Verschuere. The success led to the creation of a comics series as well, with as main contributors Verschuere, Eduard De Rop, and Vandersteen’s son Bob. De Rode Ridder became the third main success story of Vandersteen, and is now the longest running series behind Suske en Wiske. Karel Verschuere was replaced by Frank Sels in 1963.[38]

Karel Verschuere also started the series Karl May, based on the famous books, in 1962. The contributions of Vandersteen to this and similar series like Biggles was minimal and consisted mainly of supervision and some first sketches. Frank Sels continued the series between 1963 and 1966.[39]

Vandersteen had to deliver a number of pages each week for the newspaper supplement Pats, increased to 16 pages in 1965. Eduard De Rop revived De Familie Snoek with a new series of gags for a few years, and other series like Karl May were published here as well. The place of Karl May in the main newspaper was taken by Biggles, yet another realistic series started by Verschuere in 1965.[40]

When Frank Sels left the Studio in 1967, Karel Biddeloo took over most of the realistic series of Vandersteen. He made Karl May from 1967 until 1969, when the Bessy-studio took over the job. He also took over Biggles, which ended in 1969, when it was replaced by the jungle series Safari, inspired by Daktari. At the start of the series, Vandersteen did most of the creative work, but after a few albums he left most of the work to Biddeloo. The series ended in 1974. Biddeloo then devoted most of his time to De Rode Ridder, where he started inking the stories by Vandersteen in 1967 and took completely over in 1969, when Vandersteen lost his interest. He continued working on it until his death in 2004.[41]


Paul Geerts joined the Studio in 1968, where he at first worked as an artist on the German Jerom comics. Already in 1969, he replaced De Rop as the main inker for Suske en Wiske. Geerts also drew Vandersteens attention when he proposed a few scenario’s for Jerom, and in 1971 he made his first story for Suske en Wiske. From 1972 on, he became the main creator of the flagship series Suske en Wiske, which he continued until the late 1990s. De Rop and Goossens again became the main inkers, with Geerts responsible for the stories and the pencil art.[42] In these years, Suske en Wiske reached its peak popularity, and the older stories now were republished in colours in the main series. In 1975 and 1976, the Dutch television broadcast six puppet movies with new Suske en Wiske stories. They were very successful and sales of new albums reached over 200,000 copies.[43] The merchandising business boomed as well, and commercial comics were one of the main new jobs for the Studio.[44]

The Studio was mainly established with the artists that joined in the 1960s, but two new artists were Erik De Rop and Robert Merhottein, who became the only artist to leave Studio Vandersteen and start his own successful series.[45]

Vandersteen, liberated of the work on the daily comic, started on a comic series based on one of the novels he had read as a youth: Robert en Bertrand, the story of two Flemish tramps at the fin de siècle.[42] The series debuted in De Standaard in 1972. The series was the first in a long time to renew the enthusiasm of Vandersteen, and the graphical quality and the stories were a lot better than most of the Studio production of the time.[46]

For the newspaper supplement Pats, he also created the title series in 1974, but he left most of the work to Merhottein. The series changed its name to Tits in 1977 after a lawsuit, and disappeared in 1986.[47]

In 1976, Vandersteen’s wife Paula died. He remarried on 25 June 1977 with Anne-Marie Vankerkhoven. Vandersteen, now a celebrated artist with complete TV shows made about him, both in the Netherlands and in Belgium, continued to work on his comics. The same year 1977 gave him a coveted Alfred award from the Angoulême International Comics Festival for the best scenario, for the Robert en Bertrand story De stakingbreker (The Strike Breaker), while in 1978 a Suske en Wiske statue was unveiled in the Antwerp Zoo.[48]


The next decade was one of mixed successes. Some of the minor or less successful series ended: Robert en Bertrand, a critical but never a commercial success, folded in 1993, 8 years after Vandersteen had stopped writing the stories. Jerom and Bessy both were restyled but disappeared a few years later in 1988 and 1993. Pats, later renamed Tits, already disappeared in 1986.[49]

Suske en Wiske meanwhile was a steady success, and although the sales have dropped from the peaks of the 1970s continues to be one of the most popular Flemish comics.[50]

Willy Vandersteen created one last new series in 1985: De Geuzen, a historical, humoristic comic set in Flanders in the sixteenth century. Similar in theme to the thirty years older Tijl Uilenspiegel, the comic combined many of Vandersteen’s passions, including the art of Pieter Brueghel the Elder. It contained his most mature, developed characters, compared to the often one-dimensional characters of his earlier series, and reached a graphical level that approached his work for Kuifje. The comics were not prepublished and were mostly created by Vandersteen alone, which ensured the quality but also decreased the publication rhythm. Only ten albums appeared, and the series ended with the death of Vandersteen.[51]

Willy Vandersteen died on 28 August 1990, weakened by a long disease. He continued working until shortly before his death, and his Studio still continues, with Suske en Wiske and De Rode Ridder as main series.[52]

Themes and influences in the work of Vandersteen

Willy Vandersteen used a wild variety of themes and influences in his work from early on. He made fairytales, historic series, westerns, but also science fiction and many contemporary comics. While some series like De Familie Snoek and Bessy stuck very close to their origin (an everyday Flemish contemporary family for the former, and a pioneer family in the American Old West in the latter), others were more loose. De Rode Ridder, the story of a medieval knight, wandered from Arthurian tales over the crusades until the explorations of the fifteenth and sixteenth century, thereby spanning some ten centuries, and later (when Vandersteen was less involved in the series) brought in many elements of sword and sorcery and fantasy.[53]

Suske and Wiske is a contemporary series, but many stories used the plot device of time travelling, either by a machine or by some poetic device. This enabled stories to evolve in a myriad of periods, often again in the Middle Ages though. Furthermore did Vandersteen use local legends of Antwerp and Limburg, parodies of American superhero series like Batman, science fiction, and popular TV series.[54] Vandersteen also got inspiration from the different long journeys he made, like his long trip to the Far East in 1959.[55] Some of the earliest realistic comics of Willy Vandersteen also clearly show the strong influence he has had from American comics like Prince Valiant and Tarzan, but he later developed his own distinctive style.

International success

Vandersteen always strived to have success beyond Flanders, and reduced the typically Flemish character of his comics soon after his debut. He already worked and published in French during the War, and already in the 1940s he expanded the reach of Suske en Wiske to the Netherlands with some newspaper publications, and to Wallonia and France through the publication in Tintin magazine. All Suske en Wiske albums, and many albums of other series like De Familie Snoek, were also published in French by Erasme. Bessy was even first created for a Walloon newspaper, before being translated in Dutch.[56] By 1978, an estimated 80 million Suske en Wiske albums had been sold in Dutch alone.[25]

Other countries and languages followed soon. The first German translations appeared in 1954, and in the 1960s Bessy and to a lesser extent Jerom were an enormous success, with combined over a 1000 weekly comics with a circulation of some 200,000 copies. Later in the 1950s followed publications in Chile and Portugal, and Spain followed in the 1960s. In the following years, Vandersteen’s comics and especially Suske en Wiske are published in dozens of languages, but in most cases only one or a few albums are translated. More than 10 albums are published in the United States, and in Sweden 69 albums are published, accompanied by a lot of merchandising. The Finnish series is a big success as well.[57]


In the 1950s started the merchandising around Suske en Wiske. Vandersteen, always a businessman as well as an artist, was enthusiastic when he got the proposal to make a puppet show of the series. Already in 1947, the first puppets were for sale. They were followed by a series of 5 hand puppets in 1957 and a Jerom-game in 1960. In 1955, two years after the start of television in Flanders, an animated adventure of Suske en Wiske was broadcast every Saturday afternoon.[58] Other merchandising ranged from Suske en Wiske drinking glasses in 1954 to 5 large handpainted ceramic statues of the main heroes in 1952. Coloring books, calendars, puzzles, … followed soon.Two records were released by Decca in 1956. Vandersteen also created a number of commercial comics with Suske en Wiske, starting with a touristic comic for the province of Antwerp in 1957.[59]


All series were originally published in Dutch and by the publisher Standaard Uitgeverij, unless noted otherwise. Commercial editions and other non-regular albums are not included.[60][61]

Series From Until Volumes Volumes in French Remarks
Piwo 1943 1946 3 3 First albums by Vandersteen, published by Ons Volk
Suske en Wiske 1946 Present 242+ 242+ Numbering restarted at #67, and is as of July 2010 at #309: continued since 1972 by Paul Geerts and others. Some albums are translated in dozens of other languages.
Snoek 1946 1969 18 5 No publications from 1955 to 1965
Judi / Rudi 1952 1955 4   Published by Sheed & Ward
Bessy 1954 1985 164 151 First 68 signed “Wirel”, other Studio Vandersteen: more than 900 volumes appeared in German
Tijl Uilenspiegel 1954 1955 2 2  
De grappen van Lambik 1955 Present 7 and 7 3 Spin-off from Suske en Wiske: the second series contains reprints from the first, and new gags. No publications from 1963 to 2003.
De pantoscaaf 1956 1956 1   Published by the KSA, a Flemish Catholic youth organization
Het plezante cirkus 1958 1959 3 3  
De vrolijke bengels 1958 1959 2 2  
De Rode Ridder 1959 Present 227+ 19 Continued by Karel Biddeloo and others: as of July 2010, 227 albums have been published.
Jerom 1962 1982 95 93 Spin-off from Suske en Wiske, more than 150 albums appeared in German
Karl May 1962 1985 87   Loosely based on the novels by Karl May
Biggles 1965 1969 20   Based on the figure created by W. E. Johns
Met Kil en Fil op het Kiliaanpad 1970 1970 1   Published by Louis Hellemans as promotion for the CVP party at the 1970 local elections
Safari 1970 1974 24 21  
Ciso editions 1972 1980 7   Ciso reprinted a number of classic Flemish magazine comics, including these realistic Vandersteen comics from the 1940s and 1950s
Robert en Bertrand 1973 1993 98 47  
Pats 1975 1977 7   Continued (and reprinted) as Tits
Tits 1979 1986 28   Sequel to Pats. The name Tits is the local Antwerp name for a boater straw hat fashionable in the old days.
De wonderbare reizen van Jerom 1982 1991 36 13 Continuation of Jerom.
Bessy natuurkommando 1985 1992 23   Sequel to Bessy, mainly by Jeff Broeckx
De Geuzen 1985 1990 10   Last series started by Vandersteen
Schanulleke 1986 1993 3   Spin-off from Suske en Wiske
‘t Prinske 1994 1997 4 4 Gags originally published in the 1950s but only edited as albums in the 1990s
Klein Suske en Wiske 2002 Present 11+   Only created after the death of Vandersteen, but bears his name on the cover: spin-off from Suske en Wiske

Awards and recognition

According to UNESCO‘s Index Translationum, Vandersteen is the second most often translated Dutch language author, after Anne Frank.[67]


  1. ^ a b c d Toon (2010-09-13). “Willy Vandersteen tekende antisemitische spotprenten [Willy Vandersteen drew antisemitic cartoons]”. Strip Turnhout.
  2. ^ a b Debrouwere, Lotte (2008-06-26). “300 albums en springlevend” (in Dutch). Het Nieuwsblad.
  3. ^ Stripspeciaalzaak Belgian comics top 50
  4. ^ Dutch newspaper BN / De Stem, 12 September 2007
  5. ^ Standaard Uitgeverij (in Dutch). Suske en Wiske 60 jaar!. Antwerp: Standaard Uitgeverij. p. 7. ISBN 90-02-21729-3
  6. ^ Van Hooydonck, Peter (in Dutch). Biografie Willy Vandersteen. De Bruegel van het beeldverhaal (2nd ed.). Antwerp: Standaard Uitgeverij. pp. 9–10. ISBN 90-02-19500-1
  7. ^ Van Hooydonck, Biografie, p. 11-12
  8. ^ Van Hooydonck, Biografie, p. 13-19
  9. ^ a b Van Hooydonck, Biografie, p. 20-21
  10. ^ Van Hooydonck, Biografie, p. 23-26
  11. ^ Van Hooydonck, Biografie, p. 26-28
  12. ^ Van Hooydonck, Biografie, p. 28-30
  13. ^ Van Hooydonck, Biografie, p. 31-37
  14. ^ Van Hooydonck, Biografie, p. 38-56
  15. ^ Van Hooydonck, Biografie, p. 38-42
  16. ^ Van Hooydonck, Biografie, p.42-46
  17. ^ Lambiek Comiclopedia. “Willy Vandersteen”.
  18. ^ Standaard Uitgeverij, 60 jaar!, p. 8
  19. ^ Stripverhalen. “Suske&Wiske” (in Dutch).
  20. ^ Van Hooydonck, Biografie, p.61
  21. ^ a b Standaard Uitgeverij, 60 jaar!, p. 9
  22. ^ Van Hooydonck, Biografie, p. 60
  23. ^ Van Hooydonck, Biografie, p. 67-70
  24. ^ Van Hooydonck, Biografie, p. 64-77
  25. ^ a b Durnez, Erik (in Dutch). Ik vier het elke dag… Willy Vandersteen 65. Antwerp/Amsterdam: Standaard Uitgeverij. ISBN 90-02-13934-9
  26. ^ Van Hooydonck, Biografie, p. 78-91
  27. ^ Van Hooydonck, Biografie, p. 104-110 & p. 174-181
  28. ^ Van Hooydonck, Biografie, p.119
  29. ^ Van Hooydonck, Biografie, p. 129-131
  30. ^ Van Hooydonck, Biografie, p. 134-146
  31. ^ Van Hooydonck, Biografie, p. 152-156
  32. ^ Van Hooydonck, Biografie, p. 172-173
  33. ^ Van Hooydonck, Biografie, p. 147-151
  34. ^ Van Hooydonck, Biografie, p. 182-187
  35. ^ Van Hooydonck, Biografie, p. 197
  36. ^ Van Hooydonck, Biografie, p. 188-191
  37. ^ Van Hooydonck, Biografie, p. 192
  38. ^ Van Hooydonck, Biografie, p. 208-214
  39. ^ Van Hooydonck, Biografie, p. 218-219
  40. ^ Van Hooydonck, Biografie, p. 232-234
  41. ^ Van Hooydonck, Biografie, p. 240-243
  42. ^ a b Van Hooydonck, Biografie, p. 220-221
  43. ^ Van Hooydonck, Biografie, p. 261
  44. ^ Van Hooydonck, Biografie, p. 264
  45. ^ Van Hooydonck, Biografie, p. 254
  46. ^ Van Hooydonck, Biografie, p. 255-257
  47. ^ Van Hooydonck, Biografie, p. 259-261
  48. ^ Van Hooydonck, Biografie, p. 265-267
  49. ^ Van Hooydonck, Biografie, p. 270-272
  50. ^ Van Hooydonck, Biografie, p. 269
  51. ^ Van Hooydonck, Biografie, p. 273-275
  52. ^ Van Hooydonck, Biografie, p. 283
  53. ^ Van Hooydonck, Biografie, p. 235-236
  54. ^ Standaard Uitgeverij, 60 jaar!, p. 16
  55. ^ Van Hooydonck, Biografie, p. 236
  56. ^ Van Hooydonck, Biografie, p. 245-246
  57. ^ Van Hooydonck, Biografie, p. 247-251
  58. ^ Van Hooydonck, Biografie, p.121-126
  59. ^ Van Hooydonck, Biografie, p. 222-229
  60. ^ Matla, Hans: “Stripkatalogus 9: De negende dimensie”. Panda, Den Haag, 1998. ISBN 90-6438-111-9
  61. ^ Béra, Michel; Denni, Michel; Mellot, Philippe: “BDM 2003-2004. Trésors de la Bande Dessinée. Catalogue encyclopédique”. Les éditions de l’amateur, Paris, 2002. ISBN 2-85917-357-9
  62. ^ Van Hooydonck, Biografie, p. 203
  63. ^ ToutEnBD. “Le palmarès” (in French).
  64. ^ Belga (2007-10-15). “Grand Prix St-Michel à Gotlib” (in French). La Libre Belgique. Retrieved 2007-10-15. 
  65. ^ Standaard Uitgeverij, 60 jaar!, p. 20
  66. ^ Article in De Standaard
  67. ^ Index Translationum Dutch top 10

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