THE CAPTAIN AND THE KIDSOriginal Medium: Newspaper comics
Distributed by: United Feature Syndicate
First Appeared: 1914
Creator: Rudolph Dirks
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The Katzenjammer Kids, about the antics of an incorrigible pair of boys named Hans and Fritz Katzenjammer and their long-suffering victims, their Mama, The Captain, and The Inspector, in 1897, as a Sunday page for the Hearst papers. In 1914, he created The Captain & the Kids, with the very same characters, for the rival Pulitzer papers.
The cloning was the result of a 1914 court decision, which held that Hearst had a right to refuse to reinstate Dirks on the earlier strip after a year-long leave of absence — but that Dirks had the right to use the characters he'd created in a new strip, as long as he changed its name.
When it first appeared in Pulitzer's New York World, the cloned strip had no title. In 1915, it was headlined Hans und Fritz. When the U.S. entered World War I, features with German titles became unpopular, so it was changed to The Captain & the Kids, the name it kept.
Even after splitting, the two versions ran in parallel. In the Hearst version, the characters did a lot of globe trotting — and in the Dirks version, The Captain and The Inspector raced around the world in 1917. Both versions had a band of pirates, led by Long John Silver, as occasional supporting characters. In the Hearst version, the characters occasionally visited, and eventually settled, in the Squee-Jee Islands. In the Dirks version, the archipelago was called Cannibal Islands, but with its palm trees, African-style beasts, and native royalty, was otherwise identical.
Another thing they had in common was a short-lived daily strip counterpart, although the one for The Captain & the Kids came later, in the 1930s.
Dirks remained with The Captain & the Kids for about three or four or maybe five decades, more or less. He took another leave of absence in the early 1920s, during which the strip was ghosted by Oscar Hitt (who also served a term on the daily Katzies strip over at Hearst). In 1932, he had a contract dispute with United Feature (which syndicated the strip), resulting in his temporary absence from it, during which Bernard Dibble (who was also responsible for the daily version, as well as a superhero hamed Iron Vic) took over both this page and its topper, Gus Mager's Hawkshaw the Detective. Dirks returned a year later. After World War II, his son, John Dirks, gradually assumed more and more of the responsibility, taking over completely in 1968, when the elder Dirks died.
In comic books, The Captain & the Kids appeared in Sparkler Comics, along with Nancy, Abbie & Slats, Ella Cinders and other United Feature stars, from 1941-55. They also had their own comic from 1947-55, originally published by United Feature and later by Dell Comics. Other appearances outside of the newspapers include the usual array of Big Little Books and cereal premiums, a series of sepiatone cartoons from MGM, produced during 1938 and '39 (practically the only non-color cartoons MGM ever released), and an even more obscure set of cartoons, appearing as back-up segments in a 1971 Archie TV show, in which they rotated with Smokey Stover, Alley Oop, Dick Tracy and other stars of newspaper comics.
It is a testament to the power of Dirks's creation that the two versions were able to exist side-by-side for as long as they did — longer, in fact, than most strips manage to survive even without clones drawing away readership. But in the end, the Hearst version proved to have more staying power. It continues to be published even today. The Captain & the Kids folded in 1979.