Die Känguru-Comics written by Marc-Uwe Kling

and illustrated by Bernd Kessel

One of twenty-first century Germany’s best-known characters is a kangaroo. Talking, obviously, but less obviously a Communist, a fan of Nirvana (“The band?” asks Marc-Uwe Kling, narrator of the stories. “No, the Beyond,” says the kangaroo, and after a pause, “Of course the band! You like to pose unnecessary questions!” “Yes,” says Marc-Uwe.), a self-proclaimed veteran of the Viet Cong, and an even bigger fan of alcohol-filled bon bons. The kangaroo first appeared at the door of Marc-Uwe Kling’s Berlin flat — in an episode chronicled in 2008 for local radio station Fritz — hoping to borrow a frying pan to make some savory pancakes.

Känguru Comics

It soon transpires that the kangaroo also needs to borrow some salt. And some flour. Each time, the kangaroo — having introduced itself as the new neighbor from across the hall — lets Marc-Uwe close the door and presumably goes back to its own apartment before ringing again seconds later to ask for the next ingredient. Eggs, milk and oil follow soon after. Having collected all the necessary ingredients, the kangaroo returns to admit that it doesn’t yet have a stove in its apartment. (German houses and apartments are often sold or rented as basically just the four walls: no light fixtures, no appliances, no cabinets until the new residents install them.) Marc-Uwe invites the kangaroo in to cook. When the kangaroo is about to make a mess of the process, he takes over. Then the kangaroo asks if he can add some ground beef. When Marc-Uwe says he’s out of that just now, the kangaroo says he should go and buy some, it doesn’t mind waiting. “But don’t shop at Lidl! The labor conditions there are terrible!”

That’s the beginning of a beautiful friendship, and a cultural phenomenon. The Kangaroo Chronicles started as radio sketches, got collected into a multi-hour CD set, won a German prize for comedy in 2010 and were published in book form. The sketches continued, soon followed by second (The Kangaroo Manifesto), third (The Kangaroo Revelation), and fourth (The Kangaroo Apocrypha) collections in both book and audio formats. By 2020, the first two books had sold at least 2.5 million copies in Germany, and the first audio collection (which runs to nearly six hours) had sold more than a million times.

Kling has performed many of the chapters live in comedy clubs. The works have been adapted for the stage. Two kangaroo movies have been released, with a third possibly on the way. There are even kangaroo-based tabletop games that incorporate items and catchphrases from the series. (Halt mal kurz — “Hold this for a sec” — is fun to play. The phrase is also a running gag because “kurz,” literally “short,” is left undefined and the kangaroo tends to interpret that as “indefinitely.”)

The cast of The Kangaroo Chronicles appeared from late 2020 to early 2023 in a comic strip that ran in Germany’s leading intellectual weekly newspaper. Quite a journey from a local radio sketch! The strips from December 2020 to December 2021 are collected in this volume, which carries the subtitle Also ich könnte das besser — “Well, I could do it better.”

When my kids first started listening to the kangaroo stories when they were in elementary school, they loved the absurd situations and Kling’s deadpan delivery paired with the distinctive, excitable voice he used for the kangaroo. The more surreal the better, and with an uninhibited anarcho-communist marsupial for the author’s alter ego, there is plenty of that to go around. Once the story expands to include Marc-Uwe’s romantic misadventures, his therapist, various neighborhood personalities, and a menacing penguin, the mundane and the absurd clash hilariously. But one of the things that makes the series special is Kling’s ability to weave pop culture, classic allusions, and deeper philosophy into the short comedic sketches. My kids are still listening to the stories nearly a decade later, and they are delighted to discover the references that Kling scattered throughout the kangaroo tales. There have been many happy “Aha!” moments.

The comics continue the series’ intertextuality and meta-commentary by having the characters occasionally be aware that they are in a comic strip. In one series of strips, author and illustrator switch roles; in another, the kangaroo takes over the writing and re-names the strip “The Kangaroo Monologues.” There is an occasional side strip titled “Elon and Jeff on Mars,” and various other real or cultural figures get parodied. Because of the time of publication, a considerable amount of material deals with situations that arose during the covid-19 pandemic, from crazy drivers at the vaccination center to the feeling of having watched all of Netflix during lockdown, or from clearing a subway car with a single unmasked coughing fit to speculating on why people fall for conspiracy theories. Sometimes, there’s just good silliness, like the kangaroo’s unsuitable ideas for getting a Christmas tree up several stories and into Marc-Uwe’s apartment, or when a lady on the subway mistakes Marc-Uwe for a beggar and drops a coin into his cup of coffee.

The comics are fun and funny, and translate this unlikely pair of cultural icons into a new medium. The newspaper printed them without any particular introduction to the characters, naturally assuming that by 2020 a large enough share of their audience was familiar with them that the strip could start in media res. The first strip begins with a visit to the state employment agency, portrayed in the first three panels just with words inside the frames. The agency representative asks the two of them what kind of work experience they have. “The kangaroo is a Communist,” says Marc-Uwe. “And he’s a minor artist,” says the kangaroo. “I’m not a minor artist,” says Marc-Uwe. (This exchange is a running gag since the first collection of radio episodes.) The bureaucrat says that in view of their qualifications, the only job suitable for them is as comic [relief] figures. The final panel shows comics versions of the two looking in astonishment at each other and saying “Cool!” And they’re off and running in the comic world.

Die Känguru Comics is not a good place to start with the characters, but I found them just as hilarious in this form as in the others. Fortunately there is an English translation of the first collection, The Kangaroo Chronicles, and that is a good place to start.

Permanent link to this article: https://www.thefrumiousconsortium.net/2023/09/06/die-kanguru-comics-written-by-marc-uwe-kling/

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  1. […] second volume of the kangaroo comics concludes the hardback publication of the odd couple’s 2020–23 run in Germany’s […]

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