Inspiring Young Readers

posted on 22 Oct 2017

Walter Trier

Those who have heard of Walter Trier will probably know him pretty much exclusively as the man who illustrated Erich Kästner’s Emil books. I certainly know his drawings and can recognise them immediately on the wonderfully evocative Puffin reprints of those books. He was, however, an interesting illustrator beyond the world of the German boy detective.

Trier was born in Prague in 1890 but learned his artistic trade in the Munich art academy in 1907-8 and he was publishing work by 1909 in two key publications of the time, Simplicissimus and Youth. By 1910 he’s working for a newspaper, Lustige Blätter, and involved in drawing satirical cartoons and eventually propaganda for the German war effort.

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After the war, and traumatised by the experience, his style changed quite dramatically and he gained a reputation for illustrations that have a more child-friendly content and he became a hugely popular artist. Because of this growing reputation he got the chance to illustrate his first children’s book, Emil and the Detectives, in 1929 and this kicked off a collaboration with the Erich Kästner that lasted for over 25 years.

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But the rise of the Nazi’s in the 1930s forced Trier to make the decision to relocate his family from Germany to England and by 1936 he was doing magazine cover illustration to earn his living. He drew for a publication called Lilliput, a small pocket-sized periodical that always relied on eye-catching, colourful front-covers. During the war years he was again caught-up in the propaganda machine, this time on the side of the Allies, drawing handbills that would be dropped over German cities.

In 1947 Trier became a British citizen and this triggered a move to Canada where he planned to join his daughter and relaunch his career.  Sadly however he died only three and a bit years later in 1951 before this third career could get off the ground.

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Perhaps understandably, Trier’s work is most widely appreciated in Germany these days and, in 2007, a Walter Trier Archive was established in Konstanz where they are gathering together and digitising his work.

I just love his seeming simplicity of approach to illustration. The world of Emil and his young friends are captured in a few strokes of a well-trained pen and the world they live in timeless captured in the endless summers of the inter-war years.

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I was hoping that there would be a book available about Trier and his artwork for me to buy – and there is if only I could speak and read German well enough to enjoy it.

Come on someone! Do an English language version!

Terry Potter

October 2017