Sunday, March 15, 2009

Kurt Caesar, illustrator--part 1 of 2

Italian comic artist Kurt Caesar (1906-1974) is best known today for having illustrated the adventures of “Romano il Legionario,” a daring pilot who fought the good fight for Mussolini in the years before World War II. Almost as well known is his series of cover paintings for the science fiction magazine Urania in the 1950s. During his busy career Caesar specialized in hardware stories, with an emphasis on aircraft. Caesar's love for planes showed especially strongly in his strips from the 1930s, when dashing aviators, explorers, and air pirates filled the pages of kids' weekly newspapers like Topolino and Il Vittorioso.

Caesar was born Kurt Kaiser (or Kaisar?) in Montigny-les-Metz, France. Though his German father would rather he'd have been a surgeon, Kurt preferred the arts and wound up at the Prussian School of Fine Arts in Berlin. An able sportsman, Caesar became a professional boxer and even captured a German title. Following his graduation he became a journalist, working for a variety of German magazines. While at Die Kultur he married the magazine's owner, Elfriede Ensle. Soon he took a job as a roving journalist for a Zurich-based periodical. He traveled throughout Europe and Asia, learning to speak several languages. Finally, in the mid-1930s, the Kaisers settled in Italy, where Kurt began his successful career as a comic artist.

Kaiser changed his name to Caesar, and confused later generations of fans by using several variations on this name during his career. At various times he was Kurt Caesar, Curt Caesar, Cesare Avai, Caesar Away, Jack Away, and Corrado Caesar. His first strip, written by legendary Italian comics scenarist Federico Pedrocchi, was “I Due Tamburini” for Mondadori's paper I Tre Porcellini. Shortly thereafter he illustrated the serial “Il Pirata del Cielo,” one of Italy's first strips featuring a “bad guy” protagonist, renegade American aviator Will Sparrow. I've reproduced a page below.* The love Caesar lavished on the strip--especially the airplanes--is obvious.

Caesar's biggest success, as already noted, was “Romano il Legionario (1938).” Flying for the Fascist air force, Romano first fought nobly in the Spanish Civil War, then branched out to battle on air, land, and sea. Some of Caesar's finest work appeared in this strip, as shown in the reproduction below, shot from the original art. Caesar left the series in 1943. During the war he served as a journalist in Spain and northern Africa. He wound up in Africa as an interpreter for General Rommel. There he was captured by the English and spent the remainder of the war as a POW. He resettled in Rome after the war and began producing strips and illustrations for Il Vittorioso.

[Sidebar: Oddly, the Lambiek entry on Kurt Caesar states that he was actually working for the Resistance during the War, and that “his activities were recompensated” afterward. While I have no grounds to challenge this statement, it seems incredible that the author of such unabashed propoganda as “Romano” would be working for the enemy. What's more, the statement doesn't appear in any other Caesar biography I found online. Stranger things have happened, though. Can anyone supply details?]

In 1952 Caesar accepted the assignment of painting covers for Mondadori's Urania, the first Italian science-fiction magazine (sample below.) Over the next six years he produced some 160 covers, which were quite popular with readers and today capture much of the spacefaring spirit of those years--even though large pieces of many covers were lifted from other artists. Unfortunately the death of his wife following a long illness broke Caesar financially. He was replaced at Urania and moved with his son to a village north of Rome. There he continued to paint covers for other s-f magazines. He also drew features for England's Fleetway magazines, including Jet Logan. Beginning in 1968 Caesar illustrated many of German publisher Moewig-Verlag's comics adaptations of the Perry Rhodan science fiction novels.

Kurt Caesar died of a heart attack in 1974 at the age of 68.

*(Most of the biographical material here was found in's “Comiclopedia” and the Italian and German language versions of Wikipedia. The page from “Il Pirata del Cielo” was scanned from an Albo d'Oro reprint, and the Urania cover came from the fantastic gallery of Urania covers at The “Romano” original was found at


Anonymous said...

I have an oil painting that was presented to my Uncle, who was head of a POW camp in Europe, that is signed "Kurt Kaiser, 1945". It is extremely well done and, according to various info, he was a POW from 1943 when he was captured assisting Rommel. Anybody know anything out there?

Smurfswacker said...

Fascinating! That sounds like the same guy, all right. Do you happen to have a photo of the painting?