From Mort & Phil to Tilg & Aschbacher – How Crises Mercilessly Expose Incompetence

Whenever the salvation of the world depends on the Trans-International Agent Ring (T.I.A.), the leader Mister L. gets his two “best” agents, even if he would rather not call them at all. Mortadelo & Filemon, better known to us as Mort & Phil, are probably the two most incompetent secret agents, besides Johnny English, who have ever known the world. The villains are being put out of business primarily because they don’t count on the devastating power of the natural stupidity of the agents they have put on them. A phenomenon with which the already deceased Berkeley professor Carlo M. Cipolla dealt with throughout his life.

It is easy to forget that incompetence can also occur in very prominent positions in companies and government offices. in normal times, this may be obvious to competent people, but it does not lead to many consequences. Donald Trump in the US or Boris Johnson in the UK have been known to make it to the top not so much with competence but more with populism and fears.

But as soon as a real crisis, such as the coronavirus, occurs, which requires competent and informed action, and where many lives are at stake, these people are finished. A crisis brutally and relentlessly exposes the incompetence of leaders.

An example from my home country Austria made headlines earlier this week. After hundreds of ski tourists from Tyrolean ski resorts returned home to their countries and tested positive for COVID-19, there was fire on the roof in Tyrol and Austria. What could be more obvious than to invite the Tyrolean Health Minister, Bernhard Tilg of the ÖVP, to the news studio to listen to his opinion and discuss the measures?

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From Dunning-Kruger To The Much More Harmful Trump-Pence Effect

In a film that was intended as a homage to old science fiction films and B-movies, aliens attack the Earth and cause a massacre among humans. The American president and his advisors are not quite at one with each other as to what the right course of action should be, and above all, the president’s poll ratings should not suffer as a result. The reactions to the invasion are therefore hesitant, uncoordinated, and ultimately deadly for the president and his staff.

The 1996 film Mars Attacks! by Tim Burton, starring Jack Nicholson in the role of the American president, was not a box-office success, but it skilfully parodied everyday US politics. It depicts a world that cannot exist in reality in this way. Or can it?

Replace the word alien with the word coronavirus, and we’ve got ourselves a situation. And not only that, the situation is actually even worse than the movie wanted to portray in its parodistic exaggeration.

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A Lord As A Patrolman

We imagine life as a lord, who thanks to generous family riches does not have to suffer, as a comfortable one. In the morning, i.e. rather at noon, we are awakened by the butler who serves us breakfast in bed with the morning paper, and after enjoying it to the fullest, we only have to slip into the ready and ironed clothes to indulge in polo, fox hunting or taking a stroll through the lush estates.

Far from it! The young and still green Lord Harold – the twelfth of that name – is an example of nobility with a passion. His is for the police, and that is where he wants to go. And not just to any district, where a lord is well-suited, but to the worst part of town, Blackchurch, where he is looking for a post. His wish is granted, and he is on the trail of a secret that leads him to mysterious deaths, a police station that seems to have a deal with the villains, and an inscrutable balance between villainous gangs. In the middle of all this is the pretty owner of a dive where all the threads come together.

Cover picture of “The Investigations of Lord Harold”
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In Sherlock Holmes’ Mind

London in the 19th century must have been a cesspool of sin, where murderers and manslayers and other dark criminals must have met. At least that’s what the crime literature of the time tries telling us.

But luckily, the city of London accommodates the impersonation of the bad boys’ nightmare, and this is well known to us. Sherlock Holmes with his sharp logic and his somewhat simple-minded sidekick Watson – a doctor, no less – put a stop to the scoundrels in many stories.

No wonder that more than 130 years after the first appearance of this duo, penned by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, the stories are still fascinating audiences worldwide and produce new interpretations. The comic album In Sherlock Holmes’ Mind (original title: Dans la tête de Sherlock Holmes) introduces the reader to the character in a different way. We can literally see the thought processes of Holmes in his head and how he analyzes and solves the Case of the scandalous ticket on the basis of the evidence.

Album cover of Dans la tête de Sherlock Holmes
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The master of the carpets

The Orient and Dark Russia come together in this delightful comic album about the aging carpet dealer Fedor, who travels through the vastness of a country that modern times have not stopped at. The modern age has moved into homes in the form of parquet and wooden floors – a development that is slowly making carpets that protect against the cold of stone or clay floors obsolete.

But Fedor is even more worried: he feels his age and is worried that he has no successor for his profession. Then young Danil runs in front of his sleigh while fleeing from the henchmen of the boyar Nazar Alymoff. Because he has killed the ruler’s favorite greyhound, the death penalty is awaiting him. Fedor reacts instinctively, prepares a flying carpet and escapes with Danil – leaving his other carpets behind.

Album cover for Le maître des tapis
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The incredible adventures of the swindler Pablo of Segovia

One would hardly like to believe it, but it was to take 150 years until religious texts or pamphlets were finally replaced by secular printed matter in the size of the edition. Since the invention of letterpress printing by Johannes Gutenberg, the Bible and Martin Luther’s pamphlets have been among the best sellers. Luther was so popular that at that time a third of all printed matter was written by him.

At the beginning of the 17th century, a new type of writing began to establish itself, namely the novel. The first fictional bestseller in printed book history was Don Quixote by Miguel de Cervantes. The sad hero of the story, with his struggle against the windmills and his faithful servant Sancho Panza, is still well known to us four centuries later.

El Buscón

Cervantes novel inspired a number of authors and in 1626 the History of the life of the Swindler, called Don Pablos, model for hobos and mirror of misers (original title: Historia de la vida del Buscón, llamado Don Pablos, ejemplo de vagamundos y espejo de tacaños) was published in Spainby Francisco de Quevedo.

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Midi Pile – An Enchanting Story In Scissor Cut

Occasionally, a work falls into your hands that you only want to touch with reverence and fingertips, and that tells a story that touches with great sensitivity. In the children’s book department of the Librairie Kléber bookstore in Strasbourg, Alsace, I came across the children’s book Midi Pile, which tells the adventures of the little rabbit Jacominus Gainsborough.

Rébecca Dautremer is the unique narrator and artist behind Jacominus’ experiences and has already introduced us to her in her first children’s book, The Rich Hours of Jacominus Gainsborough. With Midi Pile, she takes readers by the hand in a wonderful continuation of his adventures. The book is in coloured silhouette throughout and leads us through the story from the perspective of the little bunny.

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My Pile of Books 2019

In addition to writing, talking to people, listening to podcasts and giving lectures, one of the most important activities of an author and speaker is reading. And that is reading a lot.

Already as a child, I buried myself in comics from the 2nd hand comic store and in newspapers, even though I wasn’t officially allowed to read the latter. My father initially didn’t want me to read them, but my mother always secretly slipped them to me. Until the day when my father officially handed me the newspaper for the first time and I was no longer forced to read it in secret.

No wonder that in the family apartment we moved into in Vienna in the early 80s, the bookshelves and family books suddenly found their way into my room. Collecting books did not stop, and has even gained more momentum over time. Today I have a library that certainly contains around 3,000 books. There is not much order, but at least I have been maintaining an online list for a few years now, which probably contains about one third of my books.

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Mafalda in Buenos Aires

In my youth, I came a few times across a comic strip with a little heroine called Mafalda. At that time I didn’t really know the meaning of this precocious girl, she had been nothing more to me than the heroine of a comic strip like Charlie Brown from Peanuts. Later I learned from an Argentinean friend how well-known and popular Mafalda was there. But only a vacation in Buenos Aires and an analysis of Mafalda in the form of a political and socio-historical investigation brought me closer to the comic strip and its significance for Latin America.

If one strolls through the streets of Buenos Aires, one cannot overlook the amount of Mafalda drawings in the city. On a small square between the streets of Defensa and Chile there is a queue of people at any time of the day, patiently waiting to take a picture with Mafalda and her friends.

A line in front of the Mafalda statue in Buenos Aires

The statue is located opposite the house where the cartoonist and inventor of Mafalda and her friends Joaquín Salvador Lavado Tejón, better known by his stage name Quino, lived. Since the statue was erected, this area of the San Telma district has become a tourist spot. Every weekend an artists’ market is held along Defensa.

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Mata Hari

I have been reading and collecting comics for years. It began – as usual – in childhood, when we were allowed to go to a comic exchange store once a week and exchange ten old comics for ten other old comics for 10 Austrian Schillings (less than a dollar). I had devoured most of the comics on the same day.

What I didn’t understand at the time was that many of the comics exchanged were actually comic books, where only a few pages of a comic album were printed. So instead of a whole Smurf story, it was just four or eight pages from a typical 40-60 page album.

But reading comics stopped when I was a teenager. It wasn’t until I was an adult that I came across a comic book store in Orleans, France, which to my surprise was not frequented by children, but mainly by adults. I flipped through a series of albums until I stumbled across a page that I knew from my French class in high school. A double spread of Marcel Gotlieb, originally printed in the legendary comic magazine Pilote, was there in a complete edition of his work.

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