Scrooge McDuck, the world’s wealthiest drake, was one of the original car enthusiasts. In the comic-book story “Chugwagon Derby” by Carl Barks the feathered billionaire even claims to be one of the first ever owners of an automobile – and one built personally by Gottlieb Daimler at that. In Guido Scala and Bruno Concina’s comic “100 anni dell’automobile”, meanwhile, Scrooge’s nephew Donald sets out on a journey in Daimler’s motorized carriage of 1886. And the younger duck has total confidence in the 100-year-old machine, backing it – as a genuine Daimler – to cover the 300-km journey with ease. Legendary duck and vintage carriage duly arrive safe and sound at their destination.
The relationship between comic-book writers and cars goes back a long way, automobiles cropping up frequently in popular albums – and not just to celebrate the anniversaries of Daimler and Benz’ inventions. Fascination with technology and a passion for automotive details left their mark most notably on European series over the second half of the 20th century. Comic-books may have their roots in the USA but, ever since the arrival of “Tintin”, there has also been an extremely lively comic culture in France and Belgium in particular, as well as in the Netherlands, Germany, Italy and Spain. Mercedes-Benz duly took its place in the comic avant-garde (e.g. in Matthias Schultheiss’ “Night taxi”), left-wing underground titles – such as “Flucht aus Berlin” by Gerhard Seyfried – and above all in numerous adventure series and detective titles. You can find examples in almost every genre of modern comic-strips – with the exception only of stories set in the dim past or distant future.
Keen readers of these addictive adventures will have noted how an extensive illustrated encyclopedia of automotive history has taken shape on their pages. And models from Mercedes-Benz are frequently to be found. Examples range from the A-Class to heavy-duty trucks and from the birth of the automobile in 1886 to the very latest models. As taxis with the Mercedes three-pointed star on the radiator have proved to be a reliable form of transport for numerous passengers both in Europe and the other continents of the world over the decades, so they have earned a similar status in comic-books. And every bit as international is the passion for the brand’s exquisite SL sports cars. Arguably no other auto-maker is represented in comic-books on a similar scale. The range of models featured, the purposes they are used for, the generations of models on show and the countries where they are depicted is truly extraordinary. The scope of this presence is particularly noticeable when compared to the much less frequent inclusion in comic-books of other German cars, with the possible exception of the VW Beetle.
Post-1945 Mercedes-Benz passenger cars and commercial vehicle models have become a particularly ubiquitous presence on the pages of comic-books. Mercedes’ record as a star of the comic-strip extends right from the appearance of a Mercedes-Benz 170 V (W 136 series) passenger car in a dark adaptation of the “Der Richter and sein Henker” to the inclusion of present-day models in recently-published albums. The “I.R.$.” stories by Bernard Vrancken and Stephen Desberg and the seven-book “Le Triangle Secret” series both see Mercedes-Benz sedans and sports cars taking prominent roles. And trucks from the 1940s were also given a taste of the limelight by comic creators such as Dupa, who featured long-hood drawbar combinations in his “Cubitus” album “Alerte au Pédalosaure”. However, the first Mercedes-Benz to grace the pages of a modern European comic – in a 1929 issue of “Le Petit Vingtième” – was driven by a young reporter who was to become one of the best-known comic-book figures of all time: Tintin.