Ink-Slinger Profiles by Alex Jay: Michael Berry

Michael Berry was born Hans Michaelis on September 10, 1907 in Lindow, Germany, according to his 1935 Petition for Naturalization (viewed at Ancestry.com). The petition said his occupation was cartoonist, race Hebrew and nationality German.

Japan: Overseas Travel Magazine, April 1932, profiled Berry and said

Hans Michaelis, if you don’t know, is one of Germany’s talented sons, a youthful master of humor in caricature and prose. And as he wanders about the world, to strange lands and far ports on the seven seas, he heads a merry parade for, like the Pied Piper of Hamelin, wherever Michaelis goes there follows in his wake an amusing and motley throng who have answered the muse of his deftly wielded brush and pencil.

It is just as this world-wandering artist declares, “Everyone has an idea of the people of other nations, though he hasn’t been there. I too, had these many preconceived characters in the gallery of my imagination. But they did not suffice … I must see them for myself. Was it true that the Frenchman always wore a silk hat, frock coat, a goatee and a mustachio, and said ‘You first, my dear Alphonse!’ Did the Englishmen never fail to drop his ‘H’s’, and under the Cyclopean stare of his ubiquitous monocle drawl ‘H’l s’y, Bah Jove … You’ cawn’t do thaht. Not cricket, you knaow’!”

Hans Michaelis is now on his way to Japan. It started when he left Berlin for London several years ago, after winning acclaim for his sketches in leading German magazines while still in his ’teens. In London he acquired a slight British accent, a renovated slant on Anglo-Saxon humanities and the desire to move across the “Big Pond”. New York teemed with “types” for our globe-trotting artist. The ochre of Harlem beaux and belles, the seething hodgepodge of the East Side, the eclat of Park Avenue, and Broadway’s constellation of Mazda’s were food and drink to Michaelis’ sketchpad. On to New Orleans where, amid the soporific charm of the Old South, new inspiration was found in Creole life, in quaint Negro hovels, and the haunts of Louisiana bayous.

“But I had long ago given up the quest for an American type … this … image of a bulging torso in checkered golf knickers, tortoise shell glasses and a bewildered glare, created by our mingled impressions of the average American citizen racing through Europe with guidebook and pocketbook open … has been forever rejected.”

After visiting San Francisco’s beauty spots and the cosmopolitan Latin area of North Beach, Michaelis responded to the call of the Far East. Out through the Golden Gate, past the Ferry Tower with its circling gulls, the twenty-five year old artist cast eager eyes toward the bizarre charm of Japan, and of ancient Cathay.

His sailing from San Francisco on the Shinyo Maru for Hawaii and to Japan on the Chichibu Maru had been planned since Michaelis’ student days in Berlin. For his first prize was a prize of ten yen which he won in a poster competition sponsored by a Japanese firm. No prize won since those days has made so indelible an impress on his mind as that first prize which came from far-off Tokyo to start burning the fires of wanderlust within him.

And as to that which he seeks:

“There are the vendors of Nippon … the gogai, or Japanese newsboy with his jangling bells and unintelligible shouts … and the tofu seller, who patrols the town with his strident horn and wooden tubs of bean cake for house-to-house consumption. There are the new types of East and West blending … the modern boy and girl of Tokyo’s Ginza with their modern clothes, bobbed hair and slang. There is a mint of these “types” of Japan … from rickshaman to merchant, innkeeper to shopkeeper … whose dress and mannerisms will reveal a fascinating, picturesque facet of the Island Empire. I want to find these bits of Japan that will be appreciated by the Japanese, for to laugh with my unknown models is my aim, and not to laugh at them, The human funnybone has no boundaries though every nation has an individual sense of humor.”

Michaelis possesses a hypodermic perception of the fundamental human foibles. His is a twinkling eye that penetrates the skin of the pompous, and the mannerisms of the poseur. His chuckling retina inverts the simple, the gossiping, the shrewd, and the substantial citizen of each land to his or her lowest common denominator, and registers them in irony, in satire, or in kindly lines of caricature. For Hans Michaelis and his art … despite their mutual youthfulness, holds universal appeal … and his harlequin pen and brush are bound to travel far under sagacious guidance.

Berry’s first visit to the U.S. began March 17, 1929, when he arrived in New York City from Bremen, Germany as recorded on a passenger list at Ancestry. com. Less than four months later The New York Times Magazine July 7, 1929, published a full-page of Berry’s comments and sketches about Americans. In a twist, Berry’s impressions were made before he even set foot in America. Three years later Berry revisited his impressions in an article published by The New York Times, July 17, 1932. He offered an apology for some of his comments.

Another visit to the U.S. began from Cherbourg, France to New York City where he arrived October 7, 1931. Berry headed west and had an interesting visit in Texas as reported in the El Paso Herald-Post, November 27, 1931.

Juarez Arrests Artist for Sketching Natives
Hans Michaelis, Germany’s wandering artist and writer, who has traveled through 14 countries, was arrested in Juarez for sketching native characters of the street.

Michaelis presents the world in writing and drawing in newspaper and magazine articles.

He was drawing a Juarez pool player when he was arrested and taken to the Juarez jail. His drawings were destroyed.

Michaelis said Americans have a finely developed sense of humor. He finds Mexican people serious, Cubans happy and frivolous. He thinks cowboys are colorful and original.

Michaelis said Egypt is the most humorous country he has visited. Tousists [sic] listening to tales of the pyramids, and buying relics and antiques at any price, without questioning the elaborate stories of their age, present many funny scenes, he said.

Michaelis will visit Hollywood, Honolulu, Sumatra, Singapore, China, Japan and other countries.

“When I get to Hollywood I’m going to meet Will Rogers,” Michaelis said.


The New Orleans Item (Louisiana), November 15, 1931, noted Berry’s visit and next stop.

Hans Michaelis, of Berlin, young artist and correspondent for a string of German and Scandinavian newspapers, including Der Tag and the Scherl, who is touring the world and giving amusing writings and drawings of the foibles of different countries. He sailed from New Orleans Saturday for Cuba and will return in two weeks.

On January 23, 1932, Berry left San Francisco and arrived in Honolulu, Hawaii on the 29th. Aboard the steamship Chichibu Maru, Berry sailed from Honolulu on February 16, 1932. He was due to arrive in Yokohama, Japan on the 26th.

The Honolulu Star-Bulletin, March 5, 1932, said Berry contributed to the March issue of Paradise of the Pacific, “The Paradise has a distinguished foreign contributor In Hans Michaelis, Berlin humorist, who tells in amusing words and pictures his experiences at a luau.”

The Hawaiian Calabash (1989) mentioned Berry’s experience eating poi.

In 1932, visiting German humorist Hans Michaelis wrote of poi: “Judging this stuff by its taste, it must be very healthful. I used to think it was only clay but now it seemed to me like a mixture of glue and gray soap.”

In 1932, Hans Michaelis attended a formal poi supper in his tuxedo and had a similar experience: “The first portion of POI landed on my white, freshly starched dress shirt, the second load preferred my silk lapels. But my fingers kept working and finally succeeded in putting a sample of this wonderful dish into my mouth.

“I guess the party got a big kick out of my ‘eating’—nothing is so entertaining as POI on other people’s tuxedos.”

Berry was sighted by the Malaya Tribune, April 30, 1932, who was on his way to Singapore and then Naples. 

The New York Times, January 1, 1933, printed Berry’s observations about the Japanese.

On April 1, 1935, Berry returned to New York City from London, England, his home for an unknown period of time. On September 18, 1935, Berry filed a Petition for Naturalization which included his pen name “Michael Berry”. His address was 120 West 86th Street in Manhattan. His description was five feet ten inches, 158 pounds with brown eyes and hair.

On January 7, 1936, Berry’s mother, Johanna, and sister, Margot, arrived in New York City from Southampton, England. The passenger list said Berry’s address was 126 Riverside Drive.

In 1938 Berry went on two ocean voyages. Both passenger lists mentioned his mother, Johanna, who lived at 120 West 86th Street in Manhattan.

The 1940 U.S. Federal Census said Berry, his mother and sister were Manhattan residents at 120 West 86th Street. The self-employed artist had two years of college.

Berry became a naturalized citizen on June 23, 1941. 


American Newspaper Comics (2012) said Berry produced You Know How It Is from 1940 to 1941. For King Features Syndicate he drew Boogie Woogie from1942 to August 21, 1943.

During World War II Berry enlisted in the army on March 12, 1943. The Miami Herald (Florida), October 31, 1943, reported on Basic Training Center 4 and its publication Alert.

The first issue of Alert was a success and in view of demands, not only locally, but throughout the country, as wells from men overseas, about twice the number of copies are printed of the second issue s were the first.

There are a number of pages of original cartoons by men, who, in civilian life, were outstanding in their profession, like S/Sgt. Dink Siegel, who also did virtually all of the photographic work; Sgt. Samuel Schwartz and Corp. Michael Berry, internationally known cartoonist and illustrator.

Berry’s cartoons appeared in the Sunday supplement This Week Magazine in the 1940s.

The Morning Herald (Hagerstown, Maryland), January 17, 1951, reported Berry’s upcoming one-man show.

The Mercersburg Art Gallery will open a one-man show of water colors and drawings by Michael Berry on Sunday, according to an announcement made yesterday by Thomas Danaher, director of the gallery. The exhibition will continue through Friday, February 2, and will contain the artist’s impressions of both the United States and abroad.

Berry has been a roving artist-reporter since 1926. For several years he teamed with a Japanese artist on a daily feature, “East and West,” in which the two presented the Nipponese and Western viewpoints of a given subject.

During the war, the artist illustrated a weekly feature poking fun at the Japanese Army and Navy for Collier’s magazine. A recent example of his work can be found in Collier’s edition for December 30, 1950.

The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City has exhibited his war drawings and has planned another showing in May. Berry has also appeared on television with a number of sketches of France which will be included in the exhibition.

The Mercersburg Art Gallery will be open evenings, excepting Thursday, from 8 to 10 and Sunday afternoons from 2 to 5.

The New York Post, March 18, 1956, reported Berry’s gallery show.

Michael Berry is a deft young artist-cartoonist who delights in sketching his way around the world. His Japan and Points West has brought his water colors and drawings to Arthur Q. Newton Galleries, 11 E. 57th St., where they will remain through March 24.

There are also Haitian pictures and some from Korea, from Germany and Spain. A traveling group from the National Cartoonists Society visited many of these lands last year, and Berry and his pens and brushes were among them.

Some of Berry’s original art can be viewed here and here.

The New York Times, September 20, 1964, published Berry’s article, “Squaring the Artistic Circles at Woodstock”.

The Association of Jewish Refugees in Great Britain’s publication AJR Information, November 1967, printed this item, “Berlin-born cartoonist, Hans Michaelis, who now goes under the name Michael Berry, celebrated his 60th birthday in New York, where he has become well known.”

Berry’s mother passed away August 15, 1966. Thirty years later, his sister died October 1, 1996.

Berry passed away July 10, 2000 according to the Social Security Death Index. His last known residence was New York City.

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—Alex Jay

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