Af­ter techno and street art, Ber­lin tack­les graphic nov­els

Kuwait Times - - LIFESTYLE - --AFP

Bet­ter known for its elec­tronic mu­sic and street art, Ber­lin is now also home to a bud­ding graphic novel scene in a coun­try that has treated il­lus­trated sto­ries as chil­dren's lit­er­a­ture. Hardly seen in book­stores just a few years ago, Ger­man-pro­duced graphic nov­els now have their ded­i­cated shelves, as not only home­grown artists but also for­eign ones find in­spi­ra­tion in Ber­lin. "It was when I moved here that I felt a need to write," said Span­ish au­thor Alberto Madri­gal, who moved to the Ger­man cap­i­tal in 2007 and has since pro­duced three graphic nov­els in­clud­ing his most re­cent, "Ber­lin 2.0".

The key rea­son draw­ing artists and mu­si­cians to Ber­lin ap­ply too to graphic nov­el­ists-the cost of liv­ing is lower than in most other Euro­pean capitals. But Ber­lin's tor­mented his­tory-from the ex­cesses of the Weimar era to Nazism to the stark divi­sion be­tween democ­racy and com­mu­nism-also serves as a grip­ping back­drop for any novel. It is no ac­ci­dent there­fore that graphic nov­els pro­duced here are less in it for a chuckle than aimed at mak­ing a po­lit­i­cal state­ment. Hamed Eshrat de­scribes in "Tip­ping Point" his fam­ily's flight to Ger­many af­ter Ay­a­tol­lah Khome­ini took power in his home­land Iran in 1979.

An East Ber­lin-born au­thor who goes by the name Mawil told the story of the fall of the Ber­lin Wall through the eyes of a school­boy in "Kin­der­land". In "Madger­manes", Bir­git Weyhe de­picts the fate of Mozam­bi­can work­ers sent to East Ger­many, while Rein­hard Kleist de­scribes the hor­rors of the Nazi-run death camp Auschwitz in "The Boxer". "The num­ber of au­thors who are po­lit­i­cally en­gaged has ex­ploded. The new gen­er­a­tion likes to deal with these in­tel­li­gent sub­jects," said Syl­vain Mazas, who made Ger­mans laugh with "This book helps me to re­solve the Mid­dle East con­flict, get my de­gree and find a wife".

East Ger­man avant-garde

Prior to the last decade, Ger­many's home­grown il­lus­trated book scene was largely made up by just a hand­ful of au­thors. Among the best known is Ralf Koenig, who tick­led gen­er­a­tions at home and abroad with his gay-themed comics, or Wal­ter Mo­ers, who poked fun at Hitler. But the fall of the Wall brought a group of East Ger­man artists, who were trained in tech­niques that had been aban­doned by art col­leges in the West, to teach at the Ber­lin-Weis­sensee art school.

The group be­came known as Ger­many's comic avant-garde and went on to have a pow­er­ful im­pact on younger gen­er­a­tions of graphic nov­el­ists. Mazas, who like Mawil and Eshrat were all trained at the school, said that "it has for a long time been a very po­lit­i­cal place". At around the same time, Swiss pub­lisher Edi­tion Moderne be­gan pro­duc­ing Ger­man trans­la­tions of for­eign graphic nov­els, in­clud­ing from France and the United States where the mar­ket is far big­ger and more ma­ture.

Ger­mans, many who were raised on a diet of Mickey Mouse and Tintin comics, be­gan to turn their at­ten­tion to these graphic nov­els as well. Ber­lin pub­lish­ers have steadily emerged, in­clud­ing Re­pro­dukt in 1991, Avan­tVer­lag in 2001 and Jaja-Ver­lag in 2011. Ini­tially, these also pro­duced Ger­man trans­la­tions, but later moved on to home­grown ti­tles. Ger­man graphic nov­el­ists slowly "found recog­ni­tion at home and abroad, while un­til 2005, there were only one-way trans­la­tions," said Vin­cent Ovaert, co­founder of "Our Taste"-the first gallery ded­i­cated to graphic nov­els in Ber­lin.

'It's grow­ing'

Avant-Ver­lag's co-founder Jo­hannes Ul­rich noted that the pro­por­tion of Ger­man-pro­duced works is now "grow­ing, not spec­tac­u­larly, but it's grow­ing". "Now I have 10 peo­ple work­ing on their books who are all from Ger­many," he said. Nev­er­the­less, pub­lish­ers ac­knowl­edged that the in­dus­try is in its early stages and far off the scale of French or US equiv­a­lents. Ex­perts es­ti­mate the Ger­man mar­ket to be only one-tenth the size of the French. A strong ti­tle can sell be­tween 3,000 and 4,000 copies in Ger­many, Ul­rich said. He rec­og­nized how­ever that "while we reach out to a more di­ver­si­fied read­er­ship of 25 to 80 years, we hardly sell any­thing to those who are younger."

Mathieu Diez, who heads the Lyon graphic novel fes­ti­val, said that even though the Ger­man mar­ket has "ev­ery­thing in place, there still isn't great in­ter­est from the public abroad." Next year, how­ever, the fes­ti­val will host a del­e­ga­tion of Ger­man au­thors who will show­case their works in two ex­hi­bi­tions. But Diez also cau­tioned that the graphic novel mar­ket is tough go­ing, as "qual­ity publi­ca­tions run up against the flood of French publi­ca­tions" which ap­pear in the thou­sands a year.


A surfer dressed in a Santa Claus out­fit surfs on Kuta beach on In­done­sia’s re­sort is­land of Bali.

View of Ger­man car­toon­ist and comics au­thor Rein­hard Kleist’s desk in his stu­dio in Ber­lin.

— AFP Pho­tos

A sign read­ing ‘Comics from Ber­lin’ hangs on a shelf in comic book­store Mod­ern Graph­ics in Ber­lin.

Ger­man car­toon­ist and comics au­thor Mawil (Markus Witzel) is in­ter­viewed in his stu­dio in Ber­lin.

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