Literature and theatre

German Language Comic Book Art

It’s tough going for German comic books. 90% of all comics sold in Germany are imports. In this film, comic book publishers, artists and experts give an insight into the German language comic scene and make prognoses for future developments. In spite of the difficult situation, a vibrant comics culture does exist in Germany. Four well known artists show us their work.

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Author: Hans-Peter Dürhager and Ralf Jesse
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"Stories can be written in chapters, lines, words: That is essentially what is meant by literature. Stories can (also) be told in a series of scenes portrayed in images: That is literature in pictures. "(Rodolphe Toepffer, picture book illustrator. "Essay on Physiognomy", 1845)

The German language comic strip does not have a continuous tradition; 90% of comic books and strips on the German market are imported, and are practically no German comics illustrators who can live from their art. However German language comics do have a history.

With the advent of mass text reproduction made possible by the printing press, stories-in-pictures found a wide audience as well. Wilhelm Busch (1832-1908), with his ’Max and Moritz’ stories is probably the best example. In fact, he was so often copied in Germany that, according to comic strip expert Eckart Sackmann, it actually hindered the development in Germany of stories told in pictures.

The mid-1920’s saw the emergence of the speech balloon in German comics. The comic strip soon gained a firm footing in the newspapers. A the beginning of the ‘thirties, the comic book ’Famany’ by F.F.Oberhauser and E.G.Hildebrand was an exception; in it the flying protagonist presaged the appearance of Superman one year later in the USA.

O.E. plauen’s father and son stories are the most well known, although they rarely make use of speech balloons. They tell entertaining and thoughtful stories of daily life. In the Third Reich, however, they were misappropriated for Nazi propaganda purposes. During the second World War there were picture-pamphlets called "From the War", glorifying the German army private. However, because comic books did not enjoy a wide audience, these publications were a marginal phenomenon.

In the ‘fifties comics books Germany began to import comics on a massive scale, principally from the USA and France. It was easier for publishers to acquire the licenses for finished foreign products than to seek out and cultivate German comic strip illustrators. In addition to the popular favorites ‚Mickey Mouse’ and ’Donald Duck’, there were licensed versions of Marvel Comics, including ’Spiderman’. The few home-grown German products were nevertheless heavily influenced by the US imports.

One of the few successful German comic strip illustrators was Hans Rudi Wäscher, whose work made market leaders of the series’ ‚Sigurd, ‚Tibor’ and ‚Nick’. Rolf Kauka’s ‚ Fix & Foxi’ - based on the Italian comic book style - was another successful German product.

In the fifties several comic strips became popular as regular features in periodicals and glossy magazines. This included ’Mecki’ in the TV program guide ’HörZu’, and ’Jimmi, das Gummipferd’ in the children’s supplement, the ’Sternchen’, of the glossy ’Stern’.

In the ‘sixties, comic strip elements found their way into the pop art movement. In Germany, too, comics were no longer seen only as "kid’s stuff", but were specifically directed at adults as well. At this stage comics became political as well. In conjunction with the student uprising and the climate of political upheaval in the sixties, a culture of biting, satirical comics arose. Stories-in-pictures coming out of the "new Frankfurt school" at the time (e.g. Robert Gernhardt, Chlodwig Poth, Hans Traxler) appeared in the satirical periodical "Pardon" and later "Titanic".

In the ‘seventies and ‘eighties a German comics scene arose based on a French model. Cartoons and comics have a long tradition in France and enjoy a high level of social acceptance - they are considered the "ninth art form". Successful comic book illustrators have turnovers of 100,000 copies and more per volume. So it’s not surprising that German illustrators such as Mathias Schultheiss, Roland Putzker and Chris Scheuer orientated themselves aesthetically on French comic book publications.

The mid-eighties was a boom era for German comics. Ralf König published ‚Der bewegte Mann’ (1987), a humorous look at gay culture, and Brösel (Roetger Feldmann) created a comic book cult figure with his forever-plastered, motorcycle riding ‚Werner’.

By the end of the ‘eighties, however, the German comics boom had already turned to bust. The publishers had at times gambled on inflated licensing fees, but the demand failed to materialized. The market collapsed. A single exception was Walter Moers’s ’Das kleine Arschloch’ (1990), brilliant stories of an extremely ill behaved, pre-pubescent little monster.

In the nineties, American and French comics once again dominated the German market. Today it is the ‘Mangas’, originally from Japan, that enjoy a 60-70% market share, achieving sales figures in the upper five-digits.

In the shadow of these market-dominating trends, a small German language comics scene has developed, producing comics for adults which are sophisticated and stylistically very individual. In addition to the four artists profiled in the film - Uli Oesterle, Mawil, Ulli Lust and Reinhard Kleist - it is also well worth taking a look at the works of ATAK, Ulf K, Anke Feuchtenberger, Nicolas Mahler, Isabel Kreitz, Martin Tom Dieck, Flix, Jens Harder.
Goethe-Institut e. V. 2004
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