Autobiographical Comics

Held, © FLIXThere was no place for autobiographical stories within a comic as long as comics were put under the heading of 'trivial literature' and seemed to do nothing more than fulfil escapist tendencies. Looking at one’s own life has to be realistic – otherwise the basic prerequisites for autobiography are simply not met. Therefore the arrival of graphical autobiographies signalled an aesthetic emancipation, and as Germany has long viewed the comic book with scepticism, it is hardly surprising this development occurred much later in the German-speaking world than in either the United States or France. Its two most important exponents were the graphic authors Flix (Felix Görner) and Mawil (Markus Witzel). Even though Flix‘s Held (published 2003) extended beyond the present and imagined his life right up until his death, it was not until the comic-strip series Heldentage (started in 2006) that he began a daily diary of drawings and chose autobiography in its strictest form – even though this limited the series to no more than a page a day. On the other hand Mawil’s Wir können ja Freunde bleiben started with his childhood in the DDR and his own amorous adventures, and as such chose as its basis a small (although significant) part of his past life.

Illustration fuer 'supa hasi merchandising', Jutebeutel, © Mawil

The genre of autobiography in comic books first gained major international currency during the 1990s, even though its roots lie in the American underground some thirty years before. Robert Crumb and Clay S. Wilson chose to use their own living conditions as the basis for their comics, making their narratives more personal and engaging. In France, autobiographical comics were popularised by the artists of the publisher L’Association, especially David B in his six volume series about his brother’s epilepsy - l'Ascension du Haut Mal, and Marjane Satrapi, who enjoyed the biggest success of the new genre with Persepolis, whilst Lewis Trondheim and Joann Sfar also published comic diaries and autobiographical notebooks respectively.

Trondheim was the most important influence on Flix whilst the American underground inspired Mawil as well as the illustrator Andreas Michalke, who also lives in Berlin and who is committed to the Punk scene. However the sub genre of comic-strip reportage, which came to the fore in the 1990s with the American Joe Sacco is interestingly more important in Germany than in other countries. The Berlin-based group of illustrators 'Monogatari', of which Mawil is also a member, has produced particularly active exponents of this autobiographical form: Ulli Lust, Kai Pfeiffer, Tim Dinter and Jens Harder. Together they published the volume Alltagsspionage in 2001 using comic-strip reportage from Berlin. In 2005 Dinter and Harder together with Jan Feindt took part in the project 'Cargo', an exchange programme between Israeli and German graphic authors supported by the Goethe-Institut. In Moresukine (2007) another Berliner, Dirk Schwieger, published his own experiences of Tokyo that had already been used for his self-published, autobiographical comic series Ineinander in 2000.

Andreas Platthaus is Editor for the newspaper Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung (F.A.Z.).

Copyright: Goethe-Institut e. V., Online-Redaktion
October 2008

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