Ivo Kircheis: a multifaceted all-rounder who delights in the new

Comic artist Ivo Kircheis; © Ivo Kircheis

The cartoonist and illustrator from Dresden likes to dabble in a wide variety of expressive forms. He was so taken by the American underground classics that he decided to make drawing his profession.

Copyright: Ivo Kircheis

Comics by Ivo Kircheis

You have to look twice at the cover of the comic Die Tote von St. Michaelis, about the destruction of the city of Hildesheim during the Second World War, to realise that it carries the same author’s name as the comic strip, Papa, wann essen wir mal ein Pferd?, (vorlesetauglich: suitable to be read to children): that of Ivo Kircheis. What is more, that name is to be found again – as co-illustrator along with Mamei – on the grotesque grave-digger comic album Dave Grigger. If just these two publications, issued within only a few years of each other, are placed side by side, however, it is hard to believe that they are by the same person, namely, Ivo Kircheis, cartoonist and illustrator from Dresden, who handles the most diverse forms of expression with astonishing mastery and a constant desire to try something new.

This may have to do, not least, with the fact that Kircheis was born in 1966 in Saxony and was only confronted with the aesthetic of the American and French underground after German reunification in 1990 – when he was completely knocked out by it. Since then, underground greats like Robert Crumb, Gilbert Shelton and Bill Griffith have clearly been major influences on his work: in a second-hand bookshop in 1992 Kircheis discovered three U-Comix anthologies in which underground comics had been published since 1969, in German. As he confessed in an interview: “The comic artists in them, above all, Edika, Gotlib, Rand Holmes (…) made such an impression on me that I immediately abandoned my studies in microelectronics at the TU Dresden, in my eleventh semester and in the middle of writing my thesis, and decided to become a comic artist.” In addition to the underground classics, another of Kircheis’ models is George Herriman, one of the creators of the newspaper strip, whose popular Krazy Kat Kircheis regards as the essence of comic perfection.

Advertising posters and hidden object picture puzzles

Yet Kircheis has certainly maintained a balance between individual artistic freedom and the necessity to earn a living. His studies of graphic design in Hildesheim, completed in 2004 with the exam work Die Tote von St. Michaelis, turned him into the multifaceted all-rounder whose everyday and commercial art can be seen on advertising posters and even on a postage stamp. His portfolio extends form naturalistic portrait drawings to funny pug-nosed figures to clever hidden object picture puzzles. Nor is Kircheis secretive about his work, allowing people to peep over his shoulder. There is a film clip of him showing how hidden object pictures are composed – the many layers and working stages involved in creating the lively seething masses they contain.

Ivo Kircheis shows how a hidden object picture is drawn in the clip

After his studies he returned to Dresden in 2007 and, together with a draughtsman friend of his Mamei, Kircheis founded the Beatcomix publishing house, whose “x” points to its roots in the underground. Since then, the books that make up the core of his work have been published there. The very title of Kircheis’ internet project Paralleluniversum, for which a new comic strip was drawn every week over an extended period of time, betrays his fascination with the clash of more or less weird realities – and how productive this is for his work. Even as a small boy, Kircheis took a sketchbook with him when he wandered the streets. He is one of those people who perceive the world by drawing it, for whom what he sees turns into a picture, by itself almost. And who at the same time has a fine sense for the fractures and absurdities of our reality.

Anarchic-Quirky Parallel Universe

There are numerous running gags and recurring figures in the more than 500 black-and-white strips published daily for his Paralleluniversum, which are available today in an anthology. These include Kircheis’ own family (he has two children), alongside chatty Spreewald gherkins or Mr. Würstl, who has ambitions to qualify for the Olympics in the hula-hoop discipline and out of whose trousers the tip of a huge sausage protrudes. Things that do not belong together collide and let sparks fly in this Paralleluniversum.

The comic book Rocket Blues was published in 2010. Kircheis conceived and drew it together with Mamei. The story, drawn in fine ink hatching, is both a space-road-movie and a tribute to Douglas Adams’ Hitchhiker novels. It is anarchic and so consistently challenges readers’ expectations. Yet the weird story and the layout are impressive. Kircheis gives his readers a lot to look at in countless astonishing details, even in the smallest images. At will, he ventures out beyond the panel borders, places drawings upside down sometimes, or even reverses them. Ivo Kircheis and Mamei were awarded the 2011 Independent Comicpreis “Herausragendes Szenario” for Rocket Blues by the comic association ICOM. They had already received ICOM commendations in 2009 and 2010 for Paralleluniversum 1; Urknall and Dave Grigger.

A Tribute to Robert Crumb was published on the occasion of the Munich Comic Festival in summer 2013. In that anthology honouring Crumb, Kircheis, along with 80 other artists, paid homage to the master’s anarcho-genius: the American was after all one of those who guided the Dresden cartoonist on his way.

Matthias Bischoff
was chief editor with Eichborn Verlag, where he was also responsible for Holger Aue, Erich Rauschenbach, Klaus Puth and Peter Gayman. Today he works as an editor and culture journalist in Munich and Frankfurt.

Translation: Pauline Cumbers
Copyright: Goethe-Institut e. V., Internet-Redaktion
April 2014

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