Reworking Experience — Neele Bunjes

Neele Bunjes illustrated the Euro-crisis with poetic, sombre drawings: a chaotically piled-up tower of many tiny suit-wearers heaving huge coins and threatening to fall over at any moment. And then yet another suit-wearer looking with melancholy gaze into the distance. Behind him a few Euro bills waft over the street like old leaves. Or an old coin that crumbles like dry desert soil.

Neele Bunjes produced the work in 2011 for the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, a leading German daily newspaper. She has worked as an illustrator for a few years now for newspapers and magazines, “to guarantee space,” as she puts it. Space for her comics, the medium in which she can express herself more freely than in commissioned works. And where she comes to terms with the real stories of her life.

Portfolio, Neele Bunjes

Complex story-telling in comics

Bunjes wanted to tell stories from the beginning. In words or images, and at the outset for children. Only in her sixth semester at the Hochschule für Angewandte Wissenschaften Hamburg (Hamburg University of Applied Sciences) did Bunjes discover comics: as a complex medium with potentials for telling stories filled with nuances.

Like Nephentes, her as yet unpublished partially autobiographical graphic novel, comic book award finalist of the Berthold Leibinger Foundation. In Nephentes, the name of a carnivorous plant, Bunjes’ spidery ball-point pen-lines sometimes penetrate the space, sometimes they depict smooth surfaces.

With her ball-point pen Bunjes places details in the foreground, underscores nuances or has huge window facades grow into the skies. Her “ball pen,” as Bunjes says, is also the only tool with which the artist works on paper. She then slips the paper into her scanner and colours it in by computer.

Including archival work in a graphic novel

Not so in black-and-white Nephentes. The claustrophobic futurism of her graphic novel needs no colour. One wouldn’t have a clue where to put it, either, when Bunjes depicts pitch-black lift wells in cross-section. Or the oppressive world of high-rises that loom out of the comic at the reader – a Kafkaesque array in many small sections, as in Jacques Tati’s film Playtime.

In this world Bunjes draws “reworkings of experiences,” as she puts it – for instance, how she worked a part-time job in an archive during her studies, sorting out a bank’s debit records. “I tried to channel my impressions from my archival work,” relates Bunjes, who felt in the archive “like someone who is trying to fit into a world of documents.”

But Bunjes no longer needs to work in the archive to be able to draw. She has established herself as an independent artist, which permits her to earn her living from her graphics. Nonetheless the question remains – “and I believe every creative person asks him- or herself this,” says Bunjes: “Is there art without suffering?”

Because one thing is absolutely clear to her: one must first take a look outside one’s own world and then take a look back if one wishes to be artistically creative once again. This can mean simply breaking out of one’s own little graphic-arts world for a moment. And for instance, making demands on one’s body and mind in a completely different fashion at a part-time job behind a bar counter.
Josa Mania-Schlegel
is a student at the Deutsche Journalistenschule /German School of Journalism

Translation: Edith C. Watts
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