Full of surprises – ATAK

Copyright: Atak

Georg Barber, alias Atak, gave his comic-book series the fitting title of Wondertüte (surprise packet), because no issue was like any other in terms of either subject matter or presentation. Actually, this title could be applied to his entire oeuvre, because he always knows how to make his illustrations, objects, installations, screen prints, newspaper cartoons, graphics, sculptures and comics surprise the viewer in the most stimulating way.

The inexhaustible wealth of pop-culture images and quotations provides the source material for Atak’s works, in which, as in his comic Alice (1995), the familiar is presented in an alienating way and strange things can therefore appear familiar. He adopted his name, which signifies ‘attack’ in many languages, in the days when punk was still around. This is the time period that first stimulated his desire and interest in dismantling traditional structures and his opposition to the mass-market approach. At the same time, he turned to that epitome of the mass-market product, the comic. Having grown up in the former DDR with the Digedags comic, he first discovered the variety of different types of comics at the East Berlin branch of the Institut Français, in what was for him a foreign language. Influenced by Art Spiegelman’s RAW magazine, he founded the comic group and magazine Renate in 1989, with the artists C.X. Huth and Auge. An illustrious group of self-taught artists who delighted in experimenting soon gathered around the comic magazine. Like Atak, they were enthusiastically working on new forms of narrating with words and pictures. Ad hoc exhibitions were organised and small publishing houses were created to publish the lavishly designed magazines and mini-albums.

When you consider Atak’s publications, you’re surprised by the variety of types of publications and picture stories. The first Wondertüte is a comic adaptation of a photo love-story from the teen magazine Bravo, with the pictures acted out by Atak and 26 of his artistic acquaintances. In the second edition, a stylised exercise book with a screen-printed cover, words and fragments of text are associatively combined with single-spread or double-spread illustrations. In the following issues of Wondertüte, Atak gives readers less room for interpretation. The follow-up comic Hunde über Berlin contains a gripping, fantastic story about the first great love of two young people and about the devil, who comes to Earth in the form of a dog. The story is also enriched by numerous visual references to Atak’s comic icons, Hergé, Jack Kirby and Tezuka Osamu. Atak enjoys rummaging through the treasure troves of comic images, of pop art and mass culture, finding inspiration and quotes in the form of collage and montage, in breaking things down and sending them up.

Having recently been made Professor of Illustration, Atak is now mainly occupied with the creation of children's books. Based on a story by Muriel Bloch, he illustrated the African fairytale Comment la mort est revenue à la vie (2007) for the French publishing house Thierry Magnier, and created the children's book Verrückte Welt (2009) for the German publishing house Jacoby and Stuart. To celebrate the 200th anniversary of Heinrich Hoffmann, Atak, together with Fil, brought back to life one of the most successful German children's books, Struwwelpeter (2009, Ken & Aber). Fil's textual re-interpretations of characters such as Zappelphillipp, Hans Guck in die Luft and others reveal a much stricter morality than the original and have been brilliantly complemented by Atak's illustrations.

Matthias Schneider
is a cultural researcher and freelance cultural journalist.
He also designs film programmes and exhibitions on the theme of comics.

Copyright: Goethe-Institut Stockholm
March 2005