The Great Loss for Comics – Kat Menschik’s Illustration Art

Kat Menschik. Kissmedeadly: Frankfurter Allgemeine Sonntagszeitung, Fernsehprogramm. Copyright: Kat Menschik

Kat Menschik. Kissmedeadly: Frankfurter Allgemeine Sonntagszeitung, Fernsehprogramm. Copyright: Kat Menschik

Someone who founds a publishing house with the name Millionen must be ambitious, or have a sense of humour. “It’s easy to remember, and everybody asks: do you mean your debts?” This is how the publishing house’s founder, Kat Menschik, told it to the Tageszeitung (taz) in 1996. The Berlin comic artist was 28 and completely unknown. But she had already edited two issues of the magazine A.O.C. together with Jan Hülpüsch, which the two graphic arts students produced in the printing workshop of the Kunsthochschule Berlin-Weißensee in a mini-edition of 100 copies each. Today, A.O.C. is a legend, because exclusive contributions from stylistically influential comic artists such as Atak, Anke Feuchtenberger, M. S. Bastian, Henning Wagenbreth, Beck, Fickelscherer and CX Huth were to be found in its pages, just as were the illustrators Nadia Budde, Moritz Götze, Burkhard Neie and Heinz Emigholz , who would achieve prominence only later.

A.O.C. – An Experimental Laboratory for Pictorial Narratives

For three years, the Berlin avant-garde had a forum here, in best silk-screen quality, and Kat Menschik, like Jan Hülpüsch, was represented in each issue with her own works. However, the two Millionen publishers sought above all to enable other artists’ comic experiments: “Each issue has a theme,” explained Kat Menschik in 1997, “with which anyone can do something, with their usual freedom. We have only one condition: each page has to have both text and image.” A.O.C. was therefore not an art magazine, but rather an experimental laboratory for pictorial narratives.

One must bear these beginnings in mind if one wishes to understand how Menschik came to be one of the most highly sought-after German women illustrators. A one-year stay in Paris, where among other things she studied together with the comic artist Ulf K. from Oberhausen, awakened an enthusiasm in her for the abundance of expressive forms that French comics have developed. There, Kat Menschik made acquaintance with an awareness of quality in graphic narrative that was still underdeveloped in Germany, and it was this standard that she introduced into A.O.C. Her profound understanding of the relationship between text and image revealed in her illustrations and that therefore fascinates any number of writers, the most prominent among them the Japanese Haruki Murakami, is the product of her experiences as author of her own pictorial narratives.

Famous, but lost to comics

In 1999 Menschik debuted with her daily serial narrative Weltempfänger (i.e. receiver of worlds) in the “Berliner Seiten,” at the time an equally brand-new newspaper supplement of the Frankfurter Allgemeinen Zeitung (FAZ) that was only available in Berlin. In the series’ four-month run, Menschik created a portrait of bohemian life in a metropolis, and much autobiographical material flowed into this tale as well. But when she returned to work as a comic artist for the “Berliner Seiten,” Menschik has already chosen a text as her literary basis: Enn Vetemaa’s Die Nixen von Estland (i.e. a guidebook to Estonian water nymphs). She turned this classic of Eastern European fantasy literature into a kind of user’s handbook on how to deal with water nymphs. The author Hans Magnus Enzensberger was so enthusiastic about her result that he included it in his book series “Die andere Bibliothek.” From then on, Kat Menschik was famous – but lost to comics.

In that same year, her engagement as house illustrator of the Frankfurter Allgemeinen Sonntagszeitung‘s literary supplement began and has continued through the present. Soon, the illustrated magazines Stern and Mare followed suit, and no time was left for comics. But Menschik compensated for this through her activities as picture-book illustrator, among other things with illustrations for Hans Christian Andersen and Greek myths. Her pictures for the Japanese author Murakami’s short story Schlaf (i.e. sleep) were so successful that they are being used in numerous editions in other countries.

Picture book and newspaper illustrator - and artist

What is it about Kat Menschik’s pictorial language that enjoys such international recognition? It lies in the wood-block tradition, a graphic technique of the greatest importance in German art history, in which lines find their greatest expressive power. Menschik, born in 1968 in East Berlin, was still in a position to take advantage of the classically-influenced art education offered in the GDR, and in the past her style has often been compared with that of the somewhat older Anke Feuchtenberger. But Menschik soon freed herself from this influence, contrasting Feuchtenberger‘s more psychologically laden drawings with illustrations that deliberately remain on the surface, in order to be as easily understood as possible. For this newspaper illustrator, directness is what counts above all; imagistic mystification is not what she seeks by any means. Here, she relies on a palette that makes primary use of subdued, pale colours, from which then red or gold emerge with all the greater power, to the extent that Kat Menschik is interested in accentuating particular parts of her images. But underlying her specific aesthetic is still the implementation of line and black surfaces from her Expressionist training, an aesthetic that she brought to a high point in her year-long “Variables Kalendarium” for the F.A.Z. literary supplement. Kat Menschik is one of the few German women graphic artists who never wish to see the utility of their pictures as separate from what interests them in their images. She rejects the notion of art for art’s sake. And for this very reason she creates art, even though she speaks of her illustrations as mere services.

Andreas Platthaus
is an editor for the literary supplement of the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung (FAZ).

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

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