Comic Scene

Online Comics and Comic Blogs

Sometimes it’s a matter of life and death, sometimes just dependency on addictive substances like Facebook or Nutella. Some authors deal with childhood traumas, others their daily struggles as free-lance artists. Several dozen German-language comic artists let the public regularly take part in their lives or thoughts through internet diaries, known as comic blogs – and their number is growing.

The Webcomic-Verzeichnis, likely the best and most comprehensive catalogue of German-language comic blogs and other online comics, alone lists a good 200 titles. But most of them are still new and have been appearing for at most five or six years: the online genre that has been widespread in other countries such as the USA for some time now, has arrived in Germany with a pronounced time lag.

Most German comic bloggers narrate their daily experiences in briefly sketched episodes, whose structure derives from classical newspaper comic strips. These are sometimes serious and reflective, sometimes filled with self-irony – or enriched with fantasy elements as in the case of the Cologne artist Sarah Burrini. In her award-winning online strip Das Leben ist kein Ponyhof (i.e. life is no pick-nick), she reports on the absurd yet routine daily experiences of a flat-sharing group, which in the comic consists of the artist’s alter ego, a tame elephant, a talking mushroom and a pony with sado-masochistic tendencies. The Berlin comic artist Flix, who with his successful graphic novels such as Held (i.e. hero) and Sag was (i.e. say something) is one of the pioneers of autobiographic comics in Germany, also reflects on every-day incidents in semi-autobiographical form on his blog Heldentage (i.e. a hero’s days), in which - in addition to authentic occurrences – dialogues with fantasy figures, monsters - or now and again even God - often play a role. .

Awards and anthologies spotlight the medium

German comic blogs are increasingly being noticed outside of the online fan community as well. The issuing of digital strips in analogue form as books now has contributed to this development. This is surely a significant additional motivation for many bloggers: they make a name for themselves in the internet – thus drawing publishers’ attention to them. In addition to books with Flix collected Heldentage strips and Burrini’s Das Leben ist kein Ponyhof, Leo Leowald - with the philosophical and at the same time humorous family episodes he depicts in Zwarwald - has also succeeded in rendering this genre accessible to a public with less affinity to the internet through books like his recent Stopptanz (a children’s birthday-party game – trans. note). To date, the most comprehensive collection of excerpts from autobiographical German comic blogs in book form appeared in 2010 in the comic anthology series Panik Elektro - under the fitting title Seelenstrips (i.e. soul-strips/stripteases). With their respective blogs, the series’ editors Ulf Salzmann and Johannes Kretzschmar are also among the pioneers of this still-young genre in Gemany. .

Several comic awards have also documented the increasing attention enjoyed by online comics as an independent form of expression. The Sondermann – the comic award of the Frankfurt Book Fair – is now awarded annually for online publications as well. Most recently, David Füleki’s action-crime thriller-manga parody Entoman was awarded the Web Sondermann in autumn 2011, and Asja Wiegand’s autobiographical blog Gestern noch (i.e. yesterday) was distinguished as Newcomer of the Year. The Interessengemeinschaft Comic (i.e. association of comic artists, Icom) recently gave its Independent Comic Prize to the website Zampano-online.com by the Swiss artist David Boller. Here, Boller published both autobiographical and fictional narratives from his own studio as well as works by other artists. The website Fahrradmod.de by the artist Tobias Dahmen serves as forum for a longer narrative in graphic novel form – that in any case made it onto the Web Sondermann short list. And a brand-new award, the Kurt-Schalker-Preis, created in 2011 (the name is an ironic play on the name of the American comic blogger James Kochalka, who is gradually becoming known in Germany – “Schalk” means “joker”) was awarded to the strips by Wolfgang Büchs, alias Digirev, for his strips that can be read in several directions. .

Some best-selling graphic novels began as web comics

The website Electrocomics.de, run by the award-winning Berlin comic artist Ulli Lust, also collects experimental, artistically demanding, and frequently longer contributions. Here, contributions by German-language artists that are to be understood as building-blocks for graphic novels are often to be found. Thus, Lust published the first chapter of her bestselling Today is the Last Day of the Rest of Your Life (Heute ist der letzte Tag vom Rest deines Lebens), which appeared in 2010 and has enjoyed an avalanche of awards and critical acclaim. The website Mycomics.de, created by the comic publisher Panini, is another important and notably diverse forum for web comics, mangas and cartoons by German artists.

Publications by German artists that in formal terms are actually not comics but are often included among them are enjoying particular success in the Web: cartoons. Joscha Sauer, with Nichtlustig.de and Ralph Ruthe with Ruthe.de are among the pioneers whose works reach especially many readers both online as well as in print form.

The potential has by no means been exhausted

In some respects, however, German online comics are still in their infancy. To date, artists have made scarcely any use of the potentially limitless artistic possibilities provided by the - at least theoretically - infinite canvas of the internet. And presently, interactive and multimedia elements are also hardly being utilised, not least on account of the labour-intensiveness and expense involved. One of the few exceptions here is Daniel Lieske’s fantasy narrative Wormworld-Saga. This artist had freed himself to a great extent from formal limitations that strip-formats and the still-widespread thinking on the part of most artists in terms of future book pages. He has drawn his narrative in such a way that one can scroll through it as if on an endless screen.

Another digital comic form that is rapidly gaining in significance in the English-speaking world, but that is also still in its infancy in Germany is the publication of strips and longer narratives in the form of apps for smartphones and tablet computers such as the iPad. Here, German-language offerings are almost exclusively limited to comics that have already appeared as books or magazines and are simply re-worked for the new medium, sometimes expanded with sounds, music or other effects. For younger readers, for instance, the current album by the erstwhile political comic pioneers Gerhard Seyfried and Ziska Kraft durch Freunde (i.e. strength through friends – an untranslatable play on the National Socialist sport and fitness organisation “Kraft durch Freude” – strength through joy, trans. note) deserves mention as an example of this development that is still in its initial stages.

Lars von Törne
is editor of the Berlin daily newspaper Tagesspiegel and among other things manages the paper’s comic pages as well as Tagesspiegel.de/comics.

Copyright: Goethe-Institut e. V., Internet-Redaktion
November 2011

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