Comic Scene

Political Cartoons in Germany – Faster, More Diverse and Inspired by Comics

In Germany the political cartoon genre is in transition – and some veteran artists are concerned about the industry’s future.

Artist Klaus Stuttmann needs all of six pictures to unfold the entire political drama surrounding the controversial Euro safety net. The cartoon by this Berlin artist, which was inspired by Heinrich Hoffmann’s Fliegender Robert, was printed in 2011 in numerous German newspapers and won first prize in the cartoon contest Rückblende, reveals in exemplary fashion two significant trend lines in political caricature in Germany.

First of all, the work of this artist, who is one of the most important representatives of his trade, stands for the unbrokenly popular combination of elements from non-personal thematic cartoons – in this case European financial policy – with personal, individual caricature – in this case Chancellor Angela Merkel. In addition, the effect of satirical commentary is not achieved by means of a single picture, but with a sequential episode that takes up central stylistic devices of the comic medium with its dynamic combination of cohesive, colourful individual images, speech balloons and motion lines.

This is a development in Germany’s political cartoons that has markedly increased, as Michaela Veith, coordinator of the Rückblende contest, observed: “The trend is in the direction of comics,” she says. “Instead of artistic works without text, we have more and more colourful picture series with speech balloons that are located in the grey area between comics and cartoons.” This trend is also illustrated by the second prize winner of the current Rückblende, a cartoon by Elias Hauck and Dominik Bauer consisting of a series of pictures on the financial crisis.

A Male Domain

There are about 20 professional cartoonists in Germany who publish regularly in daily newspapers and are able to earn their living at it, and an increasing number of part-time artists. To date, practically no women are to be found in this industry. Among the most important cartoonists of every-day politics, some of whom have influenced the genre for decades, are – apart from Stuttmann (born in 1949) – are the artist Horst Haitzinger (born1939), Rainer Hachfeld (born1939), Dieter Hanitzsch (born1933), Reiner Schwalme (born1937) and increasingly in recent years Thomas Plassmann (born1960) and Heiko Sakurai (born 1971).

Most cartoonists supply several newspapers parallel to each other, which the internet has made easier for them in recent years. This had resulted in a few artists supplying a great many newspapers while others can scarcely make ends meet with their work. The tendencies towards concentration in the daily newspaper market are intensifying this trend even more: more and more publications are issued by so-called umbrella editorial boards that supply numerous regional newspapers simultaneously – cartoons included.

A new generation and (disturbing) trends

While some might see a disturbing monopolisation and concentration of the market here, others emphasise instead the positive development of the political cartoon in Germany: Michaela Veith has observed that: “It’s getting livelier and more diverse in terms of forms and colours.” Classic cartoons that simply portray a political actor in an exaggerated fashion or skewer a current issue in a black-and-white drawing are becoming rarer. Veith has noted that, while veterans of the profession such as Luis Murchetz or Gustav Peichl alias Ironismus are withdrawing from the business as it exists today, a new generation is emerging that is more open to experimentation with form.

This also has to do with technological developments: more and more artists work directly on their computers. And for increasing numbers of them it is merely a side job – with not only positive side effects, as Otto Wolf, coordinator of the German award for political cartoons (Die Spitze Feder), criticises: “These days, the standards for artistic quality are not as high as in the past.” While artists from previous generations such as Paul Flora (deceased 2009) often devoted days to perfecting a work artistically, today’s cartoonists, who also increasingly publish in the internet, must produce more often and faster in view of the increasing acceleration of the news flow.

And Wolf diagnoses another important trend as well: current political topics still make up the core of the cartoonists’ business where daily newspapers are concerned, but another trend is noticeable in the case of German magazines that in the past also published political cartoons on a regular basis: “There, political works are increasingly being replaced with un-political cartoons whose primary purpose is to entertain and that play down irony and analysis.”

Even if new artists have repeatedly emerged in recent years, veteran cartoonists such as Klaus Stuttmann are increasingly concerned about the future of their profession. “If one lets ones gaze drift over the heads of one’s colleagues, all one actually sees is the colour white,” he says about what he sees as the troublingly lop-sided aging of the trade. Nonetheless, the names of younger artists are increasingly to be found among the winners of the most important awards for political cartoons, as well. Thus the artist Piero Masztalerz (born 1970) won the 2012 Spitze Feder. And the artist duo Hauck & Bauer, who won second prize in most recent Rückblende contest, were both born in 1978.

Lars von Törne
is an editor of the Berlin daily newspaper Tagesspiegel, and among other things, supervises the paper’s comic themes.

Copyright: Goethe-Institut e. V., Internet-Redaktion
May 2012

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