Comics in …

Comics and the Boondocks

In 2012, avant Verlag issued not one, but two comic books that take place in Germany’s boonies. In Hühner, Porno, Schlägerei (i.e. chickens, porn and punch-ups), Sophia Martineck narrates disreputable tales from the village of Niederböhna. The village is fictional, but the stories are based on actual events. Paula Bulling’s Im Land der Frühaufsteher (i.e. in the land of early risers) tells about African refugees compelled to live in centres for asylum applicants on the margins of eastern German villages.

Sophia Martineck: Hühner, Porno, Schlägerei. avant-Verlag

Village communities are often self-contained. Someone not born there or who doesn’t have the right accent is quickly identified as an outsider. People think much of themselves and the established way of doing things, and live in harmony with themselves, their neighbours and with nature - at least in their own imagination. In Hühner, Porno, Schlägerei Sophia Martineck takes a look at this supposed idyll’s dark side. In her comic debut, the fresh country air is plainly blanketed with the stench of an industrialised turkey farm.

“Niederböhna could be any German village”

Sophia Martineck: Hühner, Porno, Schlägerei. avant-Verlag, 2012The fictional village of Niederböhna arose from articles in local newspapers. And it is truly astonishing to see all that is possible in the village, in spite of mutual neighbourly monitoring and rumours circulating. The country women’s social engagement is surely praiseworthy, but is it perhaps one of them who beats her husband at home? And is the rumour true about the room in Eisner’s basement where sex parties are allegedly held? Nonetheless, it can be taken at face value that a fireman set the devastating fire because of his frustration with boring assignments. But no one can say why Erik Herzog first killed his entire family and then himself.

If Sophia Martineck turns up the narrative heat on her village, her naive-realistic style considerably down-pedals the drastic quality of the events she portrays. Martineck definitely appears to have a certain basic sympathy for the persons she describes. She herself experienced life as a new-comer in the countryside starting at age 14. Martineck’s position is one of distance. She approaches the events with a cheerful sarcasm, and preferentially from a bird’s-eye perspective. In short episodes, she familiarises the reader with the joys and horrors of a community with limited economic means where everyone knows everyone else one way or another. In their straightforwardness, the images, unobtrusively coloured in by computer, convey an impression of narrow-mindedness and dreariness. Like the artist herself, young people lose no time to flee this state of affairs and head for the city

“Das Land der Frühaufsteher”

Paula Bullig: Im Land der Frühaufsteher. avant-Verlag, 2012By contrast, the people barracked as asylum applicants on the margins of such villages are not free to move about. Based on actual events, Paula Bulling entitled her graphic novel Im Land der Frühaufsteher – loosely referencing the advertising slogan of the Bundesland Saxony-Anhalt – in which she traces the fate of African refugees in this eastern German Bundesland. Not a trace of village gemuetlichkeit here; instead, the isolated collective shelters are about as charming as a prison. This isolation, idyllic not even for a second, but threatening instead, and the so called residency requirement prohibit those condemned to inaction there to meet with friends or relatives or decide on their whereabouts themselves.

Unlike Sophia Martineck, Paula Bulling adopts a participatory perspective; time and again, she seeks to reflect on her position as a native-born author. Her especial concern is the rights of refugees in Germany and the question of whether she as an outsider may speak for them. For her research, the artist visited a number of asylum applicants, portrayed them and even took part in a demonstration against the residency requirement.

The heavy, powerful dark-grey strokes, with which she captures suggestive facial expressions on paper and impressively sketches the depressing living circumstances of those abandoned to their own devices, have something raw and hauntingly urgent about them. She suggests rather than openly depicting the latent racism of the surrounding area. In this way, she recollects with cautious distance the still-unexplained death of Oury Jalloh, who burned to death in 2005 with his hands and feet bound in a cell of the Dessau police.

“Reports from the boondocks”

In spite of their immediate spatial vicinity, it hardly seems possible to think about the two life realities depicted in Hühner, Porno, Schlägerei and Im Land der Frühaufsteher under one umbrella. But if one reads these two reports from the boondocks parallel to each other, an unpleasant impression of exclusion as social practice in this rural region is the inescapable result. One will surely visit the countryside more reflectively afterwards.

Katja Lüthge is a journalist, and writes for the “Berliner Zeitung” and the “Frankfurter Rundschau”, among other daily newspapers and other media. In 2005 she curated the Berlin exhibition “Mit Superman fing alles an. Jüdische Künstler prägen den Comic” (i.e. it all began with Superman, Jewish artists influence on comics).

Copyright: Goethe-Institut e. V., Online-Redaktion
March 2013

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