Comics in …

Berlin – Capital of the personal vein

Gerhard Seyfried: Flucht aus Berlin. Copyright: Rotbuch Verlag

Mayor Klaus Wowereit says Berlin is “poor, but sexy.” A description that also fits the essence of the comics scene in the German capital very well.

Although the production of comics may not contribute all that much to Berlin’s overall economic success, and its protagonists may often nourish themselves only inadequately – the comic artists, galleries, stores, publishers, studios, libraries, and courses of study living or located here provide an exciting diversity of styles, narratives and forms of expression. The lucrative mainstream is not to be found here – if such exists in Germany at all. Instead, the most personal stories, the most diverse themes, and a vital scene await discovery here.

East and West

Gerhard Seyfried: Flucht aus Berlin. Copyright: Rotbuch VerlagThe fall of the Berlin Wall and reunification of the two Germanys some twenty years ago might be termed a true stroke of luck for comics, even though not everyone saw it this way, as Gerhard Seyfried’s Flucht aus Berlin (i.e. fleeing Berlin) from 1990 demonstrates. The veteran of West Berlin’s comic artists ironically depicted the discomfiture of the left-wing alternative milieu, whose parochial niches in the city were swept away along with the wall.

Since then, a generation has grown up that has been almost exclusively exposed to the Wall through history books. Author and comic artist Simon Schwartz, born in 1982, has just published his comic debut drüben! (i.e. over there!), which describes his parents’ difficult decision at the beginning of the 1980s to leave the GDR forever.

The comic artist Flix has produced a special history book in comic form entitled Da war mal was… (i.e. there was something once...) – namely the Wall. In this work, Flix condenses different people’s experiences and memories of the two Germanys’ reunification. Like Seyfried, Flix also represents the cartoon-like, bulbous-nosed vein that was typical of comic artists from the city’s former western sector.

By contrast, the comic artists Anke Feuchtenberger, Henning Wagenbreth or Atak from eastern Berlin seem to come from a completely different planet where drawing is concerned. Their academic, painterly style approaches the comic form more from the illustrative angle. In the former GDR, comics enjoyed even less appreciation than in the old FRG and lacked a tradition – aside from Mosaik Verlag, which still exists today along with its harmless Abrafaxe. It was therefore hardly surprising when the founding of the adventurous artists’ association PGH Glühende Zukunft (i.e. glowing future) in 1989, in which Anke Feuchtenberger and Henning Wahenbreth also participated, was greeted with excitement. These artists quickly gained international recognition, and as a result had a lasting influence on the German comic scene as a whole. Today, they are professors and thus responsible for training future generations as well.

In the meantime, twenty years have passed since the fall of the Berlin Wall, and comic artists with a great diversity of approaches and biographies are working side by side in reunited Berlin. A few examples: FIL, the tireless chronicler of the West Berlin yobs Didi und Stulle, Mawil, the young producer of heart-warming, autobiographical stories of childhood in the GDR, or Reinhard Kleist, a newcomer to Berlin who has gained international success with his biographical comic Cash.

Print and Online

Many comic artists self-publish their stories or have them published in fanzines. Options are the long-standing magazine publisher Moga Mobo, the artists’ collective Monogatari and the Renate comic books. New alliances are continually forming in the milieus of Berlin’s art academies – even though a separate course of study for comics does not exist yet. Limace is the name of a magazine recently self-published by Julienne Jattiot from France and David Parrat from Switzerland. Both are studying at the Weissensee Art Academy, and provide both themselves and friends from around the world the opportunity to publish, as the scene has long since gone international. The comic artist Ulli Lust also intensively cultivates her international colleagues on her innovative comic portal Electrocomics. By contrast, the small publishers Reprodukt and Avant Verlag work in the old-fashioned print area with great dedication. Time and again, they publish works by up-and-coming new Berlin artists and enliven the scene with trade fair apearances, release parties and signing events.

Shops and shows

For those who wish to immerse themselves in the world of comics, the well sorted shops Modern Graphics and Grober Unfug are recommended. Here, one can also find the mangas that enjoy such success and on whose style a number of Berlin comic artists also orient themselves. When artists such as Tanja Borngräber or Marie Sann make a signing appearance in the shop Neo Tokyo in the Torstrasse, for instance, they can be assured of being stormed by their young, mostly female fans. In any case, a visit to the Renate Comic Library, with its “Regulars’ Table” for comics, which offers an opportunity for personal interaction, is definitely worthwhile. Neurotitan‘s impressive exhibition rooms in the Haus Schwarzenberg offer wonderful exhibitions and parties, and the best comic release parties are to be found in the shop Schokoladen-Mitte.

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
May 2010

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