Comics in …

Austria: A Small, Ambitious Scene with Sophisticated Comics

Impacted by the growing popularity of graphic novels, the unassuming Austrian comic scene has also been experiencing an impressive upswing.

Ulli Lust: Heute ist der letzte Tag vom Rest deines Lebens
Worth noting is the fact that Nicolas Mahler and Ulli Lust, two of the Austrian artists with the highest international profile, have both detoured abroad, each in his or her own way. Thus, Mahler was able to succeed in France and Canada long before he gained recognition in Austria. By contrast Lust, a native of Vienna, began her career as a comic artist in the environment of Berlin’s comic scene.

First newspaper comic strip in Austria

Nonetheless, in the early days of the medium, the comic as newspaper strip had once enjoyed astounding popularity in Austria. During the 1930’s, the graphic artist Ladislaus Kmoch alias Ludwig Kmoch (1897 – 1971) created the comic figure Tobias Seicherl with his dog Struppi. The first daily strip was published between 1930 and 1939 in the Austrian Social-Democratic tabloid Das Kleine Blatt (between 1958 and 1961 in various newspapers on an occasional basis). Particularly in the strip’s early years, the figure Seicherl, the embodiment of a dull-witted Nazi sympathiser contrasted with his dog Struppi, who spoke with the voice of common sense, was politically explosive. The strip is lent a special note by being composed in the Viennese dialect.

But comic strips are scarcely to be found in Austrian newspapers today. In addition to Rudi Klein’s Der Lochgott in the Austrian daily newspaper Der Standard, Thomas Kriechbaum’s Gustl in Der Augustin, Vienna’s newspaper for the homeless, must be mentioned. This newspaper also places its last page at the disposal of the painter Magdalena Steiner for an extraordinary comic project: since 2007 Steiner has been transposing major works of world literature in collage-like image-and-text panels here. Since early 2012, following Robert Musil’s The Man without Qualities (Der Mann ohne Eigenschaften) and James Joyce’s Ulysses the artist has been working on the novel Die Schwerkraft der Verhältnisse (i.e. the gravity of relationships) by the Austrian author Marianne Fritz.

The stars of the Austrian scene

MOFF. Haderers feines Schundheftl. © Wikipedia The cartoonist Gerhard Haderer of Linz, who also does comics, is one of Austria’s internationally known comic artist luminaries. His name recognition as a cartoonist contributes to the fact that Haderer, unlike other artist colleagues, also commands attention as a comic artist - even if his 2002 comic Das Leben des Jesus had not already put him in the headlines: his unorthodox image of Jesus as a dissipated hippie was not only seen as a serious provocation by the Austrian Catholic Church, in 2005 in Greece the author was sentenced to six months imprisonment for injuring religious sensitivities, before the sentence was annulled and Haderer acquitted about three months later. Between 1997 and 2000, as well as since 2008, this artist publishes.- among other things – his own comic book on current topics in every-day life: MOFF. Haderers feines Schundheftl (i.e. MOFF. Haderer’s exquisite little pulp booklet).

Nicolas Mahler, recently distinguished with the Max and Moritz Award three times in a row, is surely the internationally best-known Austrian comic artist. His spare lines and figures without eyes, ears or mouths, but with all the more striking hairstyles, are unique. Above and beyond their idiosyncratic humour and wit, Mahler’s comics are always subtle, sophisticated studies of human behaviour. The spectrum of his comics ranges from autobiography (Kunsttheorie versus Frau Goldgruber / i.e. art theory vs. Frau Goldgruber), humorous short strips and cartoons (Das Unbehagen / i.e. discontent), genre parody (Engelmann: Der gefallene Engel / i.e. Engelmann, the fallen angel), to comic adaptation (Thomas Bernhard’s novel Old Masters / Alte Meister). His Flashko series has been adapted as an animated fim, and his comic Kratochvil as a puppet show.

Comic artist Ulli Lust, who lives in Berlin, shot to prominence in 2009 with her approx. 450-page autobiographical comic novel Today is the Last Day of the Rest of Your Life (Heute ist der letzte Tag vom Rest deines Lebens), which was celebrated as a sensation in German-language literary supplements. In this comic, the focus is on the narrative, which deals with a youthful escapade with drastic consequences. A documentary feeling characterises this online publisher’s pencil drawings, which she also cast in the form of smaller comic works.

Significant representatives of the national comic scene

The comics by the Graz artist Jörg Vogeltanz - who in cooperation with various authors (most recently Thomas Ballhausen) has issued several volumes of the Anger Diaries - feature a strikingly distinct drawing style. In a completely different manner, with her stark and uncompromising comics, the artist Linda Bilda has been creating a unique universe of aesthetic signs (collected in Keep it real) revolving around the analysis of money, power and politics since the mid-1980’s. Leopold Maurer: Mann am Mars

Recently, artists such as Leopold Maurer and Michaela Konrad have succeeded in gaining recognition. Maurer has published two comics (Miller & Pynchon and Mann am Mars), that speak through clear lines in a special idiom full of absurd humour. Die Mondwandler (i.e. wanderer on the moon) - a sequel to the multimedia project Spacelove by the comic artist Konrad stands out stylistically and in terms of technique from the Austrian comic landscape. This tale of a voyage to the moon, composed from original quotations by astronauts, is a breath-taking comic on the art of amazement. The experimental text-image narratives of the author Brigitta Falkner must be counted among the truly amazing comic works, although until now Falkner has scarcely been noticed by the comic scene. Through the use of lipograms, palindromes and anagrams, the author organises her texts according to strict experimental rules and combines them with her clearly delineated drawings.

Comic magazines, publishers, festivals and training institutions

In addition to Murmel (Vienna), Lin_c und Unkraut (Linz), above all the Graz comic magazine Tonto by Edda Strobl and Helmut Kaplan convinces through its concept of thematically and formally orchestrating its contributions (chiefly by international contributors) into an all-encompassing work of art. The TV magazine Comicinsel has been broadcasting on since 2009. Aside from self-publishers, there are no clear-cut, specialised comic publishers in Austria. Only a few publishers also issue comics: for instance Luftschacht Verlag or Milena, and therefore the function that the comic distributor Pictopia fulfils is all the more important. The Austrian comic scene has been enjoying its own internationally oriented comic festival, NextComic, which has taken place in Linz since 2009. Equally deserving of mention is the Wiener Kabinett für Wort und Bild, founded by Rudi Klein, Nicolas Mahler, and Heinz Wolf, and now operated as Passage in the city’s museum quarter. And one can now study comics as an academic discipline in Austria: since 2009 at the and since 2010 at the Zeichenfabrik.
Martin Reiterer
Studied German language and literature and philosophy in Vienna and Berlin, and worked for several years as a university lecturer in Poland and the United Kingdom. He lives in Vienna.

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

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