Comics in …

German Comic Artists Abroad

Paul Hoppe: DestinationsFor many comic artists and illustrators, working abroad is a dream that only seldom comes true. For the most part, those who have succeeded in living abroad, even if only for a while, would not want to have passed up the experience.

If someone goes on a journey, he’ll have something to report back about: when David Boller of Switzerland went to a graphic arts school in the USA in 1992, he was first rebuffed by a teacher: “At any rate, you’ll never be a Marvel Comics superstar.” 17 years later David Boller returned to Switzerland, founded his own publishing house and began publishing tri-lingual comics.

Slide Show David Boller
Slide Show

He worked though his experiences in the United States in a graphic novel, Ewiger Himmel (i.e. eternal heaven: a Swiss in America). The episodes contain bizarre experiences and romantic moments – his wistfulness shortly before leaving, the customs agent who was fascinated by his CD collection, his intractable housemates, hopes and disappointments, and his long-awaited first contract with Marvel. David Boller utilised and processed his experiences abroad: his autobiographical novel did not simply appear as a web comic, but in book form as well, and anyone who wishes will receive a hand-signed sheet by the artist.

Comic Scene New York

Selbstbildnis Paul HoppePaul Hoppe felt cramped in Germany: “I wanted to get away from the humorous style and work in a more expressive, painterly way,” the illustrator says. On top of that came longing: “It wasn’t just a matter of going to the USA, I wanted to go to New York, he recollects.” The metropolis fascinated the native of Poland who grew up and studied in Germany, before he switched to New York’s School of Visual Arts with the aid of a DAAD scholarship.

The encounter with renowned artists and gifted fellow students from all over the world, workspace in a studio at the university: Paul Hoppe found this mix so inspiring that he decided to stay in New York. He now can no longer imagine living somewhere else. “Here, I can write and illustrate children’s books, draw for the New York Times or publish comics myself,” says Hoppe. The illustrator created the comic anthology Rabid Rabbit, which appears in Brooklyn and serves as a platform for young artists.

Slide Show Paul Hoppe
Slide Show

This illustrator sometimes works for the advertising industry, then he receives commissions from publishers and magazines, and he also occasionally teaches at the School of Visual Arts. The colourful mix he used to regard as a deficit has now turned out to be just the right thing for him. And the level of incoming orders is just right, too, since where there is a larger market there is more money to be earned. But that does not make up for the fact that Paul Hoppe also misses his old homeland: “Sometimes I long for my friends in Europe,” he says.

Going for a walk in the woods

Selbstbildnis Nora KrugBy contrast, the illustrator Nora Krug has distanced herself from her German homeland: “I miss the bread and going for walks in the woods,” she recounts. But everything else has become comparatively alien. “My thinking has changed, my behaviour too, and of course the language.”

The Karlsruhe native arrived in New York about ten years ago. She is now married to an American and is a professor at Parsons the New School for Design in New York.

She says that work at this particular university, which has made political thinking and social engagement its goal, is something special, and has had a strong influence on her artistic approach.

Slide Show Nora Krug
Slide Show

Nora Krug’s themes are war, forced displacement and reconciliation. A comic series emerged focusing on biographies of marginal figures in history. In this way, Krug seeks to make war both comprehensible and emotionally palpable.

Like her colleague Paul Hoppe, Nora Krug esteems the American market: “There are a lot of organisations that promote illustrators here, and a great diversity of customers. Someone who is dedicated and does good work can accomplish a great deal: At the initiative of our faculty, an Illustration Week was established in addition to Fashion Week,” she tells.

Gravediggers in Mexico

Selbstbildnis Felix PestemerA language course in Mexico in connection with his university studies turned into a key experience for Felix Pestemer. “On All Saints’ Day, an altar for the dead was set up in our school and our instructors took us to the cemetery. These experiences have fascinated me ever since,” he relates. Pestemer returned to Mexico during the semester holidays, and he applied for a full-year DAAD grant in the area of visual arts, with the idea of drawing a story about death in Mexico.
Slide Show Felix Pestemer
Slide Show

His start in Mexico City was rough: “So much noise, so much stress and so much effort for every little thing.” He was expected to pay an extremely high tuition fee right at the outset, but was able to sit out the problem. Obtaining work materials was possible only with a great deal of effort. It also took considerable effort to convince the professors that he did not want to take any nude drawing courses, but instead wanted to work freely. After a few months he had it figured out: “Your will meets up with a tough, gooey mass, so don’t set your sights too high, but hunker down for the long haul instead.”

Pestemer travelled throughout Mexico, got to know popular art and culture, looked over the shoulders of muralists, read J.G. Posada’s political satires and leafed through splatter-porno comics hawked by street vendors. “Mexicans wear their hearts on their sleeves. If you are content with tacos, fruit and hammocks, you can live very cheaply here,” says Pestemer. And if one opens oneself up to the country, i.e. drops back a couple of gears, one will have a wonderful time. Pestemer brought back the comic novel Der Staub der Ahnen (i.e. the dust of the ancestors) with him – and the insight that a trip abroad “is worth it no matter what.” After all, “There’s a whole new world to discover out there.”

A dismal order situation

Foto Ulrich ScheelIt was love that took Ulrich Scheel abroad. “My wife was the reason I went to Warsaw, the country itself has never interested me all that much,” says Scheel. But getting new commissions there turned out to be an illusion. “I am used to dismal feedback to my portfolio and see it as normal, but for some reason nothing at all came back here,” the illustrator was forced to admit. Scheel still gets most of his commissions from Germany. Correspondence is by email or Skype, and the illustrator occasionally goes to Berlin to meet customers or fill orders.Slide Show Ulrich Scheel
Slide Show

Ulrich Scheel’s stay in Poland has had scarcely any effect on his work. “Our friends in Poland find my work totally exciting and were amazed in the beginning at how down-to-earth I am. They still think of me as an artist, and artists here have a reputation of being very unapproachable and arrogant,” Scheel relates. For now, the illustrator cannot imagine staying in Poland forever, but is not planning on returning to Berlin, either.

Rieke C. Harmsen
is an art historian and editor of the Evangelischer Pressedienst (Protestant press service, epd) in Munich

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

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