Graphic Novel

Arne Bellstorf

Arne Bellstorf is one of a new generation of young German comic artists. Confident and eager to experiment he explores the rich variety of possibilities offered by the comic and has cultivated an individual narrative and drawing style. Bellstorf studied illustration at the Hochschule für Angewandte Wissenschaften (High School of Applied Science) in Hamburg under Anke Feuchtenberger. His final thesis, entitled acht, neun, zehn (‘eight, nine, ten’), is a remarkable comic debut.

Copyright: Arne Bellstorf
Diashow

Comics by Arne Bellstorf
The series of numbers is a play on the children’s street game ‘Himmel und Hölle’ (‘Heaven and Hell’): it is marked out on a pavement with chalk and involves the players hopping and shifting a stone according to the rules. It is vital that the stone does not land in hell. Christoph Bachmann is the comic’s hero and doesn’t know how to shape his days, finding himself in limbo somewhere between heaven and hell. The young man is reeling under the unbearable weight of being after the news he’ll have to repeat a year and facing the prospect of another long and tedious school year. Not much cause for jumps of joy.

In addition he is to spend the summer holidays at home with his divorced mother in an oppressively bourgeois suburban enclave. While his school-friends are away enjoying the summer, sand and far-off places, for him time grinds to a halt. Day after day he sacrifices the present for the future and when the future arrives he discovers it is no different to the present. Unsociable and withdrawn he retreats to his room, watches TV and plays video games. His apparent coolness paralyses him and accentuates a pervading melancholy and loneliness. An impenetrable shell that he cannot lay aside even for Miriam from the class below when she shows interest in him.

It is through Miriam that he becomes acutely aware of how ill-at-ease he is in his own body and with his own life. Miriam feels a curiosity for those she is drawn to and tries to get to know him. But Christoph cannot even say what his favourite food is when asked, nor drink nor animal – he can’t expand on anything about his person for he doesn’t know himself. And if even he finds his life boring why should anyone else take interest in it?

Even when Bellstorf’s figures speak, their faces do not. Their expressions are as empty, as lacklustre, as shapeless as their lives. Christoph is trapped in the spiral of puberty, in a paralysing self-finding process, the claustrophobic mood of which is sensitively captured by Bellstorf in his comic.

Inspired by Chris Ware’s suburban tristesse and Daniel Clowe’s pubescent adventures Bellstorf shows his protagonist as a ‘small kid’ in a German ‘ghost world’ suburb. For Christoph there is only one way out of this situation: at long last he has to make a decision, set the stone in motion whether it leads to heaven or hell. Bellstorf doesn’t spell out solutions to the problems but instead weaves them subtly and sensitively into the fabric of the narrative. He doesn’t proffer salvation to his characters’ condition, providing instead an all-the-more affecting portrayal of their situation.

In Baby's in Black he tells the story of the tragic love between the young photographer Astrid Kirchherr and the Beatles musician and artist Stuart Sutcliffe. For his comic he conducted several personal conversations with Kirchherr and worked intensively on the Hamburg music scene of the 1960’s. With few words and spare lines, he describes how the two meet in Hamburg’s Star Club and fall in love – a tender, melancholy love story that ends with Sutcliffe’s tragic death.

Time slows down in Arne Bellstorf’s stories. He stays a while by his protagonists, listens to them carefully, so as to recreate their innermost emotional worlds all the more memorably.

He uses the comic anthology Orang, which Bellstorf co-publishes with the comic book illustrator Sascha Hommer, for freer and more experimental stories. On top of his regular newspaper strip Vom Leben gezeichnet, which he has been publishing in the Berlin daily paper Der Tagespiegel since 2006, he is currently working on the comic Baby's in Black – the story of Astrid Kirchherr and Stuart Sutcliffe. In this he tells the story of the one-time Beatle musician and artist Sutcliff, who, whilst performing with the Fab Four at the legendary Star Club in Hamburg, fell in love with German photographer Kirchherr. The publication of this comic book about the Beatles, about the stormy art scene and the rebellious youth and sub-culture of the Sixties, should be out in Autumn of 2010. Since 2006 he has been drawing the strip “Vom Leben gezeichnet” (i.e. marked by life) for the Berlin daily newspaper Der Tagesspiegel, and since 2009 a series entitled “Zugabe” (i.e. bonus) has been appearing in the Hamburg magazine ZEIT Geschichte. In addition, he produces regularly for anthologies and magazines such as the music magazine Rolling Stone and the magazine of the daily newspaper Süddeutsche Zeitung.

Matthias Schneider is a cultural scientist, freelance cultural journalist and curator of film programs and exhibitions about comics.

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

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