Graphic Novel

The starting point of all his comics is the written word – Horus

Copyright: Horus

Comics by Horus

In an interview the comic artist and author once said that he draws his inspiration from literature. He does remember reading comics as a child but his desire to tell stories himself was fired by literature. It wasn’t until later that he decided to attempt this in combination with pictures.

This is palpable in stories told in words and pictures in which words take on a far more dominant role than in the work of almost any other German comic artist. The starting point of all his comics is the written word, the narrative, and only at a later stage does he develop the accompanying images. While most artists give their readers the freedom to form their own associations between word and image, Horus keeps a tight hold on the reins and leads his reader through his picture sequences using the power of words.

He started drawing while co-editor of the Fanzine Amok-Vision. Seeing no financial prospects as a comic artist in Germany he tried his luck in the USA. He didn’t have it easy overseas, however, particularly as he was reluctant to sell himself and his style for contract work. The submission of his project ‘Brennan Moore’ to US publishers resulted in a widening of his contacts which in turn led to changes in style. The positive upshot of the various collaborations was that he realised, far away from home as he was now, how connected he felt to German culture, particularly that of the 20s and 30s. He regarded the liberal literature of the modern age, writers such as Thomas Mann, Alfred Döblin and Lion Feuchtwanger, a vital part of this as well as feeling an aesthetic empathy for the theatre and film productions of the day.

His comic album Wüstensöhne (‘Sons of the Desert’) deals with the loss of this heyday of German culture. Or as Horus puts it, it is about the ‘totally fallow period of culture’ left in the wake of National Socialism. The opening episode entitled ‘Der große Erg von Berlin’ (‘The Great Erg of Berlin’) depicts two German exiles meeting in Los Angeles in the 1950s: they exchange stories of their emigration experiences. They discuss the great variety of German culture in the 1930s enriched by the influences of East European, Jewish and international artists. ‘Lebensdienst und Liebesgaben’ (‘Life Service and Gifts of Love’) is the monologue of a contemporary witness giving an interview about the seize of power and the rapid rise of the National Socialists. It is interesting for what it omits. What she doesn’t voice impressively reveals the mechanisms of suppression of the war generation. In the final section, ‘Shrimps auf Reis’ (‘Shrimps on Rice’), Horus illustrates a text that is based on fact and peppered with fictive elements about the founder of the FBI, John Edgar Hoover. In his literary-graphic mirror held up to the undemocratic and power-hungry big shots of the American secret service, he draws bold parallels with Fascist structures.

Horus is an ambitious political and literary comic artist who likes to nudge against the formal boundaries of the comic. While the majority of comic artists explore the full palette of aesthetic possibilities, he concentrates on the written word within the pictures. He has now distanced himself thematically from his earlier works which were more fantasy-driven, such as the trilogy Schattenreich (‘Realm of Shadows’). In his comic 111 Opfer (‘111 Victims’) he indulges his penchant for a mystical world of thought rich in conspiracy theory; so too in his longest work to date, the comic novel Post Mortem Blues (2006). His second central thematic focus is German culture. So it will come as no surprise that he was commissioned by the Schiller National Museum and the German Literary Archive to make a comic about Schiller. Schiller! Eine Comic-Novelle (‘Schiller! A Comic Novella’) doesn’t explore the work of the poet, but rather his personality. Horus concentrates on the inner conflict of the dramatist who revolts against the authoritarian school of his mentor of many years, Carl Eugen, the Duke of Württemberg and fights for his artistic freedom.

Matthias Schneider
is a cultural researcher and freelance cultural journalist.
He also designs film programmes and exhibitions on the theme of comics.

Copyright: Goethe-Institut Stockholm
May 2007