Graphic Novel

Auteur Comics

Since the nineties a new term has come into circulation: auteur comics, taking their name directly from the analogy of film: for example, if a film director also writes the screenplay and makes most of the artistic decisions, then these films are generally known as 'auteur movies'. There is another analogy of course, and that is literature. Consequently: an auteur comic is a picture story with one and the same artist responsible for the scenario, the drawing, perhaps even the colouring-in. And as in film, this approach is more demanding artistically, requires a more individual form of storytelling and a more personal, if not directly autobiographical, thematic. Finally this approach is usually part of an independent economy outside the mainstream.

Schattenreich, © Horus Odenthal

The market-orientated mass productions by Disney, the superhero or Manga drawing factories, were and still are primarily an American and Japanese marketing phenomenon. It was illustrators from the US underground, above all Robert Crumb, who in the sixties began to tell everyday and autobiographical stories, and to invent ever wilder drawing styles and new ways of telling the story. In the eighties and the nineties, this developed into a novel-length form and so it was also given the name 'graphic novel'. Its main protagonists were Art Spiegelman, Daniel Clowes, Charles Burns, the Hernandez Brothers, Chris Ware as well as that veteran of comic books, Will Eisner.

hector umbra, © Uli Oesterle In Europe, where such a strict division of the production process never existed (partly because the most commercially successful products were frequently auteur comics), in the seventies and eighties the corresponding moniker was not 'auteur comics' but rather 'adult comics'. Its proponents included the artists attached to the journal Schwermetall (such as Moebius or Philippe Druillet) as well as lesser-known German-speaking comic book authors (such as Matthias Schultheiss or Chris Scheuer).

The Secrets of Coney Island, © Reinhard Kleist

The new boom in expressions such as 'auteur comics' and 'graphic novels' experienced in Germany in recent years, has less to do with a relationship to the comic book mainstream and more to do with a return to the storytelling essence of the comic book. Young artists such as Arne Bellstorf, Tim Dinter, Jens Harder, Sascha Hommer, Line Hoven, claire Lenkova, Mawil or Kati Rickenbach told everyday stories of puberty and flirting in their comic books, published the first volume of German-American or even German-German family entanglements and used picture stories as a medium for short reportages. By doing this they were gearing themselves more towards the American tradition than the primarily graphic and lyrically scaled-down work of the German comic book avant-garde of the nineties, a tradition their academic teachers such as Atak, Anke Feuchtenberger or Martin tom Dieck originate from. There are also artists (such as Ulf K.) who align themselves more to the Franco-Belgian school of comic books, such as the 'nouvelle ligne claire', those who take up a drawing style that is more aligned to the fanzine and underground scene (such as Calle Claus), or those who try to tap into the difficult 'entertainment for adults' comic book market (such as Horus, Reinhard Kleist or Uli Oesterle). The fact that they usually write their own texts and do their own drawings is something that young artists take as given. As a result expressions such as 'auteur comics' or 'graphic novels' are more tools for classification and marketing, a way of enabling the one-time trashy image of comic books to be put to one side.

Jan Frederik Bandel has a PhD in Germanic Studies and lives in Hamburg as an editor, comic book author, university professor and freelance author.

Copyright: Goethe-Institut e. V., Online-Redaktion
October 2008

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