Graphic Novel

Exciting perspectives and unconventional compositions

Jörg Hartmann: WilsbergOne day a week, Jörg Hartmann opens his studio in the Hansaviertel in Münster. Interested persons, or just the curious can then have their Wilsberg comic autographed or purchase a large-format water-colour. Hartmann’s 80-page graphic novel about the quirky private eye Wilsberg was published in 2012. It quickly stormed the bestseller charts.

A woman meets a man, they flirt at the counter of a bar and spend the night together. The scene, drawn and animated by Jörg Hartmann, comes from a motion comic that advertises the popular mystery series Wilsberg on Zweites Deutsche Fernsehen (ZDF). His book Wilsberg - in alter Freundschaft (i.e. Wilsberg – old friendships / pub. Carlsen Verlag) is one of Germany’s best-selling graphic novels.

A pig’s head – and a death’s head

Jörg Hartmann was born in 1972 in Bad Driburg in Eastern Westphalia and moved to Münster to study graphic design. At the time I wasn’t even aware that adult comics even existed, he says. It was his professor, Marcus Herrenberger, who awakened his interest in the genre – and to try his hand at a comic adaptation of Wilsberg. “Herrenberger gave me a lot of freedom and told me what I should drop and what I should continue working on,” Hartmann summarises.

A university friend put the gifted student in touch with a school-book publisher. “I drew like crazy for four weeks to put together a portfolio,” Hartmann recalls. One of the first drawings that arose during this time was a pig’s head. This head adorns to this day the logo with which Hartmann signs his works. The logo’ second element, a death’s head, stands for another facet of this versatile artist: drawings for adults.

Jörg Hartmann: Wilsberg

Wilsberg – a master-stroke with potential

When Hartmann began adapting author Jürgen Kehrer Wilsberg’s mysteries for his comic, he forbade himself to see the films, “to prevent preconceived images getting into my mind.” At this point he did not yet imagine that, twelve years later, a book could develop out of this that would advance to become a bestseller in its genre.

Wilsberg is a masterstroke. The way the slightly-overweight and sentimental private eye shuffles through Münster to expose a case of child abuse is both exciting to read and artistically successful. Jörg Hartmann is not only able to draw brilliantly, he also narrates well – with exciting perspectives and unconventional compositions. In his works he has found his own artistic voice, of a quality that is only rarely to be found in the German graphic novel scene.

Hartmann is decidedly self-assured: when Carlsen Verlag wanted to issue the Wilsberg comic merely in a small format although the originals were drawn in A3-format, he negotiated a special arrangement. He then founded his own publishing house and issued 300 copies in a large-format limited edition.

“Wilsberg has potential,” says Hartmann and points out the high television audience ratings. The comic is doing well, too. Prominent literary-supplement editors have written about the book, and radio broadcasters and television teams have visited his studio. Excellent prospects for a continuation of the Wilsberg comic.

Children’s books, water colours, graphic novels

His other works also demonstrate his mastery of his craft. In the children’s books the drawings are rounder and the perspectives more age-appropriate, the colours more cheerful and the contours softer. By contrast, in the large-format architecture and landscape water colours that Hartmann sells in limited editions in his studio, he relies on composition and lighting. When he draws commissioned works such as the graphic novel Die große Transformation - Klima: Kriegen wir die Kurve? (i.e., the great transformation – climate: will we get our act together?), he reduces his strokes to a minimum to convey the difficult material vividly.

Incidentally, Hartmann has now struck roots in Münster. His daughter was born there and he has no shortage of ideas, either. Hartmann is currently working on a screenplay for another graphic novel. He will not reveal the theme, but the story is “aimed at adults and is quite serious.”

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
December 2013

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