Graphic Novel

Fine nuances in both content and aesthetics – Line Hoven

Slideshow Line Hoven
Slideshow

With a circular movement a young woman wipes the ice off the windscreen of a bus and looks out expectantly into the wintry landscape of an American suburb. It is the grandmother of comic book artist Line Hoven who is looking out of the window. The year is 1942 and it is shortly before she meets her future husband. America is at war with German and Hoven’s grandfather, Harold Lorey, has just come of age and against the will of his father is signing up to join the American army in order to free Europe from the National Socialists. To his great disappointment, he is not allowed to join because of health reasons. His future wife, Catherine, on the other hand, is delighted that he is not going to put his life on the line abroad. Their daughter, Charlotte, arrives after the war and then later goes on to marry a German!

In her comic book debut Liebe Schaut weg ('Love turns a blind eye'), Line Hoven sensitively tells the story of her family, her parents and her grandparents, who come from both the United States and Germany. Completely unexpectedly her families were tied to each other across continents, history and prejudice and those involved and initially met with resistance. Hoven’s mother, Charlotte Lorey, started German Studies and then went to teach in Berlin during her semester abroad. Here she met and fell in love with Reinhard Hoven. When they both decided to get married and informed their respective parents during a family get-together, however, they were bitterly disappointed at the response. Their love for each other was simply not enough to allow the past to be forgotten: during the time Line Hoven’s German grandparents were getting to know each other at a Hitler Youth summer camp, her American grandfather was getting ready to go to war against the National Socialists. During the war her grandfathers nearly met, but on opposing sides. It was therefore hardly surprising that initially Lorey refused to give permission for his daughter to marry Reinhard Hoven.

At the start of her comic book, Line Hoven chose to depict a living room, behind whose windows one could glimpse a garden with bushes and trees. Tea chests and removal boxes line the room, the furniture is covered in dust sheets. The observer is unable to work out whether the boxes are being packed or unpacked. In the bottom right hand corner is a quote from Woody Allen, “I wonder if a memory is something you have or something you’ve lost…” The illustration is a metaphor for dealing with the past. Does one attempt to cover up or pack away individual events, open up a direct route to them or conserve them in aspic like an unused living room? Line Hoven has used her graphic novel Liebe schaut weg to get closer to the history of her family. She has pulled off the dust covers and opened up the crates. For many years she interviewed family members, poured over photo albums and carried out detailed historical research. She has tried to re-construct the past with detailed accuracy whilst understanding that she will never achieve perfection. It is possible to research objects, buildings and clothes, interiors and events, but family chronicles are based on the subjective memories of witnesses, which will not always coincide. One is born into a family and one cannot always totally disassociate oneself. It is then up to the individual to decide how to deal with it.

In Liebe schaut weg Line Hoven has successfully created an extraordinary comic book. Extraordinary because in it she tells the story of three generations of her family and at the same time, and very carefully, looks at themes of memory, recollection and suppression. Moreover, her illustrations are of an impressive quality created by a work-intensive technique. Using black card, Hoven scratches out contrasting white lines, surface areas and filigree textures, which are further emphasised by her expressive picture language and composition. Liebe schaut weg is a comic book that will last and that is worth re-reading and re-considering. Again and again one discovers fine nuances in both content and aesthetics and these compound to make this comic book one of the most interesting German-speaking comic book publication of recent years.

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

Copyright: Goethe-Institut Stockholm
info@stockholm.goethe.org
December 2008