Graphic Novel

Feeling for unconventional ideas – Ulli Lust

Copyright: Ulli Lust

“What’s the longest suicide? Being born and waiting until it’s over with.” Ulli Lust wrote these lines in her diary when she was 17 – the same year in which she, as a young punk girl, hitch-hiked to Italy with her friend Edi, with no money or documents. This line is at the end of her graphic novel Heute ist der letzte Tag vom Rest deines Lebens (i.e. today is the last day of the rest of your life).

From the first page on, this 460-page pictorial novel exerts an incredible pull on the reader. With pencil and ink-brush, Ulli Lust depicts the individual stations of her journey - what started as a cheerful road movie turns into a nightmare. The girls are harassed and humiliated by men, Ulli is raped, her friend becomes addicted to drugs, in the end they succeed in escaping from the Mafia.

Ulli Lust worked for four years on her comic, although at first no publisher offered to print the story. When the work finally appeared in Berlin’s Avant-Verlag, it was received euphorically by the media and readers. In 2010 at the Erlangen Comic Festival, Lust was given the ICOM award for “Best Independent Comic,” and a year later the Prix Artemisia followed for the French edition of Heute ist der letzte Tag vom Rest Deines Lebens, entitled Trop n’est pas assez (i.e. too much is not enough), and the “Prix révélation“ at the Angoulême Comic Festival. The jury decided that Ulli Lust had created a masterpiece with an extraordinary pictorial language and a dense narrative atmosphere.

The unsparing gaze at her own person and the society surrounding her is one of the characteristic features of Ulli Lust’s work. The artist, born in 1967 in Vienna, grew up in a devout Catholic environment. When she was 15, she dropped out of school and attended a technical college of design and fashion in Vienna. In the city, she became acquainted with the punk scene and decided to hitch-hike to Italy. Her son Philipp was born shortly after her return.

Ulli Lust has been living in Berlin since 1995, a city where she “can best develop artistically,” as she puts it with her slight Viennese accent. She learned the “art of narrative drawing” at the Berlin-Weißensee Art Academy. Together with her fellow students Tom Dinter, Jens Harder, Kathi Käppel, Mawil and Karl Pfeiffer, she founded a collaborative art studio and the comic group “ Monogatari“ – a Japanese concept meaning “telling stories.”

In their comic debut Alltagsspionage (i.e. everyday spying, 2001) the group set themselves the task of narrating small comic reports about Berlin. Ulli Lust drew at the Gesundbrunnen Centre at the Weddinger shopping mall – the bored sales girl rearranging the flowers on her table, a harried mother confronted with her screaming children, herself screaming “I’m going to go nuts right now!”, anold woman sitting on a bench, muttering. Some of her drawings remind one of the socially critical milieu studies by the “Simplicissimus” authors whom Lust views as her models. In addition, she has been influenced by the artists Gilbert Hernandez and Art Spiegelmann, but also by the feminist author Marilyn French and the Austrian Odon von Horvath.

In her narrative Springpoem (2006), she takes inspiration from the myth of an earth goddess, who awakens nature to life by means of her physical love for a human man. In formal, strictly reduced panels, she tells the erotic story of a young woman who masturbates, undresses herself in front of total strangers, both men and women, and devotes herself to various sexual pleasures until she finds her lover. A highly enjoyable read in which dream and reality are mixed into a burlesque of the art of love.

In 2008 her book Fashionvictims – Trendverächter: Bildkolumnen und Minireportagen aus Berlin (i.e. fashion victims – trend despisers: comic strips and mini reportages from Berlin) , appeared in Avant-Verlag Berlin. It is a colourful mix of brash drawings, unconventional narratives and humour-filled social criticism. Lust was now experimenting with colour surfaces and colouring individual sequences. Short texts by Kai Pfeiffer (Ulli Lust’s life partner) successfully supplement the artwork.

Ulli Lust demonstrated her feeling for unconventional ideas with the founding of Screen Comic Publisher (Verlag für Bildschirmcomics; The website is rapidly becoming a respected comic scene portal: artists from around the world offer their works as free pdf documents. Readers can make voluntary donations to remunerate the artists. In 2006, Lust was distinguished fort he portal with the ICOM jury’s “Special Award for Remarkable Comic Publications.“ Today, Ulli Lust can support herself drawing comics.

At present she is working on a comic adaptation of Marcel Beyer’s novel Flughunde (i.e. fruit bats).

Rieke C. Harmsen
is an art historian and editor of the Lutheran Press Service (Evangelischer Pressedienst – epd) in Munich.

Translation: Edith Watts

Copyright: Goethe-Institut e. V., Online-Redaktion
May 2011

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