Vieweg, Olivia

A colourful mix of styles and genres – Olivia Vieweg

Olivia Vieweg (Weimar, born in 1987) transcends the boundaries of genre and style with apparent effortlessness. The graphic artist has drawn dozens of manga tales for anthologies such as Paper Theatre. She transposed texts by the German folk-metal rock band “Subway to Sally” into narrative images and started a successful series of cat cartoons Why Cats Are Better than Men (Warum Katzen besser sind als Männer). She also earns her living as an illustrator of young people’s books such as Vampirinternat Schloss Schauerfels (i.e. vampire boarding school Castle Schauerfels). Most recently, however, she has primarily made a name for herself as a promising graphic novel author.

While other graphic artists often remain faithful to a particular style once they have developed it, this artist, who grew up in Jena in eastern Germany, is constantly in search of new forms of expression and enjoys combining supposed antitheses. Thus, her graphic novel Endzeit (i.e. apocalypse), published in 2012 by Schwarzer Turm, convinces through a combination of cute-seeming manga aesthetics with a creepy zombie horror tale. And her mark Twain adaptation, Huck Finn, published by the prestigious Suhrkamp Verlag, transplants the basic story line of this American classic to East Germany, and contains stylistic references among other things to Japanese anime films.

Olivia Vieweg: Bildergalerie
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A colourful mix of styles and genres

The mix of styles and genres that characterises Olivia Vieweg’s work is in part the result of the various influences that have inspired her since childhood. Thus, she initially read mainly European comics such as Tim und Struppi and Disney comics such as the Lustige Taschenbücher (i.e. fun comic paperbacks), but in her teen years above all began consuming mangas and increasingly started drawing herself. Today, in her mid-twenties, she reads both mangas and comics from the western world in equal measure. “Most of what I learned came from mangas,” she recollects. This is above all evident in her narrative tempo and the way she constructs her figures. Thus, Olivia Vieweg often breaks down scenes into numerous individual panels, generating a special dynamic and at the same time slowing down the narrative tempo. And her figures, with their large eyes and cartoon-like reduction, also clearly reference the sources just mentioned in her current publications such as Huck Finn as well.

Olivia Vieweg mentions her studies in visual communication at the Bauhaus University in Weimar as an additional important influence. She says that prior to this her goal in life was to be a manga artist. At university she became acquainted with a wide spectrum of forms of expression and techniques, and in this way her own style evolved, too. She thus distanced herself from the perfectionism widely disseminated in the German manga scene, which often makes a lifeless and mechanical impression. She began instead to draw in a freer, more sketch-like manner. For a while during her studies, she intended to become a children’s book illustrator. But then her thesis project for the Bauhaus University Weimar, the graphic novel Endzeit, which was critically very well received, led to the lucrative commission from Suhrkamp Verlag to adapt a book of her choice.

A road movie as graphic novel

She chose the German edition of Mark Twain’s Adventures of Huckleberry Finn from the prestigious publisher’s programme on account of the road-movie character of the action, but also because the story was pleasantly familiar to her. Not, however, from reading the original, which she had never read before – but from Japanese anime series that had adapted the novel as an animated film series during the period from the 1970’s into the 1990’s. Vieweg’s adaptation is characterised by the fact that it adopts central action elements from the original, but turns them into a seemingly entirely free-standing narrative by locating them in Halle an der Saale and adjusting the figures to contemporary German settings. The visual impression is one of youthful lightness, but the themes being addressed such as self-discovery, exploitation, violence and the search for a life in human dignity under adverse circumstances also appeal to adult readers.

Olivia Vieweg hopes that further opportunities to realise large-scale comic projects will arise from this. An additional graphic novel is already underway, with completion planned for late 2013. It will be published in spring 2014: The narrative Antoinette kehrt zurück (i.e. Antoinette returns) is based on a concept for which she was distinguished with Egmont Verlag’s new comic grant. The story deals with a young woman living in the USA who is unexpectedly confronted with her German past. “The professional way in which she submitted her work, the imaginative story, the linguistic maturity and the abundance of theme testify to a great talent,” thus the jury’s encomium.

Lars von Törne
is an editor of the Berlin newspaper Tagesspiegel and among other things is in charge of the newspaper’s comic page (www.tagesspiegel.de/comics).

Copyright: Goethe-Institut e. V., Internet-Redaktion
July 2013

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