Expressive and illustrative – Elke R. Steiner

Diashow Elke R. Steiner

Elke R. Steiner’s work does not correspond to the usual image of comics in terms of appearance or subject matter. With her expressive and illustrative drawing style and her complex examination of Judaism, she works outside of the realm of traditional comic texts.

Her desire to draw comics crystallised only during her art studies at the Kunstakademie in Münster. She swapped from sculpture to graphic design with an emphasis on illustration, producing the comic Die Giftmischerin as her examination piece. Her second comic, Rendsburg Prinzessinstrasse – die Geschichte einer jüdischen Kleinstadtgemeinde ('Rendsburg’s Prinzessinstrasse – the story of a small-town Jewish community', 2001) was made possible by funding from the Jewish Museum in Rendsburg in 1999. For this comic album, the artist researched the history of the Jews in the town, which began in the 17th century and was closely linked with the history of the town itself until the domination of the National Socialists put a sudden end to it. The comic provides an informative insight into everyday Jewish life and the decades of trouble-free coexistence of Christians and Jews in the small community. In expressive black-and-white pictures, for which Elke R. Steiner used black scratchboard, she appeals to a culture of memory, in order to make things that had been forgotten and wiped out by the Nazis visible once again.

The illustrator, who now lives in Berlin, then worked with Etgar Keret from the Israeli comic group Actus Tragicus on the comic strip Der Busfahrer, der Gott sein wollte for the Jüdische Allgemeine Wochenzeitung. For the German doctors’ journal, she first developed the series Doc und Doctrix, and then the biography Herbert Lewin and Käte Frankenthal – zwei jüdische Ärzte aus Deutschland based on the life story of the eponymous Jewish doctors. In Die anderen Mendelssohns (2004), she devotes two volumes to the upper-class Jewish dynasty of bankers, artists and scholars, who left their mark on German culture and business life over the course of five generations. This work deals with the so-called ‘black sheep’ of the family, who, as a result of their controversial social and political struggle for justice, modernisation and tolerance in social and artistic fields, have largely vanished into oblivion. Elke R. Steiner’s extensive and attractive drawings once again bring the ideals and aims of the early-Romantic literary figure Dorothea Schlegel, her socialist brother Doctor Arnold Mendelssohn, the historian Carl Mendelssohn Bartholdy and the eccentric artistic siblings Eleonora and Francesco von Mendelssohn to the attention of modern-day readers.

In terms of the international market, Elke Steiner has illustrated two English-language children's books entitled Bella's Brazilian Football (2007) and Bella's Chocolate Surprise (2007). The protagonist Bella Ballistica is a most unusual young girl who travels the world to learn to play football in Brazil, for example, or goes to Ghana in West Africa to hunt for the origins of chocolate.

Additionnal, mainly autobiographical comics followed, among them a graphic novel on Regina Jonas, the first female rabbi world-wide, who was active in Berlin and was murdered by the National Socialists in Auschwitz in 1944, as well as on Catharina Margaretha Linck. The latter work deals with the fate of a woman who was executed in Halberstadt in 1721 because she lived as a man and was married to a woman. For this story, Elke R. Steiner adapted a novel by Angela Steidele (In Männerkleidern / i.e. in men’s clothing, Böhlau 2004).

Apart from her artistic works, Elke R. Steiner has now firmly established herself primarily with her comic workshops in schools, museums and public institutions. For her drawing courses, she has travelled to the Göttingen Children’s and Young People’s Book Week, to the Rendsburg Jewish Museum and to the Goethe-Institut Moscow. At conferences, too, she stands by her flipchart and gives visual form to what has been said: “That heightens attention, strengthens perception and simplifies the overview,” Steiner explains.

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

Copyright: Goethe-Institut e. V., Online-Redaktion
January 2013

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