Jysch, Arne

Dramaturgy that clearly orients itself on film – Arne Jysch

Advertised and reviewed as the first comic on the deployment of German soldiers in Afghanistan, Arne Jysch’s comic debut Wave and Smile gained considerable media attention in summer 2012. Arne Jysch lives and works in Berlin as a storyboard artist. He is currently at work on the Berlin-based live-action crime thriller Point of View, which he is directing.

Slideshow by Arne Jysch

The bold, black capital letters leave no doubt as to the time and place of the events. “Afghanistan Provinz Kunduz 2009” can be read there in the style of a type of stencilled lettering frequently used by the US Army. Two men, recognisably dressed as Afghans, are seen in the whole-page picture under the lettering. They are sitting on a bare hill next to an ancient, ruined tank and are observing something in the far-distant valley.

Wave and Smile

There is a tense stillness to this first page of Arne Jysch’s comic Wave and Smile. On two smaller panels, the object of the seemingly unperturbed observers is virtually zoomed onto: it is a military convoy that is stirring up dust during its drive over the sandy track. Then an abrupt change of perspective occurs, we are now close-up with the occupants of the military vehicles and become witnesses to how the situation escalates. The convoy is being shot at. TATA TATAT TATAT TATAT TATATA rattle the machine guns in the skirmish, the commands shouted over the radio can be followed in jagged speech balloons. Soldiers in action are seen in what are now highly compartmentalised panels with disturbing effects – the soldiers fighting there are German ISAF troops.

Conceived as film and comic

One would think that US action films begin with such dynamism, and one wouldn’t be all that far off the mark, since Arne Jysch, artist and author of Wave and Smile, in fact comes from the film industry. Jysch studied film directing and animation in Hamburg and Babelsberg, and currently earns his living as a storyboard artist. It was for this reason that he conceived Wave and Smile as both an idea for a film and as a comic; the acceptance letter from Hamburg’s Carlsen Verlag was the deciding factor in realising the theme of German troops in Afghanistan as a graphic novel.

Arne Jysch cultivates a realistic stroke that, as he says, allows him to make progress quickly. His sketch-like pencil drawings are then water-coloured in sandy shades. He plays with page layout conventions with great skill, when, for instance, grenades cut through panel frames or the interpreted dialogue with locals is reproduced in Arabic-style script.

Captain Menger and his team-mates

The dramaturgy clearly orients itself on the (commercial) film, up to and including a classical hero whose destiny is prototypically unfolded in the book’s 200 pages. Captain Menger, a masculine guy with a sense of responsibility, is grieving over his failed marriage and the loss of his mates. He cannot get over the kidnapping of his mate Marco by the Taliban at all. Back in Germany, he is plagued by feelings of guilt, and demonstrates signs of post-traumatic stress syndrome. In the end, he returns to Afghanistan to seek for Marco in the Afghan-Pakistan border region. At his side, symbolising the civilian perspective on Afghanistan, is a young woman photographer, who of the two of them is the one who engages most with the local population.

The locals are depicted as ambivalent personalities. The local clan headman is on the one hand a notorious “mass murderer,” on the other a devoted paterfamilias who offers the German soldiers protection. They in turn feel left in the lurch by their government due to their vaguely-defined mission. Waving and smiling – signs saying “Wave and Smile” were in fact in every camp – hasn’t happened here for a long time any more. The humanitarian German mission has long since become a war deployment in which the German soldiers, described as restrained and circumspect, are not taken all that seriously in terms of their combat behaviour, either by the enemy, the Taliban, or by their allied partner, the USA.

Strong media echo and much-praised attention to detail

Advertised and reviewed as the first comic on the deployment of German soldiers in Afghanistan, Wave and Smile attracted considerable media attention in summer 2012. All of a sudden, numerous media - from daily newspapers to public channels and Bundeswehr publications - were interested in this graphic novel. The starting print run was quickly sold out. Jysch, who had never been in the Bundeswehr or in Afghanistan, was praised for his attention to detail. The special type of helicopter, the equipment, the camp and also the depiction of the soldiers and their daily lives were particularly praised as realistic by the “boots on the ground.” The focus on human aspects and the extra-crisp look of the military personnel are surely flattering. The resulting massive criticism from the left-wing political spectrum was only logical. Here, it was claimed, German soldiers were on the one hand being glorifed as heroes in the style of military pulp novels and on the other as victims of circumstance. Mainstream media, by contrast, emphasised the successful look into the unknown parallel existence in the distant country.

Arne Jysch arrived at this theme with the same motivation. He researched intensively for a year before setting his first pencil stroke. He studied numerous German- and English-language films and books, and also cooperated closely with the Bundeswehr press office. The consistent setting is due to pictures by the German photo journalist Julia Weigelt, who was active in Afghanistan as an “embedded journalist.” Whatever position one might take with regard to Wave and Smile, the discussion shows how controversial the German engagement in Afghanistan still is in Germany. Arne Jysch is not planning any further comic on this thematic complex.

Katja Lüthge
is a journalist and writes for the daily newspapers Berliner Zeitung and the Frankfurter Rundschau, among others. In 2005, she curated the Berlin exhibition “Mit Superman fing alles an. Jüdische Künstler prägen den Comic” (i.e. it all began with Superman: Jewish artists’ influence on comics)

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

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