The Republic’s Funniest Feminist – Franziska Becker

Franziska Becker: Ich will ein Baby (2000)Commonplace clichés about gender roles purport that satire is a male domain. Franziska Becker has been drawing and painting to counter role attributions of this kind for over 35 years - and she is one of Germany’s most significant (women) cartoonists.

Intellectuals sipping champagne at an opening. The large-format pornographic paintings on the walls all show women. A speech balloon floats above a female art lover: “The artist is donating half of the sale proceeds to the initiative against xenophobia! I call that really high-minded!!” Franziska Becker titled this cartoon “Menschenfreund” (i.e.humanitarian).

For more than 35 years, this cartoonist has been accompanying the history of the Bundesrepublik and of emancipation with colourful and detailed images. Franziska Becker is a sharp observer before whose x-ray eyes nothing is safe. She is a feminist moralist, empathic and sarcastic. Her saucer-eyed and bulbous or long nosed figures always have something lovable and mirthful about them; they reveal their creator as a humanitarian.

Franziska Becker: Ich will ein Kind

From William Hogarth to Wilhelm Busch

Franziska Becker has received numerous awards for her satirical works. In the summer of 1998, she was awarded the Max and Moritz Prize at the Erlangen Comic Salon in the category best German comic artist. In January 2012 she was awarded the “Göttinger Elch” for her lifetime accomplishment – the most important German award for satire. With this award she finds herself in the illustrious company of a great number of men – such as Chlodwig Poth, Robert Gernhardt, Gerhard Polt, F.W. Bernstein, Hans Traxler – and just one woman: the cartoonist Marie Marcks.

Now, in September 2013 Franziska Becker has also been awarded the Wilhelm Busch Prize, which honours satirical narrators who also demonstrate a high level of pictorial artistry. The artist may well feel especially honoured by this, after all, Wilhelm Busch has been an absolute favourite since her childhood. If one asks her about additional influential figures, she will mention Tomi Ungerer, and in recent years increasingly the great English caricaturists from William Hogarth to Thomas Rowlandson.

From the art academy to EMMA

Franziska Becker was born in 1949 in Mannheim. She began a degree programme in Egyptology, completed a training programme in medical technology and in 1972 went to the Karlsruhe Academy of Fine Arts, where she nevertheless felt far less at home than in the Heidelberg women’s movement in which she was active.

In autumn 1976 the student applied to the new magazine Emma, recently founded by Alice Schwarzer. She was accepted, ditched her academic studies and has been working as a free-lance cartoonist and painter ever since. “Sometimes it’s right to go with your feelings and not with security. You have to grasp the hand of destiny,” she comments on her courageous decision.

“Frau Knöbel makes the best of her looks,” is the title of Franziska Becker’s parodistic contribution to the feminist magazine Emma, which she accompanies as the magazine’s cartoonist to this day. In addition, her pen drawings deliver pointed commentary on current debates on social policy in the satire magazine Titanic, in Stern, in the Kölner Stadtanzeiger and the magazine supplement of the Züricher Tagesanzeiger. Her images have been collected in about 20 books: from the first volume Mein feministischer Alltag ( daily life as a feminist, 1980) to Letzten Warnung (i.e. final warning, 2010). In addition, she has illustrated numerous books – among them children’s books and cookbooks as well as self-help books; her works have been exhibited both in Germany and abroad.

From role-swapping to insight

Today, Franziska Becker lives and works in Cologne, in the Bergisches Land region and increasingly in Philadelphia (USA). Her forms of expression range from cartoons on current events, satirical pictorial narrative, comics and pointed illustration to large-format paintings.

She draws the themes for her cartoons from life: the desire to have children and reproduction technology, family and career, fashion and the slimming craze, hijab and church, abortion law and Viagra, the financial crisis and Hartz IV (German unemployment assistance), aging and the obsession with youth, relationships and party congresses. But for all their proximity to current trends, her pictures remain astonishingly fresh and undated. They are located instead on a deeper level, beyond the immediate context of social policy, and there illustrate universal human themes.

Many of her cartoons are based on a trick that is as astonishingly simple as it is effective, simply reversing gender roles: a large open-plan office filled with women. A man goes through the aisle between the desks carrying a large stack of files. One of the office ladies flagrantly grabs his crotch from behind – to the visible hilarity of her female colleagues. Like so many works from Franziska Becker’s pen, the effect of the picture, entitled “Attacke,” is in equal measure amusing and anxiety-provoking – and manages to do so without a single word.

Dagmar Giersberg is a free-lance publicist who lives and works in Bonn.

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

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