An uncommon view of society – Katharina Greve

Aus: Katharina Greve: Ein Mann geht an die Decke, Verlag Die Biblyothek

Katharina Greve

When Katharina Greve sits down and gets to work, some very funny things can happen: this comic artist has a sense of humour. As a “leisure-time thinker”, as she calls herself, she cultivates an uncommon view of society. Her cartoons are subtle, sophisticated observations of everyday life that unmask and question the objective world. Her comic figures couldn’t care less about the laws of nature or conventions, but instead live in their very own, sometimes very bizarre universe.

From architecture to leisure-time thinking

Katharina Greve, born in Hamburg in 1972, is not an illustrator in the usual sense, but an architect. Greve completed her studies at the Technical University of Berlin, but she soon began to doubt whether her choice of profession had been right: “As an architect, I have to go with gravity and create spaces in which people actually live and work – that’s much too realistic and serious for me.”

Following her master’s thesis in 1999, Greve made her living with a job at an advertising agency. Parallel to her job, she tried her hand as a performance artist, film script author and situation designer. “I then decided to professionalise my sense of humour,” says Greve. Inspired by the ideas of Douglas Adams and David Sedaris and the drawings of Kriki and Ol, her first cartoons and comic scenes emerged.

In 2004, the artist sent a couple of cartoons to the satire magazine Titanic. She signed her letter and the drawings with KA Greve – deliberately, because at that time I had the impression that humour was a men’s domain. A few days later, she received a post card in which she was addressed as Dear Mr. Greve. A phone fall to the picture editor cleared up not only the – female – authorship, but also laid the foundation for a cooperation that has lasted through the present.

“Drawing jokes is a lonely business”

Small samples from her Titanic works are also available on Greve’s internet page “If you feel like having some After Eights, but there aren’t any in the house, normal bitter-sweet chocolate will do, if you brush your teeth at the same time”, is one of her culinary tips. Excerpts from her series Die Dramatik der Dinge (i.e. the drama of things), which appeared in Ulli Lust’s Verlag für Bildschirmcomics, are also available on Greve’s website.

For this series, Greve awakens the world of objects to life. Three panels suffice for an entire story: an abstract painting is hanging in a museum, a bored adult with child in tow strolls past. “And now they’re thinking, yet again: my little daughter can do that, too,” is the painting’s commentary. Second picture, this time without people: “Gimmicks!”. Third picture: “The stupid little brat could never hang for decades from this one nail!”

A cartoon must be witty, and also may be mean and break taboos, in Greve’s view. But, making fun of the weak crosses the line. Faithful to this motto, the artist scours her surroundings – always in search of a good joke, a good idea, the right punch-line.

The medium offers her plenty of scope for this: As a comic artist, I can define my world myself, says Greve, here, I’m not only the director, I decide on the staging, masks and script. The rest is hard work, because: Drawing jokes is a lonely business - and not always remunerative, which is why she still works regularly for advertising agencies.

Weightless liftmen, transplant researchers and philosophising plants

In 2009, her comic Ein Mann geht an die Decke (i.e. a man goes up the wall) appeared with the Leipzig publishers Die Biblyothek. It tells the story of Franz Fink, a liftman, who encounters a woman in the Berlin Television Tower and follows her. He gets to know a world in which the laws of gravity no longer hold and people can walk on walls and ceilings. The straightforward drawings and reduced geometric figures were well-received by the press and public: in 2010 at the Erlangen Comic Festival, the book was awarded the ICOM Independent Comic Prize for “outstanding artwork.” In the same year, Greve was the first woman to be awarded the “German Cartoon Prize,” awarded by Carlsen Verlag and the Frankfurt Book Fair.

In Greve’s comic Patchwork – Frau Doktor Waldbeck näht sich eine Familie (i.e. patchwork – Dr. Waldbeck sews herself a family), to be issued in autumn 2011, a transplant researcher puts together a couple of children, which she has wanted. One is made up of nothing but a head and hands, another has an octopus tentacle as an arm. Their family life goes well until a curious neighbour discovers the children and informs the tabloids. Now the family is besieged by the press.

Tolerance and self-determination are among the reoccurring themes in Greve’s work – and the courage to change. She deemonstrates this quality by working with other artists (moist recently with Kittihawk), or for a Neukölln (Berlin) art project that has plants philosophising about their lives in speech balloons. Does the seed in the brown earth think: „Hmm, end of June already. Should I sprout? Oh, not really, why bother?“

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 August 2011

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