Manga

“Moresukine” and beyond – Titus Ackermann in interview with Dirk Schweiger

Dirk Schwieger, © Dirk SchwiegerIn 2006 Dirk Schwieger spent a year living in Tokyo, and he reported his experiences in his interactive comic blog “Moresukine”. Now his account has been published in book form. Time for an interview between colleagues about the background to this project – Titus Ackermann, himself an illustrator and creator of the “Moga Mobo” comic, asked the questions.

Dirk, before we go into more detail about your book “Moresukine”, tell me a little bit about your artistic career.

I was born in 1978 in Frankfurt am Main, where I also went to school, and then after a brief interlude in Hamburg I ended up in Berlin where I studied Fine Art at the University of Arts from 2000 until 2005 – at first under Georg Baselitz, and after he left I became a master student in the class of Daniel Richter.

Big names. Did you want to be a painter?

No, if I’m honest. I wanted to interact with people from diverse backgrounds. When I went into my first specialist class, as well as the obligatory painters there were also people working on sculptures, graffiti, performances or holograms. And above all I had plenty of time and the peace and quiet to take a good look at comics.

Which comics were you reading at the time?

Mainly German, US American and French indie comics, Manga didn’t come till later. I’d already been socialised with the usual Franco-Belgian comic characters and US superheroes, but at some point I made the move via high-octane titles such as Neil Gaiman’s Sandman towards alternative comics like Dave Sim’s Cerebus or Larry Marder’s Beanworld.

And it wasn’t long until your series “ineinander” started at the University of Arts. An unusual comic series, and then you even published it through your own publishing company, “eigen verlag”?

Well the project isn’t really that unusual (laughs). But in those days I started out with the idea of just having a big clear out – there are no psychological figures and the focus of the “plot” often gives way to detail views and sometimes lyrics. And the way the side panels were divided up was always a result of the question: “How could that be put across another way?”

ineinander, © Dirk Schwieger

Five ineinander comics were published at irregular intervals during my degree, however I went straight off to Japan directly after my finals...

That’s a good transition too: tell me something about Japan, why you went there, for how long, what you got up to there, and finally how this extraordinary comic project came about?

In my student years I just built up a huge desire to travel, and I was able to discharge it all in one go. Japan had been attractive to me for quite a while because it was so far away, geographically as well as culturally. I wanted to experience the behemoth that is Tokyo, and a highly industrialised nation that is absolutely not organised on the basis of Western ideas and Jewish/Christian traditions. And as a comic illustrator of course I was very excited by the Manga phenomenon, which is a medium that is much more professionally produced and perceived far more as the norm than what we have in Germany.

There was only money to pay rent for the first month or two, but I had the good fortune to find a job as a translator in a Tokyo software company in Ryogoku, where I was able to stay a whole year. At first I lived in Uguisudani, and then in Otsuka. So from a certain point in time it wasn’t an adventure holiday any more, it was just everyday routine. I worked, met friends and travelled through the country.

Then in the summer I went to the cooler north and spent two or three months working on an organic farm in Hokkaido – driving the tractor, harvesting aubergines, squashing beetles and the like.

So how did the idea for the comic book come about?

Well to start with there was no mention of a book at all yet. In fact the whole thing goes back to a suggestion made by Ulli Lust, that we should post something from Tokyo on her electrocomics website. Following that I had some thoughts and developed the concept for Moresukine.

So what was the concept exactly?

Moresukine was published in weekly instalments as a blog. People from anywhere in the world could set me tasks that had something to do with Tokyo – going to look for a particular place, meet a certain person or tackle a particular subject – with the additional proviso that I wasn’t allowed to turn anything down, but had to carry out all the missions one after another. A week later you could read what I had experienced in comic form.

Moresukine, © Dirk Schwieger

I just didn’t want to report with the hubris of a Western artist, along the lines of “Look guys, such-and-such is what Japan is like”, I wanted to let other people decide what’s worth telling. As a result Moresukine became at least as much a documentary on Japan, the global destination of desire. Readers or rather co-authors from Finland, Argentina or the USA were often better informed with regard to local addresses, names or opening times than I was.

The second aspect is that I wanted to use this motive of task fulfilment to get structurally closer to Japanese society: the fact that the project came into being as a virtual community, or for instance the fact that I was being chased through this fictitious idealistic Japan like an avatar in a computer game, was supposed to capture Japan a little. That the blog ultimately became a book only came about after my return from Japan. Incidentally there was already a Chinese pirate copy in 2006 before the regular German publication, which worked with the 72 dpi pages of the blog, as a print-on-demand. Now however the book has also been published absolutely legally and in better quality in English.

A lovely book, not just for people travelling to Japan, but particularly for them. I found it great fun anyway. What can we expect from you as your next comic project?

Well, one thing that’s still important is to carry on with ineinander. As soon as I find a time slot, I’ll definitely make a start on the next comic.

But actually at the moment my main occupation (with various interruptions since 2003) is my book People Not Seen, a documentary about the elves in Iceland. I don’t know if you’ve heard about it, but although Iceland is such an incredibly hi-tech society there is still a continuing latent belief in an invisible second nation. Even the civil engineering office builds motorways around the rocks where these creatures are said to live. I lived there for a year and drove around the whole country to interview eye witnesses. So although my documentary is a factual report backed up absolutely by rock-solid research, these statements read like modern fairy-tales, and even if they are by no means consistent in every respect, it does seem to be the case that the elves are massively superior to humans in their technology. They don’t ride horses any more, they fly around in UFOs now.

People Not Seen, © Dirk Schwieger

So fundamentally it’s a documentary on something invisible that’s accurate to the last detail. It should end up spanning around 200 pages, but I’ve only just started illustrating it properly. There’s a little preview of it on electrocomics, in German and English.

The interview was conducted by Titus Ackermann.

Translation: Jo Beckett
Copyright: Goethe-Institut e.V., Online-Redaktion
January 2010

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