Most office routines have come to a standstill during the coronavirus pandemic. For anyone who misses them, there are two comic books that draw a rather tragicomic picture of office life. Another comic is like the Internet but “without all the nonsense”.
By Holger Moos
A popular haters’ comment on the Internet goes, “The sun smiles on Spain and the whole world laughs over Germany.” Kathrin Klingner named her new comic book after the first half of the saying: Über Spanien lacht die Sonne. Its main character Kitty, a rabbit-like creature with big black ears, has a new job in an agency deleting hate comments on the web. Her boss prepares her for the work by explaining, “We read all the crap that people write online so the rest of the world doesn’t have to.”
Kathrin Klingner knows her way around; during the so-called refugee crisis she really worked for an Internet agency that deleted misanthropic comments. She worked through these experiences in her comic. “While I was working in 2015, I constantly thought something was happening that I would want to talk about later,” says Klingner in a jetzt interview. By the end of the book, we understand that it’s impossible to reason with the writers of such comments. Klingner’s reduced drawing style and the unnatural appearance of most of the characters contrast with the very realistic subject matter. It may sound hopeless, but is “much more illuminating than depressing,” according to Andrea Heinze of rbbKultur.
sick and tired of the placeCartoonist Andre Lux also tackled the strange lives of an agency’s employees. As a former trainee in a Munich media agency, he too can draw on personal experience. The title of his comic, Lars – Der Agenturdepp, the agency moron, is an early reveal that work at such agencies is not exactly fulfilling. Lux takes up plenty of clichés and confirms them all. The employees are all supposed to be young, flexible, resilient, cool and witty, but are often burnt out inside. We learn that the “really knackered ones” can be found “in HR and SEO.” Lux also skilfully satirises the Anglicisms and empty phrases of the language used within these agencies.
Lux’s drawings are even more reduced than Klingner’s. He has cultivated his stick figure style, scribbled on ring binder graph paper, for years in his Egon cartoons, which can be seen in the satirical magazine Titanic or Spiegel online. His minimalist style is ideal for portraying mindless lives. On page after page, the employees sit in rows at their office tables, reminiscent of galley slaves. Fortunately, the title character discovers an escape route after Lea is hired at the agency. The two quickly realise that they assess the situation similarly. “How sick and tired are you of this place?” asks Lars. Lea responds, “About as much as you are of that copy you have to write…” In the end, it’s clear for Lars and Lea: they’d definitely be happier doing “something with real added value for people”.
turn off the lights@kriegundfreitag (actually Tobias Vogel) is another minimalist illustrator with a maximum imagination. He too draws mostly stick figures, but also uses photo collages. His first book Schweres Geknitter (roughly Intense Crinkling) compiles some of his work. It deals with philosophical issues, for example when a character lies casually on the floor, arms folded behind their neck, and thinks, “There are lots more things that I don’t need to do than things I need to do. That’s why I prefer to devote myself to the former.” Or a figure plummeting head over heels who ponders, “You have to see it this way: if this leads me nowhere, nowhere will be somewhere, because I’ll be there.”
Puns also provide consolation on days when things are overwhelming or you feel you’re sinking into the “quicksand of words.” And there are tips for quick-witted answers in difficult situations. For example, if you really want to visit someone, but don’t feel welcome, just remember the cartoon in which one stick figure says to the other, “Oh, it’s you. Actually, I don’t want to see anyone today.” The other responds, “So turn off the lights.”
Berlin: Reprodukt, 2020. 128 p.
Andre Lux: Lars – Der Agenturdepp
Ludwigsburg: Cross Cult, 2019. 36 p.
@kriegundfreitag: Schweres Geknitter
Oldenburg: Lappan, 2019. 128 p.