Peer Meter The amount of suspense must be just right

Peer Meter
Peer Meter | Photo (detail): © Sabine von Bassewitz

Peer Meter is something of an exception in the realm of the German-language comic, but that doesn’t worry him. In his capacity as a scenarist he develops and writes stories for graphic novels.

Scenarists play a major role in the creation of comics and graphic novels. Their job is to tell an exciting story and yet reduce dialogue to the minimum. They require a sense for drama and rhythm and they must be able to write well. Peer Meter masters the full range of his craft. The man from Bremen has been writing stories that appeal to their audience since the 1990s.

It all began with a passion: “As a youngster I used to spend all my pocket money on comics and I even set up my own mail-order business for comics,” he says. Later the qualified publisher’s assistant was one of the co-founders of the comic magazine Com-Mix and the literature magazine Stint. In 1990, together with draughtsman Christian Gorny, he developed the story of the serial killer Haarmann. The first volume of that graphic novel was nominated for the respective Max and Moritz Prize, in the category Best German-language comic, but it remained a fragment: Further volumes of the initially planned series have never been published.

Haarmann – interview with Peer Meter and Isabel Kreitz (german)

Fine sense for human idiosyncrasies

Peer Meter has worked for theatre, developed ideas for graphic novels and written a non-fiction book about the poisoner Geesche Gottfried, which later became the graphic novel Poison, with drawings by Barbara Yelin. Yelin’s gloomy pencil drawings create a claustrophobic atmosphere perfectly suited to the grim story. It was published in 2010 and was a huge success.

Meter’s particular strength is his fine sense for human idiosyncrasies. “The characters have to be just right before I start writing at all.” Each figure is given its own emotional world and language. “I often work for hours on a single sentence or dialogue, so that it really suits the figure,” Meter says. The dramatic composition of the story is equally important. “I have to know what it is I want to tell,” he says, adding: “As I write, the story passes before my inner eyes like a film.”

Just how well Peer Meter masters his craft is evident from the graphic novel Haarmann published in 2010 and this time newly illustrated by Isabel Kreitz. The story starts with a compositional trick: the eponymous mass murderer Haarmann does not appear at the beginning. The first scene shows bones being discovered in the lowered bed of the river Leine. “This story is historically documented and eminently suitable as a beginning,” says Meter.

Ideally, images replace text

The scenarist really enjoys collaborating with draughtmen and -women. “It’s simply great when a text can be successfully replaced by an image.” For Haarmann, for example, he had written a scene in which the serial killer wakes up and is himself shocked to find that he has bitten through his victim’s throat in his sexual frenzy. “Isabel Kreitz got the facial expression so right in just one single panel that words would have been too much,” according to Meter.

Peer Meter is meantime one of Germany’s most famous scenarists. In the case of comics, usually only the draughtsmen and women gain attention. “It will still be some time yet before the profession of scenarist is recognised here in Germany,” he assumes. His wish is for a Master’s study course in Comics to be established in Germany like that offered in Poitiers, France, for example. At the same time he knows that it would be hard to be granted the artistic freedom he has as a scenarist in any other field. “Unlike script writers, for example, I don’t need to consider whether a scene is feasible on film or can be financed,” Meter says. “What is more, in cinema and television too many people have a say.”

The price he pays for this kind of freedom is that he can scarcely live from his work as a scenarist. For years, he drove a taxi on the side. Meter was born in 1956 and, given that he has four bypasses, he works less these days. Yet his passion for comics has not suffered. He has ideas for a biography and a history comic on his desk. He is not saying any more than that, after all, the suspense has to be just right.