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Anna Haifisch
Leipzig and the World

Anna Haifisch „Von Spatz“
In Haifisch’s comic Disney is a failed artist but someone who is skilled at dealing with other artists and their work. | © Anna Haifisch

Anna Haifisch publishes comics in New York and co-founded a comic festival in Leipzig: this is how the illustrator combines her fascination with US culture, local engagement and her penchant for the independent.

By Stefan Pannor

At a glance

Born in Leipzig in 1986, Anna Haifisch studied at the Academy of Fine Arts in Leipzig from 2004 to 2011. She worked in the USA in 2008. In 2013 she was a co-founder of the Millionaires Club in Leipzig, one of the city’s two annual independent comic festivals. Von Spatz, her first book, was published in 2015.

The ambivalent Disney

In Von Spatz, Haifisch tells the (fictitious) story of Walt Disney’s stay in a psychiatric clinic. This is a comedy of lost illusions: Haifisch’s Disney would like to be a great artist but is merely a gifted manager. His animated film studio goes to rack and ruin in his absence, as the comic explains: “The animators had built themselves little trenches from which they shot sharp pieces of metal at the colourists.” Why Disney? Anna Haifisch explains: “I find his vision and his work extremely impressive. Yet he is an ambivalent character: terribly domineering but at the same time extremely affectionate in his dealings with the drawings and animations.”

A special work

In 2015 and 2016, Haifisch’s The Artist comic strip appeared in the American online magazine Vice. This was the result of a coincidence: “The US cartoonist Alex Schubert had recommended me because he had found one of my comic books in a shop in New York.” And it was this coincidence that brought Haifisch her international breakthrough. Ever since, her books have also been regularly published in English. The Artist portrays the failed attempts by a nameless and pretentious artist to establish himself in the art scene. As Haifisch explains, the comic is not autobiographical, “but the protagonist does have a lot in common with me in terms of temperament”.
  • Selbstporträt Anna Haifisch © Anna Haifisch
    Minimalism and a visually alien-looking world are characteristic of Haifisch’s comics: The self-portrait is no exception.
  • Anna Haifisch „The Artist“ © Anna Haifisch
    The comic strip “The Artist” appeared in the American online magazine "Vice".
  • Anna Haifisch „The Artist“ © Anna Haifisch
    “The Artist” portrays the attempts of an artist to establish himself in the art scene. The drawings of the characters, the backgrounds, the colours and in many cases even the events are reduced to the bare minimum.
  • Anna Haifisch „Von Spatz“ © Anna Haifisch
    In “Von Spatz”, Anna Haifisch tells the (fictitious) story of Walt Disney’s stay in a Californian psychiatric clinic.
  • Anna Haifisch „Von Spatz“ © Anna Haifisch
    During the tale, other well-known artists also appear in an alienated form, such as the illustrator Tomi Ungerer who asks Walt Disney for advice.

A Leipzig school

The temperament she is referring to is a sense of minimalism and alienation. Visually, the protagonist in The Artist is an elongated and emaciated bird-like creature, almost bereft of any individual features – as far as possible, any background is left out. What is more, Haifisch works with an extremely reduced palette of colours. Together with her cartoonist and studio colleagues Max Baitinger and James Turek, whose work is similarly abstract, one can talk of the aesthetics of a Leipzig school of comics.

Locally international

Haifisch co-founded Leipzig’s second regular independent comic festival in 2013. “I think it’s great when visitors who I have never seen before spend hours just hanging out there and getting to know a few new people.” International guests show how globally connected the festival is: one co-organizer is New York cartoonist James Turek, who is now based in Leipzig.

In the artist’s own words

“The USA has always held a particular attraction for me because of its culture. I grew up behind the Iron Curtain, so when the Berlin Wall came down in 1989 all of this suddenly became accessible to me. When my comics relate in some way to the US, in other words, this is not only a reference I am making, but something that is deeply personal.”
Comic-strip artist Anna Haifisch Comic-strip artist Anna Haifisch | © Matthew James-Wilson, 2018