“You couldn't think this stuff up”
From the North Pole to the slaughterhouses of Chicago: Kristina Gehrmann has a penchant for all things historical, which she combines with her love of manga.
By Stefan Pannor
At a glanceAn illustrator born in Leverkusen in 1989, Kristina Gehrmann used only to read comics rather than draw them herself. Like in Florence, for instance, where she studied painting in order to “practise my Italian”, as she puts it. Realistic digital painting was the first area of graphic design in which she specialized. Only once she had saved enough money was she able to produce the first comic of her own – which was also the first in a trilogy.
Inspired by mangaIn her trilogy Im Eisland, Kristina Gehrmann tells the story of the disastrous Franklin expedition that was lost completely in the Polar region in 1848. This earned her the 2016 German Children’s Literature Award. It was manga that gave her the idea of telling a historic story in a comic spanning more than six hundred pages. Before graphic novels, this Japanese form of the comic was already experimenting with expansive narrative styles. The Vinland Saga by Makoto Yukimura, one of Gehrmann’s favourite manga series, was a particular inspiration. Several thousand pages long, it portrays the discovery of North America by the Vikings. Like Im Eisland, a particular feature of the manga is its vivid depiction of sea travel and Polar regions.
The expedition was lost completely in the Polar region in 1848. The comic earned her the 2016 German Children’s Literature Award.
“Im Dschungel” is a four-hundred-page loose adaptation of Upton Sinclair’s realistic novel about Chicago’s slaughterhouses in around 1900.
In her open style with gentler lines, she softened the content of Sinclair’s socially critical novel in her illustrations.
Besides drawing comics, Kristina Gehrmann works as an illustrator and, as a member of the German Illustrators’ Organization (IO), actively promotes the rights of other illustrators.
A special workIm Dschungel is a four-hundred-page loose adaptation of Upton Sinclair’s realistic novel about Chicago’s slaughterhouses in around 1900. For her illustrations, Gehrmann departed from the rigid and often hard lines of the manga approach. In a more open style with gentle lines, she has softened the content of Sinclair's socially critical novel, which depicts the decline of an immigrant family: her comic, unlike the original, has a happy ending.
“When reading it, I found that having one tragedy come hot on the heels of the last has a dulling effect. Consequently, the impact on the reader may be less powerful.” Just like in Im Eisland she consciously chose to portray historical events because, “if you’ll pardon my French, all kinds of shit that you simply couldn’t think up have already happened in history”.
The rights of artistsSince 2014, Kristina Gehrmann has been an active member of the German Illustrators’ Organization (IO), which is committed to promoting the rights of illustrators. In 2016 she published Zeichnen als Beruf (i.e. Illustration as a Profession), which is aimed primarily at those beginning a career in illustration. “Illustrators who know their rights often earn more.”
In the artist’s own words“Freelance illustrators often have considerable problems earning a decent living from their work. This is partly because the business aspects of working as an illustrator are not covered to a sufficient extent – or indeed at all – at university. I try to improve the situation because all illustrators will benefit if we know what an appropriate fee is, if we appear professional and if we know our rights.”
Kristina Gehrmann | © Kristina Gehrmann