Comic anthology “Spring“ New Summer High for Illustrators

Spring
Spring | Photo: © Goethe-Institut / Max Mueller Bhavan New Delhi

“Spring” comes back again every year.  Not spring, this comes in summer. Because “Spring” is an anthology, which has been published for almost one and a half decades and has fortunately picked the time of year to appear, in which we have the longest hours of daylight to read it in. This publication is of outstanding merit, it’s continuously getting better and more multifaceted. That’s why it’s such a pleasure to write about each new “Spring” every summer. 

When I say, “more multifaceted,” I obviously don’t mean it in the sense that “Spring” is easing up on what makes it so special: The fact that exclusively female illustrators participate in it. I mean it in the sense that its sphere is continuously broadening, consequently becoming internationalized. Indeed, for the thirteenth edition of the anthology, only eight women from the Hamburg-based “Spring” collective (which albeit doesn’t mean that all members live there) put pen to paper. However, sixteen illustrators are represented. Because, for the publication with the title, “The Elephant in the Room,” they enlisted fellow female campaigners from afar. Half of the more than 230 pages of comics in this thick book were drawn by women in India.
 
It was there, specifically in a writer’s residence not far from Bangalore, which seems to have developed into a center of German-Indian comic culture (just think about Sebastian Lörscher’s wonderful comic, “Making Friends in Bangelor”), that the “Spring” artists met the local participants in early-2016, who had participated in a workshop, which was hosted by the Goethe Institute in New Delhi two years ago, and was led by Spring members, Ludmilla Bartscht and Larissa Bertonasco, among others. Here we know little or nothing at all about Indian comics, and since India is still a country dominated by patriarchy, with the biggest imbalance between male and female births (because so many girls get aborted), a lay person would hardly reckon there would be so many female comic illustrators. But you have to be kidding: It’s not just the “Spring” Nr. 13 was able to balance the numbers, it’s also one of such quality.
 
That says a lot considering the prominent participants on the German side, like Ulli Lust and Barbara Yelin. And Maria Luisa Witte, Katrin Stangl, Stephanie Wunderlich and Nina Pagalies, like the previously mentioned Bartscht and Bertonasco, are not unknown, but are rather well established illustrators. In contrast, who in Europe has heard of Priya Kuriyan, the third leader of the workshop, who is a big shot in her country’s publishing scene and who closes the current issue of “Spring” with her copious, autobiographical comic, “Ebony and Ivory,” and is also establishing herself with German readers? She tells the story of her maternal grandparents’ marriage over more than twenty pages, where her grandfather was considered a liberal freethinker, while her grandmother was seen as a stubborn traditionalist. However, this reading is suddenly turned on its head. And that’s not the only surprise that the Indian illustrators have to offer.
 
The other seven are Archana Sreenavisam, Garima Gupta, Krutika Susarla, Anpu Varkey, Reshu Singh, Prabha Mallya und Kaveri Gopalakrishan, and unfortunately it would go to far here to present all of their works. What’s worth mentioning though is, for example, the recurring theme, touched on by several illustrators, of intentionally not having children, which is brushes up on a social taboo in India. As modern women, the artists are experiencing pushback from families and society. Prabha Mallya illustrates the situation for Indian women most drastically. Her sequences of images, “Bitch,” depict a confident and sexually liberated female dog, drawn in a style that is internationally comprehensible – as exoticism clichés have never been manipulated before. You can see a few of the pages here.
 
It’s remarkable how absolutely worldly the Indian illustrators’ stories are. Now some readers may lament the loss of national idiosyncrasies in the graphics. But even if you don’t have typically recognizable Indian – whatever that’s supposed to be in this melting pot of religions and cultures – compositions, the narrative style is still always different. The German illustrators are more explicit in their insights into the private, where penis size is addressed, just as attempted or successful rape is. However, the directness of speaking about the private is more exigent, driven and uncompromising in the Indian contributions. So familiar conflicts are taken as much more vital than they are in the German stories. And the younger generation’s feelings of alienation are more pronounced visually than the (on average somewhat older) German illustrators. But it becomes obvious that common experiences of women across continents exist and this realization becomes clear in the book’s title: “The Elephant in the Room” – where the question of what it means to be a woman, in the office, in everyday life, is rarely asked. It’s the elephant in the room as the saying goes – a tremendous animal that nobody talks about.
 
As always with “Spring,” the edition is bilingual, German and English, each with subtitles in the other language. This will hopefully make the book, which is being published next week in Germany through the involvement of Mairisch Verlag, gain currency in India too. At theComic-Salon in Erlangen in mid-May, where you could get your hands on a few advance copies of this year’s “Spring,” the German illustrators also presented their Indian colleagues publications, which came about thanks to international support. The publications were all out of stock within a few days. The same may be the case for “Spring” Nr. 13.