Jens Wiesner in conversation on "Roadmap" Simply set off and collect stories
On the occasion of the 40th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between Israel and former West Germany, a collection of comics reportage was published in 2005 in which three artists from Israel and three from Germany recorded their personal impressions of each other’s country in the form of a graphic novel. One of the artists was Jan Feindt, an illustrator from Berlin.
‘Roadmap’ was your first work in the area of comics journalism. How did you prepare for it?
At the time, the tone for comics journalism was set by Joe Sacco, David B.’s ‘Epileptic’ and of course ‘Maus’ by Art Spiegelman. Naturally I followed this direction. Besides, I just got going and then it was really more a process of learning-by-doing.
After ‘Weisse Wölfe’ (White Wolves) in 2015, my second work of comics journalism, ‘Alcamo’ will be published this year, and I am already working on my third.
I can, therefore, confirm that this is most definitely a learning process.
In contrast to the other German participants in this project, you have already lived in Israel and are married to an Israeli woman. How has your background helped you? And (how) has the research for this comics reportage changed your view of the country?
It’s really the other way around – my personal circumstances have influenced my work. The fact that Tim, Jens and I chose Israel as the second country besides Germany definitely also had something to do with the fact that I had moved to Berlin after spending three years in Tel Aviv and had many contacts among Israeli artists.
The style chosen for your reportage is a documentary film camera that accompanies you where you go. What made you opt for this style and how has it been an advantage to do your research with a sketch pen and not with a camera?
As already mentioned above, at the time, all of us were greatly influenced by our role models, Joe Sacco, David B. and Art Spiegelman, and that style was then in vogue.
Research, at least for me, is a large part of the work – probably accounting for a third, and is undertaken exclusively with the camera. The sketching comes at the end, after sorting through the photographic material.
Your illustrations seem very realistic, almost documentary. Have you worked a great deal with the photographs taken on location or is it simply a particularly good memory?
My realistic style requires plenty of preliminary research. In the case of ‘Cargo’, I just happened to be at the particular spot. For other work, I often need to do internet research as well or work with models.
The main theme of your reportage, problems in the provision of medical care for women in Bedouin villages, is certainly not the first thing that comes to one’s mind when thinking about Israel. How did this come about?
Our maxim at the time was simply to set off and to collect stories that sort of dropped into our laps. Tim stayed in Tel Aviv, Jens went to Jerusalem and I simply allowed myself to drift across the country. I then happened to meet this woman, who was working for Doctors without Borders and was nice enough to let me travel with her and be part of her project as a silent observer.
The journalistic form of reportage is currently in disrepute because more than anything else many authors wanted to narrate stories that were especially lovely, perfect settings, rich in metaphors – and they bent the truth to suit their purposes. In your case, it is the complete opposite: You have almost slavishly followed the documentary method. You are chronological and unquestionably objective in the way you describe what happened to you in the course of your research, even though the pencil allows you to let your imagination fly. Why?
That’s how I did it then, yes...In the genre, I in the meantime worked more on stories that offered no pictorial material because of the progression of events. For example, for ‘Spiegel’ (a weekly German news magazine), I often illustrate stories about violent crime that actually happened as described, but of course, there was no photographer present at the scene. These include reportages about ISIS, child abuse, etc. I have also applied the same principle to my two latest journalistic graphic novels that are about German Neo-Nazis and about contract killers in the Italian mafia. Here the illustrated reportage makes an issue more vivid, more tangible, and therefore also more realistic.
There are two episodes in your reportage that are detached from your personal travel experiences: The stranded whale in the Port of Haifa and the lyrical coda at the end of the comic: two Bedouin children are washing a camel under which you insert the lyrics of a well-known Israeli pop song. What do these scenes imply?
When I was doing my research in Israel, the whale had strayed into the harbour and, as this story also virtually fell into my lap, I included it in the reportage. Besides, I found the episode quite beautiful. With the song and the Bedouin children, I simply wanted to let my stay there slowly come to an end.
At the end of your reportage, you show something rarely seen in journalism: Your research in the Bedouin camp of Ras Ha Satan gets nowhere, your attempt to establish a link to Salem fails. Why was it important to still show this scene?
You have already mentioned my slavish approach to work. That could be the reason.
It’s been 13 years since you were with the Bedouin women in the Negev. Have you been back? Do you know whether their situation has improved?
I have of course been back to the Negev several times, last year, for example, I went camping with my children and a snake expert from my circle of friends. On a night hike, he showed us all there is to be seen there, if one looks carefully. I can now say: A whole lot!
However, I haven’t been back to the Bedouin.
Cargo: Comicrereportagen aus Israel - Deutschland. 8,00 EUR.