The German Comic Scene Modern Myths and Historical Anecdotes
The covid pandemic caused a fair amount of disruption in many areas: trade fairs were cancelled, publications were delayed, and things came to a standstill everywhere. This was not the case on the comic scene: we take a look at the new publications over the past year.
By Ralph Trommer
Every year we take a look at the trends in the German-language comic scene. This time we can sum it up like this: the comic scene took advantage of the time during the covid pandemic and carried on operating undeterred. The fruits of this period are impressive: in terms of both content and aesthetics, the contemporary German comic spectrum has broadened significantly – again.
Most notably, many works have emerged in the autobiography or autofiction genres – often by newcomers – reflecting or inspired by personal experiences. For example the sensitive novel Coming of H, in which Hamed Eshrat bases the story on his own teen years in the German province, his drug experiences and his first love. But what really stands out is the trend of developing narratives from historical events or myths. Some authors draw inspiration from further back in history, while others are using more recent material.
The Story of Humanity in Pictures
Two works from 2022 take readers back to the Seventies – but in completely different ways. Illustrator Sheree Domingo and author Patrick Spät have joined forces for Madame Choi und die Monster (Madame Choi and the Monsters), which tells a quirky yet enigmatic anecdote from the 1970s and ’80s about a married couple from South Korea, both famous actors, and North Korean dictator Kim Jong-Il. Whereas their graphic novel is ornamented with plenty of fantasy elements, Jennifer Daniel mirrors reality in her depiction of the climate in 1970s West Germany in Das Gutachten (The Certificate). She uses full-spread watercolour drawings to roll out a crime thriller positioned between middle-class bourgeois sensibilities and emerging terrorism. Her protagonist, “Herr Martin”, is convincing as a complex character study.
Austrian graphic novelist André Breinbauer on the other hand focuses on ancient times. In Medusa und Perseus he successfully produces an original update to the mythical story by creating a link to modern-day feminist discourses: Medusa is not a monster, she’s a woman – and Perseus is a hero against his will. The faintly grotesque illustrations depict images from classical antiquity whilst at the same time coming across as contemporary, and the inspired page layouts are brilliant.
One particularly ambitious project is dedicated to the attempted portrayal of the entire history of Earth and humankind. Jens Harder started his work ALPHA … directions back in 2009, a book in which he told the story of the Big Bang. This was followed by BETA ...civilisations volume I, and now the substantial volume BETA ...civilisations volume II, which covers time from the start of our calendar system up to the present day. In this book he has edited a series of iconic pictures – from historical artworks to pop motifs from the past decade – to create a stream of images that only sometimes include explanatory text. But anyone who thinks that’s the sum total of the project is mistaken: there are plans for a GAMMA volume in which the intention is to take a look at the future.
Simon Schwartz developed his very own idea for recounting the history of humanity: the graphic artist and author had already illustrated several books featuring brief life histories, such as Das Parlament, (Parliament), a compilation of unusual personal profiles of German members of parliament that were initially published as one-pagers in newspapers. Vita Obscura – Life Bizarre follows on from that with another 50 biographies, once more showcasing Schwartz’s talent for summing up and intensifying the entire destiny of an individual on a single page. The selection ranges from the moving biography of Charlotte von Mahlsdorf, a trans person from East Berlin, to the harrowing life of Anton Wilhelm Amo, who grew up as a Black child in 18th century Germany and became an important philosopher. You will find plenty of unexpected people here too: for instance Cynthia, a mannequin who was a star of the New York nightlife in her day – a celebrity with no soul but plenty of plaster.
Frankenstein and Ghost Hunters
How about some spooky stuff? Horror stories based on historical references are another phenomenon on the German graphic novel market for 2022. In this context, newcomer Lara Swiontek published the adaptation of a tale by Frankenstein author Mary Shelley, entitled Verwandlung (Transformation). Swiontek turns the almost 200-year-old story into a timeless parable about a narcissistic hedonist. Ingo Römling and author Peter Mennigen on the other hand created a series with a late Victorian vibe – featuring demon hunter Malcolm Max – which so far fills five volumes and is popular thanks to its illustrative prowess and exciting storytelling.
The children’s comic series Alan C. Wilder Ltd. is also set in England. It’s about a youthful ghost hunter helped with his cases by his dead father, who’s still lively when it comes to haunting. Ulf K. – who has maintained a distinctive and clear illustrative style since the 1990s – and his author Patrick Wirbeleit have some tongue-in-cheek fun with the horror genre. Ulf K. has also produced a pithy adaptation of an H P Lovecraft story in the shape of Pickmans Modell (Pickman’s Model) for the adult series Die Unheimlichen (Weird Tales), in which horror classics are reimagined.
And Finally: the Marsupilami Is Back!
Obviously we wouldn’t want to withhold this after the resurrection of so many myths – the marsupilami is back too. After Spirou in Berlin in 2018, Berlin-based graphic artist Flix alias Felix Görmann 2022 took on a Belgian comic classic in 2022 and his imagination spawned a graphic art tribute to the marsupilami entitled Das Humboldt-Tier (The Humboldt Animal). In his version the mythical creature is discovered by Alexander von Humboldt and encounters a young Jewish girl living in precarious circumstances in 1931 Berlin. Flix hits the mark with a pun-filled comic that entertains the whole family.
Hamed Eshrat: Coming of Age
Sheree Domingo/Patrick Spät: Madame Choi und die Monster
Jennifer Daniel: Das Gutachten
Simon Schwartz: Vita Obscura – Life Bizarre
Lara Swiontek: Die Verwandlung
Ingo Römling / Peter Mennigen: Malcolm Max
Ulf K. / Patrick Wirbeleit: Alan C. Wilder Ltd.
Ulf K.: Pickmans Modell
André Breinbauer: Medusa und Perseus
Jens Harder: BETA