Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Unleashed In The East: An Interview With Anna Haifisch

Anna Haifisch was born in Leipzig, East Germany, in 1986, three years before the fall of the Berlin Wall. Despite the Reunification of 1990, the former German Democratic Republic has not only lacked prosperity in the aftermath of a socialist market economy, but also an artistic vision. These shortcomings have led to a persistent climate of economic and artistic inequality that is comparable to current divisions in Germany's comics scene. Starting in the late 2000s as an initiative led by Berlin publishers Reprodukt and Avant, pushing the term 'graphic novel' at the expense of 'comics' has become an essential strategy to place their publications in mainstream media and bookstores and achieve accolades and moderate sales successes, as well as public and private funding. This aggressive grab for respectability and subsidization has resulted in a series of monotonously constructed, pseudo-literary comics, many of them dealing with the GDR or Nazi Germany, to the exclusion of almost everything else. Haifisch has managed to avoid these artistic pitfalls, despite growing up, studying illustration and running her studio in those parts of Germany still frequently considered to be deprived or left behind. Departing considerably from the one-note formula that dominates contemporary German comics, Haifisch places herself in the role of 'The Artist,' outside and above these conventions and therefore able to add invaluably to the slow change within the German comics scene towards a new vision. It is a vision that extends beyond the confines of German comics and beyond the boundaries of the German language. Haifisch's series for Vice magazine, 'The Artist,' is slated for a fall 2016 release by both French publisher Editions Misma and England-based Breakdown Press. It follows the joint French and German release of 'Von Spatz,' her first long-form comic, in 2015. 


How in the world did an East German end up with those usually reluctant poseurs at Vice?

Alex Schubert, who draws the 'Blobby Boys,' recommended my work to Nick Gazin, Vice's art editor. As far as I know, it took him a while until Nick was convinced. Thank you, Alex! Thank you, Nick, for trusting me. I'm very thankful for that.

'The Artist' exists as a naked, disheveled white void across the series. Is this meant to show the impoverishment of the artist's life, as a commentary on the artistic ego, or do you just not like drawing clothes?

I wanted him to look malnourished and pale. And yes, he is a nameless white void. He is THE Artist, he is AN artist and he is (never forget where you're coming from) a bird.

I took notice of your use of Calimero in a strip you recently did with Nick Gazin for Vice. Is placing Calimero next to Robert Crumb in that strip a comment on the use of racist stereotypes, i.e. whitewashing?
What? I was four Coors in and Gazin was high. This comic is clearly about hats or something.

Is the beanie you're constantly wearing sort of a tribute to that cracked eggshell of Calimero? Are there other looks from comics-related protagonists you're sporting, like -uhm- Andy Capp? If not, could you name three of your favorite characters in comics?

Ooh, I love the symbol of the broken eggshell so much. If Calimero didn't already wear one, the Artist would. I like Woodstock, Owl and Widow Douglas so much.

And why would anybody label you as an 'art-comics darling'?

Ask yourself that, since you where the one calling me that.

Art school serves as a common punchline across American comics. Having experienced both American and German art scenes, is there a universality of experience, or are Americans just more open for mockery? Do you feel more connected to American cartoonists? Are there German cartoonists who had an influence on your work?

I don't think I know both scenes very well. Just certain groups, people whose work I like. My American friends are wilder cartoonists, more reckless in their art. Maybe less happy, I don't know, maybe because of the circumstances. I'm very grateful for my German comic mates too. Excellent people. Max Baitinger, Jul Gordon, Sascha Hommer, Aisha Franz, …

My biggest influence is James Turek, my best friend, my studio mate, my muse. He's American though. But besides James it's mostly German painters and my friends who're doing graphic design, not comics.

You have left your former publishing house in Germany, Rotopolpress, to work with Reprodukt now. The latter is known for pushing the term 'graphic novel' to get its products into bookstores and receive favorable reviews from the mainstream press. By doing so, Reprodukt tries to create a new, 'literary' reception which appears to be quite different from the usual fandom. Any thoughts on that?

I didn't leave Rotopol. Reprodukt borrowed me for one book. I'm part of a dreamy threesome, you don't know what you're talking about.

I still don't know what a graphic novel is, but I appreciate anything that Reprodukt does to reach out for new audiences apart from sweaty perverts with awful taste. The depiction of the typical German comic reader still keeps me away from saying 'Ich zeichne Comics' ('I draw comics') in public. It's fucking embarrassing.

I want my work to be in art galleries, feuilletons and libraries - anywhere - just far away from these people. I'd call it 'graphic novel' or whatever [else it takes].

Shout out to Rotopol and Reprodukt! Fuck the mainstream! I don't care.

Do other cartoonists' characters (Burkholder's Sexy Frog, Schubert's Blobby Boys) only exist in The Artist's drug addled mind, or do they all just really like hanging out at the disco? Probably in the shower?

Oh yeah, they would be great in the shower together or playing cricket. Stuff good friends would do. They can all come over to my house. It would be so wonderful.

Did you intend to become rich by co-founding the Millionaire Club? If so, why did you publish stuff by Andy Burkholder or G.W. Duncanson within your Tiny Masters series?

We are millionaires! Rich in visions, ca$hing in on red hats.

Duncanson's tumblr isn't named 'cash money cartoons' for nothing and Andy is the mogul behind ITDN group and Oireau. They're gems and we are visionaries.

Are cobras The Artist's sunflower paintings, or just a reminder to not put on pants?

Everything the Artist creates is a placeholder for contemporary art. No meaning but this. It's my mission for him and his burden.

Are your lines just erratic because of your hunger for success? C'mon, no one's buying the stuff about paying homage to Saul Steinberg.

There's so much I want: I want to be successful, I want my drawings to be read and shown. I want to be influential, I want to be rich.

But the reason for my shaky lines is my nervous and impatient temper.

When you shift to a documentary storytelling device in 'The Artist,' what do you think the narrator sounds like? These sections also take on a more mythological tone from the rest of the series. What do you find interesting about this particular storytelling device?

Patrick Kyle should be the narrator. He has a beautiful deep voice.

The religious or mythological tone is my favorite part of writing 'The Artist.' It's pure honesty. When I talk about artists as saviors and saints, I really mean it (and every other word, too). It's me giving a speech. I deeply believe that art is mankind's last straw before it sinks into brutality and chaos. If we let go of art, the world is lost and we will all die not soon after.

Alright then, please name three things you like about Blaise Larmee's Three Books. Don't use the words Tawrāt, Zabūr and ʾInjīl‎ while trying to do it. Furthermore, please explain making use of him as a doctor in “The Artist“.

I really like Blaise's sense of design. The layout and the book itself is beautiful. I like the pretentiousness of his alter egos, the exaggeration behind each of the three books. It succeeded in convincing me that Blaise is a thoughtful prince of comics.

Blaise is comics' family doctor. He is going to heal comics from monotony and will eventually be the naked Icarus who's leading the medium towards the sun where it will burn down to the core. A sigh of relief will shake the forests and deserts and we can all move on to bigger things. That's what the cameo meant.

Is your rehab playlet 'Von Spatz,' which features Walt Disney at a breaking point, color-coded to reference pink flamingos? If so, in a Michael Mann or in a John Waters manner? Are you disneyfied? Ub Iwerks or Floyd Gottfredson?

No, not at all. I don't watch a lot of movies. I wouldn't reference any. My colors are coming from my former days as a screen printer.

I am disneyfied like everybody else. Every child grew up with Disney's characters. He's the most famous artist on this planet and therefore I admire him. There's something about early photographs of the first Disney Studios… they're really touching. Walt and his friends are looking so happily into the camera. Full of hope and not afraid.

As someone who hates Nancy and Sluggo, do you see any relationship between the beats of a four-panel strip and a four-page comic? Are repetition and structure important aspects of comedy?

I think repetition is essential for comics. I don't know how many times I'm drawing the same thing. From panel to panel, making sure the reader can follow my thoughts. This turns drawing comics into a drag sometimes. You can't be lazy, there are no shortcuts to repetition. Right now I can't make a lot of sense of that, sorry. You better read Andy Burkholder's comics for more information on repetition.

Final music-related and blunt question: Do you think Blaise Larmee and DJ Escrow are the same person?

I like Blaise and Dean Blunt. I don’t know who DJ Escrow is.

Interview conducted by Shawn Starr and Oliver Ristau.
Proofreading by Marc-Oliver Frisch.

Monday, August 29, 2016


Regarding Quicksand
Michael DeForge

There's this line in Julia Gfrorer and Sean T. Collins comic The Deep Ones about humanity's fear of the ocean, “And in the deep, its expanse shielded from light and time, it is easy to believe ancient things linger, that the unseen, like a fish against the legs of childhood memory, can brush against us and bite, and contaminate and consume…”

That line always made me feel uneasy, anxious in a fearful way.

DeForges Regarding Quicksand creates a similar sensation of anxiety, but in a way i still can’t describe. The narrative centers around a dozen things you can’t see touching you simultaneously that you can’t stop. Told in a rigid six panel grid, the book exudes claustrophobia. Even while staying as precisely spaced as a computer program will allow, the gutters feel like they’re shrinking every page



Regarding Quicksand opens on a wide shot of the sole character adrift in an unknown body of water, untouched. We only see the man's entire figure twice, once on the first page as an establishing shot, and then as the last panel of the story. He is alone, scared, and flaccid in that first shot and surrounded, contemplative and erect in the last. What surrounds him, and what causes these changes in his body, beneath the surface, is the crux of the comic. Told in a deadened tone DeForge explores each and every feeling the man encounters, but in a way that the images being shown and the words being said are taken to a fantastical extreme. Shifts in the current, floating debris and mud turn into slugs crawling into the man's ear and mermaids biting his neck like little vampires.

While it exists on the surface as an experiment between the two planes that comics exist on, words and images, a fairly well trodden idea, it brings those ideas around again to a discussion of a character's understanding of the seen and unseen. DeForge leaves these visual gaps not as a nod towards comics theory, but as a way to show the manic nature of un-knowing. What lurks beneath and what we think lurks beneath tend to be wildly different, and the differences only seem to amplify when water is added.

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Roll at the Rink

Late Bloomers is a comic of smudges, false starts and moments of clarity.

The art flexes and reflexes. Its sole purpose seems to be to breathe in the absence of words. Thoughts, written and existing outside of the artwork are to weak for Odomo to allow to exist. Poems about insecurity perform self constructed suicides, crossing out the letters that make up their very existence before subjecting themselves to the readers eyes. The only words that are meant for the reader seem to be those that become infused into the artwork itself. Their importance to the composition precludes them from eraser. They bubble to the surface of the page, congregating between each other to create phrases and even, sometimes, sentences. If they are erased the page dies with them, and as the pages mount, the book itself.

By constantly self-sabotaging the narrative thrust of Late Bloomers you begin to sense a nervousness. A story of maturity that never seems to coalesce, let it be acknowledged as such. Odomo draws himself into the narrative at various ages, but it is only his past self that we are allowed to view in any detail. His identity is solidified in a pre-self, not a present, which is only ever depicted hidden under a baseball cap or in the expressionless outline of a figure viewed from a distance.

As the book moves past the halfway point flowers begin to bloom.

The narrative shifts from short memories of youth to pages filled with drawings of pigeons in the park. The pages are presented as photos from a sketchbook, rather than straight scans, creating a strange undercutting of artistic intimacy. To peek into an artist's sketchbook is to peek into their mind, so when you are given a unrequited look into the sketchbook of Odomo one expects a greater level of artistic intimacy, but while the rest of the book exists in a murky sense of indirectness, these sketchbook pages are straightforward in their actions. The maddening part though is that this level of closeness is given over to a section about pigeons and not any other aspect of Odomo’s.

The last words written in Late Bloomer is “Don’t Wanna Talk Abou It.... What...Ever!!!!” as a figure walks into a field of flowers and out of the reader's intrusive gaze. A photo of a notebook page with the numbers 27 scrawled across it follows these words, then a drawing of a cat becoming startled as the reader looks upon its face. Or maybe as it looks upon the reader.

 I turn 27 in four months and i too, do not want to talk about it.


Thursday, February 4, 2016

Let's Get Lost

Ding Dong Circus
by Sasaki Maki

I keep thinking about this book, even after putting it away over a month ago.

It’s the first Ryan Holmberg manga project i'm genuinely confused by, but that makes it even more interesting. Holmberg always digs up challenging work but Ding Dong Circus is something else, it is such an out-of-left-field take on comics that it immediately made me start to rethink what i believed the term to even mean.

Almost every panel in Ding Dong Circus plays off each other to create a feeling, and every page plays off each other to create a theme, but at no point is a narrative, or anything that could be called a narrative, taking place. Even in the rare examples of panels that feature the same character you are left feeling like these are just threads left for the reader to attempt to hang the hope of story on, rather than an actual story devices. They exists as a trail of breadcrumbs left to nudge you along to the end. It undercuts the basic premise of comics, sequential panels, for something else. Panels that live and die on their own, but when collected form something greater than themselves.  Not a story, but a thought that’s built on and undermined on every page.

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Thought It Was A Drought

Summer Carnival
By Jake Terrell

Terrell cuts immediately to a problem I find in most stories centering around parties; the linearity of the narrative experience. A and B plot lines intermingle and culminate in a satisfactory resolution. I have never been to a party like this, nor has anyone else to my knowledge. Parties tend to fizzle out, or someone gets too drunk and everyone has to leave suddenly after they try and set the couch on fire. They are jumbled moments of great detail and waxy nothingness.

Summer Carnival though breaks down the-party-of-the-year into a series of elliptical vignettes, re-creating the sensation of a blackout slowly coming back to you the day after. So that the reader begins to gather a sense of what the party was, in spirit, while keeping a wide breadth of ascribing to it any singular quality. It is a truer version of events, although one that doesn’t attempt to tell you what happened. 


Terrell’s line has a playfulness to it. It’s light and fragile, but equally energetic - like the party it is illustrating. 



The grid is almost nonexistent in Summer Carnival, scenes are allowed to start and conclude within the time it takes Terrell to draw a stray hair. This overlapping of images creates a dizzying effect, as no cuts exist everything seems to be happening at once.


What dialogue exists, after the party starts, is half heard and devoid of context. It reads almost like you’re eavesdropping on someone else's conversation, but one that you didn’t hear the beginning or end of. 

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Do My Dance

by Lale Westvind

I burnt my copy of HAX. Not completely, but after reading it for the fifth or sixth time since CAB i placed it on my nightstand next to a candle which promptly charred a bit of the upper right corner. Even looking at it a few weeks later, burn mark and all, i can’t help but laugh at the overt symbolism of burning a copy of HAX.

HAX, a 24 page silent comic, follows a group of females moving against an opposing force. The narrative is still a bit jumbled to me, the panels form sequences at times, and at others exist as stand alone images. It reminds me a bit of reading bronze age Jack Kirby comics simply as images. The individual panels are strong enough to convey what is going on in them, but when sequenced they go from narrative delivery devices to abstractions of the shifting power dynamics between images. From right to left, and up to down, an equilibrium is formed, for every spark and surge in one panel the same is found in the next. The eye is drawn from one panel to the next, various laws of thermodynamics are upkept, but that doesn't always mean you know whats going on, or should.

This energy is most evident in the weight Westvind gives her figures, even when they don’t seem to be doing anything the power of her line still shines through. So that when you see her characters move through space, panel to panel, you can almost hear their feet stomping down on the ground as lightning bolts of excess energy fill the air around them. For a comic that lacks sound effects, you can still hear every panel.


With all the mark making going on in each panel the addition of color could easily overwhelm the whole comic, turning figures and shapes into blobs of nothingness, but, and what initially brought me to think about this comic in line with Kirby and the Bronze-Age, Westvind scales her color scheme back to just four (red/orange/blue/yellow). Of these four red and blue, the strongest contrasting colors, are given the job of being the primary colors for each character. This allows for the delineation of foreground and background figures by giving them to a consistent color scheme, the red group and the blue group can always be seen in relation to each other in space by the colors they are comprised of. Orange and Yellow, the two remaining colors, are then left the job of showing depth between objects and terrains, which, due to the similarities between them, allows for a great number of objects to be placed near each other in the panel, but still be read as far away by shifting between the two colors in quick succession.

While these color rules are subtle, and change at times, their continued use trains the eye to view each two dimensional image as three dimensional. Even while restricting itself to such a limited palette Hax bursts with color, but by leaving them few and flat, every packed image remains readable.

Monday, February 1, 2016

Laugh Now Cry Later


Werewolf Jones and Sons
By Simon Hanselmann and HTML Flowers

Werewolf Jones is the most depraved, disgusting and vile member of Simon Hanselmann’s stoner comedy Megg, Mogg and Owl. He is also the funniest. And while the best moments of Hanselmann’s comics are the exploration of the psychological roots that lead to each character's eccentricities, primarily those based in loss, depression, addiction and anxiety, Werewolf Jones exists outside of these moments of characterization. Even in flashbacks to high school the teenage Werewolf seems almost identical to the one currently slated to die of an overdose sometime next year. So that as fucked up as the rest of the cast is, they can always be judged against Werewolf.

Werewolf Jones and Sons is the first prolonged narrative centering on Werewolf Jones, clocking in at 52 pages, it is an anthology of sorts, a series of five short stories drawn by either Hanselmann or HTMLFlowers. These long form stories tend to be platforms for Hanselmann to delve deeper into a character's persona, but in Werewolf Jones and Sons there doesn’t seem to be anything to delve into. In story after story you see Werewolf do the worst things imaginable, try to smuggle his children through airport security in garbage bags after giving them sleeping pills, trash a principal's office who questions his parenting skills, and again and again Werewolf learns no lesson. After his arrest in the first story he simply asks about his ETSY hat store.

While Werewolf Jones and Sons does not directly reference it, the lingering knowledge of Werewolf's death begins to take on more and more emotional weight as this book goes on. That this is by far one of the funniest books Hanselmann and HTML Flowers have produced so far seems almost secondary after the initial read, because the lack of any change in Werewolf Jones starts to burrow into your brain. You are seeing a character kill himself, slowly and over an ever diminishing number of pages.Every laugh is leading up to the call Megg and Mogg get while sitting on there couch next year...