The Goethe Institute offers a hands-on look inside a contemporary art form
It’s an art exhibit of a different kind — in every sense. The “”Comics aus Deutschland”” show currently on display at the Goethe Institute is a hands-on lesson in German culture and artistry. Arranged in the institute’s Reading Room, it’s set up so visitors can wander in, pick up part of the exhibit, plunk down in a comfy chair and immerse themselves in German cartoons.
The unorthodox exhibit was born at the Goethe Institute in Stockholm, Sweden. Part of it was brought to Prague by Sabine Reddel-Heymann, the head of Library and Information for Middle and Eastern Europe at the Goethe Institute here, and her colleague, head librarian Eva Vondálová. They added new artists’ materials and some anthologies to create the current exhibit.
“German cartoonists are worth knowing. Especially in the last two decades, the country has something to show in this field,””says Reddel-Heymann, adding that she felt the subject would have particular resonance here. “The Czech Republic has an interest in comics. They have exhibitions and comics are in newspapers, so it is interesting to showcase German cartoonists.”
Comics are also a window into German culture, according to Reddel-Heymann. “In Germany, it’s worth it to read the comics to learn about contemporary life,” she says.
‘Something to say’
The exhibit showcases eight different categories of comics: classic, humor, autobiographical, political, avant-garde, Manga, fantasy and children’s.
“Autobiographical and fantasy cartoons are the most popular in Germany,” says Vondálová. “Flix and Mawil are well-known autobiographical cartoonists, and Reinhard Kleist and Uli Oesterle are fantasy cartoonists.” Each of the categories have certain attributes in common. The classic cartoons all have morals, while the Manga comics are based on a traditional Japanese comic form that German cartoonists have adapted. But there is no distinctive “”German comic style”” like Manga in Japan, or the superhero in America. German cartoonists concentrate on stylistic independence and most look at the form as an artistic genre in and of itself.
“In Germany, it’s an art field,” Reddel-Heymann says. “Some cartoons have a lot of text, and some of them have none. It’s the ironic and critical view of society that makes it interesting.”
Walter Moers is one of the more interesting artists. His cartoons are considered “classics” and exhibit wit and imagination in their exaggeration of reality. Two of his cartoons have been adapted for the big screen, Captain Bluebear and The Little Asshole.
“Erich Ohser is another well-known classic cartoonist,” says Vondálová. “His cartoons feature a father and son, and always end with a lesson.”
In the autobiography section, Flix is one of the most popular. “His cartoons feature ink drawings and contain a lot of text,” says Vondálová. “He is very well-known to Germans.” Flix’s cartoon Held is an autobiography ending with the artist’s death. His popularity can be traced to his tongue-in-cheek style and the fact that he uses experiences the reader can relate to, like your first kiss or favorite ice cream flavors.
Overall, “Comics aus Deutschland” offers a unique chance to see an art form rarely given serious exhibition space. And the hands-on aspect gives visitors a chance to sample the artistic and literary talents of the cartoonists for themselves.
“The art form has been elevated,” says Reddel-Heymann. “Cartoonists have something to say on many different topics.”
When the exhibit ends here, it will move on to other Czech cities, including Brno and Plzeň, then to Goethe Institute branches in Slovakia, Poland and Estonia.