Auf dem Sprung / In Flight

© Viola Bender

Hello and welcome to my first blog post. I’ve been thinking about recording my personal experiences for a while now, but something always made me shy away from the idea. Perhaps it’s the obvious fact that the act of writing often seems to take oneself away from the lived experience. Or that it superimposes a layer of language onto something that is most often beyond words. Then again, the world is so full of things worth talking about, resonating with stories that hover under its surface. Also, I have a pretty bad memory and tend to forget the cool things I’ve done. This is partly an attempt to remember those things, partly an offer to share some of my experiences to anyone who cares to stop by. Welcome, whoever you are.

In May 2019, I travelled to Berlin to work for the wonderful German publisher Rotopol at the annual Comicinvasion festival. I had worked at some festivals before, but this was only the second one where I was responsible for the publisher table on my own. And so, on a clear Berlin morning, I found myself setting up a table at the fancy Museum für Kommunikation, arranging comics between imperial marbled columns underneath a bright dome.

After the first wave of visitors had passed, a tall young guy with a beard showed up, introduced himself as a fellow exhibitor at the festival and handed me the zine he was selling. It was a colorful comic, professionally printed with a distorted alien on the cover. We were talking for a bit when we noticed that we both lived in Bonn, a relatively small city in western Germany. It was a fun coincidence that repeated itself when we spotted each other on the bus on our way back home two days later. This guy with whom I would later become friends is Vasilis Dimopoulos, an amazing Greek cartoonist who has been diligently working on a Sci-Fi/Horror comic series called Barghal ever since I’ve met him.

© Vasilis Dimopoulos

Comics create connections. They brought me to the small town of Ludwigsburg where I had my first internship, all the way to Luzern, Switzerland where I sold books for Rotopol at the Fumetto Festival. I have spent considerable portions of my afternoon hauling boxes of signed books through central Hamburg and spent two night in a converted bunker in Switzerland, offered to exhibitors of a festival as a free sleeping place. From what I can tell, working as a publisher can be stressful at times, and I doubt I’ll ever have a lot of money. But also, I don’t want these experiences to stop.

If the Corona pandemic doesn’t cause a total lockdown in Europe, I will be heading to Berlin for another internship in a couple of weeks. With a semester in Paris on the horizon, 2020 is promising to become an exciting year and I hope to share some of my impressions (and book discoveries) here on this blog. Until then: happy reading and stay healthy.

Categorized as Blog Posts

Going North with Joe Sacco – A Research Log (Part 1)

A lot of things have happened since my last blog post. Back in March, I was still optimistic about my plans to go to Berlin for an internship at a German comics publisher. Little did I know how quickly the spread of the coronavirus would lead to a total lockdown in Europe. (The best image I can come up with is that of someone flicking off the switches of a fuse box, one by one, until there is complete darkness). It is difficult for me to put into words the emotional roller-coaster of the last weeks. All I will say is that I am doing okay considering the circumstances and I am back in my hometown of Bonn, proceeding with my studies.

One of the projects I am working on to keep myself sane during this time is my MA thesis. Maybe it is the experience of being involved in a global catastrophe, but something is pulling me back the work of Joe Sacco, the famous US-Maltese cartoonist and journalist. Sacco is widely considered a pioneer of comics journalism and has reported on multiple armed conflicts including the Israeli–Palestinian conflict (Palestine,1993-1995) and the Bosnian War (Safe Area Goražde, 2001).

© Joe Sacco

This year, Sacco is releasing a new comic titled Paying the Land. Instead of travelling to a war zone, the book is about the Dene, an indigenous people in northern Canada who are impacted by the oil industry and the colonialist politics of the Canadian state. Paying the Land will be released in the US in July this year but the publisher, Metropolitan Books, has kindly supplied me with a review copy that I am reading parallel to the already published French edition.

Paying the Land is a massive book, featuring roughly 260 pages of intricate, cross-hatched drawings and a narrative that weaves together complex issues of climate change, environmentalism and colonialism. It is clearly the work of a master cartoonist in his prime. The comic offers a lot of interesting material for an in-depth analysis, yet the question where to begin is daunting. Anyone who has written papers in the social sciences will know how important it is to formulate a precise research question. It is like setting the foundation of a tall building: if the research question is not precise enough, the entire structure will wobble.

© Joe Sacco

A book that has given me a good clue about which questions to ask is Hillary Chute’s Why Comics? Her thoughts on comics, trauma and catastrophe are a good starting point for an inquiry into Sacco’s oeuvre. Among the traumatic issues addressed in Paying the Land is Canada’s residential school system which forced indigenous children out of their homes and formed an attempt to disrupt and destroy indigenous cultures. To investigate how this complex issue is portrayed in Sacco’s new book seems like a promising starting point for my thesis.

Writing an academic paper of this scope can be a pretty solitary activity. So, I am sharing some of my experiences and thoughts on this blog. If you have anything to add or just want to comment, feel free to contact me. Stay safe and sane!

Categorized as Blog Posts