Exhibition review: German Comics, HannoverPosted: March 21, 2014
On the occasion of the 150th anniversary of the publication of Max und Moritz, the Wilhelm Busch Museum in Hannover is currently showing an exhibition titled “Deutschsprachige Comics von Wilhelm Busch bis heute” (“German-language comics from Wilhelm Busch to the present day”) until May 4. An interesting, ambitious, if not problematic subject for an exhibition. For what is it that unifies the diverse comics that were first published in German? How are German-language comics different from, say, comics in English, French, or Japanese? However, it’s not the use of German language in comics that this exhibition is about. For the most part, the comics on display are represented by pages of original art, sometimes without the lettering, so you can’t even read them.
Instead, the exhibition simply assembles the most notable comics by creators (i.e. artists – the writers are often not even credited) who happen to be from Germany, Switzerland and Austria. This criterion becomes even more questionable when manga creator Christina Plaka is introduced like this: “the Greek Christina Plaka is living in Offenbach since her birth…”. The relations between nationality, comics and other artworks, and authorship are complex (as I’ve tried to show in my 2010 article “Authorship, Collaboration, and Art Geography”) – maybe a museum exhibition isn’t the right place for such theoretical issues.
And at any rate, this exhibition does have some interesting things on display:
- Possibly the most notable exhibit is a magazine with “Famany, der fliegende Mensch” by F. F. Oberhauser and E. G. Hildebrand – a German superhero comic from 1937, one year before Superman.
- A decision that probably won’t go down well with every visitor is to show propaganda comics from the NS era and the GDR together under the same heading. I don’t think the condemning text accompanying GDR comics such as Atze and Waputa does them justice either.
- Naturally, Matthias Schultheiss is also incorporated, but the label text says he is “almost forgotten today”. I guess this shows the different perceptions in comic historiography (in which Schultheiss is still regarded as an important figure) and the actual comic scene.
- On a side note, I was surprised to learn that Chris Scheuer is from Austria. Somehow I always associated him with Hamburg, but apparently he only moved there in 1988, according to Lambiek.
As I have said, most exhibits are original drawings, which is a pity as I would have preferred to see the original publications instead, or both alongside each other. (The examples from Fliegende Blätter seem to be shown in the original issues, but these were unfortunately bound together at a later point in time, so they are presented as thick books, which gives a wrong impression of these pamphlets. A digitised version can be seen at UB Heidelberg.) Apart from that (and the aforementioned lack of any theory or statement), this exhibition is well worth seeing.