Exhibition review: Le Monde de Tardi, Basel

At age 72, after 50 years of making comics, Jacques Tardi is more than worthy of his own exhibition at the Cartoonmuseum. I can’t say how this Tardi exhibition, which ends on March 24, relates to the one at the 2015 Fumetto festival in Lucerne. Anyway, it’s always worth reminding people through such a show that the author of the WWI comics for which he is perhaps best known, C’était la guerre des tranchées and Putain de guerre, is the same who created the Belle Époque mystery series Adèle Blanc-Sec in the seventies, and who also authored the Nestor Burma detective comics, as well as the historical comic Le Cri du peuple in the early 2000s, and, most recently, the WWII comic Stalag II B, to name but a few. A dazzling array of comics, and the Basel exhibition covers them all.

The primary medium of presentation are framed original drawings, of which there are apparently more than 200 on display. Here, however, it becomes obvious why the exhibition is titled “Le Monde de Tardi” (and not “Die Welt des Tardi”): while the commentary texts on the walls are in German, no translation is provided for the French speech balloon texts. Which is a pity, given that Tardi is not only a masterly draughtsman but also a witty wordsmith. At least this aspect of Tardi can be appreciated in the library room of the museum which is well stocked with German translated editions of many of his albums. In the library one can also watch a film about Tardi in – again – French only: Tardi en noir et blanc, also available on YouTube with German audio.

My impression was that the previous exhibition I had seen at the Cartoonmuseum, Joe Sacco – Comics Journalist, had done a slightly better job at telling something about the artist himself and his working process instead of just the finished works. But this is a common shortcoming in comic exhibitions.

Le Monde de Tardi must be a highly enjoyable exhibition if you’re fluent in both French and German, but I doubt you get much out of it if you speak neither.

Rating: ● ● ○ ○ ○
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Franz Wickhoff’s methods of narration – in comics?

Franz Wickhoff’s 1895 text Die Wiener Genesis (also known as Römische Kunst, available in English at archive.org) is best remembered for two things: on the one hand, Wickhoff recognised the value of ancient Roman art at a time when it was still regarded as a poor man’s Greek art. On the other hand, he proposed a theory of three methods of pictorial narration:

  • the isolating method: each scene of a story is depicted in its own image, clearly separated from the others.
  • the continuous method: different scenes of a story share the same background, so that the image of one scene continues into the next one.
  • the complementary method: all scenes of a story are depicted in one single image.

Obviously, comics with their panel borders usually use the isolating method to tell their stories. There have been attempts by comic scholars to use all three of Wickhoff’s narrative methods in definitions and classifications of comics, e.g. by Eckart Sackmann in 2006 (in German). What I’m more interested in, though, is if we can find examples of continuous and/or complementary narration in comics that predominantly use isolating narration.

J. P. Nishi: À Nous Deux, Paris, p. 5To test this, I picked up a comic that I happened to be reading (not a scholarly sampling method, mind you), the French edition of J. P. Nishi’s  パリ 愛してるぜ~ Paris aishiteruze (À Nous Deux, Paris! in French). And sure enough, there are plenty of examples of continuous narration on the first couple of pages already. Consider, for instance, an image on the third page (p. 5 in the Philippe Picquier edition): the same figure is depicted twice in a telephone booth, standing up and kneeling. The effect of this use of continuous narration is to emphasise the suddenness of the young man’s diarrhea attack – in one moment he’s still able to stand, in the next moment he isn’t anymore, but the time between these two moments is too short even for a panel transition.

This kind of continuous narration is fairly common in humorous comics, but I have yet to find an example of the complementary method in comics. I can imagine that certain kinds of short episodes within a story, such as dreams, or events narrated by a character, lend themselves to the complementary method.


Not a conference report: some notes on ComFor 2012

These are just some things that I looked up after the annual conference of the German Society for Comics Studies had ended last Sunday:

  • In his opening speech, Dietrich Grünewald mentioned Jacques Callot’s series of etchings, Les Misères de la Guerre, as an early example of a political picture story. I wondered if this series is available digitally in its entirety somewhere on the web. This doesn’t seem to be the case: all 18 prints can be found, but not in one place. The most complete sites I could find are an article by Katie Hornstein (plates no. 2-6, 8, 10-11, 15-18), and a website of the Université de Liège (4, 6-7, 9, 12-13, 17). The remaining plates (1/title page and 14) can be found at Wikimedia Commons.
  • Louise C. Larsen mentioned Peter Kürten in her talk, a German serial killer in the 1920s and 30s. His English and German Wikipedia entries are quite detailed. Kürten’s case is quite similar to that of Fritz Haarmann, which has already been adapted into a comic by Peer Meter (German homepage: http://peermeter.de/ – see also Juliane Blank’s talk at last year’s ComFor conference): both committed their crimes at around the same time, both were called “vampire” (“vampire of Düsseldorf” and “vampire (or werewolf) of Hanover”, respectively), and the brains of both were examined and preserved by scientists after their execution.
  • In Rikke Platz Cortsen‘s presentation on Rasmus Klump (a.k.a. Petzi), I saw the original Danish strips for the first time, and realized that the German translations are drastically shortened. Furthermore, the German translations vary from edition to edition: the German website http://www.petzi-forschung.de offers an interesting overview of all the German editions.
  • Was Martin Frenzel‘s presentation the longest ever (338 slides)? Not even close. The longest I found on slideshare has 919 slides, and there’s a YouTube video consisting of 1604 slides (although I doubt that these were really shown in a talk).
  • Hartmut Nonnenmacher mentioned a Spanish comic creator called Kim. Could this be the same Kim who was the artist on the German comic Kleiner Thor? No, they are two different people: the Spanish Kim’s real name is Joaquim Aubert Puigarnau (cf. his Spanish Wikipedia entry), whereas the other Kim is from Germany and called Kim Schmidt (German Wikipedia).

Exhibition review: Asterix & Die Kelten, Völklinger Hütte

Völklinger Hütte with Asterix container

“For the first time, the legend that is Asterix and its archaeological roots are shown”, that’s what the Völklinger Hütte says about its current exhibition (December 17, 2011 – April 9, 2012). And, granted, that much is true: we get to see Asterix comics, and we get to see archaeological objects. Therefore, it wouldn’t be correct to call this show fraudulent. And that’s about the most positive thing I have to say about it.

But let’s start with what there is to see in this 6.000m² exhibition space. There are over 120 original pages from Asterix comics. However, as a text at the beginning of the exhibition tells us, they (or at least some of them) aren’t really originals, but rather facsimiles. Furthermore, most pages are the final, coloured proofs, which (naturally) look exactly like in the printed albums. I find it pointless to exhibit such pages, and I would have preferred to see sketches instead. On some pages it is interesting to compare the original French texts to their German translations, but the accompanying texts on the walls next to the pages don’t comment on that. In fact, the accompanying texts don’t refer to the exhibited pages at all, but rather to the content of the albums they are taken from.

So what about the archaeology part? In the vicinity of the comic-related objects, there are glass cases with the sort of Celtic and Roman artifacts you would expect: weapons, armours, pottery, utensils and the like. Now, I’m not an archaeologist, and I can’t say if these artifacts are particularly interesting in themselves. Who knows, maybe they are. The problem is: the exhibition doesn’t even try to connect them to the comics. For instance, there is a case with a replica of a Roman armour, and nearby there’s a picture of Obelix as a Roman legionnaire on the wall. When I compare the replica armour to the one that Obelix is wearing, I can see there are some differences. So why did Uderzo draw it like that? Didn’t he have access to models or pictures of Roman armours? Did he model it after a different real Roman armour that isn’t exhibited in Völklingen? Did he just simplify it to make it easier to draw, or alter it to achieve an aesthetic effect? Did he even care about historical accuracy at all? I thought answering such questions was what this exhibition was all about. But just what it is about must have escaped my notice entirely.

Oh, and don’t expect to find the latest German edition of Asterix albums (“Ultimative Edition“) in the museum shop. The salesperson there hadn’t even heard of it, although you can read about it on the publisher’s website on a computer terminal in the exhibition.

Don’t get me wrong: I do think it is possible to make good exhibitions about comics. “Asterix & Die Kelten” just isn’t one of them.

Rating: ● ○ ○ ○ ○

For the record, the exhibition is accompanied by a lecture series (see also the German post on the ComFor weblog).