Wednesday 16 December 2020
Friday 5 June 2020
Following on from my previous post, about the British journalist who ended up becoming a hit crime author in East Germany, but also continuing the series of articles I began earlier this year about comics around the world.
I am indebted to the German language website ddr-comics.de for much of this information and to online translation tools for helping me understand it.
Atze was the
name of a children’s adventure comic in the GDR. The small-format comic magazine was published monthly from 1955 to 1991 by Junge Welt-Verlag, under the
direction the national youth organisation the FDJ (in English: ‘Free
German Youth’), and was aimed at the members of
the Ernst Thälmann Pioneers (an East German version of the Boy
Scouts or Woodcraft Folk). It’s first editor was Klaus
Popular themes included the October Revolution, the communist resistance against Nazism, or partisan stories, but also stories about voyages of discovery.
However, not all of the comic strips drew upon events from labour or partisan history for inspiration. Jürgen Kieser (1921-2019), who created the title character Atze, a boy from Berlin, also created the popular comic strip about two mice named ‘Fix and Fax’ in 1958. An animated version of this comic strip with puppets was produced by DEFA in 1969. Although ‘Fix and Fax’ was discontinued in 1991, the comic strips have continued to be published in various collected editions since 1994.
The series ‘Pats
Reiseabenteuer’ (in English: ‘Pat's Travel Adventures’), which
ran from 1967 until 1991, was about a wandering journeyman travelling around Germany in the 19th century,
often meeting famous historical personalities, and the episodes
always contained a competition where readers were asked to spot the
modern item hidden within the panels. It was written by Atze’s
editor Wolfgang Altenburger and drawn by Harry Schlegel. The artist
Günter Hain also created ‘The Bells of Novgorod’ in the
In many primary schools in the GDR, the Working Group "Junge Brandschutzhelfer" (Young Fire Safety Helpers) was founded in the 1960s, which were known as the "Atze fire brigade" until 1990. The Atze editorial staff promoted fire safety for children and young people through regular reports on the groups’ activities. The television network of the GDR also addressed the work of the Atze fire brigades, commonly in its holiday programming.
The magazine FRÖSI (short for "Fröhlich sein und singen" or “Be Cheerful and Sing”, which does sound a bit coercive within the context of a one-party state) was aimed at kids between 6 and 14 and also featured some comic strips, among other content about interesting crafts and scientific and cultural stuff. From the 1960s it also published comic strips from places like Italy and Hungary. Jürgen Günther (1938-2015) created a comic strip for the magazine about a fat orangutan named Otto, which later became ‘Otto and Alwin’ in 1976 with the addition of a penguin who escaped from a zoo and became Otto’s friend.
The ruling Socialist Equality Party of the GDR struggled with what to do about comics throughout the countries' 40 year existence, which I suppose explains why the East German comics scene was quite small. Most of those that were published, like Atze and FRÖSI, seemed to strike a balance between popular strips featuring characters like Fix and Fax and more propagandistic offerings that promoted the SEP's socialist worldview. Both its small size and the fact that East German comics have been almost entirely ignored in the west means that for many years I remained oblivious that the GDR had any comics, hence the reason for this article.
My other articles about comics around the world:
Tuesday 19 May 2020
Nine short novels, six of which belong to the crime and detective genre, the aforementioned two children's books and four travel books about China and Asia have also been published in English at some time or another. Yet despite this diverse oeuvre it appears that Slaves of the Cool Mountains remains the only one of his books currently still in print in the English language, and he currently has no English language Wikipedia entry.
Friday 1 May 2020
The Longford River flows through south west London. Its path is not entirely natural, having been canalised at various stages and engineered to flow downhill in order to feed the majestic Diana Fountain in Bushy Park. It flows through various landscapes on its journey, including skirting the southern edge of Heathrow Airport and making its way through Feltham and Hampton.
So many local artists use Bushy Park as a source of inspiration for their landscape art that I wanted to focus some attention on the more overlooked landscapes through which the river passes, like this stretch of the river as it flows from Bedfont towards Feltham town centre, hinted at by the buildings on the horizon.
If you like it there are a variety of forms for you to own it available through my Red Bubble page.
Thursday 30 April 2020
Puede leer la versión original en inglés aquí: https://thefreakydoodlesofrussmcp.blogspot.com/2018/11/how-i-reached-adulthood-without-ever.html
Saturday 28 March 2020
I haven't been to Morocco since 1994, but for a brief moment in time it almost feels like I have left the streets of southern Paris behind and I am deep in the Casbah of Tangier.
According to Mrs McPherson, during WW2 this majestic building was used as a makeshift school for Jewish children, whose families were being sheltered from the Vichy government of Nazi collaborators by Algerian partisans involved in the French Resistance.
As a counter-balance to the intense history associated with the Grand Mosque is the cafe which occupies one corner of the site, where beautiful mint tea again transports me back to a Tangier of the mind.
Friday 27 March 2020
The second part of our new series of web tutorials teaching the raw basics of drawing that pretty much anyone should be able to master.
Thursday 26 March 2020
My first YouTube tutorial, aimed at complete beginners, in which we explore how much you can convey with a stick man.
I begin by looking at Rai music.
“Rai” is a form of Algerian folk music which originated in 1920s Oran (in French colonial Algeria, Oran was sometimes known as “little Paris”). At that time the city in the west of the country was a cultural melting pot full of nightclubs, with a large Jewish, Spanish and (of course) French population living alongside the native Arab and Berber population.
Egyptian director Youssef Chahine's 1958 historical drama Jamila, the Algerian was produced in Nasser's Egypt, clearly out of solidarity with the cause of Pan-Arab national liberation, as the independence war against French colonialism in Algeria was still ongoing at the time this film appeared.
Chahine's film, with its fast-paced dialogue, focuses on Djamila Bouhired, one of the most important female revolutionaries to emerge during the Algerian independence struggle. Born in 1935, she continues to make her home in Algiers, where she remains politically engaged in a number of different causes including the women's movement, which has sadly seen rather less success in Algeria than the cause of national independence did.
I could go further, outlining the contemporary cultural scene in 21st century Algeria, in particular how the country was affected by endemic corruption and an uprising of ultra-conservative Salafi forces during the 90s, but I will save this for another article, in which I will also talk more about Algerian literature.
A recent book by the French historian Alain Ruscio (b.1947), a contributor to France's longest-running left-wing daily newspaper l'Humanite, may also add some useful context for those wanting to understand more of the country. Les communistes et l'Algerie. Des origines a la guerre d'Independance, 1920-1962 (published by La Decouverte in 2019), examines the role of leftist movements in Algeria in the decades preceding independence.
Thursday 20 February 2020
Vasily Vereshchagin (1842-1904) was a Russian landscape painter of the nineteenth century and, for a time, an official war artist for the Russian army. His paintings often reflect his own direct experiences.
He is often categorised as an anti-war artist because of the devastated landscapes he painted drew closely upon his own direct experiences, and were depicted in his distinctive crisp, unflinching classical realism. These paintings are like a "morning after" image, displaying the sterile destruction of life and civilisation that remains once the heat of battle has died down.
What makes paintings like these so powerful and disturbing to me is how often images like these have been repeated and recreated in the real world in the century and a half that has elapsed since their creation.
The lifelessness of Vereshchagin's landscapes are echoed by those of the British war artist of WW1 John Nash. The hideous mound of skulls in 'The Apotheosis of War' has been seen in the twentieth century too many times to count, perhaps most infamously and presciently in Cambodia of the 1970s.
In the last century we have seen the power of photography replace painting to convey the reality of war to the public. Think of those photographs of the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, which the Australian journalist Wilfred Burchett, who defied a ban on western reporters visiting the cities following the US atomic bombing, described as "a warning from history".
In the twenty-first century independent journalists like the British photojournalist Guy Smallman have produced similarly stark images on landscapes in Afghanistan.
Others increasingly rely more on video, which can be easily distributed via social media to anyone with an Internet connection. For example, this footage shot by the British independent journalist Vanessa Beeley of Daraa al Balad in Syria I feel captures the same spirit of Vereshchagin's unblinking vision, which bears witness to our own inhumanity.
Today some of the best anti-war reportage is that which is created by the perpetrators themselves, and it is merely left to conscientious individuals to alert the general public to its existence, as US Army Private Manning did back in 2010.
Thursday 13 February 2020
Figures like Diego Rivera, Jose Clemente Orozco, David Alfaro Siqueiros and Fernando Leal, not mention the iconic surrealist painter Frida Kahlo, often referenced some of the same cultural iconography that Posada had popularised years earlier, and they certainly shared similar politics.
Rius also carries the curious distinction of being the first author outside of the Soviet bloc to be published by Izvestia.
Rius remained active for most of his life, helping launch the magazine El Chamuco in 1996 with other creators like El Fisgon, although sadly this version of the magazine folded in 2000 before its eventual re-launch in 2007.
Monday 3 February 2020
Growing up in the UK I found that only a thin slice of French talent was ever translated and published in English. I had heard of the work of the science fiction illustrator Moebius (pen name of the late Jean Girard), for instance, or the humorous slice-of-life cartoons of Claire Bretecher, and of course books like Asterix and Iznogoud figured prominently in my reading habits from a young age (certainly as much as MAD magazine), but that was about it.
As i grew up and found myself wanting to seek out newer or more different work I soon found that unless you read Heavy Metal magazine avidly (this being the US version of France's sci-fi/fantasy magazine Metal Hurlant, nothing to do with the music genre), there were very few opportunities to find work by French artists short of actually learning some French and going there.
One of the interesting things you find when you do go there is how mainstream the French love of comics and satirical magazines is. It extends well beyond the walls of comic shops, as here you will find that they grace the shelves of most newsagents in the country. It reminds me of that brief renaissance in the late 80s-early 90s when British newsagents's shelves were filled with VIZ imitators.
The reality for UK mass market comics aimed at a more mature audience has consisted for many years now primarily of VIZ and Private Eye (both of which are really humorous or satirical magazines that also happen to publish a lot of comic strips or gag cartoons). This figure at least doubles as soon as you cross the Channel. For every VIZ you have a Fluide Glacial and (periodically) l'Echo des Savanes. For every Private Eye you have papers printed on equally cheap looking newsprint with names like Le Canard enchaine, Sine Mensuel or Charlie Hebdo.
It also impressed me that within just one French comic magazine you find a much wider diversity of drawing styles than I am used to seeing in either VIZ or more kid friendly fare from DC/Thompson. (This is one area in which the long-running science fiction mag 2000ad bucks the trend at least.)
Perhaps it is just because I grew up with MAD and US underground comics more than Marvel and DC that I feel more invigorated by publishers that do not cultivate a "house style"?
In just one edition of Fluide Glacial, for instance, I have seen artists as diverse as those with the loose cartoon-style of Fabrice Erre or Edika, to those with the detailed realism of Dominique Bertail.
And that's just on the news-stands. There is of course an equally dedicated array of specialist comic shops catering for people that enjoy longer, graphic novels. Rue Dante, in the area known as the Latin Quarter (on the south side of the River Seine), has long maintained a collection of different comics and speciality stores. Over the years, we have even seen this unique market developed and catered to by a science fiction-themes creperie.
Almost makes me wish I could speak French more fluently!
Friday 31 January 2020
Monday 27 January 2020
In case anyone was wondering where I get my inspiration from, here's a short GoPro video from 2017 of a bike ride I made across Hounslow Heath, close to where we live in south west London. You can see one of the results in the new 'Paintings' section of my website.