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Not just for a laugh

`A funny comic strip can convey a serious message,' say German cartoonists Markus Huber and Isabel Kreitz, who participated in `Visual Narratives', a workshop held recently in the city.

WHENEVER THE topic `comics' comes up for discussion, people fondly remember cartoon strips. They recall how reading these were some of the defining moments of their childhood; how they made life happier; and how they recommended them to their children. All that people expect from comics is amusement. And most strips do not let them down. Some do get tired of such humour and give up. But there are new readers in their place.

Have you ever asked any comics artist/ cartoonist if he enjoys the work, and if he is satisfied with such a job? Most of them would say, "This is not what I am capable of. I can do much more; but there are no takers."

Two such artists — who do not simply amuse people with their cartoons — were in Chennai last week. Markus Huber and Isabel Kreitz, Germans both, were in the city to participate in a workshop `Visual Narratives' organised by Tara Publishers and the Max Mueller Bhavan. Huber is a freelancer. His livelihood depends on drawing comics/cartoons. Isabel too is a freelance cartoonist/ illustrator. She was trained at the Parson's Institute, New York.

Excerpts from a conversation about the comics scene in Germany...

What with 24-hour cartoon channels and mind-boggling animation films, the future of comics seems bleak. Now you want to do the kind of comics you like to do, not the usual funny stuff. What kind of readers do you have in Germany?

Of course, American comics are very popular in Germany. After World War II they have become hugely popular. But fortunately we have readers for our kind of comics, though we cannot match the readership of those comics. If we sell 3,000 copies, you can consider it a successful book, whereas the mainstream stuff sells in lakhs.

Then how do you survive?

(Huber:) I don't compromise on my work. Luckily I have a publisher who publishes what I draw. Yes, it's very difficult for a cartoonist to make a decent living in Germany.

In fact, there are just about five to six artists who actually live on comics/ cartooning in the entire country. I have a friend who sells spectacles to make a living, I have my music... well, that's another story (laughs).

There are many like us who want to draw, and draw what they like.

(Isabel): I keep different channels open. I do commercial comics that sell. I take up the odd illustration assignments, and I also ink the sketches of other comic artists.

I do comics I like and give them to a friend who puts in his money to publish them. I don't get any money out of it.

Coming to the `serious stuff' or comics for adults. Where do you draw the line between serious and non-serious comics? Is there a need to take out humour or fun out of comics to make them effective?

I don't agree with the categorisation. I would put it this way. Serious and commercial comics.

When you are going to sell them and are fulfilling market demands, you can't describe such comics as serious. You are right; there is no need to take the humour out. A very funny comic strip can be a very serious comic.

You have interacted with some of the artists here. How do you like their work? Did any particular work impress you?

It was a wonderful experience for us. We learnt a lot from them; it was a mutually stimulating process.

What kind of comics would you prefer?

I think through comics we share our thoughts, our sorrows and smiles. It's like conversing with friends.

You need not stick to any format. You can have fun, sadness, opinion... well you talk to somebody you like.

That's it. The next time you buy an Asterix or Archie comic, look around.

There must be Isabels and Hubers who want to talk and make you laugh and think. Think about it.


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