Thursday, November 12, 2009

Anke Feuchtenberger's Somnambule



Anke Feuchtenberger is a German graphic designer and comics artist. In a recent interview by Mark Nevins (European Comic Art, Volume 2, # 1, Liverpool University Press: 65 - 82) she talked about her influences (67, 68): "Well, I grew up in East Berlin, in a house full of art books. My father was a graphic designer, and my mother was an art teacher. So rather than children's books, I spent a lot of time looking at art books. These were strange books for a five-year-old girl, things like the posters of John Heartfield, books about Käthe Kollwitz and Rodolphe Töpffer, and collections of paintings from the Italian Renaissance. My father had a lot of catalogues from the 'Poster Biennales' in Warsaw and Finland, and I loved to look at those posters. I also really liked the work of some of the Renaissance painters, especially Matthias Gruenewald [sic] and Hieronymus Bosch. Those images filled my imagination every day. [...] One of my early very serious experiences with art came when I was 15 years old. I got up all my courage and visited a female painter I adored, and I showed her my drawings. Her name is Nuria Quevedo [http://www.galerie-berliner-graphikpresse.de/?page_id=153]. She's Spanish, and was in exile in East Germany." Anke Feuchtenberger also says, in the same interview, that she doesn't like Picasso's work. That's strange though: Nuria Quevedo's influence is easily traceable in Feuchtenberger's style, and Picasso's influence is also easily traceable in Quevedo's paintings. Quevedo did serious caricatures like, for instance, Chago Armada. I wonder if that's one of the usual features in Second World graphic artists. Maybe José Alaniz's book on Komics (comics from Russia: http://www.upress.state.ms.us/books/1199) will talk a bit about the subject. I also wonder who started doing that? My bet is Pablo Picasso, but I could be wrong (George Grosz and Saul Steinberg are other possibilities and Paul Klee and William Steig come to mind... but maybe Gus Bofa is the real name to cite here; I guess that an historical investigation is in order...). Anyway... there's a thin line between caricature and expressionism... It would be very difficult to determine which expressionist drawing is no longer expressionist, but a "serious" caricature and vice-versa... Besides, who can say for sure if William Steig's lonely ones (Duell, Sloan & Pearce, 1942: http://tinyurl.com/ygcwhln ), for instance, are funny or "serious," or both?...
Talking about one of her most famous books, with Katrin de Vries (Die Hure H, Jochen Enterprises, 1996; W the Whore, Bries, 2001), Anke Feuchtenberger seems to confirm the idea that her work may be labeled "feminist" (ditto: 81): "Her name [Die Hure H] should create fantasies about danger, pleasure, sexuality, and so on. We used the character as a door which opens up wide possibilities for thinking about the female body, the history of the female body, and the opportunities for a woman in society [...]."
The "message" in "Die see jungfrau" (the young woman from the sea, according to my translation: published in Die kleine Dame - the little lady -, Jochen Enterprises, 1997), a story also written by Katrin de Vries (and inspired by Hans Christian Andersen's "Den lille havfrue," the little mermaid, published in Eventyr, fortalte for Børn, fairy tales told for children: C. A. Reitzel, 1837), focuses on the politics of the female body. Unfortunately I don't speak German, but it seems to me that the young woman from the sea refuses her identity and wants to be a normal (or should I say: standardized) woman. In order to become one she doesn't hesitate to bleed to death because she cuts her fish tail in two.
Anke Feuchtenberger's Somnambule (an almost wordless book, by the way; Jochen Enterprises, 1998) goes the other way around destroying the simplistic feminist labeling... Here we can find one of Feuchtenberger's more recognizable visual metonymies: the detached (flying) head (strangely enough this is the second time that this metonymy appears at The Crib: the first one it belonged to - with some differences nonetheless - Edmond Baudoin). In "Gewächs haus," the greenhouse (a story inspired by Katrin de Vries), a man is the victim because, even if he tries to fly away using his propeller head, he can't do it. Two women keep him captive shaping him in their way, planting him, really (hence the title).
These stories are about power and domination, about killing what one loves (it's the mystery of the vowels again: another link to Edmond Baudoin: cf. my post about him). To confirm everything that I said so far you may read/see "Blind Schleich song," something like "blind creep song," acording to an internet translator (a story that's part of Somnambule), here: http://www.feuchtenbergerowa.de/gal.htm (a male human caterpillar tries to flee using his head propeller, but the human female bunny character doesn't let it; the caterpillar's head detaches itself from the body functioning as the moon, or a night light; in order to read this story you just have to think about the caterpillar as a stage before a metamorphosis occurs - the body turns into a butterfly - and a head detaching from the body as a sign that the latter can be imprisoned - in this case: prevented from growing up -, but our imagination can't be contained; even so, the head loves the bunny because it stays with it nonetheless).
It downs on me now that this post should have been called something like: Anke Feuchtenberger's and Katrin de Vries' beautiful stories... The latter isn't really the author of Somnambule, but she greatly influenced Anke Feuchtenberger's work during the mid to late nineties.
She also deserves to be in The Crib's canon.

Anke Feuchtenberger's site: http://www.feuchtenbergerowa.de/
Anke Feuchtenberger's and Stefano Ricci's boutique publishing house: http://www.mamiverlag.de/

Images:
Somnambule's wraparound cover cut in two halves like the see jungfrau's tail (Jochen Enterprises, 1998): our old selves are falling behind us all the time while new ones are born...

PS Feminists are, to me, the best critics of mainstream comics writing today. This happens because, being mostly male, other critics overlook misogynous messages and buy every stupid fantasy that passes for art in mainstream comics. That said I strongly endorse a visit to this particular post ("Bingo: The Callers Enclue You") in Karen Healey's blog:

Girls Read Comics and they're pissed:
.

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