- Novel Perspectives on German-Language Comics Studies: History, Pedagogy, Theory ed. by Lynn Marie Kutch
The scholarship on comic books as an object of study has exploded in recent years with volumes such as Bart Beaty's Unpopular Culture: Transforming the European Comic in the 1990s (2007), Bradford Wright's Comic Book Nation: The Transformation of Youth Culture in America (2001), and Joseph Witek's Comic Books as History: The Narrative Art of Jack Jackson, Art Spiegelman, and Harvey Pekar (1989). In Germany, [End Page 673] the drive to legitimize comics, demanding they be taken seriously as a medium, was rendered most visible by the Comic-Manifesto issued by comic creators and publishers at the Internationales Literaturfestival Berlin in 2013. And while the study of German-language comics languishes in their own countries, editor Lynn Marie Kutch's volume Novel Perspectives on German-Language Comics Studies: History, Pedagogy, Theory attempts to fill a void in the English-language study of these comics. As Brett Sterling rightly asserts in his own chapter, this dearth of academic literature stems from lingering perceptions of comics being solely for children or the unsophisticated (241). Kutch concurs, suggesting in her introduction that this notion emerged as popular American comic genres appeared to Germans little more than "fast food for readers" (3). Kutch goes on to argue that, since that early postwar experience, not only has the medium grown up, but also that German comics are themselves art alongside the canonical works of literature, painting, and film (5).
Though chapters in this volume address the themes of pedagogy, scholarship, or sometimes both, the book is still necessarily divided under more specific headings. Each of the book's five parts contain essays paired for reasons of approach, content, or of the graphic novels under discussion. In "Contexts and Histories," Matt Hambro and Eckhard Kuhn-Osius offer essays on the trajectories of German-language comics and relationships with the debate surrounding high and low art. "German Cultural Education" features an essay by Jens Kußmann that discusses the use, or lack, of comics as educational material in textbooks used in Bavarian secondary education. Meanwhile, Jan van Nahl addresses adaptation of canonical works and their ability to reach new audiences with the 2012 graphic novel The Book of Revelation. Julia Ludewig and Antje Krueger take the title of the third part of the book, "Graphic Novels: Hands-On," quite literally in their respective discussions of German-language, cultural, and historical education through comics. Part 4, "Generations of German History," then leans on the theme of scholarship, as Bernadette Raedler analyzes tensions within relationships and across generations that can be expressed uniquely through the correlation and the interplay of words and images distinctive to comics. Likewise, in his discussion of the Bundeswehr in German graphic novels, Joshua Kavaloski suggests that the structure of comics manipulates perspective and narrative voice, affecting the perception of "truth" in journalistic representation. Finally, "Austrian Voices" presents essays by Vance Byrd, Brett Sterling, and Lynn Marie Kutch reflecting on the legitimacy and imperfection inherent to the representation of self in the autobiographies and adaptions by Nicolas Mahler and Gerald Hartwig.
Though this may indeed be the first English-language volume dedicated to German-language comics, it should not be considered without fault. Arguing for comics as art, numerous authors discuss a narrow range of genres with an equally limited scope defining which comics qualify as art. As such, most of the comics scrutinized are closely related to the independent comics of 1960s–1970s America with a number, [End Page 674] including those discussed by van Nahl (115n29), Byrd (216), and Kutch (260), drawing inspiration from the works of Robert Crumb. Though Kutch suggests the cultural interchangeability of "comics" and "graphic novels," (12n1) despite critical assertions of qualitative differences between the two (4), the authors here broadly support this distinction to varying degrees. In any case, most of these graphic novels fall into categories of autobiography (11, 158, 217, 264–265), adaptation (26, 95, 238...