'From the Land Where the Word Balloons Throw Shadows': An Interview with Anke Feuchtenberger

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Abstract

Anke Feuchtenberger is a German avant-garde cartoon artist (b. 1963) with a strongly caricatural style. In this interview she discusses her childhood and education in former East Germany, historical influences upon her - including Rodolphe Töpffer - and current inspiration, as well as creational techniques and work in progress. In a further section the artist provides direct analysis of several of her publications.

The earthy and organic drawings of Anke Feuchtenberger suggest fecundity and sensuality by means of images that recall the masterful draftsmanship of Goya or Rembrandt crossed with the solid and magical primitive physicality of African or Indonesian sculpture and masks. Her oneiric comics are at times peopled by half-human characters, who might belong to some subterranean race, and at other times inhabited by figures of impossible beauty and grace. Feuchtenberger's stories tend to be closely controlled by an oddly detached narrative voice (only rarely making use of word balloons), and concern themselves with alienation, identity, sexuality, sexual politics, and the borders between dreaming and waking, civilisation and the wild. Her drawings are striking and utterly unforgettable; the comics themselves are virtuoso displays of narrative pace and timing; and she tells her stories with wit, irony and a probing feminine (rather than feminist) agenda that is tempered by the warmth of maternity. Feuchtenberger's work is captivating, masterful, and perhaps the closest thing to the transcendental possibilities of lyric poetry that comics have yet given us.

Born in 1963 in (East) Berlin, (East) Germany, Anke Feuchtenberger currently lives in rural eastern Germany and works in Hamburg, where she holds a professorship at the Fachhochschule für Gestaltung. In addition to making comics, she draws (often on a very large scale with charcoal, in a way that resembles painting), makes etchings and prints, produces posters, and designs puppets and theatre sets. Her major comics publications (some of them created in collaboration with poet and writer Katrin de Vries) include Mutterkuchen ['Afterbirth'] (1995); Der Kleine Dame ['The Little Lady'] (1997); Somnabule (1998); Der Palast ['The Palace'] (1999); Das Haus (2001); and three volumes in a 'series' about the character Die Hure H. ['W. the Whore'], the first two of which have been translated into English: Die Hure H. (1996); Die Hure H. zieht ihre Bahnen ['W. the Whore Makes her Tracks'] (2003); and Die Hure H. wirft den Handschuh ['W. the Whore Throws the Glove'] (2007). Her work has been published in German, French, English, Spanish,and Finnish, and she has exhibited widely in Europe and beyond.

Although not that of a caricaturist per se, Feuchtenberger's work fits in well with the theme of this issue of European Comic Art. Like the best caricaturists (including Rodolphe Töpffer, whom she cites as an early and strong influence), Feuchtenberger is a master at evoking personality through expressive and representational strokes. Whereas many caricaturists - such as William Hogarth, or Feuchtenberger's countrymen Otto Dix and George Grosz - depict their subjects' character, personality or even psychology in their likenesses, Feuchtenberger might be said to aim to capture her characters' and protagonists' emotions, internal conflicts or interior states. As an artist and a storyteller, Feuchtenberger strives to understand her, and our, emotions, hopes and fears through the power of the crisp and the smudged line.

Nevins: How would you describe your goals or ambitions as an artist? Do you have any sort of 'manifesto' or mission or philosophy?

Feuchtenberger: From the beginning of my time as an artist I felt a very strong resistance, almost physical, when I felt like I had to do something, or when someone asked or required me to do something that I was not myself convinced about. It felt like being ill when I was sitting in front of a piece of work that seemed to be stupid or senseless to me. …