At a recent mini-festival at a bar-turned-gallery in Berlin's Neukölln district, comic artists chatting in Greek, English, French and German, spread their equally diverse work across the tables.
The event was just one example of how international Berlin’s comic scene has become – and how the artists and the city seem to thrive off one another. Take, for example, French author and Neukölln local Mathilde Ramadier, 28, and the 33-year-old Spanish artist Alberto Madrigal, who collaborated to create "Berlin 2.0," recently released by the prestigious French publisher Futuropolis.
Their work is an ode to Berlin, the metropolitan magnet that draws creatives from around the world. But it is also a critical examination of Berlin clichés and some of the city’s less pleasant realities. They tell the story of a Parisian literature student named Margot, who moves to Berlin in search of employment and creative impulses. She experiences the best of the city, but she also soon learns about Berlin’s exploitative part-time job market and the city’s nonstop gentrification. Over time, she learns that these realities are also an integral part of a city most known for its joie de vivre.
"I had the same experience as Margot," Ms. Ramadier said in a joint interview with Mr. Madrigal in his Kreuzberg apartment. "In my five years in Berlin I’ve had 20 part-time jobs and gained more bad than good experiences," she adds.
I was drawn in by the city's reputation as a place where artists from all over the world are welcomed and succeed. Rahsan Ekedal, Graphic artist
So far, the creative duo’s book has received good reviews in France. German readers can catch a glimpse when it comes out here on April 15.
Inside, they'll find Mr. Madrigal’s delicate, pastel cityscapes, which give his new home a friendly, yet somewhat melancholy vibe. These include scenes that unfold in some of young Berlin's best-known haunts, like the Mauerpark, Tempelhof Park and the infamous Berghain nightclub.
Before "Berlin 2.0," Mr. Madrigal immortalized Berlin in several other comic books as well. He recently published an autobiographical story called “Va tutto bene," initially only in Italian. "The media at home in Spain portrays Berlin as the ultimate paradise," says Mr. Madrigal. "Our book is meant to give readers a fair warning: First grow up, and then come to Berlin."
By contrast, Mathilde Ramadier wrote "Berlin 2.0" as a "love letter to the city, " she says. Her last comic books were about Berlin’s techno scene, "Rêves Syncopes," and together with illustrator Anaïs Depommier she also created a comic biography of Jean-Paul Sartre, which will be published in German and appear on May 4. "We love Berlin, otherwise we wouldn’t be here," she says.
A lot of comic authors living in Berlin tell similar stories. Claire Webster, who grew up in France as the daughter of American parents, came to Berlin six years ago. Since then, she's been processing her Berlin experiences in charming episodes titled "Master of Survival" online. The Greek illustrator Gounis, who only goes by his pseudonym, creates satirical Adam and Eve comic books in Berlin. One was recently published as part of a collection of essays.
Comic fans from around the world know Englishman Rufus Dayglo for his cult series "Tank Girl." The Londoner recently launched the punk series "Last Gang in Town" and regularly publishes still life images of his studio apartment in Neukölln or snapshots of his walks through the city on Twitter.
One of the scene’s most recent members is the Californian illustrator Rahsan Ekedal. Together with the writer Matt Hawkins, he created the thriller series "Think Tank" and "The Tithe." Two years ago, he and his wife retired from Los Angeles to Neukölln district without ever having visited the city before.
"I was drawn in by the city's reputation as a place where artists from all over the world are welcomed and succeed," says Mr. Ekedal. "That was a big risk, but it was worth it. I love the city, it inspires me again and again every day."
The district of Neukölln’s social and cultural diversity seems to be of particular influence in his work and story-telling style, including in the latest release of "Think Tank," scheduled for April 6, which will include several Berlin scenes.
Meanwhile, many Berlin-based international comics will make appearances in Berlin in the upcoming weeks thanks to the fifth "Comic Invasion," which started on April 1. The program includes numerous exhibitions and presentations at locations around the city, culminating in a two-day festival on April 16 and 17. Organizer Marc Seestaedt is expecting up to 200 artists, estimating that over a third of them will be international. Like Texan artist Ali Fitzgerald, for example, who created the poster for this year’s Comic Invasion conference.
Ms. Fitzgerald, who has gained attention for an illustration workshop she puts on for residents of Berlin refugee camps. She is currently working on new paintings and also created the poster for this year’s Comic Invasion conference. The poster shows a body of water full of sharks and crocodiles. Above it, a woman holding a suitcase tries to balance above water as she hops from one island to the next. It serves as a metaphor for the fate of many refugees, which will also be one of this year's festival competition themes: "Up and away – to a better place.”
It is also perhaps an allegory for all those artists who have found a new home in Berlin.
This article originally appeared in the newspaper Der Tagesspiegel. To contact the author: [email protected]