Graphic Narratives Re-telling History: Germany

Friday, 06 January
8:30–9:45 a.m., University, Sheraton 

(This session is co-sponsored by the European Literary Relations Division)

181. Graphic Narratives Re-telling History: Germany

In this panel we have three different approaches to graphic novels that treat topics in German history, all from beyond its borders. Sidorenko examines American author Jason Lutes’ treatment of Weimar Berlin and its thick description of the rich cultural history of this era; Nijdam follows the introduction of the Dutch-authored graphic novel the Search into German high school classrooms; Kuhlman compares the work of two Czech authors who have worked collaboratively and separately to portray life in the Sudetenland in the wake of WWII. All three presentations directly address the specific nature of sequential art, which allows multiple subjectivities and competing narratives to be simultaneously present in a single text. The panel also raises the question as to why German authors have not turned to this form to carry out this type of memory work, so successfully engaged by those writing from outside.

Chair: Ema Vyroubalova (Trinity College Dublin)

Ksenia Sidorenko (Yale U.), "Sequential Berlin: Jason Lutes's City of Stones Series"

Martha Kuhlman (Bryant U.), "Retelling History in the Borderlands: Jaroslav Rudiš's Alois Nebel and Bomber by Jaromír 99"

Elizabeth Nijdam (U. Michigan), "Re- telling German History with the Graphic Novel"

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About the panelists:


Martha B. Kuhlman is Associate Professor of Comparative Literature in the Department of English and Cultural Studies at Bryant University where she teaches courses on the graphic novel, Central European literature, and critical theory. She has published articles on Central European literature and culture in European Comic Art, Modernism/Modernity, The Comparatist, World Literature Today, and Studies in 20th Century Literature. She recently co-edited a book with Dave Ball, The Comics of Chris Ware: Drawing is a Way of Thinking, published by UPM.

Elizabeth Nijdam is a graduate student pursing a Dual PhD in Germanic Studies and Art History at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor. In the preliminary stages of her dissertation research, her interests include East German visual and material culture, concepts of post-unification East German identity and German comics.

Ksenia Sidorenko is a second-year PhD student in Comparative Literature at Yale, where she arrived after earning her BA from Oxford in French and Russian Literature. Her previous academic areas of focus have included the realist novel of the 19th Century and French and Russian poetry, from the Symbolists through the first quarter of the 20th Century. While continuing to work on those topics at Yale, Sidorenko is also focusing on sequential art, particularly the modern Graphic Novel, looking at its uses of chronotope and the relationship between text and image in the production of meaning.

Ema Vyroubalova is Assistant Professor in the School of English at Trinity College Dublin, where she teaches Renaissance and Early Modern literature and cultural studies. Her doctoral work focused on the presence of foreign voices and polyglot practices in early modern Europe, as seen in her PhD thesis “These Confusions of Lewd Tongues”: Linguistic Diversity in Early Modern England, 1509-1625 (Stanford U., 2010). In addition to her main work on English literature, Vyroubalova has translated from her native Czech, and presented on the Slavic Division panel “Poles in London” (2008).

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Full Abstracts:
Ksenia Sidorenko

Yale Comparative Literature

“Sequential Berlin”

This paper examines the graphic novels of Jason Lutes, who chronicles the story of Berlin before World War II, focusing on the failure of the Weimar Republic and the transformation of the city from one of Europe's most progressive cities to a center of degradation and repression. The story of these works spirals out through the city, bringing in dozens of characters as their lives intersect; it draws out a side of Germany before WWII that was completely overshadowed by the rise of the Nazis. Lutes depicts a divergent cross-section of Berlin residents coping with the financial, political and social crises of a country still recovering from the cultural and military humiliation of WWI, touching on almost every aspect of the German culture in the years leading up to the ascension of the Nazi Third Reich. I will focus on the ways in which the graphic novel form meets the challenge of keeping all the parts of the culture and the various characters in balance and argue that sequential art functions in ways that are diverse enough to give the readers a richer idea of place and time without fragmenting their attention. I will also explore the features of the works that allow them to avoid dissociation from the historical culture of the period that modern readers face; I want to show that the works exhibit relevance as a fully timely exploration of enduring themes.

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Martha Kuhlman
Associate Professor of Comparative Literature
Bryant University

Retelling History in the Borderlands:
Jaroslav Rudiš's Alois Nebel  and Bomber by Jaromír 99

Jaroslav Rudiš, an acclaimed young Czech novelist, collaborated with artist Jaromír 99 (Jaromír Švedík) to create the Alois Nebel trilogy (2003-2005), a sequence of graphic novels that follows the often contradictory and paradoxical course of Central European history in the aftermath of WWII. In addition to Alois Nebel, the two authors have separately worked on projects that deal with the history of border regions: Jaromír 99’s graphic novel Bomber (2007) is set in the former Sudetenland, and Rudiš’s novel GrandHotel, adapted into a film directed by David Ondriček 2006, takes place in Liberec. Both Rudis and Jaromir 99 grew up in Jeseník, a region that was formerly part of the Sudetenland, and thus their works are particularly concerned with the mixing of German and Czech cultures at the border. What is especially notable about these texts is the emphasis that the authors place upon the repressed history of the Sudeten German expulsion in 1945 by decree of President Edvard Beneš. By representing the Sudeten German characters as victims rather than as occupiers, Rudiš and Jaromír 99 retell a controversial period of Czech history from an unusual perspective.

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Elizabeth Nijdam
University of Michigan, Ann Arbor

“Re-telling German History with the Graphic Novel”

The examination of German history by the graphic novel medium is nothing new. Since the publication of Art Spiegelman’s Maus Volume I in 1986 and Volume II in 1991, several graphic novels have emerged to recount the impact of the Holocaust on Europeans and European-born American immigrants alike. Maus opened the floodgates to a new category of interest in the graphic novel medium, introducing the possibility of evaluating the past in terms that had previously been inconceivable. This manner of dealing the German history, however, has remained a foreign concept to the country that caused the turmoil that inspired Spiegelman’s memoirs. Though Maus was translated into German in 1989, no similar historical analysis of the traumatic years between 1938 and 1945 has been attempted by German authors with any success. Around the rest of the world, however, countless Holocaust testimonials and comics themetizing World War II have been published. Many of these historically situated graphic novels were translated into German, but it wasn’t until Dutch authors Eric Heuvel, Ruud van der Rol and Lies Schippers authored The Search that a graphic novel re-telling German history entered the German classroom. The Search, published in Dutch in 2007, is about Esther, a Jewish girl living in Amsterdam during the Second World War. Between February and May 2008, a project supported by the Anne Frank Center in Berlin integrated The Search into the seventh to tenth grade classrooms of fourteen Berlin schools. Using this project as a case study, this presentation investigates the usefulness of graphic re-tellings of history in the classroom to elucidate the position of the graphic novel in the re-telling of the German past.