A report from ComicInvasionBerlin in its 5th anniversary
If there’s anything empowering about comics is that you can just grab a pen and a piece of paper to express yourself. You can also join others like you and form gatherings of people with common interests, developing a community that will probably continue to grow. That’s the case of most indie comic festivals, communities that attract audiences that will sometimes turn into creators and vice versa.
CIB was once a street mini comics festival, but after five years, it has grown into a two- week event that’s visited by about 7000 people, and has important visitors while focusing on a central topic each year. While most of the activities and published books are in German, CIB can be considered a local festival that welcomes international visitors and debates.
The activities are more or less the same that can be found in any book fair: presentations, panel discussions, contests, exhibitions, gatherings, book signings, drawing battles, workshops, concerts… But what’s particular about indie comics is the ease with which it addresses certain causes, and the sense that anyone can join the debate, regardless of credentials.
This year’s central topic is the refugee crisis, represented in the activities but most significantly, in the work of some of the artists. For instance, the official poster was designed by Ali Fitzgerald (http://www.alifitzgerald.net/), an US artist currently based in Berlin, who administers a comics workshop for refugees. The poster shows what seems to be a migrant whose possessions are being eaten by sharks and crocodiles, while she barely escapes the jaws of the animals, in a clear allusion to the path of the Syrian and Iraqi refugees across the ocean.
Art as a form of inclusion and expression of refugees into their new surroundings is driven by many workshops established in shelters across Berlin. It even has a phrase: “Drawing as Voice”. Indeed, drawing as a form of basic expression allows not only the refugees to express what the limits of language cannot, but also it invites their readers to understand and share their sense of misplacement and trauma, and hopefully, to get over the recurrent prejudice enforced by some politicians and the media.
The CIB gives space to individual authors but is currently promoting the work of collectives, and these are some of the most interesting comics seen during the festival’s main activities and its satellite program:
Swiss artist Alex Baladi’s personal stories (https://alexbaladi.wordpress.com/) are associated with the Comix 2000 book that was translated in the U.S. by Fantagraphics. Baladi, like the dozens of authors published in Comix 2000, tested the possibilities of wordless images. This bande dessinée author has over 20 publications and has been active since the early 1990s. His exhibition at the Supalife gallery was a collection of wordless comics, or simple illustrations (with no distinguishable narrative) about the extraordinary in the mundane, such as his piece of clothes hanging in a remote island.
Brazilian Augusto Paim’s (http://www.cartoonmovement.com/p/5845/comics) comic journalism follows the trend established by Joe Sacco. With “So close, faraway!”, presented at Renate Comics, he focuses on the crisis of the homeless in Brazil.
Collective “Drawing the line – Dissenting voices in contemporary comics” (http://www.neurotitan.de/Galerie/Archiv/2016/160409_Drawing%20The%20Line.html) honors its name and ther exhibition at Neurotitan gallery showed the works of Rebecca Rosen (http://cargocollective.com/rebeccarosen/MAIDENHEADLOCK), Akvile Magicdust (http://www.akvilemagicdust.com/), Paula Bulling (http://paulabulling.net/), Radical Jetset, Marlene Krause (http://marlenekrause.blogspot.com), Tine Fetz (http://www.tinefetz.net/), Max Beitinger and Barrack Lima. These artists confronted a series of questions, such as their work responding to the rise of the new extreme right in Europe, the diversity of the comic scene and comics in the market of capitalist society.
Paula Bulling’s work about the Syrian refugees on a camp, called “Lesvos, November 2015” depicts the horrific experience of displaced families and the undignified conditions of how they’re treated. Barrack Rima is a Lebanese comic artist whose stories from home have an expressionism quality to emphasize the hostility of the local authorities. Written in Arabic and French, his comics are also made of collages.
Max Batinger in a German drawer whose work is mostly abstract images without text. His line of work is similar of Canadian Marc Bell with detailed his compositions. Tine Fetz is one of the most interesting artists of this collective. Born in Germany, she combines hand-drawn and digital illustrations to portray social subjects as well as personal stories that will immediately remind you of the Hernandez brothers in their Love & Rockets period.
LGBT topics were represented by the Superqueeroes, a collective-exhibition that is appropriating the massively popular genre of superheroes. Superqueeroes is about heroes and heroines observed in already existent mainstream comics, such as X-Men and characters like Catwomen, and also created on the basis of ordinary people’s lives and their acts of struggle and resistance in a hetero-normative world.
The exhibition presents work by well-known LGBT artists such as Tom of Finland, Alison Bechdel, Ralf König, Wolfgang Müller, as well as newcomers Megan Rose Gedris (http://rosalarian.com/), Erika Moen (http://www.erikamoen.com/), Elizabeth Beier (http://www.elizabethdrewyou.com/new-blog/), Theo Van Den Boogaard (http://www.theovandenboogaard.nl/), Simon Bosch (http://simonbosch.de/), Jennifer Camper with her Hernandez Bros. style (http://www.jennifercamper.com/home/) and Kylie Summer Wu (http://transgirlnextdoor.tumblr.com/), among many others. These new artists will often portray known LBGT artists as heroes and heroines. While not necessarily LGBT themselves, some of the artists contribute to the exhibition in solidarity.
But it is perhaps the collective action of people’s drawing what results the most satisfying, specially for those not used to any means of expression. Children and adults get together in the early stages of the Berlin spring, draw cardboard murals and create scale models with the most diverse of subjects in what is already one of the most significant areas of Berlin: the Haus Schwarzenberg (https://www.circus-berlin.de/fabisch-history/), which, like most parts of the city, still reminds of the horrors of the war and the at the same time, the efforts to rebuild the city, a task in which art and culture are the fundamental pillars.
For more information and photos, go to: http://www.comicinvasionberlin.de/