At the beginning of June I visited the Erlangen festival in central Germany with Ville Hänninen. It is the largest festival in the German-speaking countries, and as many as 20,000 visitors bought a 10 euro ticket to the event during the weekend. The festival is held every two years. In the small town of Erlangen, the festival is visible at every street corner and you can easily bump into both well-known French artists and local small publishers in the cafés. From Finland, Anna Sailamaa, whose exhibition in Hamburg had aroused interest during the previous week, took part in the festival. The Erlangen festival feels familiar in many ways: the programme includes comics battle, cosplay, parties, signing, etc. Everything takes place on a small scale and in a friendly atmosphere. This year’s festival was also very much characterized by the European Football Championships, and the party on Saturday was naturally started by watching the match between Germany and Portugal.
The approximately 20 exhibitions of the festival were built along the pedestrian street and at the festival site. The spectrum was wide and included some high-class exhibitions, too. The most interesting exhibitions were the one presenting Winsor McCay’s illustrations, comics and animations, and the retrospective of Charles Burns. Other exhibitions included David B., M. Fior, 50 Years of Spider-Man, Comics of the Arab World, Komikaze, etc. All in all, the exhibitions were quite traditional comics exhibitions with focus on printed works.
The number of German comics publishers has increased very much over the last ten years. At the same time, the older publishers have grown and the biggest alternative publisher of the country (Reprodukt) has become quite a powerful influence. Interesting new publishers, such as Avant-Verlag, have emerged and big publishing companies, for instance Carlsen, have had to specify their activities. As a result, the number of translated works is quite impressive and the publishing companies must already compete on the best known works. Finnish works have also been translated: at least Ville Ranta, Marko Turunen and Tommi Musturi, and naturally the Moomins, have been published in German. The festival is quite popular among foreign visitors. The number of German artists at the moment is relatively small but it has, however, grown during the last years. Presently, many of the published artists are in one way or another linked to the comics collective of the Hamburg art school led by Anke Feuchtenberger.
By far the most impressive moments at the festival were experienced at the stands of local art schools. Schools from all over the country participated in the festival, and the quality of student works was amazingly high. In the last years, Germany has invested abundantly in art education, including comics art education. The premises and resources of schools are quite different from those in Finland. In November 2012 the Helsinki Comics Centre (Sarjakuvakeskus) will have a chance to visit the Kiel art school, where Marcus Huber, who has also lectured in Finland, leads the comics art section. The art school is going to move to larger premises, and the old building will be said goodbye to by arranging a “Sarjakuvakeskus goes…” event there. I sincerely recommend an exchange programme to all students who can speak German.
Our trip to Erlangen was connected to the Frankfurt Book Fair 2014. Comics are part of the project and a variety of events are being planned. Finnish Comics Annual 2014 will be published in German, and Finnish comics will be presented in all the biggest events of the field.
There is an abundance of different events and festivals in the German-speaking countries. Among the newcomers, for example the comics collective of the Berlin Literature Festival and the Comics Festival Hamburg are very interesting events. The Fumetto Festival in Lucerne, Switzerland, is well known and Finnish artists have been quite well presented there in the last years.
The biggest festival in Germany in 2013 will be held in Munich, and for example Robert Crumb and Gilbert Shelton will be among guests there. The festival is held every other year in Munich, every other year in Erlangen. Let’s hope that the next time the festival takes place in the small town of Erlangen, i.e. in the summer of 2014, Finland will be presented on a large scale.
Original text and photos: Kalle Hakkola
Translation: Anne Soininen