Finnish Comics @ Internationaler Comic-Salon, Erlangen, Germany

The 16th International Comic Salon was held at Erlangen, Germany during the Finnish midsummer, 19th – 22nd of June. The festival, organized every two years, is the largest of its kind in Germany. The events are spread around the small Bavarian city; the main hub of operations is the Heinrich-Lades-Halle Congress Centre, which hosts the large, sprawling comic fair with all the publishers and vendors, as well as most of the interviews and panel discussions. The narrow corridors between booths were full of people right up until Sunday evening, and the large council hall (dubbed “the UN” by Joe Sacco) that hosted most of the interviews seemed to be quite popular as well.

The main venue.

At the comic fair the number of titles was staggering; for instance, many brand new American titles were already available as German editions. Commercial publishers took up most of the space, but on the second floor there was also an area for different schools with programs in comics or graphic arts to display and sell their work. The language barrier, however, limited personal purchases to just one, Lauter Leben! by writer Nicolas Woulters and artist Mikael Ross. The album, painted in beautiful colours and set in the world of punk rock, was also featured in one of the many exhibitions spread around town.

Mika Lietzén’s work at the Finnish exhibition.

The Finnish exhibition, the reason for our visit to the festival, was held at the cosy little Kunstverein Gallery. Titled “Ein Mittsommernachtstraum – Junge Comics aus Finnland”, the exhibition, divided into three rooms, included works by Reetta Niemensivu, Tiitu Takalo and yours truly. Another Finnish contribution to the festival was the small Moomin exhibition at the main venue.

Tardi’s plywood bunkers.

2014 being the anniversary of the beginning of World War I, the main star of the festival this year was one of the war’s great chroniclers, Jacques Tardi; a large space at the Congress Centre was taken over by an exhibition of Tardi’s original artwork from his book C’était la guerre des tranchées. The exhibition was set up as a series of bunkers built from plywood, with small tablet computers displaying appropriate historical images alongside each group of pages. There was also an evening concert at a local theatre, where Tardi read excerpts from his work, while his wife Dominique Grange and her band performed wartime chanson songs to the accompaniment of Tardi’s images.

Tardi’s concert is about to begin.

The other internationally best known guest at the festival was Joe Sacco; his work, the graphic tableau The Great War, depicting the first day of the Battle of the Somme, was displayed during the weekend on one of the city’s squares, blown up to a giant size. The work, already impressive in book size, was even more so when observed in large scale.

A close-up of Joe Sacco’s The Great War display.

  Another international guest, Klaus Janson, best known for his work with Frank Miller, didn’t have an exhibition, but his enjoyable interview offered an interesting glimpse into the workings of the American comics industry. For fans of classic ligne claire comics, a Siemens office building slightly off to the side of the main thoroughfares hosted a comprehensive exhibition of Émile Bravo’s work, featuring excerpts from throughout his career, including early comics, Spirou and Fantasio, as well as children’s books.

A close-up of Émile Bravo’s Spirou art.

  One of the nicest exhibitions, however, was found in the basement of a local comic shop; based on the German artist Mawil’s giant new graphic novel Kinderland, the exhibition consisted of original pages and a ping pong table. Less is usually more, and here the feelgood nature of the work came out very well in the intimate, small scale surroundings. On Saturday, the halls of the shopping centre next to the main venue were taken over by vendors of used comics, selling everything from classic German comics (Sigurd by Hansrudi Wäscher, Mosaik by Hannes Hegen and so on) to American mainstream. One could also buy some comics – such as Clever and Smart (Älli ja Tälli) – by weight, with 1 kg of comics costing 10 euros.

The town square on Friday evening.

Outside of the festival Erlangen is a small town, very similar to its French counterpart, Angoulême. In addition to the comics festival, the town plays a host to several large events, including a beer festival that ended just before the Comic-Salon began. As the town is located in a Catholic area, almost no shops are open on Sundays, and even during the week all shops were closed for one day, probably due to some obscure Catholic holiday. To sum up, the Comic-Salon offers a balanced mixture of everything; all genres are present and accounted for, there’s both mainstream and art comics, often side by side. And there’s lots to see: you can pretty much spend one day just going through the many exhibitions. Anybody interested in the German comics scene should certainly pay a visit to the next Internationaler Comic-Salon at Erlangen in 2016.

Tintin and Milou by ATAK at his exhibition.

Text and photos: Mika Lietzén 


Mika Lietzén

Mika Lietzén is a comics artist from Turku, South-Western Finland.
fili suomen sarjakuvaseura © Finnish Comics Society 2017