Every two years, the northern Bavaria city of Erlangen hosts the pre-eminent comics event in Germany. A bit like Angoulême, although smaller in scale, with a bit of American comic-con-ness, the city actively promotes the International Comics Salon. There are art exhibits, academic and popular topics discussed on panels, and the Max-und-Moritz Preis, presented to the very best of German-language comics.
Since most German youth learn English in grade school, many are fluent, and the language has infiltrated the slang. Many comics shops have a Diamond-supplied American sector, as fans are not willing to “wait for the translation”. This influence, overlapped with the continental comics of French and Belgian comics, and the strange hybrid of Disney comics created in Europe, has created a culture similar to the U.S. comics scene of the early 1990s. Superheroes are known, but do not dominate, although any multimedia property will find a spot on the local newsstands (Disney/Egmont/Ehapa’s Micky Maus Magazin weekly rules, offering extras with each issue, and selling about 180,000 copies a week for about $4.) Publishers, bookstores, and libraries know the medium, and know how to market the books.
However, there hasn’t been a visible comics community until recently. Germany is overshadowed by France and Belgium, there are few comics published in newspapers or magazines, and European fandom in general is low-key. This all changed with the east-west invasion of the millennium, as the American beachhead of Marvel and DC was bolstered by the influx of literary comics. From Japan came the manga/anime tsunami, and like America, young comics readers were quickly seduced.
Today, there is a strong community of German comics creators producing stellar work, and finding success overseas. (Baby’s In Black and Ulli Lust being two recent examples.) There are enough comics events in Germany to support a cosplay tournament (Erlangen hosts a preliminary round, with the finals at the Frankfurt Book Fair!) Not only do Ehapa and Carlsen import popular comics from America and Asia, but smaller presses also translate literary comics from the U. S. (Charles Burns was one of the few American guests at this year’s show).
I attended the show in 1994, and was quite fortunate that this was my first comic con experience. (When I lived in Omaha, the local shows were science-fiction conventions, with a bit of comics thrown in to entice fans.) It was quite amazing! The entire city (105,000) promotes the festival, with the Lord Mayor opening the festival! (Imagine Mike Bloomberg showing up at the Javits!) About 25,000 attend the show, and when I was there, it all took place inside the intimate convention center. Well, some eighteen years later, it, like many shows, has grown bigger. The panels and exhibits still occur in the convention center (see below), but the dealers room has been shunted outside, to the pedestrian shopping area next door to the center!
So why should Americans consider visiting Erlangen in 2014 (when the next Salon occurs)? Well, aside from the Gemütlichkeit, cuisine, drink, and English-speakers (Erlangen is a huge university town), Erlangen is a small metropolis. Like most German cities, the train station forms a locus which forms a dense urban center, meaning everything is nearby. (Picture San Diego, but replace the streets surrounding the Horton Plaza, convention center, and City Hall with pedestrian plazas.) Since it’s held in early June, the weather is still a bit cool, in the 60s (15-20 C).
The Comics Salon, now in it’s 15th show, has been held since 1984. It is the pre-eminent show in Germany, and since Germany is centrally located, it attracts talent from a variety of countries (Paris is seven hours by car; Berlin, four; Munich, two; or take the train.). 439 artists, 24 exhibitions (yes, like art gallery shows!), 150 exhibitors! (Including TokyoPop!) Like Angoulême, there are many programs which occur outside the convention center, and before the show.
Students – City – Comics
On the trail of illustrated stories – A path of comics through Erlangen
Friday, 25 May to Friday, 15 June 2012
various locations, downtown
Opening: Friday, 25 May 2012, noon
Freizeitzentrum Frankenhof, Courtyard (Südliche Stadtmauerstr. 35, 91054 Erlangen)Since Easter vacation, 188 pupils at different educational institutions in Erlangen have drawn and written enthusiastically in workshops led by well-known comics artists and art educators. Heads spun, ideas flowed, some were discarded, others realized with fervor and perseverance. The focus was on the children’s and adolescents’ living environment and their translation into the language of comics: How do I create a story? How do I develop a character? How do I tell a story in pictures? How do I combine text and images? Part of the 481 individual works will be brought to life in a collective presentation at 15 stops along a path of comics through downtown Erlangen. Downtown Erlangen will turn into a walkable comic strip. A brochure with the individual stops on the path of comics will be available at public institutions from 22 May.
Fore more information: www.ks-er.de
There’s the Comic Podium:
For four days, current topics of the comics market and focal points of the Salon will be examined in about 30 lectures and panel discussions: Comics and politics, the role artists and graphic literature are playing in the processes of transformation in the Arab world, the societal function of comics in Russia and Indonesia, the depiction of war, violence and representations of death in graphic literature (in connection with the Kunstpalais Erlangen’s exhibition “töten”), trademark und copyright law in the digital age, the DC Relaunch, the heavyweight panel on the topic of “What’s up in the German comics market?” … Interviews with selected artists and a lecture series by the German Society for Comics Studies (Gesellschaft für Comicforschung, ComFor) in which the Salon’s topics are addressed on a scientific level augment the programme of the Comic Podium that is not just geared toward professionals, but also toward a wider audience.
A “Young Forum“:
The Young Forum offers universities and academies with a focus on the fields of comics, design, graphic design, and animation as well as young artist initiatives a stage on which to present their work and their projects. This year, the work of twenty participants will be on view at fifteen individually decorated booths at the heart of the comic fair and during the Student Film Night (Saturday, 8 June, 10 p.m., Lamm-Lichtspiele).
A comics film fest (of course) at four locations. A Franco-German “Comic Artist Seminar” of 20 artistic attendees, learning from professionals for an entire week! (Like a writer’s workshop, but for comics!) “Family Sunday” with workshops and events! Performances and readings!
And… an awards show. But that requires a separate post all its own!
In short, Erlangen is a cross between MoCCA Fest and New York Comic Con, if it were held in Madison, Wisconsin. The convention center is intimate, the city embraces the show, and programming is world-class! I’d attend again, but it usually conflicts with Book Expo America. If there were a similar show in the U.S., I’d be first in line!