Berliac: Neo-Gekiga in Berlin (english version)

(German version here)

Even though he has been so prolific in the past years, Buenos Aires-born Berliac is currently only known to those familiar with the international independent comic scene. And as much of a "sourpuss" he likes to present himself as, considering his productivity and the sheer quality of his output there is no reason to believe that this will not change in the near future. Since 2006 he has published dozens of comics in anthologies, zines, online and in eight books that were published by international publishers and collectives. Three exhibitions alone featured his work this year – in Germany. At the moment new comics can be read on vice.com, he keeps putting out zines and works on a graphic novel that will be published in 2016.

Up until a few years ago Berliacs comics were defined by characteristics common for art comics: A noticeable seperation of text and drawn elements and artwork that was leaning somehow on the illustrative side known from european artists ranging from Amanda Vähämäki to Anke Feuchtenberger. It would not be wrong to call Berliac a manga artist today. Traces of his old approach to comics making can be found in an open approach to storytelling that is not aiming for the classical dramatic structure. The drawings have changed dramatically: clear and manga-schooled lines define the pages. While doing this he´s not aiminig at a hyped-up shōnen- or shōjo-style, which is often wrongfully considered to be manga in general, Berliac´s comics today are more informed by realistic storytellers such as Yoshihiro Tatsumi. It´s not by chance that on his website he labels his work as "neo-gekiga".

Berliac has been living in Berlin for a while now. Here is where I got to know him on a meeting of local comics acivists. I´m glad he agreed to this entertaining conversation. In the future I´m looking forward to talking to more artists living in Germany and hearing – among other things – about their refreshing views of the local scene.

What lead you to the idea of coming to Berlin? The city´s reputation of being an affordable, cultural hotspot?
No, not really. I'd say it was a series of accidents.

Were your expectations met so far?
As a hikikomori, all I really need is a room with Internet, and a desk where I can work without being disturbed. Living in un-cool Moabit helps a lot, in that sense. I've still managed to make many new friends. How did that happen? Amazing.

Considering your publication and exhibition history – does it even matter where you live? Do you feel more part of an international instead of a local independent comics scene?
I'm the editor of pariascomix.tumblr.com , a site for webcomics by Latin-American creators. Sometimes I make little events under that banner, like the exhibitions at the past editions of Berlin Comic Invasion and Comicfestival Hamburg, but we don't really work as a group, nor we feel part of a local scene. That's where the name comes from, "Parias", the outcasts. But this "marginal" identity only makes sense when, like in some South-American countries, like in Argentina, there are people within the medium (artists, publishers, critics) who actively try to establish a canon, sometimes by completely anacronic propagandistic means (such as calling themselves "Nueva Historieta Argentina", New Argentinean Comics). And I say fuck that. My response then was to make a selection of really talented outcasts (either because the were left out, or, like my case, chose to stay out), and work from there, independently from this canon others are trying to create in order to compensate their lack of talent. As for Berlin, I can also observe well-defined ghettos that rarely mix together. One one hand you got the hip, anti-plot, visual comics; on the other hand you have the queer-punk zinesters that are against the term the "graphic-novel"; and then you got the media's favorites: the graphic-novelists that deal with "serious" topics, and so on.

While on one hand it's great that none of them seem to actively try to sell to the public the idea of being THE true German comics, it kind of annoys me that these ghettos are basically playing the game of marketing strategies by consciously working from, and for, specific niches. This is very evident during comics-related events: at the past two Zinefest Berlin editions, no graphic-novelist was sitting behind a table (that's "not their place"); if there's an exhibition at an art gallery like Saalbau, no pornographic, punk cartoons will be hanging on the walls (that's "not their public"); and hip Berliner cartoonists will rather take a 3-hour train to attend a "well curated" festival like "Millonaire's Club", cos that's where they fit in. Don't get me wrong, of course we all want to sell our comics, after all comics are a product, so I would understand if that was the real goal of this segmentation. But, in reality, comics real capital is very low, there's almost no money involved. My question is, then: why instead of using this money-less state of affairs as a chance to associate with others (other artists, other readers) based on aspects that go beyond old-fashioned marketing rules, Berliner cartoonists still choose to do the opposite? My guess is that these ghettos' sense of community is based on a shared symbolic capital in particular, that is, they substitute real currency for a value of a different kind, based on "hipness", "punk-ness", or "serious-ness", according to each niche. The money isn´t there but the capitalistic approach remains. Twisted, isn't it? We can't blame only artists for this. How much do the publishers, gallerists, and other institutions that work with cartoonists, like the Goethe Institut, promote this? Is the press treating comics horizontally, or are they writing with these categories in mind, only cos it's easier to label things than to fully understand them? I sound like a sourpuss, I know, but the reason why I'm critical about this is that I truly believe that comics is one of the last few mediums where one can work outside the capitalistic standards of production, and even subvert them, but this niche-oriented, segmentary approach is just a way of re-enacting them. I mostly welcome spaces like Comic Invasion because it's a mix of everything, but even in this case I must admit the level of implication of different artists and publishers with each other's projects was rather dissapointing. Maybe what I'm saying shows that my way of belonging to a scene is to be very critical of it.

So: Does (living in) Berlin influence your work?
After all I said, I guess it's clear that to me the important thing is not how much I'm passively influenced by a place, but to what extent I can actively influence it.

Over the years your style has shifted a bit from what would be considered art-comics to manga. Do you find this gives you more freedom to focus on stories instead of atmosphere?
The kind of freedom I was looking for goes deeper than that. I grew up during the nineties, therefore anime and manga felt like a natural form of narrative to me, I grew into it. My first comics ever, when I was eight or nine years old, were manga. So this "switch", as you call it, is actually a come back, a return to an "original state". In "Seinen Crap #2", I wrote a short essay where I compare making manga to coming out of the closet. To me, it felt sort of like the same thing. Re-encountering myself with who I was before the western, male tradition of comics shaped my work into a binary (East vs West) approach that eventually began to feel very unnatural. This identity crisis came to a peak in 2012, and I decided to make one last book in order to deal with it. "Playground" (Ediciones Valientes, Spain, 2013), wasn't only an art-comic, but also an essay about art-comics. It was my way to turn the page over this period in my career. Furthermore, by making this book, I consciously undermined my own future in art-comics: by exposing the methods behind my art-comics in such a straightforward way, that is, by establishing a formula, all I could possibly do from then on, if I insisted on making art-comics, would be to repeat myself and pretend I'm being original, which is what 90% of art-comics artists do (and the work of the remaining 10% is mostly shit). With manga, on the other hand, the whole point is not only to constantly repeat yourself, with very limited un-experimental tools, but also to copy others and merge within a tradition, which is the complete opposite of the ego-driven, Western cult of individuality.

To make manga you need to be artistically humble, which, as you can judge from this interview, is not precisely my strong point. And if it's good for me as an artist, then it's good for me as a person. You might say I could've tried to merge within a different tradition, like the American superheroes, or my own country's, for the matter. But as I just suggested, they're way too macho for my taste. Did you realize that in Germany, the most prominent local manga artists are mostly female? Christina Plaka, Anike Hage, Detta Zimmermann, among others. Basically, the male public didn't quite respond to manga. That's because it's ok to read and make manga when you're a kid, but as soon as you grow up, as soon as gender begins to make a difference in social dynamics, it's embarassing for boys to openly admit they like manga. And the older you get, it gets worse. Don't get me wrong, adults also choose to read manga, but hey, the majority of people also chose to vote Merkel, and still I haven't met a single one who openly admits it. The only ones who are open about liking manga are teenage nerds, cos they find contention in their Otaku community, surrounded by other fellow nerds who accept each other for who they are. It's actually utopic. But rounding up my answer, once making art-comics began to feel like a scam, switching back to manga wasn't difficult at all. I guess what made it easier for me was that Spanish and French publishers began publishing the works of Yoshihiro Tatsumi, Seiichi Hayashi, Suehiro Maruo, Kiriko Nananan, and many others, quite before the American publishers did. So basically I've been devouring for almost 15 years.

You are working on short stories and longer narratives as well, some being published in "Seinen Crap". Can you tell me a bit about what you are working on right now?
A self-published compilation of the short stories published in "Seinen Crap" just came out, titled "Desolation.exe", but I will continue making shorter stories cos that's were part of my income comes from. I'm also working on a graphic-novel for norwegian publisher Jippi Comics, an apology of crime, loosely based on the life and works of Jean Genet. That should come out next summer.

You were presenting your work this year in Berlin, Hamburg and Mannheim. When will be the next opportunity to see your comics? Can they be bought or ordered somewhere?
Unfortunately my printed comics can't be bought anywhere else except my website. This is for one simple reason: comics shops in Berlin charge self-publishers the same they charge to big publishers such as Carlsen, which is insane. Actually, it's very possible that big publishers negotiate to pay even less, cos they sell much more. On top of that, shops pay only when you sell out, which, since your zines are displayed in the remote corners of the store, while the 20€ stuff is given a place of honor, it only happens months later, if ever. That's the rule of the game. According to this scheme, I should either not make any profit out of my own work (yeah, very funny), or charge 8 euros for a lousy, 12-page, photocopied zine. So basically either the artist gets screwed, or the buyer does, but never the middle man. Sorry, am I being too obvious? Don't mind me, I'm the sourpuss that always complains. I doubt I'll make too many friends within the Berliner comics scene if I keep saying all these things...

Berliac online:  Websitefacebooktwitterinstagramtumblrflickr

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Abbildungen & Foto © Berliac

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