German comic book artist Reinhard Kleist on his influences, drawing methods

Nov 28, 2017, 08:10 IST | Dhara Vora Sabhnani

German comic book artist Reinhard Kleist on finding inspiration in current affairs and travelling

The comic book industry has served as an effective tool to comment on world politics. And German artist Reinhard Kleist has potently used his brush to voice an opinion on everything from the immigration crises in Europe to the closed country of Cuba. The 47-year-old artist, who conducted a talk at an Andheri venue, as part of Goethe-Institut's worldwide series of workshops, speaks about his influences and his traditional methods of drawing.

Havanna artworks
Havanna artworks

You frequently write about communities and countries outside of Germany...
It depends if the story is interesting. I find these stories in newspapers or read about them on the Internet. Most of these have something to do with my interest. For example, An Olympic Dream [Der Traum von Olympia], the story of a Somalian refugee, is about migration, which is a big talking point in Europe at the moment. I wanted to use her story to speak of so many other refugees.

Havanna artworks
Havanna artworks

How has Germany's stand on immigration rules for refugees affected your comics?
The situation in Germany became difficult, as a lot of people are afraid of too many foreigners entering its borders. Other European countries are facing similar struggles. Most look at them as numbers; they don't see the people any more. I wanted to show in The Olympian Dream that these people are not here to invade our country and take away our money. Some of my friends are refugees from Syria and Iraq, and they are very nice people, who are eager to do good things for Germany. I am happy that they are here and want to support people like them through my work.

Havanna artworks
Havanna artworks

So, how do you remain objective while writing?
In a way, you have to be involved in a story to feel it. But at times, you have to distance yourself, so the reader has the opportunity to build his own meaning.

What's the pulse of the current comic industry in Germany?
The German comic book industry grew in the last 10 to 15 years. There is a section of artists who make commercial books, but there is also an underground scene that's doing very political work. Most write against the upcoming nationalist and right wing movement.

Nick Caves artwork. COURTESY/
Nick Cave's artwork. COURTESY/

Tell us a bit about your latest book, Nick Cave?
The musician is very well known in Europe, and I am interested in music in general, and his work. I was in touch with Mr Cave himself. He okayed it (though I wasn't waiting for his yes) and helped a lot with the book as we exchanged ideas. He had lived in Berlin too, which interested me and is a large part of the book.

Reinhard Kleist
Reinhard Kleist

Tell us a bit about your drawing process.
I am very traditional. I do everything on paper with ink and brush. If I use colours, it's mostly watercolours. Colour schemes are important to give a feeling for the story. For Havanna [his book of travel sketches on Cuba], I used a warm colour scheme to give the readers a feeling of the temperature and the atmosphere in the country.

You're known for being part of live drawing concerts…
I first saw them in France and wanted to be part of them because usually, comic book artists work alone behind their table. With something like this, you feel like a rock star [laughs]. Usually, I illustrate the lyrics of the song. In Pune, we did it the other way, where I drew, and the musicians improvised based on my work.

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