Similar to narratives of the traditional, purely verbal format, topics of comics and graphic novels can range from purely fictional stories to accounts that make extensive truth claims. Graphic memoirs are probably the most discussed genre on the non-fictional–or at least not exclusively fictional–end of this spectrum. In fact, when we think of Spiegelman’s Maus which is often hailed as one of the first graphic novels, non-fictionality or semi-fictionality is central to this increasingly popular format. Arguably, Maus was not only foundational for its account of non-fictitious historical events, it also set a high standard for graphic memoir writers to explicitly mark, legitimize, and subvert their own claims towards an external factuality. While life writing is an equally booming graphic genre in the German-speaking world (think, for example of Reinhard Kleists’ Der Traum von Olympia or Ulli Lusts’ Heute ist der letzte Tag vom Rest deines Lebens), it still awaits a systematic scholarly discussion.
Aside from (auto-)biographical comics and graphic novels, at least two other non-fictional genres are noteworthy: history and journalism. In the German context, especially the recent wave of works dealing with the former GDR come to mind (Schwartz’ drüben!; Budde’s Such dir was aus, aber beeil dich) which often couple personal or family chronicles with historical accounts. In that respect, there is also an interesting split into Sachcomics and more traditional narratives whose socio-political context are at least as important as the characters themselves. Journalism, finally, is the least discussed non-fictional graphic genre, which arguably results from the fact that German comic artists have only recently begun tackling this special form of reportage. Still, books such as Bulling’s Im Land der Frühaufsteher or Eickmeyer’s Liebe deinen Nächsten may soon inspire followers–especially given the growing number of comics journalists in other parts of the world.
This panel is a first attempt to take an Inventur of German-language comics and graphic novels that have at their heart the wish to convey in images and words–and the characteristic integration of these two planes–aspects of life “truthfully.” With this wide definition in mind, we welcome papers that take stock and/or offer taxonomical approaches as well as individual or comparative case studies. Possible questions include: Which graphic genres have a particular allegiance to the non-factual and how do they relate to each other? How do artists negotiate verbally and pictorially the grey area between fact and fiction, for example, what role do graphic and verbal “realism” play and what shape do they take in any given text? What are the particular challenges, but also advantages of telling a non-fictional story in the form of a comic or graphic novel? Are there any culture-specific aspects of how German-language narratives approach non-fictional stories? And not least: How do non-fictional comics of Austrian or Swiss origin compare to each other and/or to stories from the FRG?