As a child he was one of the first regular comic readers in the Federal Republic, and later one of the most committed pioneers for the recognition of the art form in this country. The life of Stefan Neuhaus, the long-standing chairman of the German Comics Association, was closely linked to the diverse history of sequential picture narration. Now he has died at the age of 74, as the comic association announced. He leaves behind his wife and their daughter.
His passion began in August 1951 in West Berlin at the latest: That was when the first issue of the magazine “Micky Maus” was published in Germany. Stefan Neuhaus, who had just turned four, received it as a gift from his father, who was unusually open to comics for the time.
This is what Neuhaus told the author of this article last winter, prompted by a series of video interviews about his extensive comic collection. The videos were suggested by the German Comic Association, which is to receive the collection after his death. At that time, Neuhaus was already beginning to think about his estate in the face of serious cancer, and he succumbed to the disease on Tuesday.
Stefan Neuhaus’s view of the world and the comics was characterized by a great deal of openness. Unlike some other fans who are particularly interested in a genre, a style or a certain subgroup, he was curious to the very end about almost everything the art form had to offer. He also enjoyed sharing his enthusiasm with others. And with an energy and determination that was contagious.
Stefan Neuhaus was just as pleased with the avant-garde strokes of the Berlin draftsman Atak as he was with the work of the superhero pioneer Jack Kirby; French masters such as Bilal and Tardi were in his collection, as was George Herriman’s absurd-philosophical “Krazy Kat” newspaper strips . You could talk to him about the latest works by Mawil and Ralf König as well as about abstract, wordless comics or found objects that he had come across in Poland, Israel or France.
And at the Erlangen International Comic Salon, the most important German scene event, which he attended three weeks ago despite his advanced illness, in a break between his discovery tours he enthusiastically talked about new student works that he had just come across.
After “Micky Mouse” – which he said in elementary school, not even disparaging comments from his German teacher could dissuade him from reading – Neuhaus later became enthusiastic about underground and independent comics from the USA and European comic countries as a student and prospective art teacher.
The works from that period that were particularly close to his heart in his collection include works by Robert Crumb and Bernie Krigstein (“Master Race”), of whom he also bought some original pages at auction a few years ago in the USA, as well as pop music – Art comic “Jodelle” by Guy Peelaert and the “Barbarella” comic by Jean-Claude Forest.
He was also fascinated by comics from China, which Neuhaus, as a member of a left-wing student association, felt politically connected to for a while. From this grew a great aesthetic enthusiasm for the Far Eastern forms of pictorial narrative. What he particularly liked about works by Chinese artists such as the draftsman He Youzhi, whom he first met at the International Comic Salon in Erlangen, was their use of white areas to create a sense of space.
As an art teacher at the Leonardo-da-Vinci-Gymnasium in Neukölln, he then repeatedly used the possibilities of comics in the classroom: from term papers that were inspired by Donald Duck comics – and which he gave to the legendary Duck artist Carl Barks at a Germany – visit could show personally – to sophisticated leporellos, more reminiscent of avant-garde art, on which his students created continuous picture stories as collaborative works.
His comic collection contains many works from the border area between comics and fine arts, which interested him particularly: Rare art books by the New York painter and illustrator David Sandlin, which he had tracked down in Paris antiquarian bookshops, comic experiments by the French artist group Oubapo or Leporellos, which well-known artists from several countries have created for the Swiss Bül-Box project.
As chairman of the Fachverband für Kunstpädagogik (BDK Berlin), Stefan Neuhaus organized numerous training events to teach teachers from different disciplines how diverse comics can be used in subjects such as art and German, history and foreign language teaching. He held such a conference in 2011 together with the historian René Mounajed and the author of this article in the Tagesspiegel-Haus, it was attended by more than 100 teachers, who reacted very positively to the suggestions.
At the request of his headmaster, Stefan Neuhaus worked at the Leonardo da Vinci Grammar School until he was 66, where he also headed the arts department as director of studies.
After the end of his career almost ten years ago, the German Comic Association, which he co-founded in 2014, became Stefan Neuhaus’ central forum to help comics gain more recognition in this country. In 2013, together with numerous other actors from the scene, he had previously developed and co-signed the Berlin Comic Manifesto, which called for German comic culture to be strengthened through more funding and stronger institutions.
Stefan Neuhaus and his comrades-in-arms have achieved a lot with the comic association in recent years. Among other things, they persuaded the Berlin Senate to set up the comics grant, which now has the best endowment in the state with a total of 63,000 euros, and which became a model for other federal states.
And they have represented German comics at numerous trade fairs and specialist events around the world – from regular stand presentations with changing German artists at the Festival International de la Bande Dessinée d’Angoulême, Europe’s largest comic festival, to the German Pavilion at the Toronto Comic Arts Festival, which the author of this text organized in 2017 together with Stefan Neuhaus and the second chairman of the comic association, Axel Halling, and with the support of the Erlangen International Comic Salon.
“It was an honor for all of us and a great pleasure to work with Stefan for the interests of comics and comic artists,” explained Axel Halling now. “We are eternally grateful to him for his commitment, his knowledge and his friendship. He lived and fought for the comic to the end.”
The gap that Stefan Neuhaus leaves is both an obligation and an incentive, says Halling – and in memory of Stefan Neuhaus’ first comic experiences he quotes a well-known passage from a Donald- Duck comic by Carl Barks: “We want to be a united people of brothers, wash us in no need and danger.”