A comic season in this country does not span one year, but two. This is solely due to the Erlangen Comic Salon. As is well known, the fixed star of the German-language comic scene does not take place every year, but every two years. Large and small comic publishers plan their novelty dates, book signings, exhibitions and award submissions around this date.

Comic creators are looking forward to the festival and then need two years to recover. I’ve been publishing a new comic every two years since 2008 like clockwork – always right on the salon.

After the Comic Salon 2020 was canceled due to the pandemic, it finally took place again. The joy was palpable, even if quite a few from the comic scene were concerned about the Corona situation. Especially since the number of infections rose again just at the beginning of the salon, even more massively in Erlangen than elsewhere.

It’s almost impossible to keep your distance, especially during book signings: people get up close and personal, that’s part of the concept. A mask requirement would have been a relief for many in this special situation, but as is well known, it is no longer politically desired at the moment.

After all, there were many signs around that suggested wearing masks at the fair. The Kulturamt Erlangen is thus following the given political line of not bearing the responsibility collectively and in solidarity, but dumping it on the individual.

The only thing left for us to do was to wear masks on our own responsibility. Which I and others consistently did when signing, despite the midsummer weather and the associated monstrous temperatures. Shortly after the salon, the infection reports from the scene are piling up, which casts a shadow over the otherwise positive balance of the salon.

Since 2008 my publishing home has been with Gringo Comics. At that time, gringo publisher Holger Bommer published my comic “Knochen-Jochen”, and a friend prophesied to me: “As I know you, you will stay there for the next ten years.” Yes, he knows me well, I am still here.

My enthusiasm, some of the best illustrators of the republic like Martin Frei (“Kommissar Eisele”), Haggi (“Di Abenteuer fom Hartmut”), or Rudolph Perez (“Commander Cork”), to whom I used to look up, now name colleagues allowed, never stopped. Gringo colleagues who joined later, such as Sebastian Sommer (new work for the Salon: “Bulletten”), Thomas Baehr (new work for the Salon: “Pol 3: Imagine there is climate change… and everyone ignores it”) and I wouldn’t want to miss Robert “Jazze” Niederle (new work for the salon: “Hans die Larve 3: Haarklein”) in Erlangen.

Once you’ve landed at Gringo, you’ll stay forever. Most of us do publish with other publishers from time to time. But our gringo affiliation is not affected by this, we are something like the Wu-Tang Clan of the German comic scene. And this 20th Comic Salon was something very special for us: Gringo celebrated 30 years of publishing.

Our salon life is roughly divided into four areas during the festival period in Erlangen: Trade fair – exhibitions/events – award ceremonies – celebrations.

We usually spend most of our time at the trade fair. This time it took place again in three exhibition tents in the center of Erlangen. This concept, born out of necessity in 2018 because the previous venue was being renovated, was so popular that it was retained for this year despite significant additional costs. Beaming faces thanked the cultural office in Erlangen.

Although I also sometimes hear that colleagues miss the good old Heinrich Lades Halle. Me too a bit. But my publisher is clear: the tents are better. He observes a more mixed audience than before and this year has again achieved record sales. Which of course is not entirely unimportant from the publisher’s point of view.

As usual, I had two book signings a day, one in the morning and one in the afternoon. This time I mainly signed my new comic “Knüppeldick” and at my first appointment I had the pleasure of signing together with a veteran of the scene: Hartmut “Haggi” Klotzbücher.

To understand my enthusiasm, let’s go back in time a little, to the year 1987. I was a twelve-year-old West Berlin kid and I still bought my comics at the kiosk: “Lucky Luke” albums, “Hulk” paperbacks, “The Big Ones Phantastic Comics”… Luckily there were quite a few in the newsagents back then. But nothing about German cartoonists, and of course I had no idea about the German comic scene that was forming elsewhere.

Then I suddenly discovered a booklet called “Rammbock” in the magazine rack around the corner. The magazine left no doubt: This was not a licensed product, but an in-house production. One of the draftsmen involved was a very young Hartmut Klotzbücher. The second issue featured photos of everyone involved on the “Rammbock” advertising tour, which also took them to Erlangen.

This happiness of meeting like-minded people and pulling together with them seemed unattainable to me. If someone had told me back then that I would later sign with Haggi at a table, I would of course not have believed it.

I consider Haggi to be one of the best funny artists in Germany and, if I were a publisher, I would immediately entrust him with every “Smurf” album. Even when he intentionally draws like a child, as in “Di Abenteuer fom Hartmut”, his talent for drawing shines through. “Der Hartmut” is therefore the only stick figure I can respect. And maybe Haggi will also finish the third volume of “The Adventures of God” at some point and show God and the world what a rake is again.

I could now tell similar stories from my other gringo colleagues, but that would go beyond the scope.

A lot of very nice readers came to the stand for the book signings. Most of them were extremely friendly and very grateful to be able to chat with the artist and to have a nice drawing scrawled in the comic they just bought. The book signings were so well attended that my pens frayed within a day and a half. It was a silly beginner’s mistake not to have brought a replacement, but fortunately there was a stall selling pens at the show.

Of course, visits from valued colleagues from the scene are particularly nice. Büke Schwarz (“Jein”) had a “Knochen-Jochen” signed, Philipp Spreckels (“Yellowstone”) a “Knüppeldick”. Andi Preller from the “Das Alles” and “Comic Cookies” podcast as well. Thorsten Brochhaus from Plem Plem Productions (“Whoa Comics”) came by and had a “Kronos Rocco” volume signed. Beaming from ear to ear, he admitted that despite his grumpy nature, he was having a great time at the salon and the Plem Plem booth was doing great too.

Since Sarah Burrini also made a very satisfied impression at the Kwimbi stand next door, I think it’s entirely possible that the two of them will broadcast a completely contrary to the concept of the show as the next episode of their “We vs. Comics” podcast, apart from the assessment of the Corona – Measures deliver irritatingly positive Erlangen episode.

Of course, there was also someone who annoyed me with some special request without even buying the smallest booklet. But I have a secret weapon against that: I refuse. Some comic creators have problems with that. “The easiest and the hardest word to say is NO,” Public Enemy frontman Chuck D recognized on his 1996 solo album Autobiography of Mistachuck. I highly recommend it. Saying no. The plate too.

Publishers are of course tied to the publishing stand for the entire duration of the fair. But I’m not a publisher, so luckily I can roam the fair between signings.

In the exhibition tents, we meet people we know at every corner. I met my Berlin artist colleague and comrade-in-arms Micha Vogt several times, at Panini and at the stand of “Cozmic”, the science fiction anthology, for which both he and I have already drawn contributions. With Zwerchfell, I had Christopher Tauber explain to me why he is no longer on Twitter (“Twitter is poison”).

At the Delfinium Prints stand, I asked David Füleki how in the name of hell he manages this gigantic page workload (he doesn’t know either, but very eloquently) and praised Marcel “Hugi” Hugenschütt for his power at the salon parties (always the last man on the streets of Erlangen). At a large publishing house, I discussed with the publisher a project that is so unlikely and secret that it may never become reality. Or maybe. Sounds nebulous? It is. But that’s how it is here in Erlangen. Everyone has something simmering, is spinning world-conquering plans, has something in the pipeline. We talk shop together, plan, chat.

In the castle garden, where two of the three tents are located, I ran into two 15-year-old boys with a vendor’s tray during a much-needed break. Almost like Klaus Cornfield sold his “Kranken Comics” out of a suitcase, Jan and Henry offered their work “Freagleman” (subtitle “Super Comic Booklet”) for sale. Of course, so much commitment and underground attitude had to be rewarded, and I bought a copy of them. Keep it up guys!

A visit to the “Moga Mobo” stand and a chat with Titus Ackermann, who recruited me a few months ago for the new “Moga Mobo” issue, was particularly important to me this time. The most beautiful music comic of the season, “Moga Mobo Music: Greatest Hits” was available here, and it was free too.

100 different artists present 100 hits on 100 pages. I illustrated the Body Count song “Cop Killer” for the volume, which is of course the bloodiest entry in the book. Actually the only bloody contribution in the book. “Moga Mobo” brings me to the next cornerstone of the comic parlor…

“Moga Mobo Music: Greatest Hits” is one of the various exhibitions that could be admired in Erlangen. All 100 contributions were reproduced on LP size and displayed in flip-through boxes in the Bongartz record store. The Moga Mobos once again demonstrated maximum creativity and concept competence.

If you are heavily involved at the trade fair, it is of course not easy to take everything you would have liked to see with you from the events. This is particularly difficult with time-bound events, such as the many interesting panel discussions. Our Tagesspiegel editor Lars von Törne also moderated a series of panels, including with comic artists from Ukraine and Canada, as well as a final round of talks with a review of the salon.

The various exhibitions were easier to synchronize, mainly because many were very close together. For example, if you found your way to the art museum, you were rewarded with two famous exhibitions: “Will Eisner – Graphic Novel Godfather” and “Catherine Meurisse. L’Humor au series”.

Lots of Eisner originals hung there, including old “Spirit” pages from the 1940s, which are a real treat not only in terms of drawing, but also typography – because the master drew almost all of the lettering (and the lettering anyway) by hand.

The pages of the former “Charlie Hebdo” artist Meurisse, who only survived the attack on the editorial staff of the satirical magazine by chance, were a feast for the eyes in all their diversity, from biting press caricatures to grandiose nature illustrations. Classic and modern, everything under one roof: typical comic salon.

Africa was already supposed to be a focus at the last salon, which was canceled due to Corona, which has now been made up for. In “Popular Images” one could admire impressive contemporary works by artists from the Congo.

The smaller and less well-regarded exhibition “Kubuni. Comics from Africa” ​​by the Institut français unfortunately did not present any original pages, but by means of reproductions it gave visitors a very enlightening overview of African comics from the First World War to today’s representatives such as the Senegalese-French draftsman Juni Ba, who is currently producing grandiose series how “Monkey Meat” conquers the American comic market. Here you could learn a lot about the African comic continent in a compact form, free from the colonial perspective that is still far too common.

The Mawil retrospective, which I stupidly missed in Berlin, also found its way to Erlangen – that’s what the Comic Salon is for! She showed how lovingly and detailed a comic exhibition can be designed. From children’s drawings to Mawil’s big hits “Kinderland” and “Lucky Luke saddlet um”, everything was represented here using sketches, notebooks, original pages, clearly arranged in chic clusters according to the time of origin and context. Exemplary!

Other exhibitions invited visitors to discover feminist artists from all over the world, to get an overview of the program of the Berlin publishing house Jaja and to marvel at the post-apocalyptic worlds from “Gung Ho”. And much more. Impossible to see everything – but luckily I had enough time between book signings for the exhibitions mentioned.

At the Erlangen Comic Salon you can attend an award ceremony every evening if you want. To get straight to the point: I haven’t been to any.

On Thursday evening there were the ICOM prizes of the comic interest group; on Friday, the most important prizes of the German-speaking comic scene and official trophies of the salon were presented with the Max and Moritz prizes; and on Saturday the GINCO award ceremony of Comic Solidarity took place, which pays special attention to integration, diversity and the promotion of young people.

I have a split relationship with prices. I’m aware of the public impact, the occasion that awards give the media to report on comics. But nobody has even been able to persuade me to attend the Max and Moritz award ceremony. It’s not the fault of the moderator – everyone knows that I’ve been a big fan of Hella von Sinnen ever since she helped me through my pubescent Saturday evenings in 1989/90 with the RTL show “All nothing or?!”. Rather, it is due to the following reasons:

As a person, I lack the competitive gene. The social concept of having to make a competition out of everything is foreign to me. I’ve always preferred a relaxed Alfred Biolek cooking show to one where there’s a lot of rowdy cooking.

As a consumer, I have a very specific idea of ​​what I like, so I don’t need a jury to tell me what to buy.

And finally, as an artist, I produce the kind of gritty genre comics that never win awards anyway, and I’m too stubborn to even step foot on this republic’s award and grant juries.

I know a few artists who have been hoping for a prize for years but don’t get it. You may find that unfair, you may object to it, but it is often simply impossible to change. For emotional hygiene, it is therefore an advantage for comic creators to keep a little distance from all the price hype.

Many years ago, when my gringo colleagues were still going to the Max and Moritz award ceremony, I was already sitting with my wife on the beer bench in front of the Lades Hall, sipping a shandy. Over the years, more and more gringos sat there with us. And since a few salons we have been going to the beer garden with a full cast, while the rest of the comic scene is stacked up in the Markgrafentheater, sweating, dying of thirst and inhaling foreign aerosols. Which brings me to the final aspect of the comic parlour, the…

The Erlangen Comic Salon is and will remain the school camp of the comic scene. Over time, many comic creators, especially from the gringo environment, have become very dear to me, and I only see most of them once every two years: in Erlangen. If these biennial meetings didn’t exist, they would have to be invented. The joy is correspondingly great, and the mood correspondingly exuberant when we go out to eat and celebrate together in the evening.

Even during the signing hours, which were particularly sweaty this time due to the weather, everyone is looking forward to going out to eat together in the evening. Which, if you don’t take precautions, is not that easy. Because the entire German-speaking comic scene falls into the small Franconian inns in the evening, there is limited space, especially outdoors, and quite a few look into the tube.

Luckily we gringos have a decisive advantage: namely my wife, who kindly took over the evening management for us years ago and made reservations in advance in the most delicious places in town. Some other publishers don’t have such a service at hand – but we have a heart and so this year we adopted the proven Rockabillys from Dantes-Verlag for eating out in the evening.

After the meal, you have a few more drinks in a relaxed, shop-talking group and then have to decide whether to move on to one of the comic parties. Because the greatest art of salon life is to enjoy the get-together and the beers in the evening, but still be fit enough for the next book signing the next day. Many years ago, I managed this rather poorly and it is a privilege of getting older that I can now do this balancing act without major friction losses.

After the celebrations, there is a short night and then the next day of the fair. You can now continue reading the chapter “Trade Fair” above. Or mentally take the train home with me and rest like I did for two years. Until it says again: Erlangen, here we come!