I think by pictures. Arne Jysch talks about working on "Golden Berlin"
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"Golden Berlin" takes the reader to the vibrant capital of Germany in the 1920s. The comic adaptation of Volker Kutscher's best-selling series about Commissioner Gereon Rath has just been published in Poland. We talk to the author of the script and illustrator Arne Jysch during his stay at the Krakow Book Fair. As he says, he tried to convey the spirit of those times in his graphic novel - the way people sat at cafe tables or held a cigarette in their hands.
[Publisher description] Adaptation of the novel bestseller, which became the basis of the most expensive series in the history of the German film industry. Berlin, 1929. Commissioner Gereon Rath is transferred from Cologne to Berlin for disciplinary reasons. Here, the zloty goes to the department dealing with moral issues, which it treats as degradation. Involved in the case of the gang involved in the production of pornography, he discovers that it is more complicated than it originally appeared.
"Golden Berlin" is a story about corruption, conspiracy and scandal, happening against the backdrop of Berlin during the Weimar Republic. The country is in an economic crisis, the streets are clashing with every now and then
demonstrating "red" nationalist socialist movements are intensifying. This historical thriller is an adaptation of the best-selling crime series of Volker Kutscher, which inspired the creation of the most expensive series in the history of the German film industry.
Arne Jysch: Great, thank you. This is not my first time in your country. On vacation, I was even the whole family on the Baltic Sea, near Świnoujście. Now, however, only for the first time I see the Polish edition of my book!
I really like the format and & nbsp; paper. And I'm glad it's in paperback. I think that it is more reader-friendly, it is better to hold in your hand than a rigid, hard cover.
The Polish title 'Golden Berlin' is different from the original one, which is 'Der nasse Fisch', meaning 'wet fish'. It seems to be a reference to the language used by the police?
I like the "Golden Berlin" title and I'm happy that the Polish publisher (Margins Publishing House - ed.) Decided on it. Other foreign editions of my novel - French or English - all have the same name as the series "Babylon Berlin". I have no problem with that, it's a kind of international title for this story. "Der nasse Fisch" may not be understandable to a reader outside Germany, although I like him a lot. In police jargon, it means an unsolved murder case that goes to the archives. This is the original title of the book on which I based my graphic novel - although unfortunately it does not bring associations with the 1920s in the German capital. The Polish title "Golden Berlin" is very good, moreover in Germany for this period we speak Goldene Zwanziger (Golden Twenties - editor's note).
Yes, I've even done some preliminary research on this topic. At that time - it was between 2000 and 2010 - I did storyboards, I also created short films and thought about directing, I wanted to make films. I thought the 1920s was a good topic for a movie. I read books from those times, for example works by Erich Kästner or "Das kunstseidene Mädchen" by Irmgard Keun. In 2008, on the radio, I heard a review of the book "Der nasse Fisch" by Volker Kutscher (in Polish: Śliska Sprawl - editor's note). I immediately thought that this was something I would like to do - whether it was transferring this story to the cinema screen or on the medium of a graphic novel, because at that time I was already working on my first comic book "Wave and Smile". I got in touch with Volker Kutscher and started talking about the possibility of making a film based on his book and then creating a comic. I love to draw and think with pictures, so the comic seemed to me a natural way to tell the story in his book in his own way. In the meantime, Volker was writing another volume of the series about Commissioner Gereon Rath, so I knew that this story had potential. Anyway, after publishing "Wave and Smile" my publisher asked about my further plans, so the decision was simple. It seems that it was 2013. Soon after, Volker called me and said his book would be adapted for television.
I was happy too, because Tom Tykwer, a very talented director, was supposed to take care of it, so I knew that the novel was in good hands. However, I also started to fear competition, because I was just starting work on the comic, and I did not want my work to be seen through the lens of the series. I knew that it would not be good for me if the comic hit the market after the premiere of the series - readers would think that it was based on it. So I wondered how much time my work would take & nbsp; - and I had to write the comic script again from scratch, and then create all the illustrations & nbsp; - and how many months the production crew would need, since the series was presented as a large, international production. Fortunately, work on the production shifted up to a year, so I managed half a year before Tom Tykwer and his team. (laughs) In 2016, when I gave the publisher ready materials and the process of printing my comic book began, I was invited to the show's first trailer of the series. I was very curious about him! After watching it, I breathed a sigh of relief, because I found out that it was completely different from my comic book and presented a completely different view of Berlin in the 1920s.
What is so special about this time that it is so interesting to us today? It was a unique moment in the history not only of Germany but also of whole Europe - including Poland. The interwar period had an extremely significant impact on contemporary culture.
Well, I can only talk about the situation in Germany, when after the war people were filled with happiness, enthusiasm, joy of life ... These times, especially the years 1924–1929, just after inflation and before the economic crisis, were a kind of peak of the achievements of German culture . Of course, today we look at these times with a different perspective, because we know that later, in 1933, a disaster began that changed everything (the end of the Weimar Republic, the beginning of the Third Reich - editor's note). This makes this small segment of time between the two wars fascinating. I recently visited Dessau, the Bauhaus school ...
That's right, I posted a souvenir photo from this trip. What was happening in the culture of those times, even in architecture related to Bauhaus, was fresh, innovative and unusual. This period is also very much in our imagination - the slogan "1920s" immediately evokes specific images, visions of elegant men in hats, women with bob hairstyles ... This can be compared to images that appear in our head when we will think of pirates or knights. I think it was largely the power of Volker Kutscher's novel.
Yes - reading his book, I felt like I was watching a movie. This is one thing. And the second - excellent research. Volker read newspapers from those times, checked the weather that prevailed on a given day, put the action on the streets with names that were current at the time ... In addition, when writing, he was also faithful to the correctness of the genre. Sex, violence, mystery, suspense - everything is here, and the reality of those times is presented in a contemporary way.
We talked a lot before I started. I knew that I would have to make many cuts and shortcuts because his book had five hundred pages, and I had to fit two hundred. Volker told me important words: "take the scenes you like from my book and create your own version around them." The process of creating "Golden Berlin" was different from "Wave and Smile" - there I had to create an outline of history from scratch, here I could rely on the novel, thanks to which it was easier for me. I showed Volker the first, rough outline of the script, so he knew what changes to make.
One of the main differences between your comic book and the original book is a different perspective - in your version the narrator is the main character, Gereon Rath.
Yes, I knew right away that I would lead this story this way. I had to be able to give the reader some information quickly, because the comic may not be as extensive as the book. To connect certain threads or show emotions, I didn't have to draw more scenes, just add Gereon's comment. Another change that I thought was needed was that in the original version the main character is not directly involved in the case he is leading, and I wanted him to be in the center, to be forced to make difficult decisions, make difficult choices ... I changed also a little thread of one of the heroines - I wanted her to seem a bit unreal, reminiscent of a phantom, but I can't say more not to reveal the ending.
I started in 2013 ... About a year it took me to write a script, then also the same storyboarding, layout for individual pages, and then a year to prepare illustrations.
Why did you choose black and white illustrations? When we think about the time in which the action takes place, even the movie "Cabaret", full of music, life and colors, comes to mind. On the other hand, black and white photographs have survived from that time.
When I spoke to Volker Kutscher about the adaptation at the beginning, he told me that he would like to see colorful illustrations in the comic. This was also my previous graphic novel "Wave and Smile", but I have to admit that adding color was associated with many difficulties and a lot of work. Not only did you have to choose the right color, but also the right shade, and the action works in the desert, so, for example, yellow had to have a proper, sandy tone. My publisher suggested that "Golden Berlin" be black and white, and I liked the concept. However, I wanted illustrations to have a certain artistic touch, and my goal was to draw the modern reader into this world of the 1920s. When we think of old black and white films, this black is a bit washed - hence my decision to paint with watercolors. I was inspired by artists from those times, photographs, illustrations ... From magazines and newspapers to fine arts.
During research I was in this lucky situation that a lot of materials have been preserved from those times. For example, the most valuable for me were these photographs that show a fleeting moment, an unpossed situation, ordinary life. I wanted to look for small things that were natural at the time, but today they drew my attention. I thought, "nobody would sit down like that today," or, "now you are holding a cigarette differently." I tried to show these details in illustrations. I wondered if the actors in the television production at the same time would look like in costumes or whether they would retain their naturalness.
The story presented in your graphic novel is in retro and noir style, but at the same time also seems quite modern. As you mentioned, there is violence, sex or drugs in it, but also a bit of humor. The main character is a tough guy, but in some scenes - e.g. while dancing at the Femina club - we get to know his other side.
Using a first-person narrative allowed me to create a storytelling that would show the reader what Gereon thinks. In the scene you mentioned in the illustration, we see him dancing with a girl and at the same time we learn that he hates dancing. The combination of his real feelings and what he has to do seemed quite funny to me.
Such scenes make the reader start to like him. He reminded me of a bit of a charming James Bond bastard. Do you think Gereon and Bond have something in common?
I admit that I like James Bond and he was definitely my inspiration, but Gereon is different - he tries to be strong and upright, although he does not always do it. It has a lot of flaws and makes many mistakes, but that's what I like about it. One of the main characters, Charlotte, wants Gereon to be punished for his mistakes - and this thread is developed in my novel, although I can't reveal the details.
Female heroines play a fairly important role in your comic. You even show the scene when Charlotte, a police stenotype you mentioned, wants to get involved in a police investigation, but is ridiculed by her colleagues from the police station because of her gender.
Yes, I wanted to show the problems of those times that women had to face, also because today they are still relevant. Charlotte plays an important role in the story - she is not only Gereon's lover, but also a person who leads to some kind of catharsis, and Gereon finally finds out who he really is. She is a determined, direct, characteristic woman - I really like this character. & Nbsp;
Let's come back for a moment to the topic of the series "Babylon Berlin", which tells the same story as your graphic novel. What do you think - what makes your comics better than the show?
Oh, good question. Of course, there are many reasons ... (laughs) First of all, I think it's closer to the original novel by Volker Kutscher. The series is divided into many threads, and in my novel I stick to the heart of the story and the perspective I adopted. In addition, I have to admit that I did not quite get to see how the twenties & nbsp; - not even used the opportunity to show the typical crowded streets for that time - I'm not quite a cast fan either. I think that the creators of the series wanted to add a bit of modernity to look at those times, but I wanted to show what life really was like.
I met the developers of the game and we talked about the fact that we would like this game to go beyond the standard group of players and also reach readers. Together we came to the conclusion that it should have a slightly calmer character than other games, have a unique atmosphere. I have prepared illustrations for several scenes, I am also the author of several sets. Interestingly, in this game you can take advantage of the opportunities offered by virtual reality - using a phone or tablet, the player moves to, for example, Gereon's office and & nbsp; looks for hidden objects and tips in & nbsp; drawers.
The book, comics and games are not over! In Berlin, you can go to a jazz concert combined with loud reading of Volker Kutscher's stories, and the cartoonist Kat Menschik created the prequel of this story with Charlotte in the lead role. "Moabit" is wonderfully illustrated - I would be happy if it was also released in Poland! In addition, many concerts, exhibitions and various other events related to those times are currently organized in Germany. Thanks to them, you can better understand people who lived then - their everyday life, but also dreams and desires - and try to find the answer to the question why this time had to end.
I think comics are already reaching a wider audience. Interestingly, my graphic novel in bookstores is placed not only on the shelves with comics, but also on those with the inscription "detective stories". Thanks to this, "Golden Berlin" can reach readers who have never reached for this medium before. It may seem that comics have been gaining popularity lately, but their market in Germany is still very small. The number of comic books sold cannot be compared with ordinary book sales.
At first I was reluctant to do it, probably because the topic was taken up by television, but now I can see it. I admit that I have already started writing the script for the next part, based on the second volume of the Volker Kutscher cycle. This time the action takes place in Berlin in 1930, at the beginning of the era of sound film. The story is related to the film industry, which for me personally is very exciting.