In 2017 I had the opportunity to take over the illustration class at the UdK Berlin for one semester. My idea of teaching is to inspire students through a multi-layered approach to the subject: analytical, experimental, through design and narrative.
The topic of the semester assignment was „City Stories.“ We approach these stories from three angles: the city as a habitat, as a conglomerate of houses, as a hub of lifelines, as the heart of urban life. Secondly, by focusing on its inhabitants. And third, through the narratives of the city’s inhabitants.
The anchor of this project is the work „Die Stadt – La ville“ by the Belgian illustrator Frans Masereel, who drew a portrait of a large city in the era of the Industrial Revolution in a series of 100 woodcuts. Each woodcut gives a small glimpse into the lives of the inhabitants, but only the interplay of the complete series paints a portrait of a modern city.
Almost 100 years later, the Illustration class of the University of the Arts Berlin examines the city as a living space at the beginning of the 21st century. How has our life changed, how does the city shape its inhabitants, how does its structure influence how we live together?
Together, the class builds a model city and tells stories in comic form that reflect their individual perspectives on the city. Through these stories, a multifaceted portrait of a city defined by the lives of its residents emerges.
The starting point of our investigation is the individual building. Each student examines a real building and its function in the city and recreates it in a model. But not only the function is important, but also the relationship of the person to this building. For example, the parents‘ house, located in a Colombian city, a museum inspired by a real existing building in Tehran, or a house from Berlin’s Hermannplatz, emblematic of gentrification, come together to form a fictitious city.
A laboratory space is created, a place that is more than a backdrop, because real stories are located in it and can be experienced. In this fictional place, stories can be examined, points of view constructed, and pathways laid through the building structures. The model functions as a template for the drawings that students use to explore the city. They trace tensions, reveal relationships, and attempt to locate themselves as people in this fictional city.
The city’s oversized residents stand between the houses. Based on real people the students have encountered, they are developed away from naturalistic likenesses into literary characters and thus prototypical residents of their city. The comic stories make reference to these residents and have them appear in many stories in different arrangements and roles. Originally designed in their own style, each student sets different accents and define the roles and scenarios accordingly.
Comic is a medium with an almost cinematic moment. The story is told through the sequence of panels and the time that passes in the magical gutter between them – sometimes rapidly, breathlessly, sometimes minimalistically in long moments. In the combination of word and image, the rhythm of the panels and the graphic power of the single image lies the great charm and challenge of the medium. Each comic works on its own, with its own title and content; together they form the excerpt of a grand story, told like an episodic film.
A newspaper is the mouthpiece of a city, it collects, documents and reports sometimes anecdotal, sometimes profound. It communicates the news directly and up-to-date. The result is a lively portrait that reflects not only the city, but also the viewer.
But the newspaper describes only a snapshot of a place in time that is shaped by our lives. Tomorrow, new and different stories will appear and the city will reinvent itself in an instant.