photo & text by nacrowe
with an absolute minimum amount of exposition, NORWEGIAN cartoonist LARS FISKE in his mostly wordless graphic novel GROSZ: BERLIN - NEW YORK (FANTAGRAPHICS, 2017) vividly depicts the life and career of noted GERMAN DADAIST painter GEORGE GROSZ in a style that expertly imitates his EXAGGERATED, CARICATURISTIC style. there is a certain NIHILISM to the work of GROSZ, especially that from the 1920s in which he showcased the PSYCHIC, MORAL, PSYCHOLOGICAL and PHYSICAL DAMAGE of the first world war on the collective GERMAN psyche. this was shown through a series of BRUTAL paintings depicting the DEBAUCHED nightlife of the WEIMAR REPUBLIC and all the opportunists, prostitutes and elites that frequented the bars and cabarets.
often compared to MODERNIST GERMAN peers like OTTO DIX and MAX BECKMANN, GROSZ had a harsh SARDONIC tone all his own which seemed to depict humanity as CORRUPTED and easily MANIPULATABLE, almost like DISCARDED marionettes once their value to the war machine has expired. this unbridled ability to hold a mirror to GERMAN society got him fined numerous times during this period, leading him to jump ship to the UNITED STATES in the early 1930s right as the NAZIS came to power. not surprisingly, HITLER had GROSZ's bitterly CAUSTIC paintings confiscated and deemed "degenerate art" alongside EMIL NOLDE, ERNST LUDWIG KIRCHNER, PAUL KLEE, MAX BECKMANN, MARC CHAGALL, OTTO DIX, WASILLY KANDINSKY, JOAN MIRO, OSKAR KOKOSCHKA, FERNAND LEGER and MAX ERNST as well as that of more famous artists like HENRI MATISSE, PABLO PICASSO, EDVARD MUNCH and VINCENT VAN GOGH.
what i love about FISKE's style is that it cleverly utilizes GROSZ's style in order to pass JUDGEMENT on his character and life decisions. id argue that this decision places GROSZ as a key part of a much larger tableau of GERMAN society, not separate from it as an outside observer. it seems to suggest that his experiences, perspectives and sense of FRACTURED IDENTITY are an outgrowth of this society that is largely in a state of FLUX. meaning here is fluid and so are the rules that govern society and the relationships that makeup politics and personal relationships. in this book it feels like everything pre-NAZIS is CULTURALLY, SEXUALLY, and ARTISTICALLY up for grabs. almost a year zero mentality that sees the forces that led to the CATASTROPHE of the first great war of being worthy of SCORN and DISMISSAL. but therein lies the problem of what to fill the void with and that is the world depicted in GROSZ: BERLIN - NEW YORK. at least in the early first half of the graphic novel before he moves to NEW YORK.
it is quite an achievement that such a dense depiction of such a notable artist was rendered efficiently utilizing such a minimum of words and almost completely through the power of GESTICULATION and TABLEAU. by presenting the multiple perspectives that made such a WARPED, FRAGMENTED reality possible very efficiently showcases the potential of the post war period and how that sense of fluid opportunity also gave way to the unleashing of the DARKEST RECESSES of the human id and our collective susceptibility to such. in the era of boundless GRIEVANCE and digital platforms that monetize such that is the DONALD TRUMP era, GROSZ and his artwork feels all the more RELEVANT and even PRESCIENT, probably more so than in the many decades past the second world war. GROSZ: BERLIN - NEW YORK is definitely worth checking out, especially for fans of MODERNISM and DADAISM or even that of EFFICIENT and thoughtfully executed storytelling constructs.