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#18 [Nov. 23rd, 2010|05:44 pm]

100 COMICS TO READ BEFORE YOU DIE (or grow out of them)

#18 BERLIN – Jason Lutes
(Drawn & Quarterly)

“Berlin was built on a marsh. I hope it will add up to more than a pile of stones.”

Between World War I and World War II Berlin was second only to Paris as a centre of European culture. Jason Lutes explores the city through its inhabitants, showing it through the eyes of an innocent new arrival and a worldly old cynic. Those two central characters, the ingenue and the cynic, are an artist and a writer respectively. They neatly compartmentalise the two halves of Lutes – and the two halves of comics – In two people.

As well as their perspectives, we see those of dozens of passing strangers. Each is followed for a page or two – the thoughts of a traffic controller, an artists’ model, a policeman, passengers on a train – all their dreams and everyday thoughts about what’s for dinner laid bare. (The traffic controller is constipated, the model uncomfortable holding a pose, the policeman troubled by memories of being a soldier.) Historical details are just as thickly layered as these everyday ruminations, events like the Blutmai massacre and cabaret songs about objectivity and poems about jazz all running through the story in a chaotic jumble that reflects city life perfectly.

And in the distance is the Third Reich, growing closer month by month, casting its shadow backwards in time to colour all of the events leading up to it. Every moment of carefree abandon or shop-worn worry becomes amplified and every flag hanging from a tenement window, every political affiliation casually displayed in conversation, plays a note of meaning and dread you can’t help but hear.