Tuesday, July 17, 2012
On the Coffee Table: Berlin
Title: Berlin, Book One: City of Stones
Writer and Artist: Jason Lutes
Image via Wikipedia
The readers of historical fiction have a distinct advantage over the characters: we know what's going to happen next. Berlin in the late 1920s is a vital period in world history. The socio-political drama being played out on the streets of that extraordinary city would have serious consequences for Germany, Europe and the world at large over the following two decades. But the characters in Jason Lutes's Berlin don't know that. Like most people of any era, they're just trying to get on with their own lives and make sense of the world around them. Such personal stories in extraordinary circumstances are, of course, what make good historical fiction so compelling.
Berlin is an ongoing comic book series, first issue published in 1996 by Black Eye Productions. The current rights are held by Drawn and Quarterly, who also own our new favorite Montreal bookstore. Book One includes the first eight issues of the series.
This one's a keeper. Not only will I insist that My Wife reads it but I think I might even convince my parents to give it a shot. The cast of characters is rich and varied, their stories seemingly disparate, yet intersecting in interesting ways. Tensions in Berlin were already mounting as the story begins in 1928, tension which we all know would only mount, not really having a meaningful release until the Wall came down 61 years later. Book One ends on May Day 1929. Again, we all know that the Wall Street crash a few months later will only make everything worse, worldwide. I can't help being curious as to how all of it will impact Lutes's characters.
The artwork is entirely black-and-white. I am finding in my comic explorations that quite a lot of the more interesting stories are. If the book has a primary protagonist, it is Marthe, a young woman who has come to Berlin as an art student. I was very impressed by how her art lectures, particularly one on perspective, influenced my perception of the very book I was reading - neat trick on the author's part.