English 430: Literature & the Visual Arts

October 29, 2009

Reinhard Kleist

Filed under: Online Reports — uhchris @ 2:09 am
Reinhard Kleist

Reinhard Kleist

Not much is known about Reinhard Kleist, at least not in the United States. Kleist is a German artist, born in 1970 near Cologne. He attended the school of Graphic and Design in Münster, where he graduated with a silk screen album entitled “Abenteuer eines Weichenstellers,” (Adventures of a Railwayworker) authored by H. C. Artmann, while also working on two books, “Lovecraft” and “Dorian,” which he later published. Kleist now lives in a studio in Kreuzberg/Berlin where he works with other comic artists, Fil, Naomi Fearn, and Mawil, (Kleist Bio).

Work, Influences, and Aesthetics:

Kleist may best be known as a comic artist, but he is also does wall painting and silk screening. Throughout his career he’s done fourteen graphic novels, seven silkscreen books, and six wall paintings. Several of his works have received much acclaim overseas, including the “Max und Moritz” – award for best German album for his work on “Lovecraft.” His “Cash – I See a Darkness” won the award for the best German comic book in Munich in 2006 and a year later in the 2007 book fair in Frankfurt, and has since been translated into several languages, including English. In 2009, the French version of the book, “Cash- Une vie,” won the “Les prix des ados” at the festival for music and literature (Kleist Bio).

"Lovecraft" cover

Exerpt from "Dorian"

Kleist draws a lot of his work from other artists and authors. Two of his graphic novels are biographies of the famous musicians Elvis and Johnny Cash, entitled “Elvis” (2007) and “Cash – I see a Darkness” (2006). He’s also teamed up with Roland Hueve to create the graphic novels “Lovecraft” (1994) and “Dorian,” (1996) and nine other artists in creating “Elvis,” including Uli Oesterle, Thomy von Kummant, Isabel Kreitz, Nic Klein. “Dorian” is described as a combination of “Dorian Gray” by Oscar Wilde and “Human remains” by Clive Barker. (Kleist books).

Besides famous musicians and authors, Kleist also draws from life. His graphic novel “Havanna – Eine Kubanische Reise” (2008) depicts his journey to Cuba, a kind of memoir combined with short stories and illustrations he later did back home in Berlin. “Amerika” is a sort of diary with few words that he kept while staying in New York, in which his imagination is reflected through the eyes of a dwarf that speaks with pictures (Kleist books).

Kleist’s work is what I find to be captivatingly dark, unique, dynamically expressive and in many cases, full of angst. His work on “Cash – I see a Darkness” has been described as “restlessly kinetic” (Faber). Many of his comics are done in simple black and white, with a shade of grey for tone. With simple black and white, he creates lush, beautiful, dynamic, and sometimes bazaar images. His color works are even more amazing, tending towards a darker, grittier, and sometimes surreal nature.

scene from "Havanna"

"The secrets of Coney Island" exerpt

"Elvis" exerpt

"Amerika" exerpt

"Amerika" cover

"Havanna" cover

“Cash – I see a Darkness” an Example:

Being a Johnny Cash fan, I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to read Kleist’s graphic biography “Cash – I see a Darkness.” Kleist depicts the darkness of Cash’s life, narrated by Folsom prisoner Glen Sherley, beginning with his childhood working his fathers cotton fields and the death of his brother, Jack, highlighting his time served in the army. The story takes the reader through his first marriage, his rise to fame, drug abuse, his religious epiphany inside a cave where he crawled to die, and his detox from addiction, aided by June Carter, his devoted second wife. The story leads up to its climax at Folsom prison where he did his legendary performance and most celebrated concert. Kleist ends the graphic novel on the final days of Cash’s career where he worked on his cover album.

"Cash" Folsom prison scene

"Folsom Prison Blues" panel

A boy named sue

Ghost Riders in the Sky

Example of Kleist depicting sung word

As anyone who is a fan of Cash may know, Johnny Cash was an excellent story teller. Interestingly enough Kleist took some of Cash’s most memorable songs and adapted them as shorter, almost mini comics that serve to introduce each chapter, including “Folsom Prison Blues,” “A Boy Named Sue,” and “Ghost Riders in the Sky.”

While Kleist illustrates the stories of Cash’s songs both visually and literary, he also depicts the actual song lyrics in fragments floating across the panels in diagonal, bending sentences, framed in stretched, word balloons, no doubt to distinguish between the spoken words of the characters and the sung words. This combination of visual and literary work seems to make the story unfold like a movie, with a perfect balance between text and image, both of which drive the story. Words in this example of Kleist’s work, serve to convey dialogue and setting information while the images serve to convey character emotion and expression. In this piece of work there is no battle for superiority between text and image, as we’ve come to see in English 430, but a harmony in which they work together equally to tell the life of Johnny Cash.

Work Cited:

“Johnny Cash: I See a Darkness | Book review | Books | The Guardian.” Latest news, comment and reviews from the Guardian | guardian.co.uk. Web. 24 Oct. 2009. <http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/2009/oct/24/johnny-cash-kleist-faber-review&gt;.

Kleist, Reinhard. Cash – I see a Darkness. New York: Abrams ComicArts, 2009. Print.

Web. 20 Oct. 2009. <http://www.reinhard-kleist.de/&gt;.

By Christopher Osier

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