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Tag Archives: Keith McDougall

The Many Faces of Dada

The Many Faces of George Grosz (Degenerate Comix) is a graphic novel by Keith McDougall about the life of the German artist, George Grosz, adapted from the writings of Weiland Herzfelde. (See my review of The Many Faces of George Grosz #1)

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In #2 the narrative has changed from Herzfelde being the narrator to Grosz being the central character and Herzfelde’s brother becomes John Hartfield. For like George Grosz’s costume changes the Dadaists were often changing their names, working under different names or living under false names; their identities were mutating.

Who were the Dadaist exactly? Avant-garde cabaret act, radical artists, publishers, medical students every time you look they change into something else. If the Dadaists were alive today what would they be doing? Bands, zines… would they even be together at all? Given that the Dadaists appear to be a disparate bunch of hippies (Hans Arp & Hugo Ball), punks (Richard Hulsenbeck), new agers, goths, head-bangers (Max Ernst’s nickname was “Metal Head”) and other, perhaps, yet unclassified freaks. Back at the beginning of the 20th century there was still too few of any of them to bother with such classifications. However in retrospect the classifications appear clearer. “Freaks” that  very 60s word, comes from back in a time when they were still working out the identity of some of these youth tribes. In The Many Faces of George Grosz Grosz is presented as an unclassifiable freak, a proto-Dadaist.

McDougall has done his research both historically and graphically, at the beginning of Chapter 5 in Grosz autobiography there is a small illustration of a smiling man dressed up as an American Indian. In #2 Grosz takes the two Herzfelde brothers to see the Berlin’s Café Oranienburger Tor. The band at the Café Oranienburger Tor is described by Grosz in his autobiography: “the band leader known as “Mister Meshugge” carried on like a lunatic. He pretended to be quiet out of control and kept breaking his baton or hitting the poor fiddler over the head with violin.” (George Grosz, A Small Yes and A Big No, Zenith Books, 1982 p.75)

Dada history was made for comic books, the conjunction of text and images. What I dislike about many comics, including this graphic novel, is the way that story is drawn out, it worse than watching a TV series because the wait is longer. Now two years later #2 has arrived – will #3 be finished in time for the centenary of Dada? A century later it is worth re-examining Dada and the Dadaists.

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Graphic George Grosz

The Many Faces of George Grosz #1 (Degenerate Comix, Melbourne, 2011) is a graphic novel by Keith McDougall about the life of German artist, adapted from the writings of Weiland Herzfelde. I was amazed to find that the author, Keith McDougall is from Melbourne. I was also amazed to find that the graphic novel had only been printed in an edition of 100.

George Grosz’s paintings and illustrations of the Weimar republic years in Berlin are familiar images but I hadn’t taken Grosz seriously as a person. This was after both reading his autobiography and these comments of Richard Hulsenbeck: “George Grosz, who while living in America turned into a great enemy of dada, was very much for it in those days. He dubbed himself as a “Dada Marshall,” gave us his drawings for our publications, and joined our sessions. In his memoirs, Ein grosses Ja und kleines Nein he tries to ridicule dada and, although not in so many words, to slander all the people involved. In this collection of curious anecdotes, Grosz seems to lack any understanding of the cultural significance of dada and modern art.” (Richard Hulsenbeck, Memoirs of a Dadaist Drummer, University of California Press, 1991, p.57) The chapter on Dada in Grosz’s biography does exhibit a shallow understanding of Dada and then drift off topic into a story of spiritualist nonsense. (George Grosz, A Small Yes and A Big No, Zenith Books, 1982)

So I asked Keith McDougall, out of all the Dadaists why do a graphic novel biography of George Grosz? McDougall replied: “Because he was a cartoonist, so it’s a cartoon about a cartoonist. At the same time he was also a modern artist, and I’ve always been fascinated by the intersection of modernism and comics.”

In The Many Faces of George Grosz #1 Grosz is sympathetically portrayed as fascinating, multi-faceted character. The story of Grosz is told through the character of Weiland Herzfelde, providing distance to Grosz’s exaggerated and erratic behaviour, as well as, a subplot that establishes the politics of Berlin in 1914. I really enjoyed the entrance of George Grosz in the graphic novel, stepping out of the shadows to complete outrage. McDougall’s simplified versions of Grosz’s illustrations are used sparingly but with impact.

I’m looking forward to issue #2 of The Many Faces of George Grosz but Keith McDougall says that is going to take some time – “The end of the year at the latest, I reckon.”


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