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Ralf König Receives Important German Comics Award

by Rob Blauwhuis in Films & Books , 03 november 2017


In the documentary “König des Comics” that Rosa von Praunheim made in 2012 about the German comics artist Ralf König, a straight fan answered the question whether someone could become gay reading König’s comics with a heartfelt “yes.”

It was meant ironically, of course, but the answer does indicate that König’s hilarious narratives have an audience that is much wider than just gay men, and that the comics did contribute to the acceptance of homosexuals. In the movie, Von Praunheim has the artist meet a gay fan from Switzerland, who euphorically asks him questions and tells him how much König’s work has helped him in his coming out. As this Swiss gay man undoubtedly is not the only one König has helped in his self-acceptance, this certainly should be considered a great emancipatory achievement.

Ralf König, who himself came out of the closet as a nineteen-year-old, was born in Soest in the German federal state of North Rhine-Westphalia on August 8, 1960. As early as 1979 and during his coming-out, he published his first, short and very engaged comics against the backdrop of the politicized gay movement in the magazine “Rosa Flieder,” among other print media. “Rosa Flieder” was the most important non-commercial German gay magazine between 1979 and 1989 and was made by volunteers. Among other things, the magazine advocated the abolition of the infamous paragraph 175 of the German Penal Code prohibiting sexual acts between two men - only finally abolished in June 1994 - but also discussed issues in the gay movement and the social acceptance of gays in general, regardless of the legal situation.

In 1981, König published the first part of his “SchwulComix” with Berlin’s gay publishing house Rosa Winkel, followed by “SchwulComix 2” and “Macho Comics” in 1984. His breakthrough came in 1987 with “Der bewegte Mann” (translated as “Maybe... Maybe Not,” 1998) which appeared at the renowned general publishing firm Rowohlt, and was made into a movie by Sönke Wortmann in 1994 with German film star Til Schweiger in one of the leads. A few years later, Schweiger would star alongside Angelina Jolie in Jan de Bont’s “Lara Croft: Tomb Raider – The Cradle of Life.”

“Der bewegte Mann” is one of the most successful German films ever with 6.5 million visitors in Germany alone, although König himself was also critical of the film. Unlike the comic book “Der bewegte Mann” was based on, only the gay characters are caricatures in the movie, unlike the heterosexuals, which gives the film a “heteronormative” point of view.

Even before the movie was a success, König’s career had already soared. Meanwhile, his work is translated into eighteen languages, and even the honourable French newspaper “Le Monde” praised him with the remark: “It is rare for a German to make us laugh.”

It is therefore logical that König will be awarded the biennial Wilhelm Busch Award on November 1st. This prize, with ten thousand Euro of prize money presented to the artist, is named after the German poet and artist Wilhelm Busch (1832-1908). Busch still receives wide critical acclaim as the creator of the 1865 strip cartoon “Max and Moritz: A Story of Seven Boyish Pranks,” which was also translated into English. The story of two scoundrels who make their village unsafe consists of drawings with rhyming text lines with each illustration.

The book is therefore seen as a forerunner of the comic strip. Initially, the book was not very successful, but after a second edition in 1868, sales rose steadily. In the year of Busch’s death, sixty-five editions had appeared with over 430,000 copies sold. This success made pedagogues criticize the book as a frivolous piece of work with a harmful effect on youth - “despicable reading material for youth,” as someone described the book.

In the 1990s, Ralf König’s work was also criticized by the so-called youth protectionists who wanted to blacklist some books. Especially the Bavarian “Landesjugendamt” showed great zeal. The responsible body, the Federal Review Board for Media Harmful to Minors, rejected a ban of “Bullenklöten” (1992, translated as “Bull’s Balls,” 2002), among others, referring to the freedom of art. In 1996, however, a Regulation of the Public Prosecutor’s Office in Meiningen (in central Germany) conducted an investigation in which a number of bookshops were raided, and comic strips by various artists, including König’s “Kondom des Grauens” (1987, translated as “The Killer Condom,” 1991) were confiscated. This story about a castrating and killing condom that revolves around New York’s brothels was made into a movie by director Martin Walz in 1996.

What the censor-happy still do not seem to realize, despite recorded historical evidence, is that something that perhaps will become illegal is given even greater appeal by doing so. König’s career was not harmed by this, as the Wilhelm Busch Award proves. The jury even praises König as “in following in the footsteps of Wilhelm Busch (...) he goes against all attempts to restrict freedom of thought, and is emphasizing self-development, even and maybe especially against social resistance.”

The Wilhelm Busch Award is not the first one that honours Ralf König. In Italy, for example, he was awarded for “Bullenklöten” (Palle di toro) and in Spain for “Kondom des Grauens” (El condón asesino). Coincidence or not, these are precisely the titles that got the protectors of good morals up in arms in König’s country of origin. This does not mean, however, that König did not receive any praise in Germany, as in addition to various other awards, he was honoured four times with the biennial Max and Moritz Prize, which is awarded at the International Comic-Salon in Erlangen. In 2014, he even received an Honorary Prize for his life’s work.

Ralf König and Rosa von Praunheim

The very first award König received, however, was the Joop Klepzeiker Prize, which he received in 1988 in Amsterdam. This award, named after the Dutch cartoon character Joop Klepzeiker (created by Eric Schreurs), was set up by comics publisher Ger van Wulften, who hoped the award would enhance the appreciation of comic art. The current popularity of “graphic novels” proves that this intention - due to or in spite of the award - has fully come to fruition, and that Ralf König is a bright example of the pleasure comic strips can give.
 



 







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