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Topographies of the beyond
"Where? Where am I here? Where is my body...?"

Berserk (Vol. 13) / Kentaro Miura

deutsche version ]

Heaven - Hell - Purgatory

There are not so many terms that are able to trigger still more spontaneous visual associations as this triadic topography of the beyond, evolved through the course of the centuries in Christianity and - with more or less great deviations - also in other world religions. For many centuries this differentiation took place only in theological discourses and literary narrations (although of course also in these cases in visual and pictorial notions); not least because of the image interdiction in Judaism and early Christianity. Only much later started the tradition of pictorial and sculptural depictions of those spaces of the beyond; and only in the High Middle Ages they were conquered acoustically - when music, in reminiscence of the music of the spheres, was integrated into liturgy. In the 20th century, for the first time, composers became interested in the imitation of the cacophony of hell. Even the common distinction between serious music and light music can be read as after-effect of the diad of heavenly and hellish music. Until today, the conception of these spaces of the beyond - born from strategies of fear - has been preserved nearly unchanged.It is an essential part of our mind, our world of imagination, influencing practically every field of cultural production and everyday culture such as literature, film, music, fine arts, and - comics.

In this sense the Comic Festival 2004 in Graz can be also be understood as a magazine, focusing on contemporary literary, pictorial, and acoustical interpretations of this topography - interpretations, always related to the Austrian comic scenes and several selected neighboring countries; with a special focus on successful narrative positions and, in a functional sense, on strategies of production of the D.I.Y. culture.

Excursus: Evil Manga

As starting point: Guts - the hero in Kentaro Miuras "Berserk" - works his way through a world, where historical times intermix and overlap; he works his way through Escherian dimensions, where godlike, disfigured creatures - "God Hand" - exercise their obscure power; where demons, zombies, and monsters tear everything alive into shreds, making life on earth at every moment to hell. A more striking contrast to Dante's strictly schematized conception of the beyond in his "Divine Comedy" - inferno, mountain of purgatory, and paradise - seems inconceivable. While with Dante everything happens logically and chronologically ordered, Kentaro Miura shows in more than 6000 black/white pages different sides of one and the same coin. In "Berserk" at all times the "in between" reigns.

Dealing with the beyond, the abysmal, the horror, has a long tradition in Japanese manga. Hideshi Hino, doyen of the genre, created with "Panorama of Hell" (Jigoku Hen) in 1982 a standard work. It tells about the nightmarish journey of a painter into his very personal post-nuclear hell. Hideshi Hino also produced a less well-known extravagence to this subject, whereby he once again thematized authorship in an extreme way. In "Mermaid in a Manhole" (Za Ginipiggu 4: Manhoru no naka no ningyo), considered to be one of the most disgusting films in history, a depressive painter dives into the underworld - to be precise: into the sewer system. "Here rest all the beautiful things I've lost". There in the garbage he finds not only the remains of his guinea pig, but also a mermaid whose decomposing body in the following serves to him as "material".

Horror-manga and films - the transition of themes and subjects from one medium into the other can also be exemplified with the manga of another master of horrors. Junji Itos "Spiral into Horror" (Uzumaki) as well as "Tomie" and "Kakashi" were successfully translated into film. On the other hand, the film classic "The Ring" (Ringu) was later turned into a manga version - a less noticed aspect of the current trend of comics adaptions into film; from "Spiderman" to "Punisher", but also "Hellboy".

Excursus: Purgatory in Independent Comics

These themes also play an important role in the contemporary Anglo-American and European comics production, such as "Jimbo in Purgatory" (published in autumn 2003) by the New York-based comics artist Gary Panter. He follows for the second time Dante's traces, this time sending his hero with the vacant look through a huge infotainment-test-complex. The first part (Inferno) was published in Matt Groenings "Zongo Comics".

Swiss artist Thomas Ott, widely known not only in German speaking countries, has published with "Dead End", "Greetings from Hellville", "Tales of Error" or "t.o.t.t." relevant comics on the subject. Ott's interest in the dark sides of reality is mirrored in the technique he has chosen: he scratches his wordless horror comics out of black scraping board. He is also a musician in the band "Beelzebub".

By the way, in 2004, the Comic Salon Erlangen dealt in their exhibition "Dante in Comic - Geography of the Beyond" with the placement of life after death. Incidentially, also Godard's last film, "Notre Musique" followed the tripartition of the "Divine Comedy".

(Text will be updated)

Excursus: Walking through fire

Whereas things seem to be quite clear concerning inferno and paradise (eternal sufferings or eternal bliss), the purgatory as a "realms of in- between" naturally seems to be more differentiated. Folllowing are some of the resulting questions and observations that might be of further interest - beyond the Catholic doctrine from which they are derived:

- Purgatory as place and punishment for the mediocre.Those who are not immediately transferred to hell (the deadly sinners) resp. to heaven (the holy) stew in the purgatory.
- Conception of time between finiteness and eternity. For praying a short simple prayer from 100 up to 300 days of purgatory are absolved; for a rosary 2000 days ("How to Avoid Purgatory" by Fr. Paul O'Sullivan).
- Purification through torments of love. In Katharina di Genova's explanation (15. century) the torments of purgatory result from the sinner's realization of the love of God.
- Purgatory as the empty space of theory. It resulted from the discrepancy between the two conceptions "individual judgement after death" and "general Last Judgement at the End of Days". The problem becomes especially distinctive in the conception of the limbo as in the "Limbus infantium" for the unbaptized children - an eternal feeling of "natural bliss"? In any case, it's not heaven.
- Hygienic factor / condition. Pope John Paul II ("Three Speeches at General Audiences in Summer 1999 on Heaven, Hell, and Purgatory"): "This term does not mean a place, but a condition. All the people who are "purified" after death for the encounter with God, are already enveloped in the love of Christ. But the purgatory is not an extension of the earthly existence. Humans cannot make a new decision. They cannot make up for what they have missed on earth."


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