Comics Are Not Always Comical

The words ‘comic books’ are typically associated with superheroes or witty satire, but according to Brett Sterling assistant professor of German, comics are not always so comical. As a kid, Sterling enjoyed reading comics. The illustrations of superheroes and villains battling it out intrigued him until the age of 13. He revisited the world of comics while in graduate school and now it has become part of his research.


I went to an intensive language camp for Russian and there was this guy there who suggested that I read the book The Watch- men. I went to Berlin immediately after the camp for about a year. I wandered into a bookstore and picked up The Watchmen, Art Spiegelman’s Maus, and a few other comics.


Sterling’s revisited interest in comics led to an even more intriguing genre, German comics. It was not until he arrived back in the States that he decided to look closely into German comics.


His interest grew into research and now he teaches a course on German comics. Sterlings's research is focused on the boom of German comics which began between 2005 and 2010. He said there wasn’t much quality comic production in Germany until the 2000’s. Comics are rare at the university level in any language.


He incorporates German comics mostly from the last ten years. He tries to introduce his students to comics about current issues such as LGBT rights, white supremacy, and the treatment of refugees in Germany. His assigned readings are usually from authors of the three primary German-speaking countries; Germany, Austria, and Switzerland.


Not all topics found in comics are easy to deliver. Sterling said he often introduces comics that deal with important topics such as violence, oppression or sexuality. There are comics that he finds really interesting but the material might be a little challenging for his students.


For example, Heute ist der letzte Tag vom Rest deines Lebens (Today Is the Last Day of the Rest of Your Life), one of Sterling’s required readings for his course, is an autobiography that includes portrayals of rape. Author, Ulli Lust, constructs herself in every single panel.


According to Sterling, the images may be too visceral for some readers,but they are necessary depictions 

the author’s experiences.