Mawil is, quite rightly, considered a star in his native Germany, winner of numerous awards, his books sell extremely well, his fans are passionate and committed. But, as is the way with these things, huge success in Europe just doesn’t translate to sales in English. Blank Slate Books are huge fans though, and have brought four of his books to an English speaking audience; We Can Still Be Friends (review), Sparky O’Hare (review) and The Band (review coming soon!)
Home and Away is a collection of short stories from 2005 to 2007, and the first of Mawil’s books to get the benefit of added colour. Although to be honest, it’s almost unnecessary – everything that’s great about his art is present in the cartoony, playful pencil lines and the precarious balance he expertly navigates between tight storytelling control and freewheeling looseness.
With subjects ranging from growing up in East Berlin, terrible childhood camping trips, his stuttering problem, a post unification first visit to Berlin, a profound obsession with the video game Hitman, love letters to a beloved first car and a visit to a hippy summer camp, Home And Away certainly has a scattershot approach, but Mawil’s sublime, easy on the eye, flowing visuals and simple, clever storytelling carry the day.
If you’re after a substantial preview for Home And Away, and just some idea of what makes Mawil so entertaining, head to the Blanks Slate site for the full Hitman 2 story, the opening strip, where we see the power of a shoot ’em up to take over a young artist’s life:
(The irony of an artist “stuck at a computer screen all day” spending his time obsessively playing a video game…. from Mawil’s Hitman 2 strip in Home And Away)
Mawil’s work thus far has been unquestionably funny. Either out and out stupid clever funny of the gag based Sparky O’Hare or the bittersweet and gentle humour of Let’s Be Friends. Home And Away, again by virtue of it’s short story form, sits somewhere between the two.
There’s much sweetness here, but Mawil’s rarely a page or so away from a genuinely funny gag. The human touches you’ll find in We Can Still Be Friends aren’t so obvious, a short form strip does lend itself far easier to broad, instant gag, caricature – but even there his sweet nature wins through.
(Oh yes, turquoise. Mawil’s horror knows no bounds, but he falls in love with it quickly, mostly through denying it’s turquoise. And note the Sparky O’Hare cameo, complete with electrical mayhem)
Take the Skoda strip, a series of full colour pieces of the love affair between Mawil and his first car; a blue-green Skoda (it may look like turquiose to you, and to everybody Mawil knows, but he insists it’s bluish-green). The car may be junk, even with the addition of hideously garish go faster flames spray painted by the artist, but he loves it, and his memories of the car, all played out so hilarious sweetly here, are tied into the fond memories of youth.
The longest piece in Home And Away is Welcome Home, and at 46 pages we’re out of short story territory to full Euro albums worth of material. It’s one of the best in the book, as Mawil details a visit to a Hippy summer camp – nothing to do with the culture, more to do with the girls he imagined he’d find there.
Naturally amongst the nudity, the freedom, the openess, Mawil finds himself an outsider, and it’s beautifully, expressively shown by Mawil in a series of visually different page layouts. Welcome Home practically does away with panel borders, instead adopting a far more fluid panel edge, adding to the sense of freedom Mawil finds himself incapable of embracing. Poor thing is just too uptight, too calculating and paranoid for this lifestyle.
In Welcome Home there’s a beautiful page, a perfect distillation of the brilliance Mawil can unleash on a page: a magnificent party scene, where Mawil draws himself so well that you not only know what he’s going through but you can feel his discomfort and embaressment yourself. The crowd are depicted as loose, scetchy characters, blurring into one, all perfectly at home and relaxed. And then Mawil; sharp inks picking him out, an outsider being squeezed out through his own actions:
So, that’s the fourth Mawil book I’ve read, yet only the third I’ve reviewed. It’s great, it really is, and comparing it against most everything on the shelves it would shine. But compare it against Mawil’s previous work, and particularly We Can Still Be Friends and the next in the review pile; The Band, and it’s lacking something. As a collection of disparate works it showcases a selection of genuinely sweet, really funny experiences, but it’s not got the comleteness of the other two works.
Brilliant in comparison to the rest, and a lot of fun, but within the author’s own works, merely a short story collection.