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.”