The Friday Comics Review
Berlin; City of Smoke by Jason Lutes (Drawn and Quarterly, 210 pages, $19.95). This is the second book in Lutes' Berlin trilogy (collecting issues 9 through 16 of the comic), a series that he's been working on for a dozen or so years. In this middle section of the story, set in Weimar Germany between the two world wars, he follows his main characters' lives after the May Day demonstration that ended the first volume.
The various aspects of Berlin society are depicted through the eyes of different characters. The writer Severing (pictured above) serves as the political observer, and it's through him and his writing that much of the history is told, as well as the impending move to Fascism. The homeless are represented by Silvia, a young girl left orphaned after the demonstration, who takes to the woods and is befriended by a Jewish beggar. Their lives on the street intersect with the neighborhood clashes between the Communists and the Nationalists.
And, in some of the book's most striking sequences, Lutes shows the decadent nightlife of Berlin from the viewpoint of Marthe, Severing's former lover who thrives in the city's lesbian scene.
There's a dumb quote on the back of the book from the Washington Post that suggests Berlin is "slow." It's anything but, and Lutes' panels and pages flow quickly and beautifully. It's remarkable how much detail he gets into his drawing and his characterizations, and his artwork is filled with both moody atmosphere and genuine emotion.
And needless to say, reading these chapters after what our own country has gone through financially gave added dramatic weight to scenes like this one, of a bank president in 1929, sitting in his office after the crash.
Berlin is as serious a comics project as any artist has ever set out to do, and so far Jason Lutes has been up to the challenge-- it's riveting work. When it's finally completed, it will be a great day for comics. Even now, it's still pretty great.
(Send Steve an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.)