"Helden" and "Dorn" - because Germany can have bad comics, too!

Discussion in 'Comic Books and Graphic Novels' started by Nevermore, May 19, 2011.

  1. Nevermore

    Nevermore It's self-perpetuating a parahumanoidarianised!

    Joined:
    May 14, 2004
    Posts:
    13,974
    News Credits:
    240
    Trophy Points:
    312
    Location:
    Germany
    Likes:
    +414
    In the late 1990s, a small German comic publisher named IPP (Ideenschmiede Paul & Paul) released their own comic, a fantasy/action title named "Helden", intended to cash in on the success US superhero comics were having in Germany at that time. In fact, the company was founded specifically so they could release "Helden". Written and drawn by Ralf Paul, the plot is allegedly based on the transcript of an RPG session. Surprisingly enough, despite a ridiculously optimistic production run for German standards at that time (simply ridiculous by today's standards), issue 1 sold out within months, a success repeated by issue 2. Well, don't expect a monthly release schedule from a self-created title by an upstart German publisher, so it took four years to get all six issues out.

    Note that the comic was not "cancelled", as it was billed as a "prequel" to a German superhero comic named "Dorn" starting with issue 2 (which got an additional numbering as "Dorn -5" on its cover). After Helden finished its six-issue run, a trade paperback named "Helden light" was published (with the additional numbering "Dorn 0"), followed by Dorn #1 shortly afterwards. How a superhero story set in modern-day Germany (actually, by the time the comic came out, it was set in the then far-flung future of... 2007) can spin out of a fantasy comic set in a medieval-style world? That's partially explain in issue 7. Which is part of issue 6. Yes.

    And because the Paul brothers thought that "Helden", being that successful in Germany (well, the first two issues, at least), was far too good to be limited to their home country, they decided to release an English version of it as well. Through a joint venture named "Caption Comics", the six issues of "Helden" were released in the USA in 2001, this time on a monthly schedule. Reportedly, distribution was bad, and people actually interested in a translated German comic had a lot of trouble getting their hands on the issues. I've also read reports back in the day that the US issues were mostly re-imported by Germans who already owned the German edition. "Dorn", meanwhile, was never released in the USA.

    Speaking of "Dorn": The title "Helden" was billed as a mere "prequel" to only got four issues out to this day. Issue 5 has been announced since 2006 or so. Seriously.

    But now, IPP are making the already released issues of "Helden" and "Dorn" available as webcomics, in both languages. For free. The only downside is that "Helden" only gets updated with two pages a week, and Dorn with one page a week. So it's going to be a while until you can read the whole thing.

    However, "Helden" #1 is available in its entirety at this point. You can read the English version here:
    Helden : IPP-Comics

    I'll share my own thoughts on it later. Only so much for now: The artwork... isn't that bad. Sure it's inspired by early 1990s Image Comics (Ralf Paul cites Todd McFarlane's "Spawn" and Dale Keown's "Pitt" as inspirations), but there's no denying that a lot of effort went into it, and you can kinda see why it took so long for a new issue to come out...

    The story, on the other hand, is just bad. The characters are bland, I can't even tell who most of these guys are after having read the whole thing three times, the plot is meandering and ultimately devolving into an insane mess with a stupid, stupid "ending"... More on that by the time the online re-publication reaches issue 6.

    The English version, despite coming across as somewhat stilted, isn't that bad from what I can tell, having compared it to the original. There are no less than four (!) translators credited for the six issues, two of them for all six of them. There's only one genuine translation error later down the road, plus one character who I found a lot more annoying than in the German version due to a stupid accent thy decided to give him that's not in the original version. And no, before anyone asks, the comic really "doesn't make more sense if you read it in German". Everything that's faulty with the storytelling is there in the original as well.

    The worst part, though? This is one of the most ambitious, professionally done comics (by US standards, at least) ever to come out of Germany.
     

    Attached Files:

  2. RabidYak

    RabidYak Go Ninja Go Ninja Go

    Joined:
    Nov 28, 2003
    Posts:
    8,476
    Trophy Points:
    232
    Likes:
    +40
    Whats the comics landscape like in Germany? I know that Panini and Egmont are into American and Japanese imports respectively, but can't say that i've got clue one about whats produced natively over there.

    Judging from the above, would I be right in assuming that the proper talent works in the French market instead?
     
  3. Nevermore

    Nevermore It's self-perpetuating a parahumanoidarianised!

    Joined:
    May 14, 2004
    Posts:
    13,974
    News Credits:
    240
    Trophy Points:
    312
    Location:
    Germany
    Likes:
    +414
    The comic book market in Germany is mostly made up by:

    A) Translated Disney comics (US and Italian in origin)
    B) Translated French/Belgian comics
    C) Translated US comics (Marvel/DC/Image/independents), with Panini being pretty much a monopolist these days due to many smaller publishers going bankrupt
    D) Translated manga

    (Some local comic book stores and online retailers also offer, or even specialize in, imported US comics.)

    Actual German-produced comics only make up a very small part of the market, and they're often more in French/Belgian style, or in black and white to minimize production costs, etc. And with the market these days being only a shadow of what it was in the 1990s, there's really not much to expect there. Low production runs, no lengthy ongoing stories etc. There's a few webcomic projects here and there, but "Helden" and "Dorn" are pretty much the pinnacle of elaborately produced comics that try to emulate the style of mainstream US comics. Too bad the story is so lackluster.

    We also have our own Free Comic Book Day now. The second installment was just last Saturday.
     
  4. RabidYak

    RabidYak Go Ninja Go Ninja Go

    Joined:
    Nov 28, 2003
    Posts:
    8,476
    Trophy Points:
    232
    Likes:
    +40
    Sounds rougth. How is distribution going in terms of newstand, speciality shops and small press?

    Also, had there always been a relative lack of original German content compared to imported material or has it just become commerically unviable to produce due to the state of the market?

    Boring questions I know, but i'm always interested to hear whats going on with comics elsewhere in ther world.
     
  5. Nevermore

    Nevermore It's self-perpetuating a parahumanoidarianised!

    Joined:
    May 14, 2004
    Posts:
    13,974
    News Credits:
    240
    Trophy Points:
    312
    Location:
    Germany
    Likes:
    +414
    In the mid-1990s, at the height of the big boom for translated US superhero comics, newsstand distribution was about on part with specialty stores. These days, comic book stores are the main place to get comics, with bookstores offering the odd hardcover or graphic novel (basically, anything with an ISBN), and a few specifically-for-children comics (usually with toys included) still available at newsstands.

    Translated comics have always been the norm. I think the number of domestically produced comics actually went up over the years, though I don't have that much of a frame of reference there. It has more to do with the general acceptance of the medium (or lack thereof). Whereas in France and Belgium, comics are a widely accepted part of culture, the German public still widely considers comics "them kids stuffs". There's also been some crackdowns on adult comics in the 1990s (because comics are for kids, therefore comics inappropriate for kids are bad, duh), though that problem has apparently been improved on since the turn of the millennium.
     
  6. RabidYak

    RabidYak Go Ninja Go Ninja Go

    Joined:
    Nov 28, 2003
    Posts:
    8,476
    Trophy Points:
    232
    Likes:
    +40
    Interesting stuff, particularly in contrast to other major European countries.

    Perhaps the various political and economic conditions in Germany throughout the decades where the medium was developing elsewhere prevented the establishment of a solid local comics tradition of the sort thats kept UK and US comics rolling in the the face of kiddie stigma and market decline.
     
  7. Nevermore

    Nevermore It's self-perpetuating a parahumanoidarianised!

    Joined:
    May 14, 2004
    Posts:
    13,974
    News Credits:
    240
    Trophy Points:
    312
    Location:
    Germany
    Likes:
    +414
    All right, let's dig into Helden #1!

    The cover is just... wargh. Okay, from what I recall reading, the cover was the first piece of Helden artwork ever done, originally intended to sell the concept to a publisher (?), so it's not necessarily representative of the interior artwork, but.. wow. Benwick, the main character, is standing in a generic pose whre he's seen from above at an angle, his legs are in shackles, he's holding his hands up with blood dripping from them. He tilts his head back, with the wet hair swinging around. The perspective has flaws, but the anatomy is worse. HOW HUGE ARE HIS HANDS? And the neck... argh. The first thing this pose, including the perspective, reminds me of is the first page of Warrior #1. DESTRUCITY!!!!!!! The chain that connects his feet is also ridiculously oversized. It should weigh so much, he shouldn't be able to move at all! Meanwhile, the chain is so long it shouldn't hinder his movement much. Yeaaah. He also doesn't appear to have a knee.

    Page 1. "Somewhere. In a world before our time!" A bottle is dropped by someone, and we promptly switch to another scene. The scene with the bottle sets up things that will happen later. The way it's done here, it just confuses the reader. Why is a bottle dropped? Why is this relevant? By the way, the exact setting of this story is revealed later, but from what we will learn, there's no particular reason for it to be set in the "past".

    And now we're in the Gosian Empire. I love how the caption states that the Empire is at war for Burgol, and then a footnote has to explain what this "Burgol" is. This will happen frequently in this comic: Random names are thrown at the reader, and a footnote has to clarify their significance.

    I also love how so many characters in this story are supposed to speak various fictious languages that are alway translated for the reader's convenience, and signalized so by <single angle quotes>. What baffles me in particular about this is how there's apparently one "main" language that's not "translated". Aside from one plot point where a language difference is relvant, it just comes across as.. odd.

    Page 2-3. Meet Benwick, our main "hero". He's imprisomed for unspecified reasons, and forced to engage in gladiatorial fights. He's not exactly shy of killing his opponents, it appears. The artwork on this double-page spread is awul. The anatomy is bad, the opponent has a hand large enough to squeeze Benwick's head, and the spectators in the background are really awkwardly drawn. Fortunately, this is one of the worst drawn pages in this comic, so everhing else is an improvement. Also, note the ridiculously oversized single shoulder pad.

    Page 4. Pointless chatter between characters we will never see again. Also, really IN YOUR FACE captions that provide character EXPOSITION start HERE.

    Page 5: Wow, they really had to squeeze a huge amount of text into a single speech bubble. It's even worse in the German version, where the font keeps getting smaller and smaller so it fits in.

    More pointless bickering between two soldiers we will never see again. "Ey yo man, you smacked da beotch?" - Nah, she dumped me!" - "You da loser, man!"

    I love how the comic openly admits where it ripped its main character off from. No, he's not Conan! It's Benwick, who talks in his own unique speech bubbles with his own unique font for whatever reason.

    Page 6: More BLATANT but pointless EXPOSITION. Okay, we get it, he's a good fighter. Can we please move on with the story?

    "Unofficial fights"? So the other ones are official? Weird.

    Page 7: BEES. MY GOD.

    Oh hey, its that bottle again. Also, a really creepy kid with a creepy font that makes him look like a lunatic. i'm getting a "jAam Hot Shot" vibe from him. And he talks in another language, too!

    How do these guys see the bottle and can't reach it before the kid gets there? I mean, how do they even SEE it from that distance? The location layout of this scene is confusing the hell ot of me.

    Page 8: So they can see him take the bottle, and then he's gone before they even decide to follow him? Also, PROFANITY! Yeah, this is a German comic, our standards in that regard are somewhat different from your American sensibilities. ;) 

    BEES! MY GOD!

    mAn, thIs kiD iS CreEPy!

    Page 9: All these muscular men dressed only in loincloth look kinda... er... And one of them is wearing only a... speedo? Is this Centurion gay or what?

    Isn't "centurion" a military title? This guy acts more like a monarch.

    What exactly is the purpose of the panels with the bird catching the rat?

    Page 10: The anatomy gets better, but Benwick in his loincloth still looks... funny. HEROIC POSE, nontheless.

    ... which is immediately ruined by the fact that they imprisoned his MOTHER. Ooooh, big man Benwick is still mommy's little boy.

    More exposition! Show, don't tell!

    Page 11: Now we're suddenly IIIIIIIIIN SPAAAAAAAAAACE! There's a huge... bang? Whatever. And something falls down on the planet (I won't call it "Earth", as we will soon learn it isn't). Something that's... alive?

    The German online edition has notes for this page. Here's my translation: "Don't worry, the comic is and remains purely fantasy! Page 10 [note by me: Pages 2 and 3 are counted as one page in the online edition] is simply a tribute to all the gamemasters and game world creators out there who simply let something like this loose on the world, either on a whim or because they want to direct the RPG session into a specific direction".

    Here's my alternate translation: "I'm making this whole thing up as I go along."

    That's the first half of issue 1. I'll cover the other half soon.
     

Share This Page