12 September 2013
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
CONTACT NAME: Marek Bennett
CONTACT URL: http://www.MarekBennett.com
CARTOONIST DRAWS STORIES OUT OF HIDDEN PAST, INVISIBLE PRESENT
New graphic novel documents “Fall in the Heart of Europe”
When cartoonist Marek Bennett announced his next travel comics project two years ago, he thought of it as a straightforward family history webcomic. Bennett planned to travel through his great grandmother’s native region of Eastern Slovakia, living with distant cousins and studying local stories, foods, languages, folk music, and artwork.
Within minutes of embarking on his journey, however, Bennett realized how much he still had to learn about the Eastern European communities he would be living and working in.
“My seat-mate on the flight to Europe was a German Jewish Holocaust refugee,” Bennett explains. “So there I was talking about this lovely trip I had planned to collect family stories from my distant cousins, and he just told me flat out: ‘When I go back to where I grew up, there is nobody left, there is nothing that I recognize.’ And I couldn’t get his story out of my head. I knew our very different family histories were somehow connected.”
Over the next few months, Bennett kept that link in mind, and watched firsthand as the Greek debt crisis brought the European Union economy to the brink of disaster, toppling the Slovak government and raising fears of economic collapse throughout the region. He also took part as his cousins observed seasonal traditions, celebrating holidays and harvests – and along the way uncovering grim reminders of the not-so-distant past in small forgotten cemeteries, on remote hillsides, and along wide well-traveled boulevards alike. Through it all, he drew daily comics documenting the scenes, stories, and people he encountered.
“I learned to look for what was missing,” Bennett says of his explorations, “and I began to see how the injustices and disappearances of the past might be playing out all over again in today’s European Union, right in plain sight, but invisible unless you look.”
In several comics, Bennett documents the culture of invisibility surrounding ethnic minorities in today’s EU communities: “It seems we are living in two towns at once,” he draws, and depending on which ethnic group he looks at, entire other sections of the picture frame become blank. This invisibility, disappearance, and separation become central motifs in Bennett’s cartooning and motivating factors in his narrative; the second half of his project focuses on discrimination against Roma populations in Eastern towns, including Bennett’s experiences drawing comics with students at a community center in an impoverished Roma ghetto.
During and after the trip, Bennett posted his comics to his website regularly, to share with friends back home and readers all around the world. He drew himself and his cousins as rabbits; other characters are different kinds of animals. “Maybe I got the idea from reading Maus (Art Spiegelman’s graphic novel memoir)”, Bennett says, “but the truth is, it’s a lot easier to draw people as animals… and it’s more fun to read, too.” Eventually, readers on the website funded the whole trip through donations and pre-orders of the project’s printed graphic novel edition.
This month, Bennett launches that graphic novel under the title, SLOVAKIA: Fall in the Heart of Europe. The 600-page book collects two years’ worth of comics drawn from the project. It is available on Bennett’s website, and at his COMICS WORKSHOP events and appearances throughout the Fall.