In Review: The Artist by Anna Haifish

The Artist - Cover

Created by Anna Haifish
Published by Breakdown Press
Published: 17th November 2016 (Available at Thought Bubble)

The Book: Anna Haifsch’s idiosyncratic, episodic comic chronicles the experiences of a young artist in his formative years, satirising the exclusive, ephemeral and frequently absurd world of fine art. Plagued by doubts and anxiety, the artist is confronted with constant setbacks punctuated by occasional, surprising glimpses of recognition.

Based on Haifsch’s own experiences as an illustrator in Germany and the United States, The Artist‘s sharp and self-deprecating observations resonate with the current generation, especially those who make art. In The Artist, Haifsch has encapsulated the feeling of what it means to be an artist in a compelling and believable way.

The Artist by Anna Haifsch - Sample 1The Story:

Being an artist can be difficult.

Crippling anxiety – tick.
Overprotective Parents – tick.
Socially Awkward – tick.

Creative Block – tick.

The Artist tells the story of an ‘artist’. They wander about in their Bohemian world of galleries, parties and dinners, full of needy and entitled individuals. This comic attempts to hold a mirror up to the oh so snooty world of art by highlighting one of their crowd.

Less a member of the “in crowd” and more a mess of feelings of laziness and inadequacy, it runs in a series of chapters that first featured in VICE! magazine but with some added new content.

The Artist by Anna Haifsch - Sample 2

The Artist by Anna Haifsch - Sample 3

The Review:When I first opened The Artist I was simultaneously pleased to see the abstract and representative nature of the scratchy, under rendered artwork but also, as I turned the pages, slightly annoyed by its lack of depth. This is a comic about the fine art and gallery culture that we see in most liberal cities. Anna Haifisch’s art style here is in keeping with this subculture and has a strange, alien nature to its line and colour. Pages are often bleakly under realised, often for humorous effect but they also have a childlike imitation quality to their realisation. It is almost like a child’s drawing crossed with abstract art and again crossed with the scrawlings of a madman locked in solitary confinement.

Indeed, the art is so abstract that I was unable to make out the sex of the central character.

The book opens on a skinny boned individual laying back on a mattress on the floor, holding a paintbrush over his face as the dark paint drips nearer and nearer to his/her eyeball. In that image, you see the epitome of the creative block. Not, as is often portrayed, an actual medical condition but rather a combination of laziness and lack of imagination and this is played on effectively.

The Artist by Anna Haifsch - Sample 4“The Artist” walks through this comic exploring the functions of his own ephemeral art career that is full of a crisis of confidence. He finds he’s unable to function at social gatherings, deal with the worry of his/her parents and the pressure of deadlines. And, as the cliche must prevail, has a contempt for his contemporaries. He is jealous of their social and artist abilities, he feels wholeheartedly that they are a genius when alone curled up in their bed but realisation dawns in the company of others.

Every generation is allowed their say and their commentary about art. This is without doubt. However, I feel that the story told and the humour attempted in The Artist has been seen before on quite a few occasions. Ever since comedian Tony Hancock played the painter in The Rebel (and indeed, long before that), we’ve had books, comics and movies that have pointed out the freakish, erratic, annoying, nutty, superior and downright odd behaviour of the ‘Art World’.

So, does this work as a longer form comic story? I am not sure. Unsurprisingly, given its original publication format in VICE, it’s told in bite size chunks that are more in tune with the pacing of a short one pager in a magazine or a webcomic.

Does the more original art style make up for the lack, at times, of originality in commentary and wordplay? Possibly. In my opinion it has a pleasingly scratchy style that at first I really liked for its originality. However, this became increasingly tiresome for my eyes and especially when reaching the played out ‘Artist on Trial’ chapter towards the end of the book. That lack of characterisation in this case adds an almost hollow coldness to the narrative, bleakly sucking the emotion out of the page.

What this has done is get me thinking. Is the whole book one big middle finger in the air, to not just the art world but to the overplayed fiction created in regards to its ridiculousness?

I’m probably a little too old and a sceptic of this cliche to enjoy this book. If you haven’t read anything by Daniel Clowes, Bob Fingerman or the recent book Artificial Flowers by Rachael Smith, then this might tickle your funny bone.

Although, to be honest, the pineapple placement in Story One did raise a smile.

• Find out more about Breakdown Press at their website www.breakdownpress.com or on Twitter @breakdownpress

• Breakdown Press will be celebrating the release of The ArtistThe Fever Closing by Liam Cobb and Treasure Island 3 by Connor Willumsen with a launch party at Gosh! Comics in London on 11th November 11th 7.00pm

Anna Haifisch is an artist and cartoonist living in Leipzig, Germany. She studied at the Leipzig Academy for Visual Arts Illustration and spent a year working at Kayrock Screenprinting Inc. in Brooklyn. She is one of the organisers of The Millionaires Club, one of the most internationally acclaimed small press comics festivals in Germany. Haifisch has self-published comics for many years, and published her first book Von Spatz with Rotopol Press in Germany in 2016.

• Anna Haifisch’s art and comics at her website and Twitter | Find here work including The Artist on VICE

Many thanks for reading.

John Freeman

The founder of downthetubes, John describes himself as is a "freelance comics operative", currently working as a freelance editor for TITAN COMICS, as Creative Consultant on the new DAN DARE audio adventures for B7 Media, and on promotional work for the LAKES INTERNATIONAL COMIC ART FESTIVAL and LANCASTER COMICS DAY. John has worked in British comics publishing for over 30 years, starting out at Marvel UK, where he edited a number of the Genesis 1992 books with Paul Neary. His numerous credits include editor of titles such as Doctor Who Magazine at Marvel and Star Trek Magazine and Babylon 5 Magazine at Titan Magazines, where he was Managing Editor. He also edited STRIP Magazine and worked as an editor on several audio comics for ROK Comics, including TEAM M.O.B.I.L.E. and THE BEATLES STORY. Most recently he is writing CRUCIBLE as a creator-owned project with 2000AD artist Smuzz, published on Tapastic; and DEATH DUTY and SKOW DOGS with Dave Hailwood for the digital comic 100% Biodegradable.

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