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Line Hoven:

Love Looks Away

This coming weekend, as part of the Comics, Manga & Co. exhibition at the Goethe-Institut London, the award-winning German graphic novelist Line Hoven is coming to London for Comica Festival. As well as demonstrating her techniques live on stage at the Comica Comiket independent comics market on Saturday November 10th, she will also be giving a workshop at the Goethe-Institut on Sunday November 11th. This is a rare opportunity to learn about making scraperboard illustrations, as Line explains and shares her techniques and gives personal guidance to help you adapt your chosen drawing or photograph into your own scraperboard picture.

This workshop will be held at the Goethe-Institut, 50 Princes Gate, London SW7 2PH from 11am to 5pm. It is limited to sixteen participants aged 18 and over. The ticket prices of £40 or £25 for concession and students includes materials, light lunch and tea & coffee. You can still book places for £40 or £25 concessions/students.

In anticipation of the English publication of Line’s exquisite graphic family memoir Love Looks Away by Blank Slate Books, here is my review based on its original German edition published in 2007 by Reprodukt as Liebe Schaut Weg.

Where do you belong, where is your true home, when your parents come from two sides of the Atlantic, and your grandparents from two sides of the Second World War? Perhaps one way to understand yourself is to understand where your parents came from and what made them who they are. Line Hoven is the daughter of a German father and an American mother. She appears in person only on the last two pages of this collection as a puzzled little girl who asks, "When are we going back home, Mommy?" and is reassured, "We are at home, honey." More a work of family history than autobiography, the quartet of tales in Liebe Schaut Weg (Love Looks Away) record one daughter’s attempt to document how her parents grew up, met and married, and after her father’s struggles to cope with the English language, settled in Germany.

With a mastery reminiscent of Thomas Ott, Hoven draws on scraperboard, a slow, demanding medium, her multiple incisions adding to the texture and intensity of emotion, place and atmosphere that we can examine in her literally arresting visuals. Her technique does not interrupt the flow of our reading, but it does add to the sheer presence of her drawings which invite us to return and reflect on their shimmering detail. Remarkably she even draws every word and mark on the papers and ephemera that begin each tale: her grandfather’s identity card, a pair of ice-skating tickets, a bill for a washing machine, an airline ticket. She adopts mainly a rhythm of four evenly-sized panels per page, with occasional two-panel panoramas and telling full pages for punctuation.

As for text, she keeps her dialogues pointed and restrained, often leaving panels silent to let her images do the talking. As a story of two countries and cultures, her book is unusual in using German and English, as appropriate to the setting and situation. My school German pretty much sufficed, but it might have been useful to include a brief translation, and once or twice the English is slightly unnatural. Between each story she places two pages of family photos, also drawn, with rather loosely handwritten captions beneath.

Her opening tale takes us back to her grandfather Erich Hoven’s boyhood as a member of Hitler’s Youth Movement and his dilemma when he discovers that the classical music he loves listening to on his home-made radio is by a Jewish composer, Mendelssohn. Notably his photograph as a ‘Jugend’ member is missing from the photo album page, but we see his marriage and children, including Reinhard, Line’s eventual father.

The hit song Baby, It’s Cold Outside provides the title for her second snapshot set in America’s snowy winter of 1942 during her grandmother Catherine’s teenage years in Michigan. The war hangs over her life too. Her patriotic boyfriend tells her, "I really hope we beat those Germans" and tries to enlist in the army, only to be rejected as unfit. In this story’s photographic coda, we see that they marry in 1945 and have their first child Charlotte Lorey, Line’s mother-to-be.

The third episode returns to Germany and Reinhard’s youth. A quiet, bookish lad, his love of science and science fiction is stifled by a demanding mother but made startlingly real when they watch a rocket launch on television in 1958. That their world is changing rapidly is also signalled by the latest vacuum cleaners, washing machines and other mod cons which his mother pores over in her glossy magazines.

Ten years later and the two families’ sagas entwine in the fourth incident. ‘Come closer’, when Charlotte, good at German, flies to Bonn to study literature for two years. It’s here that she meets and falls for Reinhard. Hoven cleverly handles the strains as Charlotte’s all-American parents take the flight over to Bonn and especially during a dinner when they meet Reinhard’s mother and father. Charlotte and Reinhard’s hopes for marriage are dashed when Charlotte’s father refuses his consent, his anti-German prejudice hardly diminished since the war. But her mother intervenes and finally they marry and move "over there" to America. The concluding scenes encapsulate Reinhard’s difficulties adjusting to his new life and language, prompting the young couple’s decision to relocate with their young daughter, Line, to Germany, back to "home".

Photographs only show us so much, big occasions, tiny moments, fleeting smiles, as they sit on the living room wall on the book’s front cover. By filling in those events between these snaps, Hoven’s lovingly crafted chronicle places them within a larger, more complex context and gives them a deeper resonance which anyone can respond to. Whatever differences and difficulties between her parents’ families, she shows that "love looks away", as the title says, because there can be forgiveness and understanding.

Posted: November 4, 2012

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Love Looks Away
by Line Hoven
(Blank Slate Books)