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Morgenstadt 2050:

Stories from Today & Tomorrow

Here’s my introduction to a 208-page trilingual print anthology compiling a fascinating collaborative online comics blog, updated weekly, entitled Morgenstadt 2050, otherwise known as issue number 107 of the Moga Mobo series of free comics. This project is being co-ordinated by the enterprising Berlin-based Moga Mobo collective, consisting of Legron (alias Thomas Gronle), Titus Ackermann and Jonas Greulich, in partnership with the Goethe Institute in Taipei, Taiwan.

The trio are presenting their German comics alongside contributions from thirteen Asian creators: Zhang Wen, Coco Wang, Nudepig (Liu Zheng) and Little Kong from China; Chang Fang-Chih, Li-Chin Lin, Push (Ah-Tui) and Grizzly Monster from Taiwan; Sobogi (Hyun-Joo Lee) from Korea; and Smelly (Dai Okazaki), Tsuyoshi Ogawa, Motonobu Hattori and Hiwa (Hiwatashi Hiroyuki) from Japan.

All of them use comics to explore life in the cities of today and in the not-so-distant future of 2050. Co-ordinator-cartoonist Titus Ackermann informs me that, after its successful debut in Taiwan (see photo below), their accompanying exhibition of illuminated mini-dioramas set inside a stacked metropolis of cardboard boxes will be touring to Beijing, Nanjing and maybe Shanghai this August and September. You can watch Jonas’s Vimeo video of it here.

Somehow, tomorrow is not what it used to be. Science fiction predictions in popular culture from the past can be fascinating and fanciful, but they do not always prove to be entirely accurate. In the nineteenth century, Frenchman Albert Robida wrote and illustrated remarkably inventive novels anticipating how advances in technology would transform our everyday lives. So it’s disappointing that today, living in the distant future of the early 21st century, we are not flying about using personal jetpacks strapped to our backs as Robida imagined, and as the artist Push from Taiwan portrays below in his tale of Moptop at the art academy of 2050.

Almost from their earliest days, comic creators have visualised ‘Things To Come’, sometimes as bright, shining utopias in Buck Rogers or Zig & Puce, otherwise as grim dystopias, such as Judge Dredd‘s Mega City or Akira‘s NeoTokyo. Now the pan-Asian and German contributors to the Morgenstadt project are constructing their personal metropolises by extrapolating from our current global situation and the challenges posed by climate change and by envisaging a third option, neither a bleak nightmare nor a perfect Nirvana, but a sustainable, and attainable, future way of life for our planet.

The Berlin-based, internationally-proactive group Moga Mobo has worked closely with the Goethe Institut to develop this project, after their successful collaborations with comic artists as far afield as Cuba, Lebanon, Algeria and Slovenia. This team of talented German cartoonists has connected with their peers across Asia, from China, Japan, South Korea and Taiwan to take a fresh, creative, individualistic approach to engaging the public with how we can all help our world to survive and prosper ecologically through this new century.

Once again, comics prove to be a global language, a ‘lingua comica’, the perfect, highly personalised communication medium writing in pictures, and often also in words. Out of these artistic exchanges since May 2011 is emerging a deeper understanding and appreciation, both of the commonly shared systems of graphic storytelling between different cultures, and of the innovations being discovered that continue to enrich and expand this highly effective and affecting medium. Because even this far into the future from their ancient origins in cave paintings and ‘primitive’ art, comics are still being invented and we can still learn from each other.

One key advance that has truly transformed comics is, of course, the internet. Suddenly, a whole array of obstacles between the creators of comics and their readers has been removed. In the past, aspiring cartoonists would have to struggle to sell their work to a publisher, who in turn would have to print and distribute it to retailers, who then have to attract the public to buy and read it. Now we are experiencing the wonder of cartoonists being able to traverse lands and languages and reach a worldwide audience directly with their webcomics. It’s like the wildest fantasy in a science fiction comic come true!

Not surprisingly, Morgenstadt‘s contributors initially produced their strips online, posted on a shared blog and readable in five languages - English, German, traditional and simplified Chinese, Japanese and Korean. Many younger creators and consumers only read comics on their computer, mobile phone or other platforms, but these have not yet completely replaced the printed, paper versions. There remains a touch of irony that this analog book collection will actually preserve some of the best digital comics from the blog for tomorrow’s readers. By putting them into print form, they will be saved from being swept away on the endless tide of still more new blog entries and web content posted and then forgotten every day.

What if recycling rubbish became a kind of carnival celebration, so thrilling it’s done twice a day, as shown in Chang Fang-Chih’s drawing above and its diorama version below? What if the air in our cities becomes as crystal clear as at the North Pole? What if only the very rich had access to clean seawater for swimming? What if speaking was prohibited to reduce carbon emissions? What if a giant glass coffee cup cut off a city from the outside world? What if cars could convert negative energy from humans and convert it into electricity? What about a National Shit University to find solutions to disposing of radioactive waste?

Issues of population control, traffic congestion, overcrowding, the environment, the divide between rich and poor, rampant capitalism, recyclable bicycles, and more have been tackled on the Morgenstadt blog. Whether earnest or satirical, these gifted international cartoonists offer plenty of perceptive questions, insights and projections, for better and for worse, looking from life in 2011 ahead to the ‘Tomorrow City’ of Morgenstadt 2050.

How real any of their stories might become is hard to say, but the power of human imagination and belief to transform ideas and designs from paper or pixels into tangible existence should never be underestimated. To make the future, we first have to write and draw the future. Tomorrow belongs to us all to imagine. Step into these brave new worlds of Morgenstadt 2050 and you may find they are closer than any of us think.

Posted: April 1, 2012

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