Another Approach to Teaching Kafka through Graphic Texts: Ulf K‘s Hieronymus B.
Ulf K., Hieronymus B. 1997-2007. Wuppertal: Edition 52, 2007.
Thanks to Mary Gell, University of Michigan, for introducing me to this collection of wordless short sketches about the character Hieronymus B. Because the stories consist only of pictures, a text like this one forces students to pay attention to the art and its function separate from words. Its themes come across as “Kafkaesque,” which is why this thin volume could serve as an effective companion to other graphic renditions of Kafka texts (R. Crumb, Peter Kuper, Eric Corbeyran), or as a thematic introduction to the authentic texts.
In the jacket copy for the German version, Ulf K. describes the character as follows (see caption):
KafKa in KomiKs Ausstellung, Stuttgart: Multimedia Exhibit celebrating Kafka’s works in comic form.
SWR News Package about the Exhibit
Article Review: ,,Dem Fremden begegnen: Die Verwandlung als Graphic Novel”
,,Die Verwandlung von Franz Kafka ist ein viel gelesener Text in der Schule. Durch die Beschäftigung mit der Graphic Novel von Eric Corbeyran und Richard Horne begegnen die Schüler dem Thema des Fremden auf produktive Weise.” –Anja Ballis, Deutschunterricht 4-2013.
The latest edition of the German pedagogical journal Deutschunterricht carries the subtitle “Kafka neu entdecken.”
In this edition, Anja Ballis presents a theme-oriented reading of the Corbeyran/Horne/Wilkens graphic novel version of Kakfa’s Die Verwandlung, the same text around which I built my Verwandlung-curriculum found in The German Graphic Novel web resource.
Unlike my curriculum, which is intended for high school and college students who are learning German as a second language, Dr. Ballis’s exercises are intended for native German-speaking Gymnasiasten in the 10th grade. Nonetheless, the exercises, because of the clarity of presentation and the presence of universal themes, could certainly be implemented in American and high school German classrooms.
Ballis’s article offers a brief publication background of the graphic novel version and explains in detail one example of an “Unterrichtsbaustein.” Although the article is limited to this one thematic unit, the structure of the unit itself serves as a model that instructors could use in designing other similar lessons with this graphic novel or other German graphic novels.
From the outset, Ballis makes it clear that when students read the graphic novel version of Die Verwandlung, they are reading an adaptation, which indeed has gone through many phases and navigated different languages. The graphic novel version under discussion here first appeared in 2009 in France by Eric Corbeyran with illustrations by Richard Horne. In 2010, a German version of the text appeared. The German translator Kai Wilkens said: “Grundsätzlich musste ich mich entscheiden: Wem halte ich die Treue–Kafka oder Corbeyran? Corbeyran hat ,Die Verwandlung’ relativ frei nacherzählt. Ich wollte näher an der Vorlage bleiben, weil sie ein deutscher literarischer Text ist. Deshalb habe ich Originalpassagen von Kafka übernommen und für den Comic adaptiert” (Ballis 20).
Wilkens’ comments on the multi-layered and critically complicated aspects of the professional considerations that an artist or author faces when adapting a classic text confirm the soundness of Ballis’s recommendation that students read Kafka’s original work first. When they read the original literary text before the graphic novel adaptation, it remains clear that they are analyzing an adaptation and not simply an illustrated version of the original.
An Overview of the Unit:
The unifying theme for the curricular unit is “Fremdheit” or “Fremdes,” and the instructions for each of the steps, by way of various practical and analytical approaches, direct the learner back to this theme.
Introduction: To introduce the unit and to call attention to visual representations and critical discussions surrounding them, the instructor shares the original quotation from Kafka’s letter to his publisher in which he expresses his fear of having the creature depicted on the book’s cover: “Das Insekt selbst kann nicht gezeichnet werden. Es kann aber nicht einmal von der Ferne gezeigt werden.” The plethora of internet images that emerge when one searches for Die Verwandlung or Kafka opens an important initial critical dialogue in which the students discuss the stark opposition between Kafka’s wish and the vast and ever-increasing index of visual images associated with his literary works.
Working with Specific Pages from the Graphic Novel: In her article, Ballis mentions the process of leading students toward a “new way of seeing” a text, or a “neues Sehen.” She has identified three key pages that all support analysis of the overarching theme of Fremdheit. These pages also incidentally mark the three major parts into which many scholars and readers have divided Die Verwandlung. The first page depicts Gregor on the morning when he discovers he has been transformed: “das Fremdsein im eigenen Körper” (Ballis 21).
image from mainpost.de
The second page depicts ways that the family members try to cope with the change: “Ausdruck des Fremdseins in der sozialen Welt” (Ballis 21). The third page that completes the lesson and complements the theme is the very last page when the family is able to leave the apartment after Gregor’s death: “als Beispiel für den Umgang mit dem Fremden” (Ballis 21). The article provides more detailed instructions on how to approach the pages and how to regard the interaction of text and picture. I encourage you to purchase a copy or subscribe to Deutschunterricht if you’d like to see more!
Materials: Reproducible worksheets are also part of the article.
Ballis’s unit makes an important contribution to relatively small amount of existing materials in German that deal with teaching literature, culture, and abstract themes through graphic novels. With her careful didactisizing of the material, Ballis demonstrates to fellow German-speaking educators that utilizing the graphic novel format can lead students to similar achievements in studying and understanding literature as reading conventional texts.