–Hans Fallada’s real name was Rudolph Ditzen – allegedly a combination of names from characters in Grimm’s fairy tales. But his life story was closer to a lurid nightmare than a fairy tale – and Hinrichs has successfully portrayed this with stunning images. By Lucy Renner Jones.
Mental breakdowns and psychiatric confinement, morphine addiction, the early murder of his best friend in a double suicide pact, ostracism then intimidation under the Nazi regime and his near-fatal shooting of his first wife. On the inside cover of his graphic novel, Hinrichs has drawn a series of snapshots from Ditzen-Fallada’s life: underneath a picture of the idyllic family house in Carwitz and a summer bathing scene of his wife and son, lies a syringe, while a bullet points towards a self-portrait. The writer’s unseeing eyes are masked behind glasses. ‘Carwitz the Idyll’ and ‘Carwitz the Nightmare’: the name of two chapters in Jenny Williams’ Fallada biography. Tranquillity and menace intertwined. Hinrichs illustrates a descent into hell, both by the real-life Fallada and his alter ego, Erwin Sommer, the protagonist of The Drinker.
Fallada wrote The Drinker while in Neustrelitz psychiatric prison in September 1944. He had been admitted for firing a pistol during an argument with his wife, luckily missing her. But for Suse Ditzen, it was the last straw in a succession of disasters. Their relationship ended. In Hinrichs’ novel, Fallada stammers the name of Erwin Sommer’s wife, Magda, during the drunken argument leading up to the shooting. It is a brilliant twist: the failing novelist, the addict, caught in his own fictional world.
At another time, the suicide of cartoonist Erich Ohser (alias e.o. plauen), who was imprisoned by the Nazis, is revealed: Fallada discovers his friend’s death while sitting on the prison toilet, piecing together the ripped newspaper pages provided for inmates as toilet paper. The great cartoonist’s works are abased, yet it’s also a reminder that cartoonists wield power and are taken seriously by fascist regimes, or, as more recent events show, fundamental religious groups.
Hinrichs uses expressionist pictures in CMYK colours, thickly outlined by inky blacks; at times the images look like those red-and-blue stereovision comics that had to be seen through 3D glasses. The story comes alive, literally jumps off the page. A double spread of Fallada screaming at the idea of bed bugs in his prison mattress, while torturing himself with idea that it might just be a hallucination induced by alcohol withdrawal, has strong echoes of William’s Burroughs Naked Lunch. With their addiction to alcohol, hallucinations, Burroughs’ fatal shooting of his wife, and Fallada’s near-fatal one, there is more than one parallel between Fallada and Burroughs.
Yet Hinrichs provides a moment of comfort that Burroughs never had, even though it comes from unlikely quarters: the animals from Fallada’s children’s tales, Geschichten aus der Mürkelei turn up. Fridolin the badger arrives in Fallada’s prison cell, and licks the bed bugs from his arms. Together they turn his prison bed into a flying carpet and sail on the wind back to Carwitz. Fallada walks in his moonlit garden and inspects his fruit trees. He sits cradling Fridolin’s head, giving a soliloquy on his woes while Fridolin patiently listens. The fairy tale comes, late.
Hinrichs has brilliantly illustrated Hans Fallada’s novel The Drinker. But he has done much more than that: he has interwoven the story of Fallada’s life, most of which seems like a more fictional tale than The Drinker, and has produced a fascinating account of the writer’s real-life struggle with addiction.
Lucy Renner Jones
Hans Fallada & Jakob Hinrichs: Der Trinker. Graphic novel. Metrolit, 2015. 160 Seiten. 25,00 Euro.