Mechanisms for the Rise of Totalitarianism – Review by Marcos Manoel Silva Severiano (URCA) on the book “Berlim”, by Jason Lutes

Jason Lutes | Image: El Español

Abstract: Berlin, released in Brazil in 2020, is a writing about the German past, with the rise of Nazism in the 1920s, in a Graphic Novel format. Interweaving lyricism and realism, the result of extensive research for the historical foundation, the work aims to reflect on the strategies used by the regime to become a viable option in the minds of the German people.

Keywords: Nazism, Totalitarianism, Comics, Graphic Novel.


Berlin, by American comic artist Jason Lutes (translation into Portuguese by Alexandre Boide), was published in Brazil in 2020, by Veneta. In its 592 pages, the book addresses the rise of Nazi ideas in the capital of the Third Reich during the 1920s and 1930s, with the aim of subtly demonstrating the strategies for building an extremist mentality among citizens, permeating the everyday speeches of the subjects. Berlin was awarded in two categories of “Excellence in Graphic Literature” and with nominations for the “Harvey Awards” and “Eisner” awards, aimed at recognizing great works of the genre.

Jason Lutes, from New York, enchanted by the style of European comics since he was a child, began his career doing work for the independent publisher “Fantagraphics Books”, responsible for labels such as “Eros Comix”. The author also found space for his strips in the weekly magazine The Stranger, from Seattle, where he published them for several years, being compiled in the book Jar of Fools. But success and recognition was achieved with Berlin, which arrived in Brazil in 2020. The work is the product of extensive research, which consumed more than 20 years of consultations with documentary collections referring to the Weimar Republic in Germany. In the original version, the publication was divided into three volumes, later compiled into a single volume, the format in which it reached the Brazilian public.

In Book 1 – “Cidade de Pedras”, Lutes introduces us to Berlin in the second decade of the 20th century through the eyes of “ordinary” characters (artists, singers, journalists, newspaper sellers, ex-combatants, among others), highlighting, from a specific perspective, the urban, social and political transformations experienced by Germany.

The author begins his narrative by introducing the young Marthe Müller, from a petty bourgeoisie in the German countryside, who, after rebelling against her father in the face of an arranged marriage, leaves for Berlin to study art and experience the emerging experience of modernity that radiated through the German capital.

Still in the train car, which transports her on the interior-capital journey, she has her first contacts with the city that awaits her from the dialogues with Kurt Severing, a Berlin journalist who was investigating the production of a German air force, something that contravened the determinations of the Treaty of Versailles. From this encounter, a bond is born that will permeate the entire work and will serve as one of the axes used by the author.

Berlim (2020), of Jason Lutes (p.15)

Still in this first book, Lutes introduces us to the Brauns, a family impoverished by the political measures adopted in the country and who are experiencing the beginning of a religious segregation that is gaining an air of normality in the eyes of the city. Berlin is seen as a cosmopolitan city, which contrasts the advances of progress, with its trams, universities, newspapers, cabarets, with the, still present, carriages and horses, the lack of basic sanitation and the precariousness of urban constructions, due to the bombings of the First World War. The polyphony built from the different characters is a striking point, but the need to contextualize the setting and the characters, historical or not, makes the narrative prolong too much in this first volume.

In book 2 – “Cidade de Fumaça”, the author further highlights the aspects of “progress” present in the city, linking them to a growing intelligentsia and an emerging bourgeoisie, including the growth of institutions such as workers’ movements, organizing themselves in unions and socialist parties. The clashes between Lenin’s and Trotsky’s ideas of what was happening in Russia, with the aspirations of emerging German classes are causing encounters and disagreements that slide into the political narratives made official by the Reichstag. In this book, the author also leads us to reflect on German music, which was disseminated in the radio media that popularized in the city, being used to “enjoy” and distract people, so that they do not perceive the sounds that urban life acquired with modernity.

The author perceives that the German cinematographic medium was experiencing its splendor, having released the first film with voices, as the author highlights, gradually starting to serve the interests of the new regime. Movement control laws, curfews, press control measures are being implemented, making journalist Kurt Severing begin to rethink the power of words and the way in which their meanings are lost in the construction of false information and in the excessive reproduction of this information by the city’s newspapers.

Social inequality is becoming more pronounced, as government spending is directed towards actions that break the agreements of the Treaty of Versailles and conflicts between police forces and citizens give new meaning to “maintenance of law and order”. For Lutes, information flows through newspapers, distributed on street corners and normalizing some situations of oppression. The highlight, in this book 2, is in the articulation with the bibliographical references used by the author for the construction of the climax of the narrative and for the construction of the atmosphere of the time. Unlike book 1, in this one, the author is able to focus more on the unique experience of the characters in the face of the ideological methodologies applied by the regime that was being established.

In book 3 – “Cidade de Luz”, the Nazi regime becomes the option of most people, who perpetuate in their speeches the perspectives developed by the party, having fewer and fewer opponents and the few that exist, if they manifest themselves, become arrested and oppressed. Germany is heading towards something disastrous, almost without realizing it, immersed in a dream of grandeur, as Lutes highlights through poetic compositions like this one: “nor needed, since the acceptance became more and more.”

With the stories told, the dreams and hopes of alienation that is established throughout the city transit between a lyricism and an apocalyptic atmosphere. The old newspapers and photographs evoke this climate that leads to Hitler’s arrival in power and the consequences for the characters presented of this rise. In this book 3, which concludes the work, the author managed, despite the summarized size (only 143 pages) compared to the previous parts (more than 200 pages per book), raise the characters to an electrifying ending, which makes clear the apocalyptic aspect imperceptible in the eyes of most of those involved in the German Nazi regime.

The three books that make up the single volume of the Berlin work manage to maintain an interconnected narrative, with elements of continuity that allow the reader to perceive the related historical temporalities. This effect generates an involvement with the characters for the proposed reflections. Dense in content and dealing with a theme that is sensitive to different groups, especially the German public itself, the book obtained excellent acceptance from the critics. The comic was also contemplated by several translations published around the world, having become a bestseller for the genre, including in Germany.

However, reading the comic is apparently slow, with the narrative compositions making intense use of the dynamics between verbal and non-verbal elements to promote meaning about the text, in addition to a line tied to the square space of each screen. This demands, from the reader, a lot of reflection with each image, in order to achieve the immersion that the work proposes. The style adopted by Lutes is not foreign to audiences familiar with European comics, but it may alienate Brazilian readers accustomed to action, action, action narratives. But, if you allow yourself to read it, you will be able to enjoy an image composition that instigates the perception of the subtle strategies used by totalitarian regimes in the construction of mentalities.

As a history teacher, I realize that some values can be captured from the narrative produced by Lutes. The injustice of inequality, the recognition of conditions of privilege, the mindless adherence to charismatic leaders, the importance of critical reflection on reality. The greatest lesson contained therein, however, can be summarized as follows: We are not immune to a return of these totalitarian ideas. Those who are interested in themes related to the rise of totalitarian regimes and are willing to stroll through the streets and “common” places of Berlin in the 1920s, will find in the work not only a reading about the historical facts experienced by Germany, but above all, a planned dive into the exclusionary and extremist mentalities, which take shape in the small actions of everyday life. We live in a scenario of the return of these strategies on the part of extreme right movements across the planet. Berlin then becomes an alert and a cry for us to look to the past and be attentive to the discourses and narratives constructed in the present, bringing these historical temporalities as fundamental in the construction of a better future.

Summary of Berlin

  • Livro 1 – Cidade de Pedras
  • Livro 2 – Cidade de Fumaça
  • Livro 3 – Cidade de Luz
  • Uma Nota sobre Carl von Ossietzky
  • Notas da Edição Brasileira
  • A Caminho de Berlim: Desenhos Preliminares
  • Referencias e Inspirações
  • Agradecimentos

To broaden your literature review


About the reviewer

Marcos Manoel Silva Severiano has a degree in History (Universidade Regional do Cariri – URCA), a bachelor’s degree in Psychology (UniLeão), with a specialization in School Management (Faculdade Descomplica) and Higher Education Teaching (Universidade Leão Sampaio – UniLeão), mastering in History at ProfHistória (URCA). He develops activities in the areas of education, history and psychology, working with school management, pedagogical direction and pedagogical coordination, in addition to being a high school teacher in state and private schools in the State of Ceará. He is also a creator of digital content through Canal Paradigmata on Youtube and Spotify. Social media: marcosrua47; ID Lattes: 5429477567940296; ID ORCID: 0009-0009-0876-624X; Email: [email protected].


Para citar esta resenha

LUTES, Jason. Berlin. Translation by Alexandre Boide. Notes and additional translations by Rogério Campos. Sao Paulo: Veneta. 2020. 592 p. Review by: SEVERIANO, Marcos M. S. Mechanisms for the Ascension of Totalitarianism. Crítica Historiográfica. Natal, v.3, n.11, May/June, 2023. Disponível em <https://www.criticahistoriografica.com.br/en/mechanisms-for-the-rise-of-totalitarianism-review-by-marcos-manoel-silva-severiano-urca-on-the-book-berlim-by-jason-lutes/>.


© – The authors who publish in Crítica Historiográfica agree to the distribution, remixing, adaptation and creation of their texts, even for commercial purposes, provided that due credit is guaranteed for the original creations. (CC BY-SA).

 

Crítica Historiográfica. Natal, v.3, n. 11, May/June, 2023 | ISSN 2764-2666

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Mechanisms for the Rise of Totalitarianism – Review by Marcos Manoel Silva Severiano (URCA) on the book “Berlim”, by Jason Lutes

Jason Lutes | Image: El Español

Abstract: Berlin, released in Brazil in 2020, is a writing about the German past, with the rise of Nazism in the 1920s, in a Graphic Novel format. Interweaving lyricism and realism, the result of extensive research for the historical foundation, the work aims to reflect on the strategies used by the regime to become a viable option in the minds of the German people.

Keywords: Nazism, Totalitarianism, Comics, Graphic Novel.


Berlin, by American comic artist Jason Lutes (translation into Portuguese by Alexandre Boide), was published in Brazil in 2020, by Veneta. In its 592 pages, the book addresses the rise of Nazi ideas in the capital of the Third Reich during the 1920s and 1930s, with the aim of subtly demonstrating the strategies for building an extremist mentality among citizens, permeating the everyday speeches of the subjects. Berlin was awarded in two categories of “Excellence in Graphic Literature” and with nominations for the “Harvey Awards” and “Eisner” awards, aimed at recognizing great works of the genre.

Jason Lutes, from New York, enchanted by the style of European comics since he was a child, began his career doing work for the independent publisher “Fantagraphics Books”, responsible for labels such as “Eros Comix”. The author also found space for his strips in the weekly magazine The Stranger, from Seattle, where he published them for several years, being compiled in the book Jar of Fools. But success and recognition was achieved with Berlin, which arrived in Brazil in 2020. The work is the product of extensive research, which consumed more than 20 years of consultations with documentary collections referring to the Weimar Republic in Germany. In the original version, the publication was divided into three volumes, later compiled into a single volume, the format in which it reached the Brazilian public.

In Book 1 – “Cidade de Pedras”, Lutes introduces us to Berlin in the second decade of the 20th century through the eyes of “ordinary” characters (artists, singers, journalists, newspaper sellers, ex-combatants, among others), highlighting, from a specific perspective, the urban, social and political transformations experienced by Germany.

The author begins his narrative by introducing the young Marthe Müller, from a petty bourgeoisie in the German countryside, who, after rebelling against her father in the face of an arranged marriage, leaves for Berlin to study art and experience the emerging experience of modernity that radiated through the German capital.

Still in the train car, which transports her on the interior-capital journey, she has her first contacts with the city that awaits her from the dialogues with Kurt Severing, a Berlin journalist who was investigating the production of a German air force, something that contravened the determinations of the Treaty of Versailles. From this encounter, a bond is born that will permeate the entire work and will serve as one of the axes used by the author.

Berlim (2020), of Jason Lutes (p.15)

Still in this first book, Lutes introduces us to the Brauns, a family impoverished by the political measures adopted in the country and who are experiencing the beginning of a religious segregation that is gaining an air of normality in the eyes of the city. Berlin is seen as a cosmopolitan city, which contrasts the advances of progress, with its trams, universities, newspapers, cabarets, with the, still present, carriages and horses, the lack of basic sanitation and the precariousness of urban constructions, due to the bombings of the First World War. The polyphony built from the different characters is a striking point, but the need to contextualize the setting and the characters, historical or not, makes the narrative prolong too much in this first volume.

In book 2 – “Cidade de Fumaça”, the author further highlights the aspects of “progress” present in the city, linking them to a growing intelligentsia and an emerging bourgeoisie, including the growth of institutions such as workers’ movements, organizing themselves in unions and socialist parties. The clashes between Lenin’s and Trotsky’s ideas of what was happening in Russia, with the aspirations of emerging German classes are causing encounters and disagreements that slide into the political narratives made official by the Reichstag. In this book, the author also leads us to reflect on German music, which was disseminated in the radio media that popularized in the city, being used to “enjoy” and distract people, so that they do not perceive the sounds that urban life acquired with modernity.

The author perceives that the German cinematographic medium was experiencing its splendor, having released the first film with voices, as the author highlights, gradually starting to serve the interests of the new regime. Movement control laws, curfews, press control measures are being implemented, making journalist Kurt Severing begin to rethink the power of words and the way in which their meanings are lost in the construction of false information and in the excessive reproduction of this information by the city’s newspapers.

Social inequality is becoming more pronounced, as government spending is directed towards actions that break the agreements of the Treaty of Versailles and conflicts between police forces and citizens give new meaning to “maintenance of law and order”. For Lutes, information flows through newspapers, distributed on street corners and normalizing some situations of oppression. The highlight, in this book 2, is in the articulation with the bibliographical references used by the author for the construction of the climax of the narrative and for the construction of the atmosphere of the time. Unlike book 1, in this one, the author is able to focus more on the unique experience of the characters in the face of the ideological methodologies applied by the regime that was being established.

In book 3 – “Cidade de Luz”, the Nazi regime becomes the option of most people, who perpetuate in their speeches the perspectives developed by the party, having fewer and fewer opponents and the few that exist, if they manifest themselves, become arrested and oppressed. Germany is heading towards something disastrous, almost without realizing it, immersed in a dream of grandeur, as Lutes highlights through poetic compositions like this one: “nor needed, since the acceptance became more and more.”

With the stories told, the dreams and hopes of alienation that is established throughout the city transit between a lyricism and an apocalyptic atmosphere. The old newspapers and photographs evoke this climate that leads to Hitler’s arrival in power and the consequences for the characters presented of this rise. In this book 3, which concludes the work, the author managed, despite the summarized size (only 143 pages) compared to the previous parts (more than 200 pages per book), raise the characters to an electrifying ending, which makes clear the apocalyptic aspect imperceptible in the eyes of most of those involved in the German Nazi regime.

The three books that make up the single volume of the Berlin work manage to maintain an interconnected narrative, with elements of continuity that allow the reader to perceive the related historical temporalities. This effect generates an involvement with the characters for the proposed reflections. Dense in content and dealing with a theme that is sensitive to different groups, especially the German public itself, the book obtained excellent acceptance from the critics. The comic was also contemplated by several translations published around the world, having become a bestseller for the genre, including in Germany.

However, reading the comic is apparently slow, with the narrative compositions making intense use of the dynamics between verbal and non-verbal elements to promote meaning about the text, in addition to a line tied to the square space of each screen. This demands, from the reader, a lot of reflection with each image, in order to achieve the immersion that the work proposes. The style adopted by Lutes is not foreign to audiences familiar with European comics, but it may alienate Brazilian readers accustomed to action, action, action narratives. But, if you allow yourself to read it, you will be able to enjoy an image composition that instigates the perception of the subtle strategies used by totalitarian regimes in the construction of mentalities.

As a history teacher, I realize that some values can be captured from the narrative produced by Lutes. The injustice of inequality, the recognition of conditions of privilege, the mindless adherence to charismatic leaders, the importance of critical reflection on reality. The greatest lesson contained therein, however, can be summarized as follows: We are not immune to a return of these totalitarian ideas. Those who are interested in themes related to the rise of totalitarian regimes and are willing to stroll through the streets and “common” places of Berlin in the 1920s, will find in the work not only a reading about the historical facts experienced by Germany, but above all, a planned dive into the exclusionary and extremist mentalities, which take shape in the small actions of everyday life. We live in a scenario of the return of these strategies on the part of extreme right movements across the planet. Berlin then becomes an alert and a cry for us to look to the past and be attentive to the discourses and narratives constructed in the present, bringing these historical temporalities as fundamental in the construction of a better future.

Summary of Berlin

  • Livro 1 – Cidade de Pedras
  • Livro 2 – Cidade de Fumaça
  • Livro 3 – Cidade de Luz
  • Uma Nota sobre Carl von Ossietzky
  • Notas da Edição Brasileira
  • A Caminho de Berlim: Desenhos Preliminares
  • Referencias e Inspirações
  • Agradecimentos

To broaden your literature review


About the reviewer

Marcos Manoel Silva Severiano has a degree in History (Universidade Regional do Cariri – URCA), a bachelor’s degree in Psychology (UniLeão), with a specialization in School Management (Faculdade Descomplica) and Higher Education Teaching (Universidade Leão Sampaio – UniLeão), mastering in History at ProfHistória (URCA). He develops activities in the areas of education, history and psychology, working with school management, pedagogical direction and pedagogical coordination, in addition to being a high school teacher in state and private schools in the State of Ceará. He is also a creator of digital content through Canal Paradigmata on Youtube and Spotify. Social media: marcosrua47; ID Lattes: 5429477567940296; ID ORCID: 0009-0009-0876-624X; Email: [email protected].


Para citar esta resenha

LUTES, Jason. Berlin. Translation by Alexandre Boide. Notes and additional translations by Rogério Campos. Sao Paulo: Veneta. 2020. 592 p. Review by: SEVERIANO, Marcos M. S. Mechanisms for the Ascension of Totalitarianism. Crítica Historiográfica. Natal, v.3, n.11, May/June, 2023. Disponível em <https://www.criticahistoriografica.com.br/en/mechanisms-for-the-rise-of-totalitarianism-review-by-marcos-manoel-silva-severiano-urca-on-the-book-berlim-by-jason-lutes/>.


© – The authors who publish in Crítica Historiográfica agree to the distribution, remixing, adaptation and creation of their texts, even for commercial purposes, provided that due credit is guaranteed for the original creations. (CC BY-SA).

 

Crítica Historiográfica. Natal, v.3, n. 11, May/June, 2023 | ISSN 2764-2666

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