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10 Best Comics to Learn German

10 Best Comics to Learn German_1024x512

Before we all became politically correct, there were jokes like this:

Q: What are the three shortest books in the world?  

The answer:

   1. The Irish book of wisdom

   2. Al Gore: The Wild Years

   3. 100 Years of German humor

German humor is kind of an acquired taste. For example, a German might say something like, “Sorry I haven’t been so active lately. There was a death in the family, but that shouldn’t happen all that often” without meaning it to be funny.

Still, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t give their comic books a try, especially if you want to learn German more easily. There are actually a lot of cool comic books for adults out there.

There are many so-called “graphic novels” as well – books with comic-like drawings telling a story. We’ll discuss both in this post. But first…


Why Should You Read German Comic Books?


Reading is one of the best ways to practice a language. Depending on your level, you can read e-books and novels or tweets and memes in German.

Reading comics is the best because the text usually includes just dialogues. It’s easy to follow the story with the help of the comic strips and the detailed illustrations. 

Comics are perfect for beginners. Someday, you’ll be able to read a proper novel, but you have to start somewhere. Comics are really easy to translate because they use light language.

Many German comics, including some of those we’ll talk about here, have English language versions. Here is our list – if you have a few minutes, flick through one of these to squeeze some language learning in!

1. Jimmy the Rubber Horse

Jimmy das Gummipferd by Roland Kohlsaat is a light, easy to read story about a Gaucho named Julio and the inflatable rubber horse he rides.

The comic, also known as “Julios abenteuerliche Reisen” (Julio’s adventurous travels), first emerged in the 50s and remains popular. More specifically, the fantastic adventures have appeared every week since June 28, 1953.

Initially, they were titled "Julio and Jimmy", then "Jimmy the Rubber Horse". They were first published in Sternchen, the children's edition of Stern magazine. 

2. Nick Knatterton

The name may sound British, but the only British thing about Nick is the Sherlock spoof.

The character was drawn by the German Manfred Schmidt. Nick Knatterton was intended to mock Superman-type comics. The comic is a great reflection of post-war Germany, filled with political innuendo and side jabs. 

The name alludes to Nick Carter and Nat Pinkerton, two pre-war crime novel series in magazine format.

Schmidt wrote and illustrated his first detective story in Chicago for the Green Post magazine as early as 1935. “The striking chin is already there and so is the coat, checkered in conflict with all the principles of drawing art. Schmidt only had to revive the character as a comic after the war.” 

The stories, often with political jabs at the economic "wonder" and Adenauer & Co., initially appeared weekly with two image strips in the Quick with the lengths of the stories varying between 11 and 38 episodes. The comic series enjoyed great popularity both abroad and at home in Germany.

3. Life Ain’t No Pony Farm

This is the literal translation of the web comic’s name, with “life isn’t a piece of cake” or “life isn’t a bed of roses” perhaps being more apt. It is created by Sarah Burrini, who publishes it on her website weekly. 

The features and experiences are sometimes autobiographical, but connecting the character to the person can be tricky. What is more, Sarah the comic character has no ascertainable last name. 

Characters 

The African dwarf elephant Ngumbe is almost as long-running a character as Sarah herself. He first appeared in a four-page short comic from 2005, published in PonyXPress No. 1, blog 5. He maintains a misanthropic image and has a penchant for jazz, a diehard fan of Miles Davis.

El Pilzo the toadstool has a past as a pro-wrestler, a talent for extraordinary initiatives, notable business acumen, and a very dirty mouth.

As it appeared originally, the pony Buttercup was unable to speak even if some guest artists did not really want to believe it. The story "The Mafia Diary", which runs in several strips, accounts for this, but the pony doesn't become particularly talkative thereafter either. 

Kevin-Asmodias the Demon was the last to join and, unlike the others, does not appear in Quarks. He made his first appearance in the comic on October 31, 2011 and got his name on December 22 that same year.

 He escaped from hell after his parents burned his Hellboy comics. They considered them trash because a demon couldn’t possibly be helping mankind.

4. Captain Bluebear

Captain Bluebear creator Walter Moers is a true master of diversity. His best-known work is this family-friendly comic about the sea-fairing dark blue bear, who has become popular all over the world through books and TV.

Originally, the comic was called Käpt´n Blaubärs Seemannsgarn.  

The bear is an old, apparently retired captain who likes to tell his grandchildren stories about his life as a seafarer. They regard them as tall tales, even though there's usually proof of their verity at the end of each one. 

Opposites Attract 

The bear is easygoing, funny, and caring. His sidekick Hein Blöd is a yellow-orange colored, naive, stupid, and clumsy rat (hence the name 'blöd'). He gets on the captain's nerves, who begins swearing at him. Nevertheless, he is a loyal assistant. Generally, the two get on. 

The grandchildren, three young bears, are called Yellow, Green and Pink according to their color. Yellow and Green are boys, while Pink seems to be female with her skin color, voice, and more feminine appearance. The three regularly listen to the captain's stories even though they’re sure he's making everything up.

Moers’ other comics for adults include Adolf the Nazi Pig, an ironic portrayal of what Adolf Hitler would be like living in contemporary society, and The Little Arsehole, telling the story of an impudent little boy.

5. The Other Mendelssohns

Did you know world-famous classical music composer Felix Mendelssohn had two sons? Karl and Paul are “the other Mendelssohns,” to whom this comic is dedicated.

Paul, the younger of the two, retells Karl’s life story in flashbacks in the comic book by Elke Rentate Steiner. 

Steiner tells Karl's story on two levels. The general story is the train journey from Görlitz to Königsfelden. Karl cannot express himself as he suffers from catatonia.

This is why Steiner lets his companions talk; his brother Paul Mendelssohn Bartholdy and nurse Thiel. The flashbacks are from Karl's perspective. 

Reflecting the Division 

This division of two is also reflected in the coloring. The comic is drawn in two colors with a soft brush pen: the main story is in black and white, while the flashbacks are in blue and white. The colors of the flashbacks are reminiscent of Karl's passion for Greece: the sea and the flag. 

Steiner's intensive and detailed research is noteworthy; for example, the author traveled to the clinic in Görlitz where Karl received treatment, found the cap he used to wear as a student, and explored 19th-century medicine in depth. 

This graphic novel is a biographical comic telling the life, breakdowns, and crises of a sensitive man. 

6. The Olympian Dream

The Olympian Dream, which tells the moving story of Somalian sprinter Samia Yusuf Omar, is Reinhard Kleist’s most popular comic book. The original title is “Der Traum von Olympia”. 

Reinhard Kleist was able to reflect a very difficult historical topic in a graphic novel. Sprinter Samia Yusuf represented Somalia at the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing. In her homeland, she was threatened by Islamist extremists who didn't let women do sports.

Hoping to take part in the London Olympics, she tried to flee to Europe. Samia Yusuf drowned in the Mediterranean off the coast of Malta in 2012 at the age of 21.

7. Love and Monsters

Love & Monsters includes "Offline Dating" and "Offline Dating 2" - two comics by Adrian vom Baur about awkward first dates, dimensional gaps, romance, monsters, sex, and time travel. Both stories were originally created at 24-hour comic events, then edited and colored. Part one is available online.

The first date between the protagonists Kieran and Tasmin is a notable moment. It starts off a bit awkward, but the things pick up after the opening of a portal into a new dimension. Join them on their adventure – you won’t read anything like it.

8. Berlin

Many books have been and are being written about the National Socialist epoch, but few of them tread the path of "comics" with their universal appeal. “Berlin” is drawn superbly and needs no coloring. It's a really great story and an absolute must for non-comic fans too. 

It was not easy for the young democracy of the Weimar Republic between World War I and the seizure of power by the National Socialists. The right, left and imperial often carried their worldviews violently onto the street.

Visually, the presentation is simply outstanding. At the same time, the texts are precise, informative and emotional.

A Young Lady in a Cold Megapolis  

Young illustrator Marthe Mueller finds herself caught in the midst of this world. She has come to the big, modern city to study art, but much of it is dominated by violence.

The young lady has to make her way around fellow students who only care about art and jazz music and workers who fight with gendarmes, between former front-line fighters from World War I and anti-Semitism. 

This is the main story. Other characters, such as the reporter Severin or the Jew David, show us the city in the late 20s, each in their own way. Author and artist Jason Lutes has an eye for detail regardless of whether it is the squares of Berlin, historical backgrounds, or even clothing.

The line between graphic and historical novels are blurred to the point of obliteration. His black and white drawings underline the cold, dangerous atmosphere of the megapolis.

9. Ethel & Ernest

This comic was originally written by illustrator Raymond Briggs in English. It has been translated since, so if you find yourself struggling, you can always compare to the original to see if you missed anything language-wise. Briggs tells the story of the two title characters (incidentally, his parents): how they met, how they lived, and more. Don’t miss this funny and heartwarming gem!

10. Child Land

Our final choice also has a historical aspect. The autobiographical graphic novel is set in the German Democratic Republic in 1989. East Germany was under Communist rule at the time. The graphic novel looks at totalitarian society from a child’s perspective.

How to Use Comic Books to Improve Your German

Now, let’s get back to what we’re really good at – giving useful language learning tips. We recommend making a vocab list to get the most out of your comics. This is valid no matter your level. Having all the words you don’t know in one place will make it possible to work on them at the same time. As you read the comic, just add new words to this list. Then, go over the list and test yourself. 

The benefits of comics aren’t limited to improving reading comprehension. If you’re learning German in a group, you can assign a different character to each member of the group and act the scenes out. It doesn’t have to be a theatrical masterpiece. Just read the lines and help each other out with pronunciation. 

Another thing you can do is make your own comic books. Anyone can doodle; it’s not an art competition.

Functions of Comics in Language Learning

In addition to introductory help at the beginning of the language course, a comic can fulfill many functions in learning German as a foreign language. 

  • You can practice grammar using a comic. 
  • Comics help one learn colloquial language, which is extremely important in day to day life.
  • Learners can practice dialogues.
  •  You can recount and modify daily routines.
  • You can use comics to practice asking and answering questions, to discuss topics related to local culture, to improve speech and contradiction, to promote reading comprehension
  • ...and so much more

Comics shouldn't be the only teaching tool, but they have what it takes to be the most colorful pieces of the mosaic when learning German as a foreign language.

Nobody ever claimed learning a language was easy. This is especially true for a language like German with its extensive list of grammar rules and even more extensive list of exceptions to these rules. However, it doesn’t have to be painful. Using comics is one way to make it less so. 

Final Thoughts 

Have we convinced you to give German comics a try? Go ahead - just keep an open mind.

A  FUN AND EFFECTIVE WAY TO LEARN GERMAN

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About the Author Daniela Kirova

Daniela Kirova is a German and English language teacher, translator, and copywriter. She finished school in the US and holds degrees in English / German linguistics and psychology.

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