by Jason Lutes. Drawn & Quarterly, 2018. 580 p. ill. ISBN 9781770463264, $59.95 CAD/$49.95 USD.
Reviewed June 2019
Marianne R. Williams, Librarian-in-Residence, University of Arkansas, firstname.lastname@example.org
Berlin is the collected hardcopy tome of over 20 years of artist Jason Lutes’ work. This printing is a compilation of three volumes published intermittently since 1996. The book follows the intertwining and fictional lives of several Berliners in the Weimar Republic from 1928 to 1933, including various artists, a journalist, a Jewish family, a factory worker and mother, and a cabaret performer, amongst others. The impending rise of Nazism and the outbreak of World War II creates a deep sense of dramatic irony throughout the book, as modern readers already know how many of these stories will end.
With nearly 600 pages of intensely detailed black and white illustrations that draw the reader into the simultaneous splendor and decline of Weimar Berlin, this is not a quick read. Lutes cleverly breaks up his signature and astonishingly consistent high-contrast style with glimpses into the protagonists’ notebooks, which exhibit his own range in looser, more gradient sketches. The most troubling aspect of this graphic novel is how familiar and relevant anyone who has watched the news in 2019 will find the images of banal, daily life interrupted by sudden violence and outbursts of anger from crowds of young men. Lutes masters the use of white space in his compositions, and uses clever visual cues.
Berlin is an excellent addition to any collection concerned with the history of World War II, Germany, or Western Europe more broadly. It is also an exceptional masterpiece of comic storytelling, and the visual style is astonishingly consistent since Lutes created it over the span of 20 years, earning its spot as a part of any collection interested in showcasing the best of the medium.