Debuting last week at the webcomics website ACT-I-VATE, Thomas Baehr's The End Is Here follows a group of penguins as their little part of the world is effected by war. It's a big concept for such auspicious animals, but readers will see how it makes the story even more powerful.
Baehr is the newest member of the webcomics collective ACT-I-VATE, and its first member from Germany.
Newsarama: Thanks for talking, Thomas. How would you describe The End Is Here?
Thomas Baehr: Well, that’s a tricky question. You can say it is about the last day of the earth, and all you can see are fluffy penguins and other natives of Antarctica. They try to live through their daily little struggles and all of a sudden they’re confronted with atom bombs from all directions. But for me The End Is Here is more about mankind, although there is not one human being seen in the whole novel. It is about the stupidity of war. It is about what happened to all creatures when the shooting and killing starts. You know, there are so many anti-war novels and movies and whatsoever, but all you get to see are suffering humans. We see suffering humans all day long in the papers or on TV, and it seems that nobody really cares. But when you show cute animals, well, that’s different. Everybody is asking me how I could do that to the poor little penguins!?
NRAMA: This takes place in Antarctica – have you ever been there?
TB: Oh, no. I mean, this would be great, but it is on one hand a very expensive trip, and on the other, well, it is already too crowded there. Antarctica is sure enough a place in danger thanks to global warming, and the travel industry is booming. I don’t think that the penguins wait for me to come by to say hello.
NRAMA: Why'd you decide to do a comic about penguins?
TB: I did this comic strip Dangling Diaries about a guy living in Manhattan, but I had not very much success with it. I got only a few strips published. The most comments I got were like: well drawn and everything, but you need something cute in there, kids or animals or both. First I thought who needs another strip with cats or dogs? But at the same time my wife and I went to the movies for The March of the Penguins, and I told a friend in Germany about this amazing film. He came up with this story that penguins watch planes flying over their heads until they fall backwards – I thought this would be a nice strip and so I produced the first of the Pole strips. Just for fun, I wasn’t aware what I had there. It took me a while to recognize the potential of the penguins. I came up with a concept and have tried always to be cute and family friendly, even when I included the global warming issue. But to be honest, it’s not really me to be always nice and cute. So I came up to use the whole Pole concept for a graphic novel. I had first this idea of an unexploded atom bomb in the middle of an emperor flock … and from there it was easy to develop a story.
NRAMA: This comic is mute – a silent comic. Why'd you do that?
TB: Not really, there are 2 thought balloons in the first chapter. But looking back now, I would even erase this last remaining two if I could. I revised and shortened the story to four chapters and an epilog before starting to work at the second chapter. And by doing so I erased every planned text balloons. But anyway, as a German I still struggle with my English grammar, and I think it is the natural thing to do the story without big words.
NRAMA: Can you tell us about your comic and art background?
TB: I never went to any art school or something. I just loved to draw since I discovered crayons. I grew up in Germany, and in this time there were the French comics all over the place, right to the Disney stuff of course. I made my first stories as soon as I learned how to write! But it took a while, and when I started to dig in Punk Rock and Hardcore and all the DIY stuff, I started my own comic zine. It was the time of the photocopy machines, back in the late eighties. I produced 11 zines over the years, and did record cover and all that stuff. But I always pushed my music career in front, because comics in Germany are not very well minded, and there are only a few professional artists, who can actually make a living out of making comics. There is no way to make a living with making Punk Rock too, but it is more fun to be on a stage than to sit alone at your drawing desk. I also illustrated some books outside of the Punk Rock scene. But anyway, when we moved to the US, I dropped the whole music thing and went back to illustration and comics more seriously.
To be honest, I still struggle with American comics, with all that superhero stuff. But I dig more and more into it and discover a lot of jewels, like Strangers in Paradise from Tery Moore or Whiteout from Lieber and Rucka. Or Parade (With Fireworks, Mike Cavallaro's Eisner Award nominated and very European like masterpiece, and Kevin Colden's scary Fishtown. But my heart is still with the Belgian and French comics. And that is where my main influence is, artists like André Franquin, André Juillard or Michel Plessix. Or Pellerin, or … man, j ust check out Eric Liberges Monsieur Mardi-Gras Descendres. That’s amazing.
NRAMA: How did you hook up with ACT-I-VATE?
TB: Haha, a truly strange story. A colleague of my wife got engaged and they celebrated it in 2007 just at the Saturday of the MoCCA Art Festival. So I skipped the first day of the festival and we went to the party. We were seated next to the uncle of the fiancé – for no particular reason as we later discovered – who is nobody else than Tim Hamilton. Well, the engagement broke up after a while, but I met Tim the next day at the MoCCA festival and he introduced me to a lot of people. He also invited me to Deep Six and I visit them regularly since then. This was way the best thing that happened to me and my career here in the US. I own Tim and Dean Haspiel and Mike Cavallaro and everybody else at D6 a lot since. And to be the first not native English speaking European at ACT-I-VATE is a great honor for me. Look at all this artists involved. I’m really pleased with the idea of having my little name between them.
To Read Thomas Baehr's The End Is Here, visit http://www.act-i-vate.com.