Spanish illustrator and writer Agustín Ferrer Casas created a graphic novel about the 20th century modernist Ludwig Mies van der Rohe.
176-page Mies is a Spanish graphic novel that summarizes the life and career of the modernist architect he spent at Bauhaus, escaping from Nazi Germany and continuing his career in Chicago, USA.
In the comic book, Casas, besides the most important events in architectural life, also includes some important structures. It does not claim to be a biography.
When and how did your interest with the ninth art begin?
I suppose that, like all artists, I would have had some early beginnings in childhood, when I started by staining any paintable surface. These artistic outbreaks, if they are supported -and not severed- by one of the parents, are usually the freest and most intuitive and they mark the future artist. This love of drawing, which had no defined goal on the horizon, was focused by my family on more socially recognized and economically better paid purposes: the architecture. During my university studies and at the age of 22, a work on aesthetics gave me the opportunity to become interested in the world of comics. Until then, comics had been uncharted territory for me, except for reading the French-Belgian classics. From then on, comics for adults were revealed to me through authors such as Moebius, Enki Bilal, Howard Chaykind, Alan Moore, Charles Schulz, Mattias Schultheiss, Miguelanxo Prado, Alberto Breccia, Tanino Liberatore, François Schuiten…
That discovery pushed me to try my luck drawing a short story for a local comic book contest. As luck would have it, I continued to create short stories on my own for other competitions while I was studying architecture and, even later, when I was working in an office -Capilla Vallejo Arquitectos- and teaching at the University of Navarra. In this way, I managed to win about thirty prizes during twenty-five years.
In 2011 I abandoned my relationship with architecture -or so I thought- and decided to become a professional in what until then had been my hobby. And it hasn’t been a bad change, as so far I’ve managed to publish three books with other authors and five more on my own.
How did you develop your process of combining the stories you drew with architecture? Why Mies van der Rohe?
Perhaps because of those architectural studies I mentioned earlier, which involved a certain approach, a way of seeing things, an aesthetic order – even geometric – that gave a special tint to the backgrounds in which those stories were developed. Even to the subject matter of the stories. And this may give rise to the case of Mies that I will talk about later.
It is not that architecture was always the leitmotiv of my creations, but it did give a special varnish, perhaps even a characteristic stamp to my drawing style and my stories. And that is what many readers, some of them architects, suggested to me when reading my first books and getting to know my common origins: to create a comic book related to Architecture. And what better than to take the life of a famous architect like Mies van der Rohe to the pages of a graphic novel.
The truth is that Mies is part of that triad of great names in modern architecture such as the American Frank Lloyd Wright and the Swiss Le Corbusier. But the work –and above all the life- of the German Mies van der Rohe had everything necessary to give shape to an interesting story, not only for fans of architecture and design, but also for ordinary comic book readers. This book is not a glossary of the author’s works, like a catalogue, but goes beyond that. It is a book about his life, both public and private, which is documented in black on white. A life that shaped his architecture.
Mies’ biography coincides with a turbulent first half of the 20th century that, like many others, he put to the test. He lived through the Great War and its disastrous consequences for Germany, abandoned the old values in which he was formed and which had generated the conflict; he frequented Dadaist circles, embraced the avant-garde and contributed to their advancement with his projects. Such a rupture was not only professional but also personal: he abandoned his family. And later, when the Weimar Republic ended due to the rise of Nazism, he did not hesitate to support the new leaders, seeking the benefit of his career, although it did not help him much. Despite being despised by the Nazis for not following the canons of vernacular and traditional German architecture, he was one of the last artists and intellectuals to leave his homeland, only when he saw a secure horizon in the United States. Perhaps he expected a change of heart from the Nazi leadership. And on this last occasion he left his partner, companion and lover Lilly Reich to her fate in that Nazi Germany. Something morally reprehensible.
All his decisions, because of his need to build and seek creative freedom – and why not also to aspire to personal freedom – made him disdain personal ties. “I’m not one of those people who can’t live alone,” he said.
So, not only reflecting his work – fundamental throughout the comic book – but also his personal trajectory, with its contradictions, its lights and shadows, was something motivating and exciting, while necessary to humanize a master of architecture who I believe should not be known only for his mythical buildings.
Interview: İrem Efe