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"Cutting off my tongue"

Gay German comic star Ralf König made his first ever political statement during the Muhammed cartoon conflict. He talks to Wieland Freund about what drove him to it.

Die Welt: You have just been awarded the special prize by the Max und Moritz jury of the International Comic Salon in Erlangen – for your response to the Muhammed cartoon conflict. What prompted you to produce those cartoons?

Ralf König: I'd already been dealing with the issue for two years as part of my work on the two-part comic book "Jinn Jinn". I'd read the tales of the "Arabian Nights" and was fascinated by the subject of the Orient. As time went by though I found my interest waning. I've worked on comics for 25 years and have always drawn what I wanted to draw. I was never bothered by people getting worked up over a penis or a joke about the Virgin Mary. But with this book I found myself cutting off my own tongue. I felt inhibited about using problem words like Allah and Sharia. And at the end I must admit that I wormed my way around the issue – the word Islam does not appear once in the entire book. This really got me thinking that here in the middle of Europe, in the middle of Cologne, where I live, as a comic strip artist I suddenly had to start being so careful about a religion that wasn't even mine. Then with the cartoon conflict I finally exploded. One morning I scribbled down these six or seven cartoons (that were published in the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung - ed) That was the first time I ever made a political statement.

Cover illustration from "Jinn Jinn" part 1 by Ralf König. © Ralf König

What was it that made you so angry? Your cartoons are not Muhammad cartoons.

I wasn't interested in drawing this Muhammad again. I'm also against doing that just to provoke. What's already happened is bad enough: people have been killed, embassies burned. What annoyed me was this embarrassed coughing, these apologies, all this we-have-to-think-about-our-freedom-of-the-press. At the carnival in Cologne religion was wiped from the agenda, and this constitutes censorship as I see it. There was one sketch at the "Stunksitzung" cabaret at the carnival about a suicide bomber using subliminal advertising in his confessional video. After that the acting mayor said this was casting a shadow on Jihad and the Hamas. A sentence to be savoured.

Do you believe in the "Clash of Cultures"?

I certainly do. I recently saw a burqa in Cologne for the first time and I didn't like what I saw. The differences are becoming ever clearer. I believe that the West should remain conscious of its values and defend them to the teeth. I have no desire to see burqas in this city.

There are people, in the media at least, who see the clash of cultures as a clash of clichees.

It's certainly difficult to differentiate between the two. It's tempting to generalise, and one should always bear that in mind. Even I, who thought the whole multi-cultural thing was not a bad idea, catch myself at it sometimes. This has to do with clicheed thinking of course.

Cover illustration from "Jinn Jinn" part 2 by Ralf König.
© Ralf König

In your comic "Jinn Jinn" a joyless orthodox Mufti is magically transformed into a gay lover. Is your satire the sort where everything is allowed?

If I say say yes to that, the next question will be the one about the Iranian Holocaust cartoons. It's always difficult. "Jinn Jinn" was never intended to be a rant about Islam. When I started the work, I had the Taliban in my head and I imagine it will also be viewed negatively in the Islamic world.

The second part of "Jinn Jinn" has just been published and this time you've shifted the emphasis towards western cultural circles. Sinister medieval Europe and even creationism play a role.

I didn't want to be one-sided. The Pope was in Cologne for World Youth Day and actually Cologne, as least a far as gays are concerned, is an extremely tolerant city. Nobody thinks twice about men walking around arm in arm. But on World Youth Day suddenly nothing was that simple. People gawped at you. And not in a particularly friendly way.

Do you believe in the much touted return to religion?

I'm afraid so. I cannot remember religion, which is something I have always found alien, having played such a major role as it does now. I've had to learn that my lifestyle is not tolerated by the Church for a start and now we're being confronted by a religious view of the world on every corner. As far as sexual morals are concerned, the climate is getting tougher again. I just think that non-believers have a right to be left in peace. I have nothing against values, but it's always dangerous when these values are simply draped over other people.

Is it necessary to defend the fun society now?

If by fun society you mean Stefan Raab on TV, "Geiz is geil" (saving is sexy - an expression coined for the advertising campaign of a German electronics chain), party lifestyle and irresponsibility, I never would have wanted to defend them.

Do you find the black-red-gold patriotism of the World Cup (see our feature on this by Thomas Brussig here) comforting?

It's alien to me. But rather that way than the other way round. I do quite like the idea of competition in sport. I just get annoyed that you can't sit in a single cafe in Cologne without being blared at by a giant television. There's no escape. It's like Christmas. And I hate Christmas.


The article originally appeared in Die Welt on June 19, 2006.

Ralf König (website) was born in North Rhine - Westphalia in 1960. He has published any number of comic books, mostly dealing with homosexual themes. He has also written several of film scripts and some of his comics have been filmed.

"Dschinn Dschinn. Schleierzwang und Sündenpfuhl" (Jinn Jinn. Veil enforcement and the sink of iniquity) by Ralf König is published by Rowohlt Verlag.

Translation: lp. - let's talk european