Never Judge a Book by Its Cover?
Picturing the Interculturally Challenged Self in the Japanese Journals of European Comics Artists Dirk Schwieger, Inga Steinmetz, and Igort1

Barbara M. Eggert (Linz)


Since the 1990s, Japan, as the birthplace of manga and anime, has been attracting many European comics artists who went there for inspiration and/or work. With Dirk Schwieger’s Moresukine (2006), Igort’s Quaderni giapponesi/Japanese Notebooks (2015/17), and Inga Steinmetz’s Verliebt in Japan (2017), this article analyzes and compares three heterogeneous examples concerning their comic-specific depiction of intercultural experiences in Japan. Focusing on self-representation in panels and pages that deal with phenomena such as culture shock and assimilation processes, this paper discusses if, how, and to what effect these autobiographically inspired comics – in spite or because of their varying degrees of fictionalization and comicification – echo and/or contradict some â€șclassicalâ€č intercultural adaptation theories.

Theories of Intercultural Adaptation

From the many definitions of culture, this article follows Gert Hofstede’s (1980) structural approach in defining culture as »the collective programming of the mind that distinguishes the members of one group or category of people from another« (Hofstede 2001, 9). Hofstede reads culture as observable patterns of cognitive structures which are characteristic for certain social collectives and result from common transgenerational experiences of their members, such as shared values, motifs, beliefs, etc. These mindsets lead to certain culture-specific behavioral patterns.

Most theories of intercultural adaptation create models to explain and describe the internal coping processes and the interrelated changes of behavioral patterns that occur (or don’t occur) when a person is confronted with a »collective programming of the mind« that differs from their own. Whereas this confrontation can also take place in one’s own culture, for example, when joining a new subgroup such as the art world and exchanging the etic for the emic perspective (Eggert 2009), most often, intercultural experiences are related to traveling to another country – as is the case in this context.

As a basis for analyzing the media-specific depiction of intercultural experiences and challenges in the Japanese journals of European artists Dirk Schwieger, Inga Steinmetz, and Igor Tuveri aka Igort, I chose to combine three different yet complementary theoretical approaches: Milton Bennett’s developmental model of intercultural sensitivity (Bennett 1993), Colleen Ward’s theory of cultural learning, and Young Yun Kim’s model of deculturation and acculturation over time. All three are considered classics and are used as a framework to sensitize professional staff who supervise foreign students and guest parents alike who participate in international student exchange programs such as ASF.2

The Bennett Scale of Intercultural Sensitivity

A core point of Milton J. Bennett’s developmental model of intercultural sensitivity (Bennett 1993; 2017) is the experience of (cultural) difference and its different levels of acceptance. In this process of acceptance, Bennett distinguishes between an ethnocentric and an ethnorelative stage. During the ethnocentric stage »the worldview of one’s own culture is central to all reality« (Bennett 1993, 30). This changes when an individual enters the ethnorelative stage and is marked by the insight that »cultures can only be understood relative to one another, and that particular behavior can only be understood within a cultural context« (Bennett 1993, 46).

Fig. 1: Developmental model of intercultural sensitivity (after Bennett 1993), graph: B. M. Eggert.

Bennett’s model consists of six steps. The first step is the denial of cultural difference, which translates as an avoidance of experiencing difference by sticking to one’s own homogenous group and results in missing out on intercultural experiences. The sixth and last step is integration, defined as having an identity that is not primarily based on any one culture, but mastering several cultural frames and being able to consciously choose an appropriate alternative in intercultural challenging situations (Bennett 1993). Not every individual experiences all six steps, though. According to an AFS survey (Geeraert & Demes), 90% of students taking part in intercultural exchange programs to study abroad start with step 3 (minimization of cultural differences) and stay there, if they return home too early. Step 3, the last ethnocentric step, is marked by trivialization and/or romanticization of cultural differences and assuming that elements of one’s own cultural worldview are experienced as universal (Bennett 1993). However, this view changes when students begin to immerse themselves in their new contexts. This is when an adaptation process sets in and intercultural learning and the acquisition of intercultural competence begin.

As for intercultural competence, Colleen Ward distinguishes between affective, behavioral, and cognitive aspects all of which are important to function in a new cultural context. To gain intercultural competence, an individual has to change their attitude (affective aspect), learn new skills such as a foreign language (behavioristic aspects), and enhance their knowledge (cognitive aspects) of the new culture (Ward 2001; cf. Daerdoff). Building on Ward’s distinctions, Young Jun Kim’s practice-based ethnorelative theory for deculturation and acculturation over time is mainly concerned with the process of learning and unlearning cultural patterns which are formed by affective, behavioristic, and cognitive aspects.

Fig. 2: Deculturation and acculturation model over time (after Kim), graph: B. M. Eggert.

Kim’s model visualizes the process of learning new cultural patterns and practices (acculturation), symbolized by dots, and unlearning old patterns of one’s native cultural background/s, symbolized by squares. The model also visualizes how the integration of new skills, attitudes, and knowledge concerning a new cultural concept re-shapes the mindset in general as the outline of the form that structures the content changes, too.

Before applying these theories as a lens for analyzing selected panels of three autobiographical Japanese journals by European comics artists, the next section starts with remarks on the mingling of truth and fiction in autobiographical writing in general and in autobiographical comics in particular.

Notes on Autobiography and Autobiographical Comics

Philip Lejeune defines autobiography as »retrospective prose narrative written by a real person concerning his own experience, where the focus is his individual life, in particular the story of his personality« (Lejeune, 4). Central to Lejeune’s definition of life writing is the »autobiographical pact« (Lejeune, 22) which has the reader assume that author, narrator, and protagonist are the same person. As Andrew J. Kunka points out, this definition is problematic for autobiographical comics – even if it is the same person who writes and draws, because of the »medium’s inherent characteristics of multimodality, sequentiality, and image-text interactions« (Kunka, 6). These formal elements offer many a path for comics artists to represent, perform and reflect on subjectivities rather than signing the autobiographical pact (cf. Krieber). As such, graphic memoirs raise »knotty questions about truth and fictiveness, realism and fantasy, and the relationship between author and audience« (Hatfield, X), especially »the fragmentation of the narrative into panels separated by gutters challenge the verifiability of events represented in the comic« (Kunka, 7). Yet, autobiographical comics »allow the artist to structure the narrative to correspond to a larger, emotional truth, and to visually externalize subjectivity on the page in a way that is constitutive of selfhood while remaining true to dominant ideas of the self as fragmented and multiple« (KĂžhlert, 127). I will get back to these observations in my analysis of the autobiographical comics of Dirk Schwieger, Inga Steinmetz, and Igort.

Elizabeth El Refaie defines autobiographical comics as »a loose category of life writing through the use of sequential images and (usually) words« (48). Whereas this genre used to be central to »alternative, small-press comics production in North America and Western Europe« (El Refaie, 36), it has by now become »central to comics, full stop« (Kunka, 3). Kunka distinguishes between two sorts of autobiographical comics: trauma narratives and comics addressing »the mundane, quotidian, often humorous experiences of daily life« (Kunka, 2). Both can »exercise a power to universalize the creator’s individual experience, whether it’s through art style, panel layouts, or other narrative techniques« (Kunka, 3).

As will be shown, the autobiographical comics of Dirk Schwieger and Igort are examples for the latter category. Inga Steinmetz’s work, however, overlaps with both categories, as she also addresses her parents’ divorce and its impact on herself (Steinmetz 2017, 14–23) hence contradicting Kunka’s rigid classification.

Dirk Schwieger, Inga Steinmetz, and Igort: Framing Autobiographical Encounters with Japanese Culture

How do Dirk Schwieger, Inga Steinmetz, and Igort tell their »emotional truth« (KÞhlert, 127)? How do they represent universal phenomena such as experiencing (and coping with) intercultural stress, acculturation, deculturation, and intercultural learning in their individual autobiographical comics? Which comic-specific narrative techniques and which drawing styles do they apply to tell their (non-traumatic) stories? Which role(s) do they choose for their avatar as a stand-in for their experiencing self? And how do they engage with the repetitive self-representation, their »pictural embodiment« (El Refaie, 36)?

As will be shown, each of the three artists has a different approach which becomes apparent when going against the famous proverb and judging the books by their covers.

Moresukine – Dirk’s Deculturation or Death by Fugu

In 2006, German comic artist Dirk Schwieger spent six months in Tokyo and documented his experiences online using his Tokyoblog (Schwieger 2006) for uploading pages of his art work. His book, Moresukine, is a printed version of this blog. It is named after the famous Moleskine notebook used by traveling authors such as Bruce Chatwin and echoes its look in format and color, as well as details such as a paper banderole. To reflect on the geographical context of his notes Schwieger uses a spelling of the brand name that is closer to the Japanese version (ヹハă‚čキン, moresukin).

Fig. 3: Cover of Moresukine (Schwieger 2008).

The mor/leskinefication of the blog, its transformation into a notebook of the famous brand, also includes minor details such as rounded edges and the addition of a ribbon. only the quality of the paper and the thickness of the cover are slight variations of the original. Whereas his publication is a very convincing mock-up of the famous notebook, Dirk Schwieger applies a rather abstract style for his avatar. Nevertheless, the similarities between the features of the comics artist and his avatar communicate clearly that it does not represent just anyone but Dirk Schwieger. The author also keeps his own name for his avatar to stress the connection. The first glimpse of a fragment of Schwieger’s self-representation is to be found on the banderole of the book (Fig. 3): it shows an open mouth which is about to be entered by a piece of potentially poisonous blowfish or fugu – as is indicated by a speech bubble bearing this information. The other speech bubbles seal the »autobiographic pact« as they inform the reader who is talking and reflecting here: the author himself, who is being marked as identical with the narrating I and the experiencing I – and this trinity has second thoughts about the fugu-tasting. This intradiegetic voicing of discomfort is quite symptomatic for the book: Schwieger’s sometimes challenging encounters with scenarios and objects considered to be typically Japanese don’t happen by choice as they are commissioned by the readers of his interactive blog. Dirk Schwieger3 had invited them to send him on quests he would take on in the order of their arrival – no matter what they would be. All in all, he undertook 24 quests, which form the chapters of the book.4

Each passage spans four to five pages and follows the same pattern: Dirk Schwieger quotes or rephrases the wording of each commission and uses the rest of the pages to give an account in words and images of what happened after taking on the challenge. The episodes include several food-related quests (sushi, natto, tinned coffee, and, finally, fugu), others are location-checking missions (a museum, a love hotel, a capsule hotel, and a roller coaster), whereas a third group wants Dirk Schwieger to enhance his and, by this way, his commissioner’s own knowledge on social matters such as religion, fashion, gender questions, slang, telephone clubs, and clubbing. only two of his missions address intercultural difficulties expressis verbis: mission 2 (January 23, 2006)5 has Schwieger revealing his most awkward moment, whereas commission 10 (March 20, 2006) leads to a disclosure of WTF6-moments. According to this entry, the most awkward moment happens during his first days at work and features an exploding toilet, caused by pressing a wrong button. Not familiar with the Japanese language, Dirk chooses the most prominent one, assuming from what he was used to in Germany that the biggest button would activate a flush, the main function of a toilet, whereas, in fact, this button activates the bidet mode. This error is a textbook illustration for Bennett’s step 3, involuntary minimization of cultural differences by applying the patterns of one’s own culture (Bennett 1993, 30) – in this case, the hierarchy concerning toilet functions would be echoed in the prominence of the buttons. In the end, Dirk cleans up behind himself – and successfully tries to hush up the incident. In the last panel of this episode, we see Dirk suffering from post-intercultural-mishap-stress, but now, he is ready to enter the next step on Bennett’s scale: the acceptance of the fact that all values and beliefs exist in a cultural context (Bennett 1993, 46).

In this episode, Schwieger applies two different avatars for representing his experiencing self, making use of the multimodality of the medium: his constant Dirk-shaped avatar is used to visualize the humiliating toilet incident. For the panels which show him at work and fully functional, at least from the outside, he is represented by a football-headed MSN messenger gravatar. This gravatar was created by his colleagues as an iconic stand-in for the new German colleague – and hence integrates the Japanese perspective on the German foreigner into the narrative.

In the WTF-episode, the 10th quest (March 20, 2006), Schwieger admits to being overwhelmed by the constant level of noise – and by fear of earthquakes. The narration starts with Dirk’s image on several billboards in Shibuya and has all of these fragmented selves mentioning the awkward bidet episode again while claiming that his whole blog consists of WTF-moments, advertising his own intercultural incompetence. In general, Dirk hardly ever is fully in the picture: in almost all embodiments, some of his body parts don’t make it into the frame. There seem to be two exceptions: one panel shows Dirk in his sleeping bag (quest 8: Home Story, March 6, 2006) – but his body is invisible because of the padded fabric. Another has him dancing at a para para dance event where everyone performs identical movements – or at least tries to do so (quest 9: Para Para, March 13, 2006). Dirk is depicted head to toe, but instead of just documenting this event, Schwieger visually communicates his discomfort concerning this forced de-individualization: one of his legs is merely bones and sinews and hence marks him as a zombie. So, in the end, the reader never gets to see all of Dirk.

Though Schwieger, by virtue of the commissions, has made significant progress to cope with stress (affective learning, Ward) and knows a lot more about Japanese (popular) culture (cognitive learning, Ward), he still is constantly being challenged by his lack of language skills (behavioristic learning, Ward) which even forces him to have a translator with him for some tasks and doesn’t allow himself to become fully immersed.

Fig. 4: Envisioning death by fugu (Schwieger 2006, quest 24, June 26, 2006).

The 24th and last quest (June 26, 2006) is a fugu-tasting, a fragment of which we already spotted on the banderole. Wanting to please Luke, who commissioned this task, Schwieger samples the blowfish, which can be fatal if prepared improperly – and has his avatar envisioning death by fugu. In this episode, Schwieger adopts the view that in one’s last moments one’s life rushes by in a stream of images, just like watching a movie in fast-forward (Fig. 4). However, his avatar’s stream of images consists only of fragmented flickers of his adventures in Tokyo, identical to the table of contents, taking Kim’s model of acculturation and deculturation over time one step further in omitting all elements from Dirk’s original culture.

In Love with Japan – Putting Inga Steinmetz’s »Schneeballen« on the Bennett Scale

Verliebt in Japan [transl. In Love in/with Japan] (2017) is Inga Steinmetz’s second autobiographical comic. other than some of her colleagues such as Alison Bechdel (2006), Marjane Satrapi (2007), Craig Thompson (2003), Dirk Schwieger (2006), and Igort (2015/17) who stick to their real names for the embodiment of their self-representations in their graphic memoirs, Inga Steinmetz created a consistent avatar called Schneeballen7 to write about her own experiences in comics. usually, the cartoonesque Schneeballen wears her blond hair in a bun and combines a strawberry-colored dress with a German flag for a coat. All Schneeballen-books employ a sugar-coated style. unlike for her manga, such as her Alpha Girl mini-series (2012; 2014), Steinmetz uses mainly pastel colors and adopts an overall kawaii-look8 for her autobiographic art. With their chubbiness in combination with comparatively large heads and childish features, her iconic avatar and all other characters resemble chibi.9 Whereas in manga, chibi are generally used for giving additional emphasis to a character’s emotional reaction – for example when bursting with anger, the character morphs into a chibi – Steinmetz’s characters never morph, they always remain in chibi-style.

In Love with Japan is based on Inga Steinmetz’s journey to and stay in Tokyo in 2015 which she documented in her travel blog while being there (Steinmetz 2015). In contrast to Dirk Schwieger who spent half a year working in Tokyo, Berlin-based comics artist and mangaka Steinmetz visited her friend Carolin as a tourist for just a month. Whereas Schwieger’s Moresukine provides us with a fragmentary and fragmenting view of and on himself and his intercultural experiences, echoing a technique that is typical for the medium of comics, Inga Steinmetz puts her avatar front and center.

Fig. 5: Cover of Verliebt in Japan (Steinmetz 2017).

This starts with the cover illustration (Fig. 5) which shows Schneeballen clad in traditional Japanese garments: a printed summer kimono, also known as yukata, which is held in place by a broad belt (obi). Schneeballen sports matching accessories such as a small handbag, an ornamental hairpin (kanzashi), and geta, flipflop-like sandals with wooden soles, held in place by fabric thongs. Hand in hand with her own heart, Schneeballen poses at a typical tourist spot as if having her picture taken by someone else: standing in an idealized stereotype landscape with a lake, ginkgo tree, and a wooden shrine with lacquered columns in the background, Schneeballen doesn’t only wear Japanese clothing – she has already internalized typical Japanese gestures and postures such as inwards turned legs and the peace sign as is culturally appropriate for young Japanese women in this situation. Hence, the cover is an example of the second step (Fig. 2, Time 2) in Kim’s model of deculturation and acculturation over time as Schneeballen’s performance deviates from behavioristic patterns of her (and Steinmetz’s) original cultural context. Schneeballen’s appearance on the cover as a wide-eyed and sweet tourist, ready to explore Japanese customs and costumes, has already captured the role she assumes for this book.

Fig. 6: Schneeballen in Japan (Steinmetz 2017, 80).

Only half of the story takes place in Japan – the other half of the book is dedicated to another transition: exploring the culture of wedding planning and marriage. The adventure in Tokyo commences on page 56 where we learn about Schneeballen’s pact with her friend: in exchange for 30 days of accommodation, Schneeballen agrees to take care of Carolin’s apartment. Despite being labeled Settling in 1, page 56 seems not to deal with getting accustomed to Tokyo and Japanese lifestyle – but with settling in with the role of being Carolin’s guest or, rather, housemaid. The maid is a classical role in otaku culture and there are several manga, for example, the series Emma (2002–06) by Kaoru Mori and Maid-sama (2005–13) by Hiro Fujiwara, as well as institutions such as maid-cafĂ©s reflecting this trend. So, in a way, Schneeballen gets Japanized by being depicted as a manga character stereotype in full regalia (57). Parallel to Schneeballen changing her appearance, the layout of the story alters, too: while the first part and the end of the comic which focus on Schneeballen’s life in Berlin are structured with panels or a free arrangement of words and images, most of the 38 episodes set in Japan employ the structure of yonkoma. This Japanese version of a comic strip is composed of four vertically arranged panels of the same size. Steinmetz combines these panels either with drawings of objects which play an important role in these mini-stories or with pastels of Japanese everyday items. Most of the 38 episodes deal with Schneeballen embracing the otherness of Japanese everyday objects, mostly clothing (73, 80, Fig. 6) and food (84–90, 97).

Translated into Kim’s model of adaptation (Fig. 2), Inga lets her avatar incorporate the culture by enjoying typical Japanese food as often as possible while at the same time surrounding herself with Japanese fashion as a second skin, thereby mostly changing her outer appearance. In doing so, she practices cognitive learning (Ward 2001) concerning material culture. Mirroring the fashioning of her avatar, she also dresses her narration and her European gaze in yonkoma style without adopting its rigor concerning content. In romanticizing cultural differences, Steinmetz’s avatar Schneeballen is mockingly constructed as a classic instance of step 3 on Bennet’s scale (Fig. 1) and makes a likable model for identification, also helped along by the iconic style that pulls the reader in.

Bennett and Beyond: Igort’s Japanese Notebooks

Fig. 7: Cover of Japanese Notebooks (Igort 2017a).

While Dirk and Inga have their avatars embrace their outsider status and the awkwardness that comes along with it, in the first volume of his Quarderni giapponesi (2015) and its English translation Japanese Notebooks (2017a),10 Italian comic artist Igor Tuveri aka Igort chose to paint an ambivalent picture of himself. of the three artists compared here, Igort employs the most realistic style for his graphic memoir which is based on his private sketchbooks, notes, and photos. His drawings echo the materiality of his sources on different levels: parts of the book, for example, look like a facsimile of a ruled Muji-note book,11 while elements on other pages mimic photographs. This mimesis adds a note of »I have been there«, and functions as »proof of authenticity« (Attanasio, 85), marking the Japanese Notebooks as Igort’s very own story, universal applicability not being intended.

Fig. 8: Drinking tea and waiting (Igort 2017a, 27).

Given the subtitle of the book, it is not surprising that Igort starts his graphic memoir echoing Roland Barthes’ Empire of Signs as he admits the impossibility of reaching the Japan of his dreams (7).12 The first page with drawings, however, tells a different story. We see his brainchild Yuri on the same shelf with the manga of Japanese mangaka, including Tezuka osamu. Igort’s Yuri is not being singled out as a foreign body but is shown side by side with the native products (8). For the beginning of his narration, Igort chose 1994, the year in which he had signed a contract with Tokyo-based publishing house Kodansha and moved to Tokyo for half a year (cf. Attanasio, 84). When starting this position, Igort had no command of the language and a lot of doubts concerning his guidebook: he wonders if it is okay to blow his nose in public or not and if there really are 101 ways to say me, myself and I (28). Regardless of his many doubts, there is only one thing he admits to being afraid of: riding a bus. However, his worries about whether he would be able to understand the announcements for the stops and get off at the right one are only documented in the text while the pictures show his efficient performance (13). Igort succeeds – and this is the only time the author voices concern for an intercultural challenge because of his lack of knowledge. A common factor of the intercultural adaptation theories by Bennet, Ward, and Kim, is that a lack of skills – be they of affective, behavioristic, or cognitive nature – is seen as an obstacle for effective and successful performance in a new cultural context. one episode in Igort’s Japanese Notebook contradicts this, as he documents the benefits of not knowing local customs.

During his first visit to Japan in 1991, his cognitive ignorance wins him a higher salary in a meeting with Kodansha’s leader, Kurihara-san. Not being aware of the pattern that the guest has to get up first to end a conversation, Igort remains seated which causes Kurihara-san to offer Igort more money for his services (27). In this case, Igort’s ignorance is strength. However, the accompanying panels don’t visualize any embodiment (Fig. 8). Instead, through Igort’s eyes, we witness the repetitive ceremony of pouring tea again, and again, and again, nine squares repeating three steps for three times, slowing the narration down and letting the message sink in.

Except for these two episodes, Igort presents himself as a connoisseur of Japanese culture concerning literature, films, history, and lifestyle – just to name a few aspects. The collage-like assemblage on the cover (Fig. 7) proves to be a pictorial condensation of his knowledge of Japanese culture and, as it turns out, a boast of his intercultural achievements.

From left to right, we have a drawing reminiscent of a snapshot that shows Igort at the inner sanctum of Studio Ghibli in Tokyo in conversation with Hayao Miyazaki. It is the moment when they discover their shared love for notebooks by Muji for their professional work (144). Right on the cover, Igort presents himself as a professional with access to Japanese experts in his field. The other images on the cover are vignettes for Igort’s intimate knowledge of Japanese literature and anime since they are quotes from Miyazaki’s anime Fireflies from 1988 (138) and Yukio Mishima’s autobiography (34/35). These allusions can of course be recognized by people who are familiar with Miyazaki’s films and Mishima’s writing. The prominent depiction of an old Japanese woman who carries a bento remains enigmatic, though. Igort saves the best for last and solves this riddle for his readers in the postscript: as it turns out, the woman is an embodiment of Igort’s belief of having been Japanese in a former life (64). This belief finds an echo in a dream of his translator, Midori. Midori, when dreaming of an elegant old woman inside a kimono shop, knows that this must be an incarnation of Igort from the beginning of the 20th century [179/180].

In contrast to the humble verbal introduction, the pictorial collage on the cover is actually quite boastful: Igort might not have found access to the Japan of his dreams (7) – but he stepped inside the dream of at least one Japanese woman. In Midori’s dream, Igort rises even beyond step 6 of Bennet’s scale as he becomes the reincarnation of a Japanese person.

Conclusion: Covering Stories

As the paper has shown, models for intercultural adaptation by Bennett (1993), Ward, and Kim can be applied fruitfully to analyze and classify intercultural incidents as they are depicted in the Japanese journals of European comics artists Dirk Schwieger, Inga Steinmetz, and Igort. In all three cases, this classification helps significantly to contour and identify the construction of the narrating I and the experiencing I that were chosen by each author. As we have seen in all three examples, the chosen construct can already be grasped from the design of the cover where the introduction and staging of the autobiographical avatars take place. All three covers offer, in a nutshell, the gist of the different concepts for the authorial representation in the comics and introduce the artists’ individual styles. At the same time, they bear important information on the comic-specific forms and techniques of narration applied in each case.

Dirk Schwieger assumes the role of the interactive approachable expat errand boy, inviting his readers to steer him from one quest to another. He does not offer the big picture, but a kaleidoscope of fragmented glimpses, echoed by his abstract, fragmentized avatar who literally is never fully in the picture. He invites his readers to share his process of cognitive learning which mainly concerns enhancing his knowledge of material culture and habits. on the Bennett scale (Fig. 1), Schwieger can be located in the transition between stage 3 and stage 4 in accepting that »particular behavior can only be understood within a cultural context « (Bennett 1993, 46). Though Schwieger signs the »authenticity contract« (Enli, 16), he also breaks it several times by visualizing his feelings in a way that transforms, multiplies, or fragmentizes his embodiments. In the last episode of the blog, Schwieger, while living on, even lets his avatar die of food poisoning by fugu.

Like Schwieger, Inga Steinmetz presents herself as an outsider who doesn’t know much about Japan before getting there. Her iconic cartoonesque avatar, Schneeballen, is caught in two fairy tales at the same time – her wedding and her trip to Japan. The episodes in Japan are embedded within the marriage narration. Textiles as a second skin and as elements of a successful rite de passage play an important role in both narrative strings, be it the wedding dress, harajuku street style, or a traditional yukata. Steinmetz’s time in Japan is way too short to allow for immersion that marks the last step on Kim’s model of deculturation and acculturation over time (Kim 2001). Nevertheless, she has already started to exchange some elements of her original culture against elements of her host culture (Fig. 2), but these mainly concern food and fashion. Starting with the cover, Schneeballen as experiencing I is always in the picture, in style, and dressing the part – very much unlike Dirk who is rather presented as a narrating and focalizing I. Whereas Schwieger and Steinmetz show their avatars as merely having mastered entering the first ethnorelative step on the Bennett scale (Fig. 1), Igor Tuveri is off the scale: he might not have found access to the Japan of his dreams (7), but he enters the dream of one Japanese woman. At least in Midori’s dream, Igort rises even beyond Bennett’s last ethnorelative step 6 as he declares himself the reincarnation of a Japanese woman. of all three examples, Igort’s style is the most realistic and the most documentary one. Furthermore, the documentary character of his work is enhanced by the use of photos as a »gesture toward authenticity« (Kunka, 72). His graphic narration can be read as a collage of mixed media to visualize his intercultural competence as well as his successful international career.

Traveling and keeping a travel journal has a long-standing tradition, especially among artists and scholars.13 In the 18th and 19th centuries, Italy held the greatest attraction for European authors, sculptors, and painters. one famous testimony to this infatuation is Johann Wolfgang von Goethe’s Italienische Reise [transl. Italian Journey] (1816/17) which is based on his travel diaries from 1786–88. Whereas Linda Barry coined the term »autobifictional« (Barry, 7) for autobiographical comics which resort to documentary as well as fictional elements, the term applies as well to Goethe’s writing, who reworked his travel diary significantly before publishing it. For example, he purged remarks from it that were too personal and didn’t match his status any longer. At the same time, he channeled the illusion of immediacy by pretending to assemble original letters and diary entries from the time they describe (Hösle, 1–2), in contrast to Barry. Indeed, Barry who has her alter ego (if mockingly so) wonder: »Is it autobiography if parts of it are not true? Is it fiction if parts of it are?« (Barry, 7), Goethe doesn’t see this as a case of either–or. In a letter to his friend, Zelter, dated 17 May 1815, he states that the Italian Journey is »zugleich völlig wahrhaft und ein anmutiges MĂ€rchen«14

This also rings true for the autobiographical travel journals discussed in this context: for Schwieger, Steinmetz, and Igort, Japan is the new Italy, the land of their dreams, waiting to be explored and documented in the comics medium. Yet, as has been shown, all three have a different intercultural fairy tale to tell, using the medium-specific possibilities of comics to focus, exaggerate, and to leave things out that do not match the »emotional truth« they want to convey, a proof of Gardner’s thesis that the »losses and glosses of memory and subjectivity are foregrounded in graphic memoir in a way they never can be in traditional in autobiography« (6).



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Table of Figures

  • Fig. 1: Developmental model of intercultural sensitivity (after Bennett, Milton: Towards Ethnorelativism: A Developmental Model of Intercultural Sensitivity. In: Education for the Intercultural Experience. Ed. R. Michael Paige. 2nd ed. Yarmouth, ME: Intercultural Press, 1993, p. 21–71), graph: B. M. Eggert.
  • Fig. 2: Deculturation and acculturation model over time (after Kim, Young Yun: Becoming Intercultural: an Integrative Theory of Communication and Cross-cultural Adaptation. London: Sage, 2001), graph: B. M. Eggert.
  • Fig. 3: Cover of Schwieger, Dirk: Moresukine. uploaded Weekly from Tokyo. New York, NY: ComicsLit, 2008.
  • Fig. 4: Quest 24, June 26, 2006. In: Schwieger, Dirk: Moresukine. uploaded Weekly from Tokyo. New York, NY: ComicsLit, 2008.
  • Fig. 5: Cover of Steinmetz, Inga: Verliebt in Japan. Hamburg: Carlsen, 2017.
  • Fig. 6: Steinmetz, Inga: Verliebt in Japan. Hamburg: Carlsen, 2017, 80.
  • Fig. 7: Cover of Igort: Japanese Notebooks. A Journey to the Empire of Signs. Trans. Jamie Richards. San Francisco: Chronicle Books, 2017.
  • Fig. 8: Igort: Japanese Notebooks. A Journey to the Empire of Signs. Trans. Jamie Richards. San Francisco: Chronicle Books, 2017, 27.