Hans Vogel is Dead began as a webcomic nearly a decade ago, written and illustrated by Sierra Barnes. Now publishing its first of three volumes with Dark Horse, But Why Tho met Barnes at her studio to hear about the series, its origins, Barnes’ influences, comic lettering, and what makes the series special.
Barnes shared her background in history, especially German post-war literature and fairy tales. The influence of both are unmistakable throughout Hans Vogel is Dead, which marries familiar depictions from the likes of Grimm with surrealism. “A lot of post-war Germa literature is processing trauma through fairy tales because fairy tales, specifically Grimm fairy tales, are this symbol of German national unity. The Brothers Grimm were trying to create a German national identity when they collected these folk stories in the early 1800s. Their grand plan was to create a united Germany, and I knighted national mythos. They’re interviewing people are asking people for fairy tales. They’re writing them all down phonetically to keep the dialect. And they’re saying that these aren’t Bavarian fairy tales or Heshan fairy tales. These are German fairy tales. These are German, which is a new and very spicy political context.”
All the while, Hans Vogel is Dead’s looming question is how to make a protagonist out of a veritable Nazi. To that end, Barnes says, “I hope that people like Hans in the sense that he’s a protagonist. But, I don’t want anyone to read this book and walk out and go, ‘Wow, [Nazis] were all just a little misunderstood babies.” Hans is on a journey to unlearn fascism, but he is not necessarily on a path of redemption or forgiveness in Hans Vogel is Dead. Barnes is very specific about describing her book as “anti-fascist.” “[The point of the] book is to have a way to show what fascists look like… when it doesn’t look like jackboots and armbands.”
Barnes also discussed, at length, the process of lettering Hans Vogel is Dead. The details in every word on every page are minute. The dialogue, as well as the FX, are essential to building a sense of the world and its characters. Scratches on big red text build terror while the characters’ dialogues seal the readers’ understanding of their core personalities from the onset, especially Reineke, a character who looks like a fox but is absolutely not a fox. Barnes often crosses out or fades dialogue away to indicate when a character is being spoken over, a unique approach to layering dialogue on an otherwise flat surface. It helps with creating an inner voice for different characters and their interactions as you read the book.
You can listen to the full interview with Sierra Barnes now. Hans Vogel is Dead Volume 1 will be available wherever books are sold on September 20th.