The skyscraper as a microcosm: In The Skyscraper. 102 Storeys of Life German comic book writer Katharina Greve introduces one of the most original comics of the year.
“As Goethe already said: ‘More light!’, silly cow”, the man shouts at his wife as he rummages in a box in the dark cellar. She is standing next to him with the torch. “If I were to kill him NOW,” she thinks, “even his final words would be banal!”
These are the opening lines of Katharina Greve’s The Skyscraper: in the cellar. From here, the reader climbs floor by floor skywards, past nagging couples, confused old people and hapless teenagers. It’s pitch black in the cellar, but it doesn’t exactly get any lighter higher up. Of course, “The Skyscraper” is funny, however, the humour is rather mean and dark.
Born in 1972, the comic book writer and cartoonist Katharina Greve originally constructed her skyscraper on the Internet. From September 2015 to September 2017, every week the building grew one storey for almost two years, or to a height of 102 floors. Now, The Skyscraper is also available in landscape book format.
The idea of the skyscraper is simple, clear and striking. Greve, who is a qualified architect, opens a show apartment as accurately as on a technical drawing: with kitchen, hall, living room, balcony. The layout plan resembles a comic-strip grid mostly with three, occasionally even four images, including a short punchline.
The observation of daily routines, which usually occur behind closed doors, not only titillates the onlooker’s voyeuristic sense, but also allows Greve to simulate all imaginable (Western European) living situations within the most compact space and in the briefest form. The reader becomes a peeping Tom who secretly watches these snapshots of humorously exaggerated everyday scenes: daily routine, boredom, homework, chaos, social media and anti-social behaviour. “If you don’t kick the bucket soon,” mumbles the 15th-floor occupant, who is seated on the 1950s retro sofa from her youth, to her presumably nearest and dearest, “then I will get a divorce.”
The weekly additions also enabled Greve occasionally to refer to current affairs and to link daily routine with world events: climate change, terrorism, the housing crisis, unemployment and precariousness, the Nobel Literature Prize for Bob Dylan – everything is always broken down to the small-town average situation of the skyscraper’s residents. “Some refugees are on hunger strike again!”, she shouts, looking at the television screen from her kitchen, and he echoes from the living room: “They can also starve back where they came from!” Meanwhile, on the 67th floor a young mother has a visit from a friend. While she plays with her young son, she sighs: “Post-truth era, fake news, Trumpism – how am I supposed to explain this world to my Ole some day?” The friend: “Tell him lies.”
However, The Skyscraper is not just a collection of amusing comic strips – Greve repeatedly and loosely interlinks the storeys. The husband on the 48th floor isn’t buying, as his wife thinks, salmon for supper, but as attentive readers naturally know, he is amusing himself with his lover on the 32nd floor, whose husband in turn isn’t visiting his parents on the 7th floor, but is involved in a session with the Dominatrix with her whip on the 16th floor.
So, Greve creates with lightness of touch, clear strokes and a fine to mean-spirited sense of humour a pleasurable comédie humaine for our time. It is a novel composed with sophistication, a sketchy genre picture that already works fantastically well on the first reading; yet in repeatedly climbing the steps, it allows the discovery of more secret references, funny details, subtle allusions and cheerful vulgarity.
By Christian Gasser
Translated by Suzanne Kirkbright
Katharina Greve, Das Hochhaus. 102 Etagen Leben. Avant Verlag, 56 pages
This blog was originally published on ELit Literature House Europe website on 20 June 2018.