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Germany

Comic Hero Fights Right-Wing Extremism

A new comic book launched in the German state of North-Rhine Westphalia hopes to encourage youngsters to have the strength to oppose far-right extremism in their everyday lives.

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North-Rhine Westphalia's Interior Minister Ingo Wolf shows off "Andi"

What is the significance of the figure 88? What is the attraction of the Lonsdale brand for far-right extremists?

Curious youngsters can now find out the answer to these and other right-wing related questions and discover how "uncool" neo-Nazis are: It's all in "Andi," a new comic that's been launched by the western German state of North Rhine-Westphalia.

The comic intends to address important questions regarding right-wing extremism. It features Andi, the star of the stories, and his friends Murat and Ben in situations where they face skinheads and the problems that arise from their attitudes and actions.

There is of course a villain, the skinhead Eisenheinrich, who dresses in classic neo-Nazi fashions, hates foreigners and distribute CDs of far-right bands at the local school.

In the first edition, Andi and his friends challenge Eisenheinrich and his gang to a game of basketball, which the skinheads lose.

"It 's hard to find enough people to play with when you only want to play with 'real Germans,'" says the hero Andi.

Exposing hatred and hostility

An initial print run of 100,000 "Andi" comics is being distributed to 3,500 schools in North Rhine-Westphalia in what the state's inerior minister, Ingo Wolf, called "a unique project in Germany" at the launch. He added that the cool "Andi" should help to expose the propaganda of the extreme right "as it is; hatred of people and hostile to democracy."

Skinhead

The anti-Nazi hero was developed by the NRW State Office for the Protection of the Constitution.

"Pupils are often approached by far-right groups and are confronted with their propaganda," said author Thomas Grumke. "We want to do something against that."

Manga design carries important messages

To make the intended impact on the audience, the comic is designed to mirror the lives of 14- to 16- year olds and appeal to their tastes.

"We have asked the youngsters what they find exciting and hip," Grumke added. The result is a flashy comic in the Japanese Manga style.

This has not proved to be a problem for Düsseldorf comic draftsman Peter Schaaff who was awarded the contract for the project.

"It tackles a sensitive subject which appears in entertainment culture too little," Schaaff said, adding that the biggest challenge for him was to meet the needs of the young readers. "Is it cool enough for them? What shoes should the characters wear?"

Schaaff took the original black and white first draft to the youngsters at a number of schools to get feedback. The result surprised him.

"They agreed with the style and the drawings but they had problems with the content," he said. "Many asked: 'Why is nobody getting beat up here? '"

Of course, in the case of an educational comic there are always compromises, says author Thomas Grumke.

"We want to appeal to the target group without having to take anything away from the content," he said.

Information and education, not glorification

The compromise was a story that was not too theoretical or dry but still contained the most important information in text boxes on the side of the main action. These include facts about the signs and symbols of the extremist right, the German constitution and migration in the Ruhr area.

Versammlungsrecht Demonstration von Neo-Nazis

The appendix explains Nazi emblems, abbreviations and far-right numeric codes such as "88", the eighth letter in the alphabet side by side -- HH: Heil Hitler.

The mission of the publication is to be "a comic for democracy and against extremism" and not a textbook with instructions on right-wing extremism, Wolf said.

That's why it is distributed to pupils in schools as part of a lesson and discussion on the dangers of extreme right-wing politics.

"The comic is read together with the teacher, as a part of the lesson," Ingo Wolf said.

To keep the pupils in the loop, future editions will call on the help of youngsters to keep the storylines of "Andi" going. All students in North Rhine-Westphalia will be encouraged to take part in a competition to write for the comic with the best entries being illustrated by Peter Schaaff and published on the Internet.

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