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Germany

Turning 50, cartoonist Ralf Koenig explores new ground

Ralf Koenig would gladly get rid of his label as a gay cartoonist, but the brand has stuck. He was a huge influence in the gay cultural development of the 1980s and 90s, but has since taken on religion as his main theme.

Ralf Koenig

Koenig says he wants out of the 'homo-ghetto'

In recent interviews, Ralf Koenig has complained of feeling trapped in the "homo-ghetto."

After "literally showing every gay fad in about thirty comics," he says he doesn't have that much more to add. And what's left to say, when one's own name is inseparable from the hedonistic gay cultural movement of the 1980s and 90s?

Koenig, who turns 50 on Sunday, quickly gained a cult following back then for his comic characters, who made no secret of their homosexuality, but rather lived it out in a bawdy and sensuous style.

A few years before, such characters would have been strictly taboo.

Growing up, coming out

Koenig grew up in a strictly Catholic household in the small western city of Soest. He himself experienced the era in Germany when homophobia and discrimination were commonplace and the word gay was always used as an insult.

Muscle man in comic flexing

Gay sexuality was long the main theme of Koenig's art

"Back then, the literature out there about the issue was very dry, aimed at counselling people, but there was nothing that showed that being gay could also be fun," he said in a 1994 interview. "My comics and I were unknowingly thrust into something completely new."

Koenig described his coming out experience like ripping of a Band-Aid. After finishing high school, he did an apprenticeship in carpentry before going on to study at the Arts Academy in Dusseldorf. At 19 years of age, he grew sick of the hide-and-seek game that being in the closet forced him to play with his classmates.

One day, he decided to stick a sign to his work bench for all to see. It read, "Being gay doesn't take much. I'm gay, and my name is Ralf Koenig!" His classmates were shocked, but Koenig said in hindsight, it was better to "not dance around the issue for too long."

Racy and raunchy

Koenig discovered that provocation through humor was his recipe for success. No other comic artist since the mid 1980s showed everyday gay life with such sassy boldness, and his audience - which included straight people - loved him for it.

Male statue with his pants down

Gay and straight readers alike have become fans of Koenig

With comic books like "Bull Balls," "Beach Boys" and "The Killer Condom," Koenig gave readers a peepshow of gay subculture while keeping his distance from a pornographic voyeurism that would likely have kept him out of the mainstream.

He achieved that in part with the famous crooked noses he drew on all his characters, giving them a sort of childlike innocence.

The burliest leather-clad gay figures somehow lost their exoticism with beaks half the size of their faces.

Religion the next frontier

Germany's environment for gays is considerably different today. The mayor of Berlin, Klaus Wowereit, and Foreign Minister and Vice Chancellor Guido Westerwelle are both openly gay.

Still, Koenig sees threats to the freedoms gays now enjoy in the resurgence of religious fundamentalism.

This is best evidenced by his 2005 comic "Dschinn Dschinn," which criticizes conservative Islam, and his Bible trilogy, which began with "Prototype" in 2007 and "Archetype" in 2009.

Adam eating forbidden fruit from comic book

'Prototype' takes on the Old Testament God in the start of a Bible trilogy


The comics sneeringly attack the God of the Old Testament as impatient and self-absorbed, and they satirize Adam as a brainless dunce and Noah as a fun-hating grouch who asked for the flood himself.

The third instalment of the trilogy, set for release in September, takes on the Apostle Paul.

In recent interviews, Koenig has said his desire to break free from the gay comic niche and move on to other issues that concern him.

"I'm not just gay, I also have other interests in the world and what's happening around me," Koenig said in a recent interview. "What upsets and bothers me the most right now is the growing audacity of religion, all kinds of religion. And I think that the separation of church and state is definitely an issue again."

Author: Gisa Funck (acb)
Editor: Kyle James

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