Owls Piss on That

»On a pub crawl with Jaroslav Rudiš and Nicolas Mahler«

Jaroslav Rudiš loves being on the road, discovering new places, meeting people and listening to their stories over a beer. Stories that people tell each other in the pub when it is already late. Men's stories, mostly. This is how many of his books come about, and "Nachtgestalten" ("Night Creatures") also continues this tradition. In the graphic novel, which was created together with the Austrian illustrator Nicolas Mahler, stories are strung together like pearls on a string. At first glance unrelated, at second glance closely connected.

"Nachtgestalten" is a dialogue between men. A conversation between friends who try to explain the world to each other, to comfort each other and perhaps also to save each other, because life goes differently than they imagined. Because the woman you love is married to someone else, for example. So why not live like bison, where the bulls gather in groups like the men in the inn and see the cows and their children only once a year for a few weeks. A happy life without quarrels, because bison obviously know how life goes.

But the book is not only about the relationships between men and women. It is also about deeper-seated, unhealed wounds that history has left on the protagonists. The family history. The history of the world. History that you can't even understand if you've studied history. That you also can't understand if you studied medicine, nuclear physics, psychology, sociology or art. Or all of them together. From which you run away, from one beer to the next, although in the end it doesn't matter, because it's already over. Or, as the grandfather of one of the two friends says, "Owls piss on that." At least as long as there's still a pub open where you can have a beer.

Nachtgestalten Cover

As in many of Rudiš's stories, humor and tragedy are closely intertwined in "Nachtgestalten." But how do pub stories work in a graphic novel? Where is there room for all the words that normally pour over the reader like a waterfall in Rudiš's books? For Nicolas Mahler, the main appeal of the story lay precisely in the design of the dialogue: "With dialogues, you have a lot of possibilities in comics to influence the timing. You can use wordless images to set pauses, put the dialogue in small speech bubbles and really chop it up, put small passages of dialogue in large speech bubbles to emphasize the meaning. Whispering or stammering can also be represented well by the typeface." In "Night Shapes," it works, even without a narrative voice. The direct dialogue immediately draws the reader into the stories.

The drawings, done in simple basalt blue and black, enhance the nocturnal mood without appearing gloomy or even hopeless. On the contrary. This colorful frame puts the focus all the more on the two characters. As in many graphic novels by Nicolas Mahler, the facial features of the characters themselves are not visible in detail, which should make identification even easier, at least for male readers.

But what comes first in a book like this? The characters or the text? "First, the characters have to be there. You have to be able to follow the story easily, the characters have to be easily distinguishable. For my simple style, stories with only a few characters are ideal," explains Nicolas Mahler. "Nachtgestalten" with two protagonists was therefore perfect for him. "The whole story is actually a long tracking shot through the night, interrupted by static local visits. Such a simple and concrete image design makes it easy to concentrate on the dialogues," he continues. Jaroslav Rudiš also enjoyed this kind of collaboration: "I simply enjoy dialogues more than descriptions." Nevertheless, it was a special challenge, because with the short texts, every word had to sit perfectly.

Rudis Mahler2

The fact that the two have known each other for a few years has made the collaboration easier. "In 2015, I gave a speech for Nicolas when he received the Prize of the Literature Houses in Stuttgart. In 2018, when I received the prize, he returned the favor with a speech." Since then, the two often meet over a beer and a schnitzel at the Viennese restaurant "Steman," where the idea for "Nachtgestalten" was born. In this respect, Jaroslav Rudiš and Nicolas Mahler are no different from the characters in their graphic novel. The question of what they enjoyed most about working together is the same for both of them: The work meetings over beer.

Our readers can enter a raffle to receive a copy of "Nachtgestalten" from the publisher Luchterhand. Write us until 15.03.2021 in the comments under the post, which is your favorite pub and why. The winner will be notified by e-mail.

Another tip for our Czech readers. The graphic novel "Nachtgestalten" will be published in Czech in 2022 under the title "Noční chodci" by the publishing house Labyrinth from Prague. And all train lovers can look forward to the book "Gebrauchsanweisung für's Zugreisen," which Jaroslav Rudiš is currently working on and which will be published by Piper Verlag in October 2021.