BERLIN, CITY OF SMOKE reviewed by The Wall Street Journal

Epic tale of Berlin

The Wall Street Journal Europe    |    Jamin Brophy-Warren    |    August 29, 2008

BERLIN HAS INSPIRED generations of writers and artists. But cartoonist Jason Lutes only knew the city through books when he started the first few chapters of his comic series "Berlin" more than a decade ago. "It was important to me that I not go until I'd created my own personal vision of the city," says Mr. Lutes, who spent his childhood in Missoula, Mont.

He's only made two visits to Germany since then and the second collection of his comic, "Berlin: City of Smoke," which comes out next week in Europe, was drawn in a small, yellow farmhouse outside Woodstock, Vt. The story follows the interwoven lives of Berliners after World War I during the twilight of the Weimar Republic.

Although he later discovered that he was of German descent, the subject matter was initially serendipitous. Mr. Lutes saw an ad for "Bertolt Brecht's Berlin," a depiction of the turbulent era that preceded World War II, and poured himself into learning every aspect of the city. He hopes to finish the final chapter in four years.

Mr. Lutes works primarily in black-and-white because color "complicates the visual message." He draws up several scripts and mock-ups before putting ink to paper.

All of his work is hand-made with the exception of his comic books' covers. The drawings are deceptively simple and are paired with a narrative that is sweeping and complex.

"He's got a great range of facial expressions," says comic writer Ed Brubaker, who has collaborated with Mr. Lutes and met him in Seattle in the early 1990s. "They're easy on the eye, but not so simple that you can't feel their pain."

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