‘Baby’s In Black’ – An Interview with Author Arne Bellstorf

Baby's In Black by Arne Bellstorf

Baby’s in Black is a stunning graphic-novel written by the German author and graphic artist Arne Bellstorf. Set against the backdrop of The Beatles early gigs in Hamburg, it tells the tragic true-life story of the romance between the young photographer Astrid Kirchherr and the artist and musician Stuart Sutcliffe. Bellstorf’s book is based on a series of conversations he had with Kirchherr, and the story perfectly captures Kirchherr’s blossoming romance amid the exciting subculture of early 1960’s Hamburg.

It is a story which is told with beautiful restraint and tenderness, and it is easily one of the best graphic-novels that I’ve read in a very long time. I was fascinated to learn more about the book and so I asked Bellstorf a few questions.

Astrid and Stuart from Arne Bellstorf's Baby's in Black

What are some of the challenges in telling somebody else’s story – particularly one as sensitive as Astrid Kirchherr’s?

Well, it’s a very tragic story, of course, and I normally wouldn’t have wanted to tell a biographical story like that. But after having met Astrid, I recognized that we actually shared a lot and that my approach to tell the story would correspond with her attitude. I was interested in the time, the youth culture in Hamburg and what it was like being young in the early Sixties. Astrid went to the same art school as I did, and I could relate to her life in many ways, despite all the things that were different back then. We both tend to think in pictures, she’s a very visual person, and she basically liked the idea of telling her story in little black and white panels. It was a kind of mutual confidence, I guess. I mean, the character in the book may be still something I invented, and in the end it’s a fictional work. I could only try to capture something of the real Astrid. We talked about what was important to her, aesthetically, and what influenced her – French existentialism, Jean Cocteau, Oscar Wilde, Cool Jazz – and what happened when Rock’n’Roll merged with all these things.

We also spoke about the time she spent with Stuart, the two years until his tragic death, this short but intense relationship, but I wanted to focus on the beginning of it all: Their first encounter, the whole love at first sight thing, the magic physical attraction going on between them. They got engaged after only a month without speaking the same language, and Stuart actually began a new life when he left the Beatles and his family in Liverpool to stay with Astrid in Hamburg. The end of the story is a delicate matter, and we never spoke too much about the time after Stuart’s death. That’s what makes it such an existential tale, it’s absurd ending. You can’t really speak about something that doesn’t make sense. I had to find a way to depict that, and I’m glad that Astrid liked the solution I came up with.

Picture of houses in Hamburg from Arne Bellstorf's Baby's in Black

How difficult was it to research? Was it a challenge to recreate 1960’s Hamburg?

Not really. I mean, I wanted to do a book about the Sixties anyway. I live in Hamburg, near Reeperbahn, and most of the places are just right outside my door and I know the area quite well. As far as clothing is concerned, I got a lot of help from Astrid. I also bought a few books with old photographs at second hand bookshops and flea markets, and I got the impression that the Sixties are quite well documented – except for the filthy underground clubs, of course. As for the Kaiserkeller for example I could only rely on what Astrid had told me and the reports that I found in numerous Beatles books.

Panel from Arne Bellstorf's Baby's in Black

What inspires you?

When I was drawing I’d often listen to early sixties music, girl groups, R’n’B and all those North-American artists that inspired the Beatles. I find almost everything from the Sixties very inspiring, the music, the design, the movies – and I think that’s why I wanted to do this book, it’s the birthplace (and heyday) of pop culture, and you can’t understand youth culture in Europe without going back to the Fifties and Sixties – be it mass phenomenons or small subcultures. When you look at Astrid, the “exis” and their androgynous look, the black clothes, and their romantic, cool attitude, they seem closely related to movements like new romanticism and goth. So when it comes to inspiration, I like to look back at past decades, there’s so much to explore.

Panel from Arne Bellstorf's Baby's in Black

What are you working on at the moment?

I did a lot of commissions recently, working for magazines and newspapers. Then I’m still traveling with Baby’s In Black, the book’s been published in several countries since it’s release in Germany. I do have a few ideas for another book, but the next thing I’ll release is a small collection of one-page comics, hopefully coming out this summer.

Many thanks to Arne for taking the time to answer our questions. Details on where to buy your copy of Baby’s In Black can be found on his website here.

Philip Kennedy

March 20, 2012 / By

‘People In Her Mind’ by Poor Moon

Poor Moon

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People In Her Mind is a beautiful new track from up-and-coming four-piece Poor Moon. Made up of Christian Wargo and Casey Wescott from Fleet Foxes, and brothers Ian and Peter Murray of The Christmas Cards – the band recently signed to Sub Pop Records, who will be releasing their debut EP next week.

If the EP sounds as good as People In Her Mind, then we’re in for a treat. Coming across like a more Zombies-influenced version of Wargo’s earlier band Crystal Skulls, this track is just a really sweet nugget of pop goodness. With a full album due this August, chances are that we’ll be hearing a lot more from Poor Moon this year. I for one can’t wait!

Philip Kennedy

March 19, 2012 / By

‘Under the unminding sky’ – Paintings by Gregory Thielker

Being from Ireland means that I’m used to the rain. It feels like I see it nearly everyday. And despite a despairing dislike for the stuff, I must admit that sometimes I do occasionally find myself swept up in a simpleminded and childlike daze as I watch it run down my window. It’s a simple pleasure but one which I can’t help but like.

Perhaps that’s why I find myself really in love with these paintings by the American artist Gregory Thielker. Taken from a series called Under the unminding sky, his work capture the beauty of the rain, but it also explore the relationship between it and the medium of painting. As water falls on the windshield, Thielker’s style explores how the environment outside changes through fluidity, texture, transparency and mixing. Check out the whole series on Thielker’s website here.

Philip Kennedy

March 16, 2012 / By

The Small Print’s ‘Illustrated Alphabet’

The Small Print's 'Illustrated Alphabet'

The Letter D by Rilla Alexander
‘D’ by Rilla Alexander

‘M’ by Kevin Waldron

'I is for Inca' by Steve Simpson
‘I’ by Steve Simpson

Over the last few years Irish creative collective The Small Print have been running a number of exciting projects with artists and illustrators from all over the world. In 2009 they setup OFFSET, an annual international creative festival held in Dublin. This event has gone on to become an entity all of its own. Last weekend I attended OFFSET 2012, and many of the speakers there showed their contributions to another Small Print project – The Illustrated Alphabet.

Released last December, the project invited 26 of the very best illustrators from around the world to produce fifty-two original pieces – one illustrated letter and an image based on that letter. The resulting work is pretty amazing and features a broad range of disciplines and concepts. Above are three examples from OFFSET speakers Rilla Alexander, Kevin Waldron and Steve Simpson.

As well being a really fun project, The Illustrated Alphabet also shows such a rich display of disciplines and ideas. Prints from the project are currently for sale through Print-Process and come in a variety of sizes.

Philip Kennedy

March 14, 2012 / By

Songbird sculptures by Emily Sutton

Dartford Warbler 2 by Emily Sutton

Goldfinch 2 by Emily Sutton

Wren 2 by Emily Sutton

I love these beautiful bird sculptures made by illustrator Emily Sutton. Emily currently lives in the Yorkshire countryside, where she says she lives in a house on a hill in the middle of nowhere. Much of her work is influenced by the landscape and creatures of her surroundings, so I guess she gets to see a lot of birds from where she lives. She’s already has made over twenty unique songbird sculptures and each one is really lovely. You should check out her full series of birds here.

Philip Kennedy

March 13, 2012 / By

‘Never Speak Of It Again’ by The Holiday Crowd

The Holiday Crowd

Today I thought I’d share a track from the Toronto four-piece The Holiday Crowd. Formed in 2010, the band recently released their debut album Over The Bluffs and it’s been getting its fair share of rotations around these parts.

The track above, Never Speak Of It Again, is particularly great. Starting off with a jangly melody not dissimilar to something by Wild Nothing and then bursting into frontman Imran Haniff’s Morrissey-style vocals. Filled with nostalgia for another-time, Haniff sings with a mix of fondness and melancholy, and all the while his voice is underpinned by the brilliant stripped-down pop sensibilities of the band. It’s a winning combination and The Holiday Crowd are well worth checking out.

Over The Bluffs is currently on release through New Romantic and Shelflife.

Philip Kennedy

March 12, 2012 / By

Homesteads – A photo series by Edward Burtynsky

From the series 'Homesteads' by Edward Burtynsky

From the series 'Homesteads' by Edward Burtynsky

From the series 'Homesteads' by Edward Burtynsky

In the world of fine art photography Edward Burtynsky is a household name. Since the early 80’s he has set out to create images that work as metaphors for our modern existence, and in doing so, he has become one of Canada’s most respected photographers. Over the years he has been the recipient of three honorary doctorates and has won numerous awards including the esteemed TED Prize in 2005. In 2006 he was named Officer of the Order of Canada, and the following year the documentary Manufactured Landscapes was made about his work.

Since seeing his work at the Prix Pictet in 2008 I’ve been a fan. Recently I discovered that Burtynsky’s own website is a wonderful archive for his projects and it includes an impressive amount of his work in high-resolution images. One could easily loose a large chunk of their day simply gorging over all of the detail in some of these photographs.

The pictures above come from one of Burtynsky’s earliest series entitled Homesteads. Made between 1983 and 1985, the series was photographed in a number of locations including Bingham Valley, Utah; Fort Macleod, Alberta; Upper New York State; Toronto, Ontario; Walkerville, Montana and Browning, Montana and locations in British Columbia. It’s interesting to view Homesteads now in hindsight. It’s one of Burtynsky’s earliest series but it still holds many of the themes and dilemmas that his current practice still holds. These images show a photographer interested in rethinking the landscape and concerned by how industry cuts into our natural world.

If you’re new to the work of Edward Burtynsky and want to learn more I highly recommend you check out his TED Talk from 2005, and make sure to check out his website to see more of his photography.

Philip Kennedy

March 9, 2012 / By

Geometric Sculptures by Axel Brechensbauer

Geometric Sculptures by Axel Brechensbauer

Geometric Sculptures by Axel Brechensbauer

Geometric Sculptures by Axel Brechensbauer

This work by Barcelona-based artist Axel Brechensbauer is great. Like obscure chess pieces or futuristic totems, his sculptures demonstrate a wry sense of humor and a wonderful sense of form.

Nature plays an integral part in his practice, and his work attempts to explore man’s obsession with creating systems, patterns and shapes. On his website he draws an interesting analogy, explaining that we create gardens because we feel that we can control the pattern of nature better than that of nature itself. If this is the case, do we then believe that our own man-made systems are better than the systems of nature? Or, as Brechensbauer asks, are we ourselves just another version of nature? Certainly it’s an interesting thought process, and by the look of Brechensbauer’s sculptures, it definitely leads to some great work. Check out more work here.

Found through theCargo Showcase

Philip Kennedy

March 7, 2012 / By