Tiny Acts of Violence

written and illustrated by Martin Stiff
224 pages
Published 2020 by A14 Books

Buy it HERE.

Set in the lat 1960s Cold-War era East Berlin, we're confronted with a man named Metzger who has a checkered past. Formerly a secret police (Stasi) agent, Metzger is now out of the spying game and works as a school teacher for what looks like the 6th grade. Is he completely out of the game? He's seen at a bomb disposal operation (unexploded ordnance from WWII in Berlin's common) that goes horribly awry. A journalist, Fräulein Astrid Kruckel happens to break away from the proceedings before the explosion, borrowing her photographer's friend's camera to shoot something mysterious she saw on a roof nearby.

The first part of this 244 page hallmark of graphic sharpness delves mainly into Metzger's and Kruckel's day to day as their paths lead them further into what's going on.

The Truth is Written by the Ones in Charge.

I've read a few 'harsh setting' novels like Orwell's 1984 and TAOV offers an interesting slant on totalitarianism. It's easy to depict it as dark and cruel, but there's a strangely compelling unified 'power' people experience living under a dictatorship. They feel as if their numbers combined with one thought one purpose makes them stronger and less frail. Comforting thoughts for sure for the masses who, reeling from the horrors of a collapsed country and the true evils of Nazi politics and the Holocaust find sustenance in applying themselves to future progress. Martin Stiff underscores that sentiment by showing us readers the malleability and easy manipulation of East Germany's citizenry through secret informers and detailed note-keeping by the secret police. It's not that what you do is illegal and punishable so much as at any moment the GDR can seize your property or throw you in jail if they want to --everybody has a file on them and there's always something they could use on you.

There's a Monster.

Literally, there's a hidden back story of a 'monster' who either really could exist or might be made up. I've mentioned that this review will be a two-parter and I'm literally at the halfway point of reading TAOV so even I don't know yet.

A Graphic Sensibility.

TAOV visually is akin maybe to 'Lady Killer' a graphic novel I reviewed some weeks back. Martin Stiff chops hacks and sketches his way through this tale. His rendering of people is left intentionally unrealized and somewhat 'cocktail napkin' simplistic. There's a stunning shift to different presentations: some pages are roughly colored others strictly high contrast black/blue/white. Through it all he never loses track of the emptiness and lifeless style he displays East Berlin. Everything is concrete and barren trees. One could easily see this as a black and white movie from the era.

The coldness of the imagery complements his lyrical writing. The language Martin employs to show the inner struggle of his characters plays off the harsh surroundings well. Some of the more moving passages are told by characters who understand the 'game' whether they be underground dissidents or State Police Captains. 

Freedom is Slavery.

Everyone speaks as if they already know how their fates will play out. This undercurrent of knowing -of order if you will- is what strikes me as symptomatic of a dictatorship. It's in democratic societies where there's characters who fret and fuss over each event of their lives as if the world's going to end tomorrow. Freedom is Slavery, after all if you read 1984.

Next Tuesday:

The 2nd half of the review for Tiny Acts of Violence
by Martin Stiff

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