Martha Kuhlman


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Kafka Komix

When corresponding with his publisher Kurt Wolff about the cover of the first edition of Metamorphosis in 1915, Kafka was adamant that, “the insect itself cannot be drawn.” Instead, we see a man staggering away from an open door with his head in his hands. More than one hundred years later, the story continues to evoke uncomfortable emotions about power, the family, money, disability, gender, and religion. Each individual who engages with the story will have their own reading of Kafka based on their own experiences of rejection, fear, and hope.

I decided to take Kafka at his word and create a version of the story without the insect and reimagine it as a metaphorical atomic transformation: a rearrangement of particles, a disturbance in the force field of the family. The image of lines and curves is from the residue of a particle accelerator.

Word balloons are yet another transformation because they are taken from a smattering of Tintin albums by the Belgian author Hergé (Georges Remi). Although the world of Tintin—with its connotations of childhood innocence and landscapes rendered in an immaculate ligne clair style—couldn’t seem further from the somber, existential dread of Kafka, there are points of contact between them. As any Tintin scholar knows, Hergé’s legacy during WWII is a mixed one: his cartoons appeared in collaborationist newspapers, and there are shades of anti-semitism in some of his works. The resulting combination is an unsettling remix of high and low, literature and comics, adventure and tragedy.

Other images in the series of twenty-five panel collages are photocopies of archival material from Harmut Binder’s work, Kafkas Welt, including a photo of Kafka’s sister Ottla (apparently the inspiration for Grete), a blueprint of one of the Kafka family apartments, alterations of the original book cover from 1916, and a map of the old town in Prague.

Other pieces of this exhibit are more participatory:

I sent fifty blank mini-comics to artists and friends and artist-friends; the resulting submissions and accompanying mail art are exhibited here.

The large reproduction of panels with empty word balloons are intended for selfies [ please tag: #kafkakomix ]

And the colorful panels are meant for rearrangement and play.


Kafka: Years of Insight, Reiner Stach

Kafkas Welt, Harmut Binder

Metamorphosis, Franz Kafka, translation by Susan Bernofsky

Metamorphosis, graphic novel adaptation by Peter Kuper, translation by Kersten Hasenpuch

Kafka, Robert Crumb and David Zane Marowitz

Tintin and the Secret of Literature, Tom McCarthy

Tintin: Land of Black Gold, Hergé

Tintin: The Shooting Star, Hergé

99 Ways to Tell a Story, Matt Madden

Thanks to artists who inspired, participated, or otherwise encouraged me in pursuing this project: Matt Madden, Amy Walsh, Suzi Cozzens, William Schaff, Alec Thibodeau, David Mazzucchelli, Liliya Krys.


The work was originally shown at AS220 in the fall of 2018.


Kafka; art; Tintin; comics; Metamorphosis


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