Cross Cult Comics: A German Indie Comic Publisher

Cross Cult Comics: A German Indie Comic Publisher

Cross Cult Comics have been publishing translations of American favorites like The Walking Dead, Hellboy and Sin City for German-speaking audiences for over a decade. But this independent publisher is also home to promising German-language originals.
by Nicolette Stewart

Cross Cult started at a graphic design studio in Ludwigsburg called Amigo Grafik.  Amigo had often worked with other comic publishers, and in 2001 Andreas Mergenthaler and Hardy Hellstern decided to use their experience there to publish several titles themselves.  “We worked as graphic-designers, mostly for Stuttgart based publisher Dino,” Mergenthaler told Young Germany via email. “We did lettering and layouts of editorial pages for their DC superhero-titles, Simpsons, Star Wars and others. The we simply tried to publish comics on our own.”

 Hellboy by Mike Mignola was Cross Cult’s first title, and though other publishers had previously attempted to publish a Hellboy translation in Germany, none was successful.  Cross Cult timed its release just ahead of the first Hellboy film.  Good timing in combination with a high-quality hardcover format made the book a success.  Soon after US comic publisher Dark Horse offered Cross Cult the rights to another popular American comic series—Sin City—which was an even bigger hit.

“We started slowly,” Mergenthaler said. “Just two to three titles in the first year. We did not have to live from it. With Sin City came the first success because the movie had been such a big hit. We got a lot of press coverage, and many people started to recognize the name Cross Cult. From then on, we extended our program. Some titles worked, some failed. After all these years, it is still not easy for us to place our titles in bookstores. So we focus on amazon, comic shops, and some of our titles are also sold in bookshops in train stations and airports. Another big step forward has been the mega success of The Walking Dead.”

In 2008, Cross Cult began adding novels to its publishing catalogue.  “We already had a few novels related to our comic titles in our catalogue when Markus Rohde asked us if we would like to publish Star Trek novels. Heyne had stopped publishing those a few years before. There was still a big fan base in Germany, although there had been no new movies or TV series then. We tried and it worked–the fans had been waiting for new translated novels. Then the new movies by J.J. Abrams came out, and they did even better. Not nearly as good as Star Wars, of course, but really well. Then we started with other titles. Most of them were connected to TV series like Torchwood, Doctor Who, Castle, or movie franchises like James Bond.”

The name Cross Cult came from the idea that the company’s offerings would be cross cultural.  “Our sci-fi series Waisen fits our name well,” Mergenthaler explained. “It is an Italian series that mixes French/Belgian style, US comic books, and manga. Best of all comic worlds, so to speak.”  Cross Cult also publishes a US comic series called “Avatar: The Last Airbender” which is written by a Chinese-American and drawn by a team of Japanese artists.

Though Cross Cult’s offerings focus on American productions, they have several notable German-language originals running now.  Das Upgrade by Ulf S. Graupner and Sascha Wüstefeld is a science fictional surf rock super hero drama set in the DDR.  Gung Ho by Thomas von Kummant and Benjamin von Eckartsberg is a near-future post-apocalyptic story set in Europe. Steam Noir by Verena Klinke and Felix Mertikat is mix of noir, steam punk, and science fiction.

Cross Cult has released two sweet and funny non-fiction books about geek culture in Germany by geek duo Andrea Bottlinger and Christian Humberg: Geek Pray Love and Sorge Dich Nicht, Beame.

Still, between 70 and 100 percent of comics published in Germany are being imported from abroad.  In a 2014 interview with Comic Report, Cross Cult’s former-PR Manager Filipe “Pippo” Tavares mentions that “ones finds really good, entertaining, realistically drawn comics by German authors very, very rarely.”  I asked Mergenthaler to comment on this phenomenon:

“The German scene has been mostly funnies (Bröels Werner or Ralf König's books) or graphic novels for a long time. No successful adventurous, entertaining stuff. But this has been changing in the past few years. Publishers like Splitter and others are taking new German talents into their catalogues, maybe also the popularity of manga helped to get more young people into drawing and writing comics. So the quality did go up.

"We are happy that we can work with some of the best: The team of Gung Ho is immensely talented, as well as the people on the Das Upgrade or the Steam Noir teams. The newest addition is Nic Klein, a young artist living in Kassel, Germany, but working for Marvel and DC Comics and now also Image Comics. Which was a chance to get the rights to his new creator-owned title Drifter. So we are beginning to collect the best new talents who don’t work in the usual German comic categories like graphic novels or funnies/cartoons.

“When it comes to awards, Reinhard Kleist and Isabel Kreitz are two of the most successful German comic authors. Both do graphic novels. Ralf König is still very successful internationally. Not many others that stand out.”

In the future, however, Mergenthaler hopes that Cross Cult will bring a few more German names to the comic world.

“More projects with German and international talents are in development. Those are my ‘babies.’ It’s good to not only buy ready-to-print US-American, British, or Italian titles, but to create new titles for German and then, hopefully, also international audiences.”

Links

Cross Cult website

Interview outtakes

Deutschsprächige Comics website from Goethe-Institut (in German)

German Free Comic Day website

by Nicolette Stewart