After two decades' worth of serialized publication, the award-winning cartoonist has completed his nearly 600-page tome on the Weimar Republic, exploring how characters of different social strata lived their lives amid an unfolding Nazi takeover with consequences they could scarcely conceive.
Though Berlin is technically a compilation of previously-released material, the ability to approach the entire story at once completely transforms the reading experience. It allows us for the first time to see Lutes’ achievement for what it is: one of the most ambitious, important and fully-realized works of graphic literature yet created, a real masterpiece of both story and art. Lutes combines a keen eye for character and setting with a cartoonist’s skill for storytelling and pictorial composition. Berlin is drawn in crisp, clean black and white: European in its pacing, austere in its linework, and architectural in its simplicity, but full of brilliant details ... Such tight control of his craft allows Lutes to layer a complex story full of subtle moments, tonal shifts and poignant emotion, bringing different characters to the foreground like featured players in a symphony.
Jason Lutes dedicated over 20 years to the making of this work of more than 550 pages of nuanced, exactingly rendered pen-and-ink drawings and dialogue ... Lutes spent the time well, crafting multidimensional, true-feeling characters in a set of stories connected by the unstable circumstances of their time and place ... What Lutes contributes to the exhaustively documented, utterly familiar history of this time is a set of fictional characters from everyday life who ground the period with such intimacy and so much veracity that we feel as if we’re seeing it through new eyes, observing it so closely that we feel it directly ... The existence of these people in the panels of cartoon drawings is a testament to the richness of Lutes’s creative imagination and the evocative precision of his art ... In total, though, I count 10 or 12 less-than-great pages out of 550-plus. A marginally flawed masterwork, Berlin is a significant contribution to the fiction of place.
You know that feeling when you're watching cable news and you realize the power of propaganda so totally eclipses the power of journalism that you don't even know what's real anymore? ... That feeling pervades former Seattle cartoonist Jason Lutes's exquisitely drawn historical graphic novel ... a single, gorgeous, door stopper of a collection ... an accomplishment reflected in the depth of the storytelling and the detail of his drawings ... The city of Berlin between the world wars is Lutes's first love and main character. Every dirty corner is either a refuge or a death trap, the broad streets run with blood and gleam with commerce, tenements stack up like fortifications but also like monsters come to destroy the populace. I would not be at all surprised if Lutes said he drew five hundred thousand million individual bricks and cobblestones over the course of Berlin's nearly 600 pages. The effect is a reading experience so immersive that when you walk outside afterward, you feel like things look different. You see the way he sees.