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Jutta Bauer

by Geraldine Brennan










Jutta Bauer finds the thought of translation most exciting when she is working out to translate the stories in her picture books to another medium: to give them another life on stage or screen. "My figures want to move," she says. "They are drawn with speed lines and they have that energy. I'm interested in the music and how the characters speak. There are so many creative decisions to make and it is all part of my vision."





With her long-standing collaborator, filmmaker and animator Katrin Magnitz, Jutta has made award-winning films of all her most significant picture books including Die Königin oder Farben/The Queen of Colours (1998), The Screaming Mother / Shriemütter (2000) (which won the German Youth Literature Award) and Opa's Engel/Grandpa's Angel (2001).

One of Europe's most prominent artists, cartoonists and illustrators, earlier this year (2010) Jutta received the Hans Christian Andersen Illustrators' Award, which is awarded every two years by IBBY (International Board on Books for Young People) one of the biggest international lifetime achievement awards in children's literature.

Her books have been translated into 18 languages but the only one available in the UK is Grandpa's Angel (published by Walker Books). Yet it's possible that other titles might eventually become familiar to UK children through performance. Jutta's breakthrough picture book, The Queen of Colours, is a universal story about creativity and how  sometimes less is more. An Erfreuliches Teater production which mixed shadow puppetry, drawing, music and film visited England as part of a world tour in 2007, but the book is still not published here.

Jutta believes that the story of The Queen of Colours – the first book for which she illustrated her own text – "it is special to me because I really wanted to tell a story myself' – has appeal for all cultures and all age groups. "It is very much for grown-ups too. Even for myself, I like to look at books that are not for a special age. Storytelling is for every age."






Selma, a book which has almost cult status in Germany, about a sheep who appreciates the simple pleasures of life, has a similarly wide appeal and is available in the US and New Zealand but not in the UK.   









Grandpa's Angel is the tale told by a grandfather to his little grandson about his own life, starting with his boyhood when he passed a statue of an angel every day. Grandpa encountered many problems in his life– from school bullies and dangerous traffic in his youth to war and poverty later – but none of them do him lasting damage.  Jutta is not sure why this book has been sold to the UK while others have not.  "Maybe there is a little more nostalgia in Grandpa's Angel and a bit more about the war in it — though that is a very small part of the book. The style is a little bit old-fashioned, pen and watercolour, more the English taste. I try to work in different styles all the time; I don't want to get bored.

"There was such excitement from my publishers when finally a book was sold to England – but for me it is more about the books being known than the money. When I look at my royalty statements I think, 'What are they so excited about?' I never used to care about it but today, if you are not so well established and even if you are, if you do not sell the licences abroad, it is harder to get published at all."

Grandpa's Angel has also been turned into a stage show in Germany, and again Jutta became absorbed in another set of creative decisions. "I had very clear opinions about how the angel would move and what sort of noise it would make. For me it shouldn't be kitsch, a bicycle wheel on a piece of rough paper is what I had in mind.  I would like to do more work in theatre."

Her work has toured the world as part of a travelling Goethe-Institut exhibition of children's book illustration. "I've been invited to Peru, Greece, Brazil and Ireland with it to give talks and workshops alongside it, but the UK has not been interested.  "It puzzles me because with an exhibition you are showing the art rather than the books and in general with visual art nobody talks about where it comes from, we just want to see the best the world has. It would be a pity if Picasso was only shown in Spain. And in terms of seeing the books too, you miss out if you don't see books from everywhere. It's good to see the differences: books from France are not like books from Sweden. It's interesting."






Quality of translation is crucial for her. "There are so few words in my own texts and they are very simple. It's essential that the translation is very exact. It can't be too much. In fact, you leave more and more out. "I remember The Queen of Colours script being translated into English for a film festival in the US. It was much longer and quite flowery and I had to cross most of it out before I got to anything like my text.

"When I was working on the book I did the storyboard for the film at the same time. I was sharing a studio with Katrin Magnitz and we thought about the film together while I was working on the story. I worked on a lot of my books like that."








Jutta grew up near Hamburg and studied illustration 1975-81 at the Fachhochschule für Gestaltung in Hamburg, now known as HAV.  "I had a good professor, Siegfried Olke. He wasn't an idol or guru figure but he was a good teacher. He said to me: 'You can illustrate now, you are competent, so only do what you want, which was good advice. He died just as I was finishing studying."




When We Lived in Uncle's Hat

She started her career by illustrating English language books for schools. Her big break in illustration was a commission to do a fortnightly strip cartoon for the women's magazine Brigitte, which gave her a similar status to Posy Simmons, who contributed to the Guardian's women's page throughout the 1970s and 1980s, or Claire Brétecher in France.

"There weren't so many women in Germany working as editorial illustrators at that time. I had done some pieces for the children's section of the magazine first when I was a new illustrator. It was perhaps the most feminist of the mainstream women's magazines and I tried to do feminist topics."






She kept the Brigitte job for seven years (1985-92), continuing to work on books. "It was one of the best jobs I could have had, because I could pay my rent whether or not my books sold. But it was hard work. Two weeks seems like a lot of time to do a strip but the first week slips by thinking about it and then you only have a week for discussing it with the magazine and doing it. You have to keep having good ideas and it's a lot of pressure. I had a small child and I was always tired. When I started I was able to do books in parallel but I stopped when I didn't have enough time to do both."

She has now illustrated around 50 children's books, including the Juli series with Kirsten Boie, a top German children's author. Most recently, she has published a series of board books to help small children explore feelings and life skills through a bear called Emma who is seen crying, eating, washing and being happy. "It's to give small children and their parents something to talk about."


Geraldine Brenan
Outside In Word (2010)


For a PDF version of this article click below.

Jutta Bauer Article 2010





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