Photo by Wolf-Dieter Tabbert / (Copyright: Carlsen Verlag

Reinhard Kleist, German graphic designer and cartoonist known for such works as ‘Nick Cave: Mercy on Me’ and ‘Cash: I See a Darkness,’ joined us for an interview to talk about his creative process, cartoons and culture.

When did you decide to be a cartoonist?

Actually, when I was a child. I was always drawing comics in class under the desk, so the teacher couldn’t see. While I was studying illustration, I came across the work of artists such as Dave McKean and Kent Williams, and I started to move in that direction. My first book was quite successful – and so that was my start on the bumpy road of the comics business.

So, how did the idea for the ‘Nick Cave’ book originate?

I contacted his manager through my agent about four years ago, proposing the idea of a graphic biography. At first, they did not give us much hope, since he receives a lot of ideas like this. But he knew my book about Johnny Cash and liked it. So, he was willing to give me some input, and to nudge me towards his vision of how the story could be told. I was very happy that he liked the book in the end, and the postface* is just hilariously funny! He has a great sense of humour.

What inspires you to create comic books?

I always wanted to tell stories and I had a talent for drawing: a perfect combination.

I do it also for the reaction of the people reading my books – when somebody tells me they were “into” the story while reading it, and that the characters actually lived.

What is your creative process?

When I become interested in telling a story or creating a biography, I start by doing a lot of research about the subject. I also think about the right way to tell the story. For the Cave book that took a really long time. Then I start making sketches of the characters. I write a script for the action, just like a movie script. Then I transform the script into sequences of images before planning the layout for the pages.

If you could give any advice to aspiring cartoonists, what would you say to them?

Never give up! Drawing comics is a difficult task and it requires a lot of passion and devotion. You will encounter difficult times, like I did years ago when my career wasn’t going so well. But I continued – because it is what I wanted to do. And here I am!

As of now, are you working on anything new?

At the moment, I’m working on a book about the Boxer Emile Griffith. It is a fantastic story that I’ve had in my mind for so long. Now is the right time to focus on that. After that, I’m considering working on a biography of another musician. I’ve had so much fun since the release of Nick Cave, especially drawing live to musicians playing Cave songs. I would die to do that with ‘Space Oddity’ or ‘Ashes to Ashes’.

Our final question: what is your definition of culture?

Culture is the only hope for humanity not to fall into barbarism.


“Reinhard Kleist, master graphic novelist and myth-maker has – yet again – blown apart the conventions of the graphic novel by concocting a terrifying conflation of Cave songs, biographical half-truths and complete fabulations and creating a complex, chilling and completely bizarre journey into Cave World. Closer to the truth than any biography, that’s for sure! But for the record, I never killed Elisa Day.” — Nick Cave

Reinhard Kleist will be speaking at Cheltenham Literature Festival 5th-14th October 2018.