The depiction of cities in comics has a long history. This might be because depicting urban landscapes has always been a fascinating visual project, or because, in addition to the characters, the atmosphere that surrounds them plays an important role in the plot of a story, or for other reasons.
There are many examples, including Batman’s dark Gotham City, the Duck family’s happy Duckburg, Judge Dredd’s colossal Mega-City One, Moebius’ floating cities, Will Eisner’s painful and perilous New York City, Chris Ware’s old Chicago or the futuristic Tokyo of Katsuhiro Otomo.
Athens, too, could not help but be a source of inspiration for Greece’s comic book creators. Giannis Kalaitzis portrays it in gray tones in “The Gypsy Orchestra.” Spyros Derveniotis, in “Fanouris Aplas,” sees it as the familiar big city of the 1990s (which complemented the stories of Dimitris Vanellis and Dimitri Kalaitzis). Leandros identifies its deformed aspects in “The Pariah,” while Alekos Papadatos and Annie Di Donna (with a story by Abraham Kawa) highlight its ancient past in the graphic novel “Democracy.”
But how do younger Greek comic book artists see the city? What do they love about it, with which aspects of it do they feel most in tune, and in which parts of its daily life do they find joy?
Knowing that the modern domestic comic book scene has a number of different representatives with distinct styles and abilities, we asked four Greek practitioners of the ninth art for their unique perspectives. Of course, their answers consist of colors and lines, with images and ideas that sometimes intersect, perhaps revealing some common trends or preferences.
That matters little, however; in the panels that follow, Athens appears once again full of favorite neighborhoods and parks, streets and balconies, where stories both important and insignificant play out, as seen through the eyes of four creators who live in it, endure it and love it, too.
PANAYIOTIS PANTAZIS Polygono, my vantage point
Few know where Polygono is. You will meet people who live there who state they live in Gyzi, Ambelokipi or Kypseli. There are people who confuse it with the Pentagono [the Ministry of Defense]. There are no attractions here, and even the square isn’t exactly a square. It has steep narrow streets, and parking is a nightmare. A friend of mine once thought I’d end up living in a mountain forest. Polygono isn’t quite such a place. It is the neighborhood where I was born and raised, the one I left for 15 years before moving back to live here again. From up here, I can see Athens stretching from below my window to the sea.
Panayiotis Pantazis is a comic artist, illustrator and musician. He is currently working on his new album, Echo Tides. More info can be found at: pantazis.space
Everything about this noisy environment
I like many things in Athens. I like its ancient sites; its new ones; its completely destroyed ones; the tables on the sidewalks; the steep streets, once I reach the top of them; the kiosks; the galleries; the Athens Polytechnic; the subway when the train comes out of the tunnel and I can see the apartment buildings; the apartment buildings in general; and the ubiquitous cinemas. I like the fact that I can walk and be a stranger among strangers, and I like that I might run into someone I know anywhere. I love Athens precisely because it is so densely populated. I love everything about this noisy environment because it seems like a background that’s ideal for literally countless stories, stories without a finite number: real, imaginary, past, future or just potential ones.
Georgia Zachari won the Best New Artist award at the 2018 Greek Comics Awards for her self-published work “Xematiasma.” Her latest work is “Festival” (with Giorgos Gousis and Panayiotis Pantazis), which celebrates the 60th anniversary of the Thessaloniki International Film Festival. More at instagram.com/tiganopsomo
A park pulsating with life
Eleftherias Park, one of the few parks in the heart of Athens, is a hill with grass and a four-level view: Vasilissis Sofias Avenue, the buildings, Mt Ymittos, the Attic sky. It is home to a variety of birds, from magpies to parrots. On its upper slope, the Arts Center of the Municipality of Athens and the Museum of Anti-Dictatorial and Democratic Resistance are housed in a beautiful stone building. Despite its small size, the park is full of life: people of different ages and nationalities play sports, enjoy picnics, and read. It is a model of the free use of green and public spaces, as it is a recreational spot where one can be close to nature, historical memory and art. In other words, Eleftherias Park is a place where one can be a citizen and not a consumer.
Alexia Othoneou’s weekly strip “X in Ψ” is published in the newspaper Efimerida ton Syntakton. “Stories hidden in obvious places” is hosted on socomic.gr, and her graphic novel The Woman with the Cards is forthcoming (Jemma Press). More at alexiaothonaiou.blogspot.com
Balconies that reconcile you with the urban chaos
I love Athens because it’s the city where the people I love live and because it’s the setting of our common life, a setting that suits us and is full of contradictions and labyrinthine paths, just like us. The thing I admire about Athens is how uncomplicated it is in its chaos, something which it shows us, at every opportunity, from its high balconies. I wonder if my frequent visual contact with such chaos is why I often feel reconciled with this concept.
Giorgos Gousis’ latest graphic novel is Robbers: The Life and Death of Giannis and Thymios Dovas, which he wrote with Giannis Ragos, drawing inspiration from real people and from actual events that took place in Epirus from 1909 to 1930. More at fb.com/Ggoussis
This article first appeared in the print issue Greece Is Athens Winter 2020-2021 with the title “Athens Illustrated”. The magazine, along with other past issues, is available for order at our eshop.