Die Abrafaxe by Lona Rietschel
Cover artwork from Mosaik #1, 1976, which featured the introduction of the Abrafaxe

Lona Rietschel spent most of her life in the former DDR (German Democratic Republic), the communist part of Germany. She was a prominent member of Hannes Hegen's "Mosaik-Kollektiv", and was the co-creator of 'Die Abrafaxe', the leading characters in Mosaik magazine from 1976 onwards.

She was born in 1933 in the Polish town of Reppen (Rzepin). She studied fashion graphics and animation. She changed her ambitions to become an animator when the DEFA animation studios relocated to Dresden. She lived in Berlin, where she worked at the Hochschüle für Bildende Künste before becoming a comic artist for the monthly comics magazine Mosaik in 1960. She replaced Nikol Dimitriadis, who had fled to West-Berlin. She quickly established herself as one of the leading artists of the so-called "Mosaik-Kollektiv", which operated under supervision of Hannes Hegen. Hegen had launched the magazine with the publishing house Verlag Neues Leben in December 1955, and was the creator of the main characters, Dig, Dag and Digedag, known together as the Digedags. Rietschel worked anonymously as a character artist on the 'Digedags' series, while other studio members such as Horst Boche, Gisela Zimmermann, Egon Reitzl and Heidi Jäger provided the rest of the artwork.

Mosaik cover by Lona ReitschelMosaik cover by Lona Reitschel

When Hannes Hegen broke his ties with the publishing house in 1975, he took the rights of the 'Digedags' with him. Scriptwriter Lothar Dräger quickly developed new lead characters, which were graphically designed by Rietschel and became known as 'Die Abrafaxe'. They were introduced in the first issue of 1976. While Abrax, Brabax and Califax show obvious similarities to Hegen's protagonist trio, Dräger made sure that the new characters had different personalities, as opposed to Hegen's more interchangeable 'Digedags'. The 'Abrafaxe' had their adventures in different countries, continents and time periods, and initially served as companions to jesters and other folk characters such as Harlequin, Hodscha Nasreddin, Ludas Matyi and Eulenspiegel. The Abrafaxe generally helped the common people against feudal rulers, but an explicit promotion of DDR socialism was not the case in Mosaik's pages.

Mosaik cover by Lona ReitschelMosaik cover by Lona Reitschel

From 1961 onwards, Rietschel and Horst Boche alternated on the majority of the cover artwork of Mosaik. In the early 1980s they were accompanied by Irmtraut Winkler-Wittig and between 1991 and 1999 Rietschel was the sole cover artist. At the peak of its popularity in the 1980s Mosaik reached a print run of a million copies per month, while the magazine was also distributed to other countries. Rietschel remained involved in the production until her retirement in 1999. Since then she has however continued to make drawings for anthology publications and the 2006 calendar. Later members of the Mosaik collective were Niels Bülow, Jens Fischer, Cornelia Geppert, Ulf Graupner, Steffen Jähde, Thorsten Kiecker, Markus Koch, Konstantin Kryssow, Andreas Pasda, Jörg Reuter, Thomas Schiewer, Michael Schröter, Jens-Uwe Schubert, Andreas Schulze and Sascha Wüstefeld.


Die Abrafaxe from Mosaik #9, 1977

Although her entire body of work was done anonymously, she was honored with the Peng!-Preis for lifetime achievement at the 2013 Comics Festival of Munich. For the occasion, an overview book of her career called 'Lona Rietschel: Bilder meines Lebens' was published. An overview exposition was held under that same title in the Gallery Kulturbund Treptow in Berlin from June through August 2014.

Her husband was graphic designer Kurt Rietschel (1930-2013), who spent the majority of his career working for the state-owned film studio DEFA. Kurt and Lona Rietschel were furthermore responsible for many designs and murals in the Berlin zoo. Lona Rietschel passed away in Berlin on 19 December 2017, at the age of 84.

Character designs by Lona Rietschel for the Abrafaxe (1975)
Character designs by Lona Rietschel for the Abrafaxe (1975)

www.abrafaxe.com
www.mosapedia.de

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