onsdag 26. oktober 2016

CREATING A GLOBAL STORYTELLER CAMP

During one of the last presentations of the 2016 Lodz comics and games festival, web cartoonist Michael Klimczyk handed out boxes of coloured chalk to his audience. Why chalk? Because that’s how his grand new project, COMICSPRING, got started.

Back when he was studying design and digital arts at Edinburgh Napier University, one of his projects there was a superhero named “Captain Sidewalk”. One day, as he was walking to university, a big square of sidewalk plates looked to him like a blank page from a comic book, and he got the idea to fill these frames with a superhero comic. He thought: A superhero appears on a spot out of nowhere, takes care of business, saves everyone and disappears – and you’re lucky if you manage to see him/her. Same with comics made with chalk – they appear on a spot in the city, and they disappear after few days just to reveal themselves in another spot. 

Michael Klimczyk in Lodz 

 Crayola UK even sponsored chalk for this project, and Unicef UK wanted to become a partner. The idea was to send a box of chalk to everyone who’s interested, ask them to draw a Captain Sidewalk story, collect all the stories in a book and sell it. The revenue was meant to support the Unicef causes. The idea behind is that real superheroes are the ones who want to use their talent to save children, and that you don’t have to give money to help, you just have to offer your skills.



Brian Azzarello asked what kind of superpowers Captain Sidewalk has. Klimczyk told him “at the moment he doesn’t have any superpowers, but more people will draw him, the stronger he will get.”

Due to health issues, he couldn’t finish the project.

But during his presentation at the Lodz festival, Klimczyk gave the listeners chalk, told them this story and explained that even the best ideas may not always work if you’re doing it alone. It’s important to collaborate, support one another and work together because together, people can achieve more.


And that is the high concept of COMICSPRING - All of the website’s stories are free to be picked up and continued. Every artist who creates a profile will be able to publish their comics, but they will also be allowed to continue an existing one.
However, the website is also founded on a profit-oriented idea. It’s a well-known fact that the market for conventional, printed comic books is shrinking. Finding a full-time, profitable job in comics isn’t easy. The solution, or at least attempted solution for many, has been to give web comics a try. The developer COMICSPRING intends to share advert revenue with its users. The website even has merchandising ambitions, as COMICSPRING also wants to collaborate with toy producers, and give companies access to creative people.   There are also plans for an online store in the future, which of course isn’t that unusual for a sufficiently popular web comic site.

Rough draft of the first comics menu

But since there is some degree of marketing thinking involved, COMICSPRING have split their existing comic titles into five categories: Music, superheroes, “real love”, “real stories”, and cities. Some of these may overlap, since some of the superhero and “real love” stories are also focused on specific cities (there’s already both a “Captain Edinburgh” and a “Captain Cracow” comic on the website). Klimczyk was inspired to collect love stories after reading Joe Simon and Jack Kirby’s famous comic book Young Romance, which claimed to recount true-life courtships. As far as the music theme goes, the website has established business relations with people like Pantera-founder Max Cavalera, producer Lee Scratch Perry and Polish thrash metal band Acid Drinkers. 




At the moment when I’m writing this, Michael and his co-operators have yet only to release a prototype platform, which is not intended to be available for the general public. Some comic titles and images are listed, but the comic strips and pages have not been released.  The platform doesn't predict profit sharing, or profit generating options. However, it is being developed with investors in mind. - Without investors we won't be able to prepare a fully planned, commercial version, Klimczyk explains.




  1. To create an environment in which the talent of a vastly growing number of artists in Europe and all over the world can be put to good use.

  1. To properly adapt comics to the Internet and develop a mechanism which allows artists to work together to create bigger things, earn money from what they do best, and do self-promotion at the same time.
  
  1. To exchange information about places and cultures through storytelling – At COMICSPRING, we like to think that when they met at designated places or camps, they used to tell each other stories for entertainment, Klimczyk explains on the website. - Then, some would take the stories to other fire camps, presenting them to a different audience. People from the audience would share these stories with other listeners and so on. That is how stories developed into legends and then into a complex mythological structure.


fredag 9. september 2016

AN AUTEUR WITH MICE AND MEN

I spoke with one of the great veterans in Czech comics, Lucie Lomova, just as she was about to finish the animated version of her most famous comic. 



You have been in the comics industry for a long time. Can you tell us a little bit about how you got started? What made you decide to become a comic creator?

I always loved comics. As well as books, illustrations, and art. As a child, I just couldn´t decide if I should become a painter or a writer, but spontaneously I did everything. Later I realised that doing comics includes both writing and drawing, and it‘s the best tool for me to tell stories with. I started publishing strips and cartoons as a high school student. It was in the 80‘s, at the time when the communist regime was already weaker, but still at power. There were almost no comics at all in Czechoslovakia, as they were considered as a decadent western art-form. There were some comic features or strips, but only one journal with cartoons and strips, Dikobraz (=Porcupine). It proclaimed itself as a “satirical and humoristic“ magazine, but you can imagine what kind of satire it was, considering that it was published by the central comitee of the Communist party... But some good cartoons appeared there and it was immensely popular. Children had their Čtyřlístek (Shamrock) comic magazine. And few years later, Čtyřlístek became the harbour where my comics series for children, Anča and Pepík, landed for one decade.

Acna & Pepik images from the new animated series


Anca & Pepík seems to be your most famous work. Why do you think it became so popular?

I don´t know,  perhaps because the stories are interesting and the children can easily identify with the main characters. Anča and Pepík are two mice kids, living in their tiny houses stuck to the wall. They experience different adventures, different genres, sometimes it´s a detective plot, sometimes it‘s a fairytale or an everyday story. The ambience is quite old-fashioned, which brings the feeling of security and the magic of „good-old-times“. Me and my sister Ivana created the two characters by chance. made the first story very spontaneously. Anča and Pepík just appeared on the paper and we had fun playing with them. When we were asked to do more episodes later, my sister didn´t want to continue as she had other things to do, so I did it on my own for next ten years, both writing and drawing. After more than sixty episodes I was exhausted and decided to stop. Buit it came back in another form, it was adapted for a puppet theatre and now we are finishing a seven-episodes animated series for Czech television. And this fall, the first two volumes of the complete Anca & Pepík comics are being published.


What was it like, working on an animated version of Anca & Pepík?

It was a lot of work, much more than I thought. In a course of three years I wrote seven scripts and made color model drawings for all the characters and objects, I was revising and correcting layouts and had drawn over 300 aquarelle backgrounds. At the beginning, I thought I would be able to do other things like comics besides this, but that was almost impossible.

It was a great chance to learn how classic animation looks like, to see all the phases of production. I met many nice people there and I am happy to have this experience.


But when doing comics, you need to be extremely patient, to be able to stay glued to your desk for hours. And animation is an even more time-and-energy-consuming-activity. Also, in comics, you’re on your own, but on the other hand that means you can do whatever you want. It’s a One man or woman show. You are your own director, actor, stage designer etc.

What are your greatest inspiration, whether it’s within comics, literature or art?

It sound like a big cliché, but it´s the truth: my greatest inspiration is life, nature, everything I see and experience. I think a lot about light and lines, about the relation between line, color and light and I am trying to explore it and I am curious how the others deal with it. I like to look at other artists’ works and there are so many of them that I like! When it comes to writing, you can learn about theory and good advice and principles, but there must be a strong idea at the beginning, one that I fall in love with, and that will lead me through the entire project.

Les Sauvages (2011)

In later years, most of your comics are made for adults. How do you compare making comics for children to making comics for adults? What do you find to be the most challenging and rewarding?

I don´t divide it so strictly. I think you have just few limitations when you work for children – not to use difficult foreign words, not too much irony or references known only to older ones etc. And the children need happy endings, of course. But the basics are the same. By doing comics for children I am pleasing my inner child; by doing comics for grown-ups, I´m addressing to myself, too. I like multilevel books for children which provide fun also to the parents.

Sortie des Artistes (2014)

 Komiksfest isn’t happening this year, but in addition to Natsucon, there’s KOMA in Brno taking place late in September. What are your hopes or wishes for the festivals this year?  

It seems Komiksfest has ended forever, which I really regret, since it had become an important milestone in Czech comics life and history. The culture doesn´t get enough support from the state and it‘s so difficult to find other fundings. I visited Natsucon this year, which is mainly about manga, but this year there was a little section devoted to other, let´s say, alternative, comics, which I am interested in. This was also thanks to Kristian Hellesund from Bergen, who has been to Komiksfest  many times and he seems to know the Czech comics scene quite well. As for KOMA, I haven´t been there yet, so I can´t compare it with Komiksfest. Anyway, I hope that the future of Czech comics is bright and promising!


mandag 25. juli 2016

CLOSE UP AND PERSONAL



Anja Dahle Øverbye at Stockholm's International Comcs Festival 2015


Earlier this summer, at Oslo Comix Expo (Oslo’s own comic books festival, as the title would suggest) Anja Dahle Øverbye was the first person to win the new comic book award, “Årets Tegneserie” (comic of the year). The award is aimed at Norwegian graphic novelists. The jury described Anja as “A debutant who, with stylish elegance, uses visual and narrative tools to their fullest extent”.

Anja has always been drawing, but unlike the typical comic artist, she hasn’t always been reading comics. Her professional background comes from Bergen Art School and from the Kent Institute of Art and Design in England, where she received a bachelor in illustration and visual communication. Since then, she’s been working both on her own art projects and on commissions, but she didn’t give comics a try until three years ago.

- For the longest time, everyone around me told me I should do it, she told me in an interview I did with her last year. And so she began exploring the media, both as a reader and as a creator, at long last.


"Hundedagar" (Dog Days) cover


Anja’s comic stories are typically very personal, taking inspirations from her own life. Prior to her award-winning first graphic novel, “Hundedagar” (Dog Days), she got a few short stories published in the comics anthology “Forresten”, as well as a single fanzine publication titled “Hei, er det du som har kreft?” (Hi, are you the one who has cancer?). The latter is an extremely personal story, as it deals with the period when Anja was under treatment for cancer. While the odds of survival were in her favour, the chance of actually dying was enough to get her disconcerted. She was afraid a lot, and she cried a lot, and in the comic, she is very open about this.


Anja openly expressed her cancer fears in comic book form


Then, last year, she published “Hundedagar”, whose title is based on the “dog days” phenomenon that takes place late in the summer. According to old folklore, this is a time of the summer when it's particularly hot, hot enough that dogs may go mad. This is when we meet Anne, the protagonist of the graphic novel, who feels left out when her best friend Mariell starts hanging out with the slightly older Karianne. - "Hundedagar" is about the friendship between girls at the age of 12-13 years, because that’s when the feeling of friendship is especially strong, Anja claims. - Rivalry, hierarchy and the social game is very immersive. It’s all that matters. And when someone else comes along and “takes” your best friend, everything falls apart. It's like a kind of love affair. You feel like you have an ownership of your best friend, in the same way that you feel towards a boyfriend. So in essence, that's what this graphic novel is about. 


Anne (left panel) is getting the feeling she is gradually losing her best friend in "Hundedagar"

It’s autobiographical in that “Anne” is her author avatar, and that all events in the book happened to her in real life. It’s just the way it’s all been put together that is fake. Some of the events in the story happened to Anja when she was twelve, other things happened when she was eight.  This has been assembled into a narrative that is taking place over the course of one summer. The main character was renamed to in order to give Anja the liberty of not having to think of it as a true story.



Mariell (on the right) and Anne in "Hundedagar"

Anja grew up in Romsdal on Norway's west coast. And while she doesn't mention the name of her childhood home in "Hundedagar", the graphic novel is very clearly set there, down to her drawing the house in which she grew up. She currently lives in the town of Kongsberg in east Norway.

Anja Dahle Øverbye intends to continue sharing stories from her own life in graphic novel form. She is currently working on her second graphic novel, which will be based on her time as a student at Bergen Art School.

onsdag 26. august 2015

THE ADVENTURE BEGINS



Album-format comics have difficulty cracking the Norwegian comic book market. And comics for kids have difficulty cracking the Norwegian comic book market. So a new, Norwegian album-format comic book aimed at children, created by a debuting cartoonist, is not an everyday occurrence.

"Guliver& Bo" is an educational adventure comic for children, starring protagonists Bo, a young and energetic girl, and her companion Guliver*, a curious little alien who can travel in time and space. A so-called "audience surrogate", then, accompanied by a supernatural being; this is a well-known “odd couple” combination, and it works very well in this comic.



Their first album, “Why does he moon show the same side the whole time?” was published simultaneously in Norwegian and English early this summer.  While it the story starts out with exploring the question in the title, this is primarily the story of Norway’s most famous explorer Thor Heyerdahl (still an iconic figure in the eyes of the Norwegian people) and his Kon Tiki expedition across the Pacific in 1947. Guliver and Bo encounters the explorer when they travel to Raroia in the Pacific - initially to check whether the moon does in fact shows the same side on other side of the world.




This comic easily meets the first important criterion for an educational comic, namely to avoid being boring or preachy. The story is structured in an informal and entertaining way that children can enjoy. Humor is mixed with historical facts in a way that enhances both elements. A more detailed text, for those who want immerse themselves in the topics, can be found in the back of the album, but the comic itself has the right balance between text and artwork.

The artist/writer at her desk


Artist/writer Leah Laahne, formerly a UN employee with international relations as her special field, has already found her own style as a comic artist: Powerful lines, sharp edges, light movements, and eager, inquisitive facial expressions. Her style is distinctive, but easy to get into.

One problem with "Why does the moon…" as a debut is that the comic’s concept does not entirely come into its own in this first album. Due to a sponsor agreement with the Kon Tiki Museum, this particular story focuses on Thor Heyerdahl, and the title characters play a more passive role than they’re usually meant to have. However, Laahne have assured me that they’ll usually play a more active role in their stories, taking full advantage of Guliver’s aforementioned ability to travel in time and space. The connection between Guliver and Bo’s “moon mystery” and Heyerdahl’s Kon Tiki story is also a little thin. The two stories could easily have been told separately.



But this should be considered a pragmatic approach. By cooperating with an institution like the Kon Tiki Museum, Laahne has gotten a comic out and a foot inside the market. Hopefully, this will prove to be a good starting point. The adventures about Guliver & Bo have only just begun, and the road ahead, if we are to believe the previews, will be epic and action-packed.



*The name is a play on word, which is unfortunately lost in translation. Guliver is yellow, and “Gul” means yellow in Norwegian. His full name is obviously an allusion to Gulliver’s Travels. He’s named and modeled after Leah Laahne’s favorite childhood plush toy.   


lørdag 30. mai 2015

FROM MAD LOVE TO SPACE HEROINES


Swedish comic book writer/artist might be about to get his breakthrough in America. But his first breakthrough was actually in Norway.



- I started drawing series maybe twelve years ago, he recalls when I speak with him during the Stockholm comic con. – Back then, made the same stuff as all other Swedish comic artists, black-and-white series about my teenage years, quite depressing stuff that ran in Galago (an indie Swedish comic book). But in secrecy I made the comics that I really wanted to make, and those were romantic horror stories. Where I got the idea from I do not know, but they were somehow always there: Short comics with a lot of color, and very dark, intense and funny stories. I was in Malmö at the time, and at a party I met the Norwegian editor Sigbjørn Stabursvik. He had a look at these comic pages in my studio, and told me they were awesome. Wouldn’t you like to run them in the Nemi comics magazine, he asked.


The U.S. cover of the first Love Hurts collection


Absolutely, Kim replied, and when Stabursvik asked him if he had more stories like that, he immediately promised to make more. That was the beginning of the series entitled “Love Hurts”. They debuted in Nemi in 2010, and Kim decided to focus entirely on these colorful horror comics. At the time, they were only published in Norway. Later, when he met Nemi creator/artist Lise Myhre, she suggested that he should get them printed in the Swedish Nemi magazine as well. She wanted to have them there.

After creating a series of romantic horror short stories, a longer story seemed like the next logical move.  - After the first Love Hurts collection came out, I wanted make a graphic novel, Kim explains to me. – A longer and more serious story. "Love Hurts" were kinda funny. Besides, I have many readers who are young girls, and I wanted to make something for them. So I made a story with only girls, where everyone from the hero to the villain are girls. And with a cool story! So I created the graphic novel “Alena”, and it ran as a serial in the Swedish Nemi magazine before it was published as a book. I'm very proud of it.



The way from a comic book to a movie tends to be very short in today’s media world, at least if you know the right people. And Kim does. “Alena” the live action movie will premiere in Swedish movie theatres this fall.  - To adapt a comic book into a feature film usually requires some changes. The film is a different medium, Kim says, and one must adjust. He helped writing the screenplay and was present throughout the process. But from the moment they started filming he backed down and let them do their thing. - The book is very much inspired by horror films, he explains, especially Brian De Palmas "Carrie," which I like very much, so it was very cinematic, and therefore perhaps a little easier to adapt. But I never thought it would actually end up on the screen, he admits.


But Kim has big plans beyond the movie premiere. He’s getting into the American market, and into science fiction. "Astrid: Cult of the Volcanic Moon" will debut on Dark Horse Comics next year. – Finally a recurring character of mine, he announces proudly. A few years ago, he came in contact with this important, American publisher, and since then he’s been involved in a couple of their anthologies. Dark Horse is also publishing the collection "The Complete Love Hurts", just in time for Halloween season this year.

Dark Horse's advertisment for the upcoming Astrid



Kim refers to his new heroine Astrid as “Indiana Jones in space”.  Yet he claims not to be moving too far away from the formula. – There will always be romance in my stories, and there will always be horror, he says - So this is more about me taking my comics into space rather than me doing something completely new.

torsdag 7. mai 2015

A HUNGOVER CHILD



The first Saturday of May has been made into Free Comic Book Day in the United States. In Norway, this concept has been baptized Tegneseriens Dag – Comic Day. And while free comics are still part of the concept, various attempts have been made to add to the festivities (such as they are) of the day.



In Bergen, this year’s main attraction of the day was the Icelandiccartoonist and standup comedian Hugleikur Dagsson. In Norway, he’s probably best known for his cartoons in the comic magazine Lunch , although he also had two books published. Iceland has produced a disproportionate number of internationally renowned novelists and pop artists compared to its population. However, the comic milieu on Iceland is rather small, according to Dagsson. Possibly it's just him and a couple of others. He notices a growing interest in the medium, but the commercial distribution of comic books in Iceland is dead. Several comic books were published in Iceland when he grew up, but at some point of time that ended rather quickly. He still loves comics, especially superheroes, and remembers the horribly translated Icelandic Marvel comic books from his childhood with delight.

Hugleikur Dagsson (from the right) being interviewed by Kristian Hellesund on Comic Day


Dagsson is best known for his stick figure cartoons and his morbid humor. It’s so dark that it’s gained a certain notoriety. - The drawings are therapy for me, my way of coping with the evils of the world, he explains. - If we could not laugh at the things that scares us and confuses us, we'd gone insane. In his world, there are few taboos, but Dagsson admits that also he is afraid to draw the prophet Muhammad. Besides, he knows too little about Islam.




If the only honest people in the world are children and drunks, then surely Hugeleikur Dagsson is a drunk child? I'm a very, very drunk child, Dagsson responds - A child with a hangover. His books have been published in twenty countries, but often only once per country (in Norway, two of his books were published, back in 2007 and 2009 respectively). Perhaps his humor is regarded as just a little bit too harsh in many countries? But there are exceptions; Finns love him. He was in Helsinki as recently as the weekend before Comic Day. They really seem to appreciate his special humor. - In Finland, my books are maybe not regarded as joke books, but rather as fact books, he laughs.


onsdag 29. april 2015

WHEN YOU'RE COMING HOME, DAD?


This spring, Centrala publishes the first English language edition of Norwegian writer/artist Lene Ask’s graphic novel Dear Rikard.



Lene Ask has her family background from the evangelical community in southwest Norway. Her graphic novels are influenced by this, especially her debut Hitler, Jesus og Farfar (Hitler, Jesus and Grandad). And even though she is no longer religious, she still respects her roots. If you know this, it’s not so difficult to understand why she was inspired to make Dear Rikard.

Ask now lives in Oslo, but she found inspiration for this work her native city Stavanger. More specifically in Stavanger’s Mission Archives, where the Norwegian missionary history is preserved life. The story Ask wanted to share, however, is not so really one about the people who went out to preach the gospel in foreign lands – But rather the ones who were left behind. Buried somewhere in these archives she found the correspondence between a father and a son: In 1892, widower David Jakobsen left Norway to work as a missionary at Madagascar, while his son Rikard, in his father’s absence, grew up at an orphanage in Stavanger.

"God help me that I must not be disappointed"


The story, then, is authentic. Ask is showing tremendous respect for the original material, something which I also personally, as an employee, of state archives, appreciate very much. With the exception of some basic bibliographic data, the whole comic is told through Rikard and his father's letters to each other. The ornate font from letters are even reproduced exactly, which requires a little more time and concentration for the modern reader to follow. That’s a good thing, however, as this book should be read slowly and with reflection.

The pictures are Ask’s own, but again she strives for authenticity. To her Norwegian audience, Lene Ask is probably best known for drawing in an easy and naivist style, but has previously demonstrated that she fully able of drawing in more photorealistic styles as well. And of course, that’s exactly what she needed to do here: The drawings, which of course are in black and white, are supposed to resemble faded photographs. Even the design of the book follows this pattern; with its tall format and mat, yellow-ish binder, it clearly resembles an old family album.

"Dear dad and mom [stepmother] / Tank you very much for the letters that we received yesterday"


Dear Rikard is a triumph in so many ways. It’s unique, at least in Norway, both in theme and presentation, but is also a notable artistic achievement for Lene Ask. While she stays respectful to the original material, she still adds a lot to the story by her choice of motifs and facial expressions. She says a lot without adding any new words to those she found in the letters. But also through the choice of letters, she adds her personal touch to the story. The further into the story of Rikard’s childhood she gets, the more obvious is Rikard’s sense of loss and unhappiness caused by the absence of his father. Loss, but also the need to live with the loss and deal with it, is central to this tale. Without being melodramatic or sentimental in her imagery, Lene Ask has recreated an obscure but beautiful and melancholy tale and made it fit for a modern audience.


(Images from inside the book are reproduced from the original, Norwegian edition, since I haven't gotten the translated edition)