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)

mandag 20. april 2015

REMEMBERING JIMMY


This article is about a comics-based movie, and it might be more about the comics that inspired it. I’m not sure yet. 


Christopher Nielsen

I recently reviewed the latest graphic novel written and drawn by Christopher Nielsen (b. 1963) one of Norway’s most prolific comics artist. Generally he works in a rough and direct style, inspired by the American underground comic tradition. He is especially well known for his subcultural depictions.


Nielsen got his first comics printed in 1980 after entering a competition arranged the Norwegian anarchist magazine, Gateavisa (= the street paper). Only three years later he got his first album published, and since then he’s been delivering anthologies and graphic novels more or less regularly. Nielsen, like so many great storytellers, frequently works within his own self-contained universe, which in his case is not a nice place to be. The “Nielsenverse” is a gloomy, rundown place populated by hooligans, layabouts, petty criminals, drug abusers and the occasional sane man who knows perfectly well what a hellhole he’s living in, and acts accordingly. It used to be centered around Oslo’s east side, but has gradually expanded geographically as well as socially.

Two Wasted Wankers

In later years. Nielsen has taken his universe beyond the comics pages and into theatre, television and cinema. His most famous cartoon, To Trøtte Typer (“Two Wasted Wankers”), depicts the life of the two drug users and petty criminals Odd and Geir living their relatively boring lives on Oslo’s east side. This comic was made into an animated series for television, running for 13 episodes (2000-2003) plus a Christmas special (2006). Some of his characters were also included in the jukebox stage musical Verdiløse Menn (= worthless men), which was based on the songs originally written and performed by his brother, Norwegian rock legend Joachim “Jokke” Nielsen. Jokke died according to rock’n’roll traditions from a heroin overdose at the age of 36, but left behind a huge legacy. Christopher is still building his legacy, and it’s getting bigger all the time. In January 2015, he announced his intention of getting in the Guinness Book of Records for doing work in the most diverse form of arts in one year. His claim to this record lies in the fact that in 2014, he produced a work of art in each of the nine art forms except for dancing.

HudMaSpecs (third from the right) and his crew

Nielsen had one chance of making his characters international household names. In 2006, after some delays, he finally released the animated cinematic movie Free Jimmy (original title Slipp Jimmy Fri) in 2006. This was the movie in which Nielsen’s movie universe was supposed to come together. In addition to Odd & Geir, it also starred another gang of characters that would be very familiar to fans of Christopher Nielsen’s comics exploits. Early in the movie, we run into a gang of hicks on their way to shoot moose during hunting season. The group is led by a bespectacled brute named Hold Brillan in the original and HudMaSpecs in the English dub. In both cases, the nickname comes from the fact that he always tells one of his (usually terrified) mates to hold his glasses when he gets into a fight (which he does very often). In the original, Hold Brillan is Trønder (central Norway); in the English dub he’s Scottish. There are some overlapping. popular stereotypes about both population groups, such as them being street book dumb, drunken, and prone to solve problems with violence. Despite being an exaggerated hick archetype, Hold Brillan has become one of the most complex and significant characters of the “Nielsenverse”, and the title character of Nielsen’s two most recent graphic novels.

Roy Arnie and Jimmy

Getting back to the movie, it had a simple high concept that at the same time was very Christopher Nielsen: Odd and Geir are offered a part-time job as caretakers at a z-grade Russian circus. The offer comes from Roy Arnie, who clearly has ulterior motives. Sure enough, it turns out that the circus elephant Jimmy has a fortune in heroin sown into his body. Before too long, Odd, Geir and Roy Arnie are stuck between an aggressive animal rights group so full of straw you could use them all for scarecrows, Lapland biker gangsters, and HudMaSpec’s hunting team.

Free Jimmy never succeeded outside of Norway, though serious attempts were made to give it an international flavor: Celebrity voice actors Simon Pegg (Odd) and Woody Harrelson (Roy Arnie) were brought in to try and add to the movie’s credibility, and despite having several references to Norway, it’s kept somewhat ambiguous where the movie is supposed to take place at any given 
time.




I managed to get hold of a UK copy of the movie (sadly, the Norwegian DVD didn’t include the English dub as a desired bonus material). And I have to admit that it’s a weird experience to see such specifically Norwegian (even regionally Norwegian) characters anglified. The accents are good, but arguably overdone. Simon Pegg and Woody Harrelson do a decent, but routine job.  James Cosmo as HudMaSpecs does the accent right, but fails to bring out the character’s hammy qualities.  




 The few international critics who could be bothered to review the movie, were mostly unimpressed. It has a 10 % “fresh” rating at Rotten Tomatoes, the consensus being that it’s “a weird, misfiring, Norwegian animated mess of a film. Unsure of who its target audience is, it misses every target.” I beg to differ; the movie knew exactly who was its target audience was. Its target audience was fans of Christopher Nielsen, and that was its problem. It needed to appeal to people who were unfamiliar with his storytelling style to begin with, but the movie failed to bring those people in.  And so Nielsen’s core audience remains in Norway.