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From Wonderland With Love:

Danish Comics In The Third Millennium

In the wake of other promotional anthologies of contemporary Scandinavian comics translated at last in English, such as Angst from Norway and From The Shadow of the Northern Lights from Sweden, comes this compendium of nineteen Danish creators aged between 30 and 49, co-published by Fantagraphics and Aben Maler, who specialise in 24-page, small-format, black-and-white, two-colour-covered solo comics inspired by L’Association’s Patte de Mouche collection.

It’s clear from editor/publisher Steffen P. Maarup’s survey that, contradicting Horatio’s famous line in Shakespeare’s Hamlet, there is nothing “rotten” about the state of comics in Denmark today. If anything, it’s nurturing a number of major talents as well as sprouting exciting new shoots. Many people only became aware of Danish cartooning after the worldwide hullaballoo over the controversial cartoons which satirised and mocked Mohammed, so Maarup shrewdly decides to mix in some non-political, single-panel cartoons by Husk Mit Navn and Christoffer Zieler alongside the graphic short stories from 1 page to 26 pages long.

Cartoon by Christoffer Zieler

It’s hard to detect any uniquely distinctive Danishness to these works, apart from a few culturally specific elements here, such as characters’ names, places or a reference to Copenhagen’s Mermaid statue. What is clear is that several more established practitioners, who I’ve come across and admired in the past, are still very active and if anything producing some of the best work of their careers so far, such as the Baroque, Franquin-esque exuberance of Mårdon Smet’s Creation and Resurrection fable Stig & Martha, and Søren Mosdal’s surreal, intoxicated wet dream Dog God written by Jacob Ørsted.

Dog God by Jacob Ørsted & Søren Mosdal

There were also plenty of fresh discoveries for me in these pages. One of the most notable new avenues for comics over the past ten years or more has been the crossover with fine art and a number of contributors come from this background. Parallel to this is the influx of more women into the medium, represented here by Vibe Bredahl’s subdued opening frieze and Julie Nord’s artist’s book, revisiting Lewis Carroll’s fantastical dreamscape, which was originally published by the Ârhus Kuntsmuseum. If anything I might have expected more of a female presence in this anthology, although I believe Denmark may be lagging slightly behind other Nordic countries, notably nearby Sweden, in the number of women creators who have emerged recently.

Because I Love You So Much by Nikoline Werdelin

That said, another female contributor, Nikoline Werdelin, provides a highpoint for me with her Because I Love You So Much. Concerns about child abuse are not exclusive to Denmark but this is a peculiarly observant and darkly satirical take on parental panic about a small daughter’s vulnerability at a daycare centre, while the real culprit is amongst their own family. This is all the more extraordinary because such a strong subject can be dealt in a Danish newspaper, Politiken, where this extract from Werdelin’s Homo Metropolis originally ran. It’s impossible to imagine this being published in an American newspaper alongside Blondie and Calvin & Hobbes. With her background in theatre, Werdelin demonstrates such control of timing, facial expression and body language that for me her piece stood out by far as the most sophisticated and memorable in the book.

Wooden Robot by Simon Bukhave

Another common trend in current comics is the wordless, “silent” comic, often the refuge of creators coming to comics from an illustration or animation training and lacking confidence in dealing with text. Of these, I was struck by Simon Bukhave’s finely crafted visual tale of a wooden robot who brings home an amputated hand he finds in the woods captures the meticulous precision and eerie unease of Charles Burns.

Tomb of the Rabbit King by Allan Haverholm

Allan Haverholm’s Tomb of the Rabbit King is another fairytale, drawn in light, sketchy lines, awash in striking colours, which combines cute bunnies with hard rock and a sinister mad badger scientist.

Sloth by Ib Kjeldsmark

Of the other major items here, Ib Kjeldsmark’s black-and-orange Sloth was for me the most demanding and at times baffling, a seemingly stream-of-consciousness, roadtrip-cum-drugtrip to “Galloping Norway”, much of it told in rhyming couplets and lurching from one weird encounter to another. Rather than trying to make sense of this, I decided the best idea was to copy the crazy cartoon critters here and just “keep on going, dude!” 

My only mild disappointment was not finding recent international Danish successes Teddy Kristiansen and Peter Snejbjerg here. It seems they were not included as most of their major post-2000 work has been for other countries. The book’s design is first-rate from Thorhauge’s bizarre composite cover construction to the startling two-colour endpapers by G.R. Mantard.

Maarup does provide weblinks for all the participants but I’d have welcomed some brief bios to situate each of them, and perhaps some form of intro to give context and perspective. Inevitably, these 176 pages serve up quite a mixed menu and, as with any selection box, not everything inside can appeal to everybody or convinced me entirely. But there is no doubt that this anthology proves the tremendous energy and diversity of Danish cartoonists. We can look forward to many more Wonders from this Wonderland.

Posted: December 27, 2009

This review first appeared in the December 2009 issue of the Danish comics magazine Strip!.


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