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PG Tips - Best of 2013:

An International Perspective Part 2

It’s a great big, ginormous Comics Planet and a few more of my international correspondents and my fellow reviewers for 1001 Comics You Must Read Before You Die have reported in with their recommendations for the very best comics published during 2013. Let our voyage of discovery around the globe continue!....

AUSTRALIA - BELGIUM - BRAZIL DENMARK - INDIA - SWEDEN


Australia

Selected by Philip Bentley
Philip Bentley is a writer and editor who produces Word Balloons, a journal on Australian comics. Over the years he has also written, edited, published and retailed them. His new book A Life in Comics is a personal history of comics in Australia 1960-1990.


Grubby Little Smudges of Filth
by Daniel Reed
Slave Labor Graphics

Something of a fractured fairytale (without the fairies), this is an impressive first graphic novel by a creator who has attained an artistic maturity through spending a ten-year apprenticeship drawing shorter works. Using a line-rich style that has echoes of Edward Gorey via Dave Sim/Gerhard, Reed tells the story of an incarcerated artist and an obese king (of Jabba the Hutt proportions), whose lives collide over one of the artist’s works created on the door of his cell (the grubby little smudges of the title). Part comedy, part parable, it has an agreeable all-ages dimension.  Originally, and still, available as a series of chapters of an e-book via Comixology, the work has now been given a hard copy incarnation. Previously Daniel Reed produced the self-published title The Crumpleton Experiments (9 issues, 2002-10) which operated in a vaguely steam-punk genre. It told the adventures of an eccentric professor in an alternate Edwardian world who can enter people’s dreams. Reed is currently at work on another graphic novel written by the noted young adult author Isobelle Carmody. Read an interview with sample art here… and watch the animated Vimeo trailer here…


Belgium

Selected by Gert Meesters
Gert Meesters has a PhD in Dutch linguistics from the University of Leuven and teaches at the University of Lille 3. He also works as a comics critic, researcher and journalist, and writes about comics for the Flemish news-weekly Knack.


Arsène Schrauwen
by Olivier Schrauwen
Self-published

If I have to choose only a few highlights of comics production in Flanders, I’m going for two extremes: a self-published comic and a luxurious coffee table book. The self-published one is by no-one other than Olivier Schrauwen, whose three officially released books My Boy, The Man Who Grew His Beard and Le miroir de Mowgli all got nominated for the album prizes at the Angoulême comics festival. His upcoming book Arsène Schrauwen, a fictionalised account of his grandfather’s life in the colonial Belgian Congo, is being pre-published in three instalments , the second of which was distributed in a risoprinted booklet he manufactured himself in 2013. Schrauwen, who is based in Berlin, claims self-publishing was the best guarantee to make a book without having to deal with interfering editors, whose input leads him off track, he feels. But even before he put out the second issue, his previous publishers already marked their enthusiasm for his new project. As a result, the complete Arsène Schrauwen is already slated for publication by Fantagraphics and Bries in June this year. Judging by the first two issues, Arsène Schrauwen promises to become the best Schrauwen book so far. It’s a mixture of his typical oddball humour, historical themes from the 1950s in the Congo (e.g. urbanism and architecture) and a Heart of Darkness kind of paranoia. Stylistically, the line drawings and shades are in monochrome red on some pages and blue on others, reminiscent of the early prints of the most popular Flemish comic of the 1950s, Willy Vandersteen’s Suske en Wiske (‘Spike and Suzy’).


Doel
by Jeroen Janssen
Oogachtend

This is a wonderful example of an artist taking on the role of a reporter. Doel is a small village close to the port of Antwerp, whose existence has been threatened by the development of industry and trade nearby. The Flemish government decided in 1999 that it should eventually be destroyed, but the village is still there and a few people still live there. Jeroen Janssen, who was previously most known for his books about the Rwandan hare Bakamé with Dutch writer Pieter van Oudheusden, got intrigued by the fierce resistance to government politics in this tiny village and visited it by bike, taking a sketchbook with him. He came back many times afterwards, because he was charmed by the remaining population and their battle of David against Goliath. After a first comics story in the French magazine XXI in 2012, Janssen developed his sketches and interviews into a luxurious hardcover book with a linen back and golden lettering on the cover, containing over 200 pages of wonderful sketches, paintings and text fragments. Together, this is a wonderful, slow homage to the village people that questions economic logic and blind belief in industrial development. No translation has been announced yet, but I’m confident that it will get published in other languages soon. See further coverage here on FP blog…


Brazil

Selected by Rafael Lìma.
Rafael Lima was born in Rio de Janeiro and has been reading adult comics for over 25 years. He had a weekly column on comics at the extinct e-magazine Sobrecarga and has a story on the Ye Old Axe anthology, published in 2013. Rafael lived in Australia and is currently based in London.


Chico Bento: Pavor Espaciar by Gustavo Duarte;
Turma da Mônica: Laços by Lu and Victor Cafaggi; &
Piteco: Ingá by Shiko
Panini: Graphic MSP Series

Mauricio de Souza proved once again why at least three generations of Brazilian children grew up reading his comic books. For Panini’s Graphic MSP Series edited by Sidney Gusman, great new artists were commissioned to pick any character and create for them a graphic novel, with their own interpretation of the character. The series started with Danilo Beyruth reworking the Astronauta and continued with these three new albums. The highlight must be Pavor Espaciar, where Gustavo Duarte innovates the traditional hick Chico Bento stories both in theme with an alien invasion, and in form with a silent narrative.


O Pintinho
by Alexandra Moraes
Lote 42

Technically speaking, O Pintinho is the Brazilian answer to XKCD: fully drawn on Microsoft Paintbrush, the webcomic had a loyal following on the internet, before reaching the pages of Folha de São Paulo newspaper. This is its very first book compilation. Alexandra’s scripts started as daily gags about the generation gap - the strip’s subtitle is “another child of a Brazilian mother” (mais um filho de mãe brasileira) - but quickly evolved to encompass social and cultural criticism, with references to current affairs and people who make the news. The hilarious Zé Sexo, a caricature of theatre director José Celso Martinez Correa, alone is enough to justify the entry. Check out Moraes’ Tumblr here…


Feliz Aniversário, Minha Amada
(‘Happy Anniversary, My Beloved’)
by Brão Barbosa
Self-published

Conceived, edited, written, drawn, coloured and self-published by Brão Barbosa, this story was made available for free download over last year, a welcome surprise. It starts as one more love story and is packed with plot surprises that change the pace and tone. The finale is unexpected, on the style of the horror tales of Creepy and Eerie magazines. More stories from Brão are urgently needed. Download the free 40-page translated pdf here…


Denmark

Selected by Matthias Wivel
Matthias Wivel is an art historian with an MA from Columbia University and a Ph. D from the University of Cambridge. He is currently working as working as Curator of sixteenth-century painting at the National Gallery in London. He writes comics journalism and contributes to the weblog Metabunker.


Aske (‘Ash’)
by Mikkel Ørsted Sauzet
Aben Maler

Rendered entirely in red ballpoint pen, this is an intense, visceral and, in large part because of the bright, busily hatched luminescent lifework, almost delirious wordless account of the beginnings of the 1791-1804 slave rebellion in Haiti. Although visual research clearly went into bringing the story to life, this is far from a dry historical account. It is, rather, a potent effort on the author’s part to express outrage at the legacy of colonialism as it endures today through very basic, painfully empathetic storytelling. While undeniably a little heavy-handed and visually clearly indebted to the ballpoint paintings of Belgian artist Stéphane Mandelbaum (who also inspired the great Dominique Goblet to pick up the Bic), it is just as undeniably an impressive first effort by the Danish-French author, which was justly awarded the Ping award for best debut at the Copenhagen Comics Festival last summer. Read a 17-page sampler here…


Ting, jeg gjorde (‘Things I did’)
by Maren Uthaug
Politiken

Uthaug is quite a phenomenon in Danish comics. After having built a sizeable (well, huge, for comics) and fiercely loyal audience on her personal blog for the last couple of years through a combination of deft, observant writing and hilarious cartooning about her daily life as a budding writer-artist and mother of four, she exploded into wider public consciousness by winning a widely-publicised competition for a spot in the daily newspaper Politiken—the most prestigious and no doubt inspiring place to be for a strip cartoonist in Denmark (full disclosure: I was part of the jury). The strip Ting, jeg gjorde continues in the same vein as her blogged diary, but is more universal in reach, using her personal experience as a springboard for perceptive exposition about life in Denmark right now. Her line is deceptively primitive. She works exclusively with remarkably expressive stick figures, capturing a wide range of posture, gesture and facial expression with startling simplicity. Her work might seem somewhat lightweight at first glance, concerned as it is with banal and at times somewhat bourgeois happenstance, but she brings to it unsentimental wit, intelligence born of experience, and even at times genuinely poetic nerve. In addition to drawing the strip, she has self-published a highly successful compilation of her blogged comics, Ellers går det godt (‘Otherwise everything is fine’), as well as an even more successful and critically acclaimed debut novel, Og sådan blev det (‘And that’s how it went’), which weaves her Sami heritage into a tale of growing up different. This has clearly been Uthaug’s year.


Rockworld
by Søren Glosimodt Mosdal & Jacob Ørsted
Fahrenheit

This is thinly-veiled autobiography upgraded to generational social satire. Originally released as three individual issues between 2007-2012, this book narrates the misadventures of the hopeless aesthete Bjørn and his equally hopeless slacker friends Steen and Totte. Conceived as a Danish pendant to Peter Bagge’s Hate!, it treads familiar ground in its recounting of late-night fiascos and youthful arrogance crashed, but its astute satire on how things like musical taste come to define and distort one’s identity in those formative years when one subsists on canned food and beer transcend the commonplace, becoming an indictment of, as much as a love letter to, youth and growing into maturity. Plus it’s hilarious—Mosdal, here working in his thinnest, most cutting Viennese Secession-line fathoms a remarkably broad and precise expresssive range, from the goofy to the boozy, and the dialogue evokes a time and a place in the Nineties that is becoming increasingly distant, but has its natural analogues today. And the set-pieces are priceless: from Bjørn being robbed in the shitter by a gang of psycho dwarves, to the contents of a ripe, yellowed boil on his ass blowing up in the face of a buxom autist in a lake deep in the Swedish forest. It’s that kind of comic. Read the first issue in English here…

India

Selected by Hemant Sareen
Hemant Sareen lives and works in New Delhi, India. He is an associate editor at ArtAsiapacific magazine, devoted to contemporary visual art.


This Side, That Side: Restorying Partition
by various artists, “curated” by Vishwajyoti Ghosh
Yoda Press

This anthology of graphic narratives is published by Yoda Press, a small independent New Delhi publisher. The title says the volume is “curated” by Vishwajyoti Ghosh - one of India’s finest graphic novelists and cartoonists - which at first seems a pretentious ploy, but even halfway through the book seems a likely description for Ghosh’s endeavour. Conceived by Arpita Das, the Yoda Press publisher, and Farah Batool, the programme coordinator at New Delhi’s Max Mueller Bhavan, the ambitious project seeks to tell the untold stories from one of the most cataclysmic events in modern history, the partition of the Indian Subcontinent into three nations: India, Pakistan and Bangladesh (which started out as East Pakistan till through India’s military intervention the territory declared itself independent from Pakistan in 1971). Three provinces that were divided in the course of redrawing the subcontinental map were the Punjab, Bengal, and subsequently Kashmir (within months of the India-Pakistan partition). Before the partition the Punjab was almost three times and Bengal was almost twice the size of the present-day United Kingdom. The mass movement of people and the accompanying violence left millions dead and and equally large numbers homeless. This holocaust exists in the collective memory whose reflexive selective mechanisms, in the absence of any hope of closure, seems to bury it even deeper. A hiostorical cataclysmic event, like the Biblical floods, is glossed over and sanitized by an equally clinical, sterile label “The Partition.”

This Side, That Side is a collection of a handful of those millions of stories handed down to the second generation of the survivors. An amazing mix of writers and artists flesh out the trauma and its aftermath. A graphic artist is paired with a writer-storyteller. The graphic register varies wildly from the cartoonish to the abstract. Like a large anthology, this is a mixed bag: some graphic narratives push the genre to its limit like “Making Faces” by Orijit Sen that confounds all the fault lines along which the Subcontinent continues to be divided - nationality, religion, ethnicity, gender, race - through eight mug shots cut into three horizontal strips that can be arranged in a number of permutations and combinations to add to the demographic complexity. Others more simplistic or pretentiously arty graphic essays expose the limitations of the genre to handle such a complex subject. Surprisingly, the straight-laced graphic narratives work the best, be it Arif Ayaz Parrey and Wasim Helal’s “Tamasha-e-Tatwal” about the absurdity of keeping people apart through the imposed illogic of nationalism. Or Vishwajyoti Ghosh’s (with Amiya Sen) personal account about rehabilitation of the refugees, “A Good Education”, or Bani Abidi’s critique of nationality through the stills of her video, “The News.”

Sweden

Selected by Fredrik Strömberg
Fredrik Strömberg is a journalist, author, curator and historian. He is one of the editors of Bild & Bubbla, Scandinavia’s largest as well as the world’s second oldest magazine about comics, and President of the Swedish Comics Association. He heads the Comic Art School of Sweden, is the editor of Scandinavian Journal of Comic Art and writes regularly on www.sekventiellt.se. Among the books he has written are the English language Swedish Comics History, Black Images in the Comics, The Comics Go to Hell, Comic Art Propaganda and Jewish Images in the Comics.


Viktor Kasparson 3: Blodsband (‘Ties of Blood’)
by Dennis Gustafsson
Albumförlaget

This is the fourth book with the character Viktor Kasparsson, a more or less unwilling detective of horror cases set in the early 20th century Sweden and finally I feel that this series has found its stride. I’ve long felt that I really should love this series, as it’s set in my part of the world (the south of Sweden), it utilises the traditional European album format that I grew up with and on a more frivolous note, the main character dresses like me, in a tweed jacket and matching cap.  Still I haven’t fully gone for the previous volumes, though competently made, but with Blodsband I feel that everything has come together to form a more or less perfect adventure/horror graphic novel. The book is made up of one full-length story and not several shorter stories, which gives room for more character development. The artwork has evolved and though still very personal and a bit sketchy fits the story perfectly.


Fri kärlek (‘Free Love’)
by Julia Thorell
Kartago Förlag

Julia Thorell impressed me two year ago with her book Juni, a graphic novel that felt too mature both in style and storytelling to actually be a debut book. Fri kärlek is a sequel to Juni, with the same, presumably semi-autobiographical character. Though this time instead of a chronological story-line we get a mix of stories from the late 19th century up until today, on the subject of free love, with a focus on the main character Juni and her many love affairs, flings, fuck friends and so on. There are of course parallels to other modern day Swedish comics artists, like Liv Strömquist, in the way Thorell in this volume uses historical people to frame a phenomenon in our time, or the graphic novel Jag hör inte till något läger (‘I don’t belong to any camp’) by Elisa Rossholm, which also deals with the life of author and early feminist Victora Benedictsson. You can also draw parallels to other autobiographical comics artists, like Mats Jonsson or Åsa Grennvall. But mostly Thorell stands alone with her fluent storytelling and seemingly effortless drawings. There is an artistic ease to the whole book that is refreshing and miles away from most of the other proponents of the autobiographical/social realistic school of comics. With two such interesting graphic novels out in as many years, I am really looking forward to seeing what this artist will produce in the future.


Sword Princess Amalthea 1
by Natalia Batista
Kolik Förlag

This is an exercise in style, exchanging all gender roles between men and women in the genre of fantasy, which by its own nature often works to preserve gender roles seemingly from the Middle Ages. This ploy is efficient in making you realise just how stereotypical the roles in a standard fantasy story are, and how poorly female characters are treated. In this sense this book really works, as the total reversal makes for some interesting moments where you stop and think about how many times you’ve read or seen this, but with “strong” men and “weak” women. The artwork is almost faultless and it is clear that Natalia Batista has evolved as an artist, perfecting her Swedish version of Japanese comics. I especially enjoyed the visual story telling and the layout of the pages, which is more organic and expresses the emotions of the scenes more than traditional western comics. The story line, if you forget about the changing of the roles of men and women, is so far a bit predictable. Maybe that’s the idea, that the readers should recognise themselves from similar folk tales and fantasy stories, and thus more easily see what this reversal of gender roles means.


Fridas resor
by Frida Ulvegren
Kartago Förlag

This is a much anticipated, much talked-about autobiographical story of experiencing the modelling business as a very young Swedish girl. Frida Ulvegren tells her story in short, interconnected segments, snapshots of her experiences, from being spotted by an agent at a restaurant in Stockholm at the tender age of 13 to her resigning from modeling some years later. The style is naive, mirroring the age of the main protagonist, and the story is also mostly told from the point of view of the young girl experiencing these things, with a few comments from the grown up, cartoonist Ulvergen in the script. This is both the strength and the weakness of the book. The focus on the here-and-now gives the story an immediate feeling that takes you there and makes it a page-turner. After having read the whole book, though, I feel a bit cheated, as I get a feeling that there was a lot more to be had from these rather extraordinary experiences which Ulvergen had as a young girl, and that the material could have been even more interesting if there had been more of a dialogue between the young and the adult Ulvergen. These are minor quibbles, though. On the whole, this is a convincing début.


Tago Vol. 1
edited by Rolf Classon & Thomas Olsson
Kartago Förlag

Comics anthologies are hard to make. Either the editors are too strict and the results risk being too homogeneous, or they are to accepting and the results risk being all over the map, without any real sense of why the comics were put together under one cover in the first place. In Sweden we have several comics anthologies being published regularly, most of them based on a popular commercial comic, which are supplemented by other comics in comic books or ‘floppies’ that are sold on newsstands. A few are based more on a theme or a genre, like Galago and Utopi. For a long time we also had the much-praised comics anthology Allt för konsten (‘Everything for the Arts’), published roughly once a year in a sturdy book format.
Sadly, Allt för konsten died with the ending of the publishing house Optimal last year, but it feels like the new anthology Tago picks up where it left of. Part of this is from it containing new work by some of the same artists, but mostly it is the attitude of treating comics as art AND literature at the same time.
I really, really liked the first volume of Tago. With a courteous nod to Allt för konsten, it is clearly based on the artists already connected with the publisher Kartgao, but the editors also show a healthy interest in the works of new artists that are allowed to show off their stuff together with their more established colleagues. And, as in other anthologies that Rolf Classon has been involved in, it also contains prose texts and fine arts, all blended into something that could have been a jumbled and pretentious mix, but instead turned into a whole that is bigger than the parts it contains.
Strangely, my favourite part of the book wasn’t even a comic, but the prose text that cartoonist Martin Kellerman of Rocky fame has written, a fictitious what-if story about publisher Rolf Classon’s attempt at writing his memoirs at the tender age of 87. Funny, poignant, and he even resisted the temptation to illustrate it, which had it creating powerful images inside my head. With Allt för konsten gone and Galago turning more and more into a forum for political comics, there is really room for a new anthology like Tago. I am looking forward to volume two, and expecting nothing but excellence!

Posted: February 22, 2014

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