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PG Tips No. 27:

The Best Of 2009: An International Perspective Part 1

Happy 2010! Another year has come to a close, bringing us another abundant harvest. This time last year, I asked some of my friends through comics around the world to look back through the last twelve months and pick out one or more of their choices of Best Graphic Novels by creators and publishers in their own countries.

My thinking was that in the transatlantic, English-language comics community, we tend to hear so much about English-language comics, especially American (and some British and Canadian), that it’s too easy to think that is all there is, or all that’s worth rattling on about. But there’s a big, wonderful world of comics out there, and as the 2009 hit Logicomix from Greece proves, exciting innovative comics can pop up from anywhere.

My first PG Tips Best Of Special of this kind covering 2008’s output proved so popular that this year I am widening the global net still further, polling more correspondents and countries and running 2009’s International Perspective across two articles.

So this week, let’s start out by exploring the finest treasures of sequential art released over the last year in Australia, Denmark, Germany (or German language also covering Austria and Switzerland), Italy and Sweden. Huge thanks to my panelological penpals for sharing their expertise and enthusiasm. In part two, we will visit Finland, Spain, Korea and hopefully more stops around the world.

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.

Comic publishing in Australia over the past fifty years has occurred in fits and starts largely characterised by self-publishing or small publishers with overly optimistic expectations. Currently the field is on a bit of an upward curve with a few publishers who seem to have more realistic expectations.

The Silence
by Bruce Mutard
Allen & Unwin
There have been some significant graphic novels from Australia over the past few years foremost among them this work. Both thought-provoking and entertaining, The Silence follows an art dealer on her quest through tropical north Queensland seeking a reclusive artist. Beautifully rendered in a realistic style it makes cogent points about the creative process and the commodification of art. It very much is a work that puts the ‘novel’ into graphic novel. Mutard is an artist committed to telling stories that have a deeper meaning. This has previously been demonstrated in his coming of age tale The Bunker (Image, 2002) and his current WWII trilogy, the first volume of which, The Sacrifice (Allen & Unwin, 2008), gave an in-depth snapshot of life in Melbourne just prior to the war, through the eyes of a man wrestling with his beliefs in terms of whether to enlist.

Digested 2
by Bobby N.
Gestalt Publishing
An impressive ongoing collection that combines some finely observed short takes on relationships, coming of age and living a life of ‘quiet desperation’ with the serialisation of a more fanciful graphic novel. The art operates in a ‘dramatic cartooning’ style that is somewhere in the Dave Cooper / Dave Sim area. N’s previous work, the self-published Withheld, was reprinted by Gestalt earlier this year as part of their Flinch anthology. Gestalt are a boutique publisher who have produced a number of interesting anthologies and graphic novels over the past few years.

The Claws Of The Chimera
by Chris Sequeira & John Cornell
Black House Comics
Originally published as The Dark Detective: Sherlock Holmes #1-3, this is a story that mixes Holmes with Hammer Horror may sound fairly unprepossessing but that is not there case here. Both creators are devotees of the Holmes canon and have produced a story that is faithful to the feel of the originals if a bit more outré. It is certainly more respectful than some cinematic adaptations. Praise should also be rendered to Dave Elsey whose distinctive covers and intelligent colouring do much to set the tone of the work. The colouring, especially, with its limited palette of earthy tones in a wash texture give the work a sombre, olde-worlde feel. Black House are another small publisher specialising in works that broadly come under the umbrella of horror.

The Great Gatsby
by Nikki Greenberg
Allen & Unwin
Allen & Unwin are a mainstream publisher (an independent offshoot of the British company) who have courageously been releasing all-new Australian graphic novels. Their first foray was an adaptation of The Great Gatsby in 2007 by Nikki Greenberg. This is an audacious work not simply for choosing to adapt one of the classics of twentieth century literature, but in its use of stylised cartoon creatures to represent the characters: Nick a slug, Gatsby a sea horse, Daisy a bird etc. Although not without some drawbacks this approach largely succeeds and imbues the work with an unique vision that is backed up with a sure-footed condensation of the text. Unfortunately, due to differing copyright periods around the world the book is only on sale in Australia, New Zealand and Canada, although presumably available via mail order from A&U or book shops in these countries.

Selected by Matthias Wivel

Matthias Wivel is currently completing his PhD in art history at the University of Cambridge. He writting appears in The Comics Journal and on his blog.

Kom hjem
[Come Home]
by Thomas Thorhauge
I am biased: Thorhauge is a friend and long-time collaborator, so make of this what you will, but this is a remarkable achievement, upping the ante for Danish graphic novels. A funny animal take on social realism, it is a traditional out-and-home-again story of a single mother who has a sudden change of heart and leaves behind her humdrum life in Copenhagen, along with her young son, to seek a new way as part of an activists’ collective in Britanny. Thorhauge brings to this a finely-tuned understanding of the formal properties of comics, which he combines with acute attention to the reality of everyday life. The storytelling is breezy, the idiom clear and the plot deceptively simple, content to suggest rather than enunciate its complex metafictional underpinnings and the rich emotional life of its characters.

The 676 Imprint
Edited by Steffen P. Maarup
Aben Maler
In emulation of L’Association’s fabulous Pattes de mouche imprint, the enterprising and quality-conscious Danish comics publisher Steffen P. Maarup’s line of cheap, saddle-stitched pocket-sized comics has done more to revitalise the Danish comics scene than any other single publishing effort of the past decade. Intelligently edited, they present comics both by established cartoonists and artists from outside the world of comics, often with spectacular results. Each 22-page comic showcases a different talent and they are released in batches - or ‘collections’ - of four twice a year. 2009 thus saw new work from 8 artists, of which especially the efforts of Allan Haverholm, with the lyrically cartooned rock song Resistansen (The Resistance), Philip Ytournel, with his hilariously parametric variation on a theme Date and Mikkel Damsbo, with his delirious exploration of an architectural funhouse space, Forlystelseshuset (The Funhouse), stand out as some of the best Danish cartooning of the last few years.

by Jakob Martin Strid
This is the largest single effort so far by one of Danish comics’ greatest if also most erratic talents. A collection of short fables of exploration and wonder for readers of all ages, it takes us through lushly rendered natural environments, as well as quirkily mysterious domestic ones, frequently in elegantly designed, and diagrammatically presented, vehicles. Unfortunately, the book suffers more than usual from some of Strid’s signature weaknesses: fine drawings given lacklustre finish, energy wasted on throwaway ideas, and a penchant for sentimentality, and it is overlong and marred by production errors. Nevertheless, it is a highly generous showcase of an extraordinarily imaginative and instinctively funny cartoonist. Strid comes to London on Saturday April 17th as part of the Free The Word! Festival.

Yes Is More:
An Archicomic on Architectural Evolution

by Bjarke Ingels Group (BIG)
The most offbeat and imaginative comics effort of the year, this is, simultaneously, an architect’s monograph, an artistic manifesto, and a utopian vision for building the future by one of Denmark’s most remarkable young architects, Bjarke Ingels, and his studio. Published in English to accompany and document an exhibition of their work at the Danish Architecture Centre in Copenhagen, it presents the history, projects and visions of BIG in comics form, synthesising photos, diagrams, plans, and 3D models with the idiomatic language of comics storytelling and exposition. The book’s somewhat self-impressed tone might annoy some, but is at the same time part and parcel of the infectious creative joy that animates it. This book came out from Evergreen in the USA and is coming out in the UK in February 2010 from Taschen.

Selected by Christian Gasser

Christian Gasser is a Swiss fiction-writer and journalist who reviews comics for various newspapers, magazines and radio stations. He is also the co-publisher and editor of the comics-magazine Strapazin. His latest book was Blam! Blam! Und Du bist tot! Super- und andere Antihelden (2007). He is currently working on books about Swiss animated movies and travel- and reportage-drawings.

Heute ist der letzte Tag vom Rest deines Lebens
by Ulli Lust
What a debut! Until now, the Austrian born and Berlin-based Ulli Lust was mainly known for the journalistic work she did within the Monogatari-group. Here she tells the story of a trip through Italy. In 1984, Ulli and Edit, two 17-year old punk girls, travelled from Vienna to Sicily without passports, money or luggage, living in the streets and begging. Heute ist der letzte Tag vom Rest deines Lebens (Today is the last day of the rest of your life) begins like a romantic hymn to the free and wild life - and gradually turns into a gripping nightmare, ending with rape, prostitution, drugs and Mafia. Ulli Lust tells this dark initiation-trip of two rather naive girls without any sentimentality or complacency, and infuses it with a healthy dose of black humour. Her storytelling is dense and breathless, and her feverish, immediate and lively drawings create a flow the reader can’t escape during the 464 pages the story takes to unfold and come to its bitter ending.

by Nicolas Mahler
How come Nicolas Mahler is still one of the great unknowns in the English-speaking comics community with only a handful of books published in English (by Top Shelf)? He is unquestionably a true and original titan in the pantheon of humour-comics and cartoons, and Spam is just one of quite a few recommendable books he published in 2009. For a couple of years, Nicolas Mahler collected the spam-mails we are all annoyed with (you know, the ones about penis-extensions and other solutions for all our truly existential problems…). He took their sometimes bizarre and ambiguous messages quite literally and turned them into hilarious cartoons, drawn in his typical minimalistic style. It’s just wonderful - and the best remedy against the annoyance those spams create. Other Mahler-books from 2009 include Flaschko 3 (Edition Moderne), a collection of comic-strips about a man sitting in his heating-blanket, his mother and a television set (and those strips are damn funny, you better believe me), and “Längen und Kürzen” (Luftschacht Verlag), a book combining comics about a writer who is struggling with his writing and his publisher, with the attempts by this writer (or Nicolas Mahler) at creating the great contemporary novel and reflecting those desperate attempts. This is great funny literature. If you don’t read any German, please check out Frau Goldgruber which is currently being published in Fantagraphics’ Mome.

Space Dog
by Hendrik Dorgathen
Edition Moderne
Space Dog is not really a new comic - it was originally published in 1993 and received a lot of critical acclaim and awards, but since it was out of print for a long time, it’s nice to find it on the shelves again. Dorgathen’s mute story about a little red dog who gets abducted by aliens who educate him, and who comes back to earth to bring us world peace, remains a charming, clever and universal story for all ages. Although the reissue comes in a small-format paperback, Dorgathen’s art, his distinct use of strong colours, his clever use of pictograms and his play with numerous popcultural references still work remarkably well.

Pünktchen und Anton
by Isabel Kreitz
Cecilie Dressler Verlag
Pünktchen und Anton is the second classic by the German children’s book author Erich Kästner which Isabel Kreitz has turned into a comic. It’s the heartwarming story of a friendship between a rich (but neglected) girl and a poor (but loved) boy. Kreitz turns Kästner’s slightly moralistic tale into a charming comic who is not only a nostalgic trip into the Berlin of the 1930s as seen by two kids, but also a hommage to Erich Kästner’s legendary illustrator Walter Trier.



Hector Umbra
by Uli Oesterle
Carlsen Verlag
A Star-DJ is abducted by bizarre humanoids with Elvis-hairdos. While his friend Hector Umbra is looking for him, he stumbles into a bizarre world somewhere between reality, madness and the realm of the dead, between urban subcultures and childhood memories. With a lot of verve, a nervous narration and dense, intensively coloured drawings, Ulli Oesterle turns the several sub-plots into an adventurous, bizarre, funny and always slightly morbid piece of entertainment.



Selected by Matteo Stefanelli

Matteo Stefanelli is a media analyst and comics scholar/curator based at the Università Cattolica of Milan, and Vice-President of National Committee Fumetto100. Among his latest books are the anthologies Il Secolo del Corriere dei Piccoli (Rizzoli) and Antonio Rubino, about the first Master of Italian comics (BlackVelvet/ActesSud).

La Signorina Else
[Miss Else]
by Manuele Fior
Coconino Press
Winner of the 2009 Geneva Prize for Comics, this is a visually seductive adaptation of an Arthur Schnitzler tale, depicting the hypocrisy of decadent European bourgeoisie in the early 20th century. The watercolour feel is a blend of sweet Art Nouveau (Toulouse-Lautrec or Bonnard) and morbid Vienna Secession (Klimt or Schiele). A work of atmosphere and colour mastery.



Apocalypso - Gli anni dozzinali
[The cheapish years]
by Tuono Pettinato
The funniest Italian author since Leo Ortolani (the Rat-Man creator) is a damn brilliant parody-maker. His satire hits everything possible, from current news to pop culture (and comics), from Futurist painters to superheroes or Corriere dei Piccoli characters. In his “art biographies” (funnier than Ivan Brunetti’s!) his style gives the best synthesis: a childish-but-raw mix between Johnny Ryan and James Kochalka, with a great sense of language, an incredibly old-style vocabulary fitting characters horribly unaware of themselves.

Sabato tregua
[Saturday truce]
by Andrea Bruno
The dark side of the (Italian) suburbs. Far from Gipi’s or Baru’s vitalism, Bruno tells about the deindustrialised provinces from a nihilist perspective. His latest work is a gigantic book (29x42) that offers the most stunning experience to appreciate one of today’s most powerful black-and-white artistic visions. Black ink spots as pieces of despair, dripping on the white space, and envisioning a society hypnotised by its ruins.



Selected by Fredrik Stromberg

Fredrik Stromberg is the author of many books about comic art and history, including Black Images In The Comics and The Comics Go To Hell (both published by Fantagraphics), director of the Malmo comics festival and comics school, and editor of the long- running Swedish comics culture magazine Bild & Bubla. His new book Comic Art Propaganda is published in hardcover by Ilex (UK) in February, and by St. Martin’s Press (US) in paperback in July.

The year 2009 was, for Swedish comics, a year of strong, female debuts. This has been a trend in Sweden all through the 21st century, but never before has there been as many new and interesting artists making their debut in one year. Another trend is that these new artists already have or definitely are on the way to an international career. It’s a whole new ballgame in Swedish comics, and the female artists are leading the way! Here are six very interesting new Swedish artists, who all made their book debut during 2009. These are just a few of all the interesting comics published this year, produced by female Swedish artists. All in all, these comics show just what is happening in Swedish comics right now. Comic strips, manga, alternative comics, adventure comics, political comics - all areas in which a new female generation is asserting it self. And this is just the beginning.

Frances 1
by Joanna Hellgren
This book was published in France before it was translated into Swedish, as good a sign as any of how international Swedish comics artist are in the 21st century. A quiet, sombre drama about relationships and growing up, with beautiful drawings rendered in pencil. Really looking forward to the next volume.



Evil Dress
by Emilie Östergren
A real eye-catcher, Emilie Östergren’s art looks like nothing you’ve ever seen in comics before. Surreal short stories which really make a second reading a worthwhile effort. All texts are in Swedish and English, with both languages artistically integrated into the comics, which is also quite unique. Read the full review here.



Allt ür allrajt
[Everything’s Alright]
by Emma Rendel
Another young artist with a completely unique way of expressing herself, and yet another example of the international scope of this generation as Rendell’s comics were initially published in the UK. Strange and emotionally hard hitting stories about “awkwardists”, persons who feel awkward.



Sayonara September
by Âsa Ekström
Âsa Ekström is part of a generation that has grown up with Japanese comics and has taken it to heart. In this, her solo debut and the first in a three part series, she tells the story of a young girl who, not unlike her own experiences, enters as a student into a comic art school. Read the full review here. Âsa has also designed a new manga-inspired fabric for Ikea.




by Lina Neidestam
Here’s a strip that is published in daily newspapers in Sweden getting its first collection. Neidestam’s unconventional, very personal treatments of feminist themes feel refreshing and are incredibly funny. Read the full review here.




Eva Asbesthjürtan
by Tinet Elmgren
Another debutant, this time in the adventure/political genre, with a strong female lead character: a hooker who goes after bad clients with guns blazing. Elmgren lives and works in Berlin, has roots in Finland and has set her story in an anonymous East European country; another example of the international scope of Swedish comics of today.



Posted: January 10, 2010


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