RSS Feed

Facebook

Twitter

PG Tips - Best of 2013:

An International Perspective Part 1

At this time of year, it’s a real privilege for me to hear from some of my international correspondents, long-time and first-time, several of them contributors to 1001 Comics You Must Read Before You Die, and share with you their choices of the best comics and graphic novels created in their respective countries over the past year. As you’ll discover, a couple are already heading for English editions very soon and others clearly cry out to be translated. How can anyone still harbour doubts or prejudices about the medium of comics, when so many diverse, captivating titles like these are being created around the world? Welcome to our Comics Planet!

ARGENTINA - FINLAND - GERMANY - ITALY - NEW ZEALAND
PORTUGAL - SERBIA - SOUTH KOREA - SPAIN - SWITZERLAND


Argentina

Selected by Juan Manuel Dominguez
Juan Manuel Dominguez wanted to be a superhero. Now, the Batman-Gorey lover drowns his dreams of saving the universe with comics and film criticism - the Clark Kent answer to reality - and believes his folks and friends contribute to the most super factor of his professional and non-ultra-powered life.


La historieta salvaje: Primeras Series Argentina (1907-1929) (‘The Savage Comics’)
by Judith Gociol and José María Gutiérrez
Ediciones de la Flor

Ok, the States have created a beautiful standard regarding the proper preservation of vital comics of the past (in terms of story and quality). But in countries like Argentina, where the comic scene is mainly formed of a beehive of disconnected independent authors (even though considering it´s a rich story in the media) and preservation has still not become an issue, a publication like La Historieta Salvage, which shows chronologically a selection of the very first Argentine comics from 1907 to 1929, is an editorial touchstone. Beside a genuine swim in the Argentinean comics-DNA-genepool, there´s also a beautiful sense of welcome brutality, of working and creating without any rules or constrictions (or, gosh, preconceptions), and that wilderness helps to connect (and also set apart) Argentinean comics from the American pioneers. There are masterpieces (Dante Quinterno, whose style fascinated Walt Disney), there are absurdist pieces of, well, more archeology than comics, and a mercurial sense of anything-goes creativity. Anyone interested in comics prehistory would be fascinated with this wild and yet strangely familiar selection of comics.



Algo imposible
by Ernán Cirianni
Noviembre

On a first skeptical look, Ernan Cirianni’s comics would seem like draw by someone that has met a deadline while on a long-distance bus to a non-asphalted place. His nerve-striken shapes, his sort of Matt Groening-ian figures, his lack of any sense of depth, his visceral sense of narrative may help to give that impression (his violent misspellings reinforce it). But still, in this roughness (or because of it), Cirianni creates an scenario about two friends who urgently meet in a bar that channels not only his demons but a whole generation of fears, joys, constant-mumbling, pop culture-imbued day-to-day aggressiveness and self-loathing hate (of course, there´s lot of Peter Bagge in Ernan´s sense of displacement). And it’s that urgency, that faster-than-a-speeding-bullet desperation, that gives his shocking sense of art a glimpse, a huge and fundamental glimpse, at the importance of being earnest. Cirianni´s comics are like no other: his urge is powerful, his lines don´t feel like a hipster crybaby wanting to get into MOME, and his natural craftsmanship embodies not only his influences but his real need to create comics in order to survive himself.



Finland

Selected by Harri Römpötti
Harri Römpötti is a freelance Helsinki-based journalist specialising in comics, cinema and music. With Ville Hänninen, he co-wrote the book Päin näköä, exploring contemporary Finnish comics and co-curated the related exhibition entitled Eyeballing: The new forms of comics at Kiasma, Helsinki in 2012.


Kummittuslapsi  (‘Ghost Child’)
by Terhi Ekebom
Asema

Fairytales and legends deal traditionally with the hardships and hurts of the human condition but softened by allegory. Terhi Ekebom’s Ghost Child has a similar feel. It tells a story of a woman who moves to live near a forest. She seems to be troubled by an unnamed tragedy. Soon she starts to hear howling from the woods. The trip from the house to the woods is short in the material world but may stretch spiritually all the way to her peace of mind. Ekebom draws only one image per page and tells the story at a languid pace. A light-blue tint enhances the atmosphere. This strong, quiet story has few words but they are translated in English.


Perkeros
by JP Ahonen & KP Alare
WSOY

JP Ahonen with his writing companion KP Alare tells the story of young Akseli who neglects his studies, girlfriend and pretty much everything except his heavy metal band Perkeros. Young man has more creative ambition than singing voice. The community of the band is cast with believable characters even though the drummer is a bear without any explanation. Ahonen, known for his political satire Puskaradio, draws gorgeous images and offers an excellent view on subculture of amateur bands. Everyday life turns extraordinary when elements of horror enter the story. The end feels like it would be from another book and that makes otherwise great book a bit unbalanced. Perkeros will be published in English by the American Abrams and in French by Casterman, making it perhaps internationally the most visible Finnish comic in recent history.


Isä (‘Father’)
by Hanneriina Moisseinen
Huuda Huuda

In August 1989, Hanneriina Moisseinen’s father disappeared into a forest on a small island and has never been found. Moisseinen was ten years old. Going missing doesn’t offer finality like death does. It leaves the family members in a limbo of uncertainty. Moisseinen tells her true story in the album she’s been working for over three years. The landscapes are an integral element of the images, drawn in grey tones of pencil. Some pages are embroidered on traditional Karelian linen called käspaekka and used to commemorate the dead in the olden
culture. This atmospheric and touching book comes with English translations in the margins.


Yhesti yhes seitsemännes paikas
by Ville Pirinen
Suuri Kurpitsa

The seventh collection of small anecdotes of tragicomic incidents which Ville Pirinen claims he’s heard or overheard from here and there. This time the accidents and mishaps feature gastric acid and false teeth
among other things. The book may be small but the experience of reading it is extra large. The fun is in great part in the delivery. Pirinen, a very skilful artist, draws these things in an expedient style that gives a spontaneous atmosphere that fits perfectly to the banterish style. The language makes use of slang and dialects so, unfortunately, these would be very difficult to translate.


Kyllä eikä ei (‘Yes and not no’)
by Ville Ranta
WSOY

One of the masters of Finnish comics published this year one of his major works. Kyllä eikä ei is set in the 1840’s in Ranta’s hometown, Oulu in the northern Finland. The rise of the conservative religious movement of that time mirrors the current rise of the political right wing. The main character, liberal Hans Nyman is a widowed father of two daughters, a priest, a teacher and a journalist. Nyman fights his carnal desires in a climate growing increasingly repressive because of joyless religiousness. Ranta populates his book mostly with real people who lived in Oulu at the time. He relies on documents to draw a realistic Oulu of the period. Ranta’s signature sketchy drawings are this time paired with glowing colors. The handsome images show the cycle of the seasons with different temperatures you can almost feel from the pages.

 

Germany

Selected by Christian Gasser
Christian Gasser is a Swiss fiction-writer, university lecturer and journalist who reviews comics for various newspapers, magazines and radio stations in Switzerland and Germany. He is the co-editor of the comics-magazine Strapazin, the co-curator and host of the Graphic Novel Days in Hamburg and a member of the “Max und Moritz Preis”-Jury of the Comic Salon in Erlangen. His latest and upcoming books: animation.ch. Vision and Versatility in Swiss Animated Film (2011, as an enhanced e-Book in 2014), Comics Deluxe (2012), and Saunamonologe (novel, 2014).


Flughunde
by Ulli Lust & Marcel Beyer
Suhrkamp Verlag

Marcel Beyer’s Flughunde isn’t the kind of novel begging for illustrations: Beyer’s story about the climax and the decline of the Third Reich is an ambitious, stylistically brilliant, rather cerebral and quite disturbing classic of contemporary German literature. But Ulli Lust, whose debut Today is the Last Day of the Rest of Your Life has recently been published in 2013 by Fantagraphics Books, successfully took the challenge. Beyer tells the decline from two perspectives. Herrmann Karnau is a sound-engineer in the service of the Nazis who conducts bizarre experiments with prisoners. He for instance plants microphones into the vocal chords of his human guinea pigs in order to record their screams directly from the source. The other main character is Helga Goebbels, the eldest daughter of Hitler’s Minister for Public Enlightenment and Propaganda. In 1940, in the beginning of the novel, she is eight years old. In 1944, when her parents poison her, she is twelve. Her perspective on the reality of the Third Reich is naive and innocent – but over the intervening years she begins to guess some truths without being able to articulate them.

Flughunde is a highly interesting novel – but not easy at all to adapt visually, among other things because Beyer deals almost obsessively with the soundtrack of reality and the meaning of sound, noise, and silence in daily life, propaganda and war. It was impossible to simply illustrate the story; Ulli Lust had to reinvent the story with the means of comics. First of all, her sketchy drawings avoid the cool distance Beyer builds up between his characters and his readers. Lust lets us approach the worlds and minds of Herrmann Karnau and Helga Goebbels more intimately and relate better with them. Visual codes allow a more dynamic storytelling, fluidly jumping between the two storylines. While Karnau’s storyline is drawn realistically, in brownish tones, Helga writes down her story in her childish handwriting, and lays a pale shade of faded pink colour over the pictures. And the sounds too are ubiquitous: creatively shaped soundwords create a visual soundtrack so tense you almost believe you hear it. Ulli Lust’s adaption of this challenging novel is not only a fascinating reading, but also an example for a successful and creative literary adaptation far beyond mere illustration.


Heimdall
by Max Baitinger
Rotopol Press

Heimdall is the guardian of Asgard, the home of the Nordic Gods. He sits on the roof of Valhalla, watches over the rainbow which unites Midgard, the world of humans, with Asgard and keeps a keen eye on the sun. Should the greedy wolf come to swallow the sun, Heimdall will blow his horn to call the Gods and Heroes for the ultimate battle against the End of the World. The Nordic epic Edda has often be misused and abused, not only politically, but also aesthetically. The Nordic legends generally serve as inspiration for gory warfare and superhuman heroism in films, comics and heavy metal music. Max Baitinger’s Heimdall is refreshingly different. It’s short, smart, funny, free of all heroism and in black and white – in brief, beyond all stereotypes of Germanic Gods.

Baitinger’s drawings are minimal, almost abstract, more symbolic than realistic. Even Thor and Odin look like pictograms. Plot and text are similarly reduced and laconic. Stoically, Heimdall recounts how he is sitting on Valhalla’s roof, for centuries now, not allowed to move nor sleep, in order not to miss the impending calamity. On the other hand, the watchman has learned quite a few things about Gods, Heroes and Humans, about their idiosyncrasies, behaviour and relationships. Cleverly playing with repetitions and refrains, Baitinger turns the Nordic legend into a surprisingly comical piece of absurdist drama. Ultimately it’s about passively waiting for the End of the World, and this is, at least in the context of this comic, highly funny. Heimdall is not only a promising debut, it’s above all a witty, intelligent and highly entertaining story.


Italy

Selected by Matteo Stefanelli
Matteo Stefanelli is a scholar, curator, and media consultant based in Italy. His latest book is Fumetto! 150 Anni di Storie Italiane, edited with Gianni Bono and published by Rizzoli. He also runs the blog Fumettologicamente


unastoria
by Gipi
Coconino Press - Fandango

After 5 years spent mostly in editorial illustration and cinema, fighting against a lack of inspiration for comics, Gipi is back. And his new book is also his most complex and explicitly tortuous. During the first 20 pages the reader gets totally lost: what’s happening? What are we looking at? Who’s speaking? We later understand. There is a protagonist: Silvano Landi, an ex successful writer, is hospitalised, losing his mind after he broke up with his wife. And there is a second plot, intertwined with the first, of a soldier, Silvano’s great grandfather, trying to survive during a dangerous action within the trenches in World War I. Unlike in the past, there is no fun, no self-conscious jokes, in the latest Gipi. Unlike in the past, there is also no apparent order either in the characters’ lives nor in the graphic approaches, from gouache to ink to water-colour. Gipi’s book is driven more by landscapes and recurring images – a gas station, and a tree (echoing Andrea Pazienza’s drawing) – than by a traditional plot. Ageing is a struggle, and so is storytelling. See the opening ten pages here…


Corpicino
by Tuono Pettinato
Grrrzetic

Tuono Pettinato (nickname of Andrea Paggiaro) is not only one of Italy’s most brilliant humorous authors, but also one of its wisest. After two funny and well-documented biographies (about Giuseppe Garibaldi and Alan Turing), his latest graphic novel is a bitter and dark detour into our current media environment. The story follows a local newspaper reporter’s investigation into the death, perhaps homicide, of a young child in a small Italian town. But its main focus is how TV and newspapers react: the insane sensationalism that usually shapes media attention towards crimes, especially when children are involved. Tuono Pettinato’s witty humour deals not only with journalists’ cynical job, but also with the widespread hypocrisy of ‘average’ citizens, local communities and family members. The dead child becomes an icon of the worst collective behaviour and individual instincts, and our current celebrity culture reshapes a personal tragedy into opportunities for the exploitation and spectacularisation of pain.


Mother
by various authors
Delebile

This anthology is definitely confirmation for a bunch of young new talents. Loosely inspired by the subject, motherhood, Delebile’s artists and foreign friends (Sam Alden, Aisha Franz, Sophie Franz, Pierre Frampas, Sophia Foster-Dimino) present 16 personal or fantasy short stories that stay with you, illuminating the tireless scene of Italian alternative and self-published comics. The visual talent of Bianca Bagnarelli is possibly the most striking, for her control of line and body details, bright-but-melancholic colours, cinematic shots, and a wise use of empty/full spaces. But also Nicolò Pellizzon, Silvia Rocchi, Lise and Talami confirm the graphic energy they already deployed in their recent debuting books (Pellizzon’s decadent Lezioni di anatomia was among the best graphic novel in 2012). The stories, as usual in such anthologies, are just fragments, but what’s unusual is that almost all of the youngest artists’ personalities (Paolo Cattaneo, Alice Milani, Fabio Tonetto, Cristina Portolano, Emanuele Messina, Ilaria Boscia) appear ready to flow on into more complex territories thanks to their strong styles. We feel the sensation of a sort of “training workout”, driving them toward longer – and pretty surely fascinating – stories.


New Zealand

Selected by Adrian Kinnaird

Adrian Kinnaird has been involved in the New Zealand comics community as a cartoonist, writer and blogger for the past 15 years. He is the author of From Earth’s End: The Best of New Zealand Comics, the first book to be published on the subject, released in 2013 from Random House NZ. For more information, you can visit his blog.


Don’t Puke on your Dad: A Year in the Life of a New Father
by Toby Morris
Beatnik Publishing

Toby Morris is one of New Zealand’s most distinctive cartoonists, with a drawing style that instantly captures that local ‘kiwiana’ aesthetic, but should also win over an international audience with his mastery of ‘ligne claire’. His latest book Don’t Puke on your Dad is something of a progressive sequel to his last project Alledaags, a collection of daily auto-bio comic strips chronicling a year living and working in Amsterdam. Those one-page strips provided an engaging and amusing view into Morris and his future wife Sonya’s daily life - from thoughtful asides to the random experiences of daily life adjusting to a new country and culture. Produced in a similar format, this new book picks up almost two years later with the arrival of their first child, Max. Perhaps it’s the very immediate, nurturing feelings of a proud new parent that draw you close at the beginning of the story (early sketches of Max only days old) - but you’ll very quickly find yourself engaged with Morris as he confronts the warts-and-all challenges of being a father for the first time.

The daily strips capture the parenting experience from sleep deprivation to the magical small victories of first words and developments, all with Morris’ winning matter-of-fact humour, which is easily relatable but still feels unique and honest. Morris also includes some text pages to break up the strips along the way, which make for a nice balance, and allow for some neat extras: like Morris’ advice on singing lullabies (complete with lyric remixes for the tired parent!). Crucially, Morris doesn’t shy away from pondering the hard questions: How does a father bond with their child? Do I want him to grow up to be like me? Heartwarming, honest and frequently hilarious, this book is a perfect gift for first time (or any) parents, as well as offering great insight into an experience the rest of us non-parents are missing out on. Watch Toby Morris creating the poster for the launch of Puke on your Dad here…


Mr Unpronounceable Adventures
by Tim Molloy
Milk Shadow Books

Tim Molloy currently lives and is published in Australia, but we still rightly claim him as one of our own! Mr Unpronounceable first warped minds in the late 90s when he appeared in comic strips for Craccum, the Auckland University student magazine. Since then his cult following has grown, with Molloy publishing the odd new story on his blog, with a promise of a collected edition in the near future. Last March this collection finally materialized, presenting the complete collection of Mr Unpronounceable comics. A homeless necromancer or a complete madman, Mr Unpronounceable seeks out the truth - no matter how twisted or bizarre - on the streets of The City Of The Ever Open Eye. Molloy’s eye for detail keeps the stories compelling - even with the most outrageous plot twists - thanks to clear storytelling and grounded environments (The City Of The Ever Open Eye feel lived in, with its own language and even discarded alien products). This collection has quickly become a cult bestseller, climbed up Amazon’s graphic novel list on its release, and deserves your attention.  Here’s a Youtube interview with Tim Molloy on Mr Unpronounceable Adventures


Once
by Tim Danko aka Zombo
Dead Xerox Press

Originally created for a French publisher, Tim Danko utilized Australian crowd-sourcing website Pozible to fund the printing of an English language version. Drawn over a four year period while living on Great Barrier Island, Once is a 56-page tour de force of Danko’s mastery of the comics form - exploring the line between comics and visual arts, a direction few cartoonists have travelled as confidently and imaginatively as Danko. The narrative follows a group of characters travelling through a variety of environments, as they encounter clues and figments of story from people who have passed that way before. It’s highly atmospheric, and draws you into a journey that plays with the conventions of a comic, but could also be described as an art instillation in book form. It’s a beautiful gem of a book, available in paperback and a limited edition hardcover.

Portugal

Selected by Pedro Moura
Pedro Moura is a Portuguese PhD student researching trauma and comics. He writes mainly for his own blog but has published several articles and worked as a teacher, curator, translator, and conference director in comics..

5 Portuguese comic books from 2013. As in previous years, this is less an absolute best-of list (whatever that would be) than a short group of comic books which I wish could be available in English or other languages so they would reach their well-deserved wider audiences. Moreover, they are also an excellent way to realise the wide diversity in this area, where styles, genres, moods and degrees of experimentation are concerned, which Portugal has to offer.


Os labirintos da água (‘The labyrinths of water’)
by Diniz Conefrey
Quarto de Jade

Point in fact, this is a new, augmented edition of a previous book by the author, albeit he took this opportunity to choose a smaller format, better paper stock, better photographic reproduction, etc. not to mention throw in a new wonderful piece. This volume contains the adaptations of three texts by one of the heavyweights of contemporary Portuguese poetry, Herberto Helder, commonly described as a “post-Surrealist” but surely an insufficient description of the power of his words. Conefrey, who is an experienced artist, does not aim at a common adaptation nor does he attempt creating a narrative of sorts from Helder’s words, but rather tries to re-establish the same kind of open-ended ambience with his sequence of images, some of which (especially the third text) may be called “abstract”. Expanding the usual understanding of what comics are both formally and expressively, Labirintos may well be something that will interest those who are familiar with the anthology Abstract Comics or the likes of Ilan Manouach, Warren Craghead or other experimental comics.


The Dying Draughtsman
by Francisco Sousa Lobo
Chili Com Carne

This book is actually in English, so you can check it out for yourselves. Superficially, it may be described as the story of a sub-par employee at an architect’s office who is at the end of his rope with his job, his indifferent wife and his Henry Darger-style comics magnum opus. Obsessively visiting contemporary art galleries in London is no help at all, for they launch him even more deeply into his own mental world, a little crooked, a little crazy. However, at the same time, I wonder if we could read this as a sort of twisted autobiography or even an essay about creativity and the tensions that exist between comics and other more established forms of art? This is the largest book that Francisco Sousa Lobo has done so far, using his sparse line-work and an extremely expressive use of a second colour, and choosing a seemingly simple style and structure to convey a paradoxical tale of aloofness and emotional turmoil.


Topedro
by António Pedro Monteiro Ribeiro
Self-published

António Pedro Monteiro Ribeiro has a very peculiar autobiographical project, reminiscent of Edmond Baudoin. Each small self-published booklet focuses on a specific period, an anecdote, of short portraits of people from his life, although his own personality is always a little elusive: in eight self-published books, we have never seen his face, and rarely does he mention about himself in a sustained manner, and it is quite difficult to map out each book in relation to the other. Is it still autobiography? That is up to each reader. His drawings are made of very cursive lines, with a few ink washes for volume and shadow, that remind you of the graphic diaries or journals you keep when travelling around, so they maintain a certain urgency of the moment, or convey the fleeting quality of a memory. Like Baudoin, each book may be read individually or as one part of a continuous text, always creating the open-ended form we create ourselves according to mood or interrelationships. In 2013, four books came out: O nome do pai (‘The Name of the Father’), O pequeno outro (‘The Small Other’, A minha avó Conceição (‘My Grandmother Conceição’) and Epílogo (‘Epilogue’).



Crónicas de Arquitectura (‘Tales of Architecture’)
by Pedro Burgos
Mundo Fantasma

Pedro Burgos is somewhat of a veteran of the so-called alternative scene of Portuguese comics which emerged in the early 1990s, although he has seldom been published. This collection of only twelve pages collects a series of one-page chronicles he created for the local Architect’s Order magazine every three months between 2009 and 2012. However, each page presents an open-ended structure that is reminiscent of not only an outstanding historical Portuguese artist named Carlos Botelho, who did something very similar back in the 1940s through the 1960s, a sort of portrait of the bustling and chaotic life of the city of Lisbon, but also recalls some of the wonderful early newspaper Sunday pages of guys like Frank King and George Herriman. As a visual tour-de-force between iconic characters, between ambient and social space, each page is also a running commentary on the state of affairs of this country from an architectural point of view, which also implies an ethical position on economics, politics and social issues. Moreover, they also provide very funny situations that are easily translatable to many other cultural settings.



Kassumai
by David Campos
Chili Com Carne

This is a sort of journal of the author, about his stay in Guinea-Bissau for a period of a few months as a NGO volunteer. There he had an incredible personal experience that opened his heart not only to the local people, who welcomed him and made him a new member of a large family, but also to his understanding about the colonial history of Portugal, the unbalanced economical relationships between so-called First and Third World countries, and a myriad of little details that make one’s culture and another’s, especially what brings these apparently separated worlds together. The title is a Felupe word that means at one time “freedom”, “peace” and “happiness”, and we may say that those are three ingredients present in every single short story that comprises this travel journal. With very dissimilar approaches to drawing, some quite tight and almost photographic, others looser and closer to sketches, there is also a very curious, if tentative, dialogue with other forms of media representation, from photography and film, to propaganda and official history books, transforming this particular comic book into a platform to question discourse-construction. As the first book by Campos, and gathering some material previously published in fanzines, this is quite probably the first step into a series of future projects that mix travel literature, autobiography and essayistic comics.

Serbia

Selected by Zivojin Tamburic
Zivojin Tamburic is a long-time reader, collector, critic and historian of comics from Belgrade & London. He is also editor of the graphic novel collection from Omnibus (in Serbian) and Modesty Comics (in English).

The comic scene and publishing in Serbia were again strong in 2013. This trend is in contradiction with the small market and editions of only up to 500 copies. It is uncertain how long this publishing enthusiasm will continue, but in the meantime the comics fans are enjoying a lot of great foreign and domestic titles. The following is just a selection of the most interesting titles by domestic authors.


Andrija Maurović
by Zdravko Zupan and others
Gradac

This is a monograph about the arguably most important comics creator in ex-Yugoslavia, the Croatian artist Andrija Maurović (1901-1981), published by a Serbian cultural magazine. The book was compiled by Zdravko Zupan, the most notable historian of comics from the ex-Yugoslavia region. It consists of a large number of illustrated critiques and reviews, previously published or written for this occasion, by reputable comics critics, which try to explain and analyse different aspects of Maurović‘s work. Maurović started The Bride of the Sword in 1935, which is considered to be the first modern comics in Yugoslavia. He continued with almost 100 complete comics and numerous illustrations, movie posters and book covers. His realistic drawing style and narrative were extraordinary, coming directly from his artistic being, and were not later imitated by anybody. In the late Sixties of the last century he stopped working due to health problems which were caused by his hard work and bohemian life style. After that, he lived the life of a hermit and vegetarian, usually walked naked through his house and rarely cut his hear or beard. However, rare visitors were still amazed with his energy and unique views of life and art. His westerns, especially ones with an unusual main hero, Old Tomcat, a shabby, toothless, half crazy old man, will stay forever in the comics history of the region. Maurović managed, somehow, as a young man, to draw Old Tomcat exactly how he looked as an old man.


Kobra (Cobra)
by Toza Obradović & Bane Kerac 
Darkwood

In the Eighties of the last century, the comic scene in ex-Yugoslavia was reach with new perspectives on comics, becoming more distinct and intellectual than before. Obradović and Kerac kept the classic, mainstream, adventurous comics alive with their heroes Cobra and Cat Claw. In particular, Cobra, the good looking stuntman from Serbia, in his 17 episodes and about 500 pages, is remembered as the most important character for a young generation of the period. The classic thriller narrative, with a bit of local humour, and a very assured drawings by Kerac, kept the imagination of the teenage comics fans and encouraged many to stay with comics.


Dikan 
by Lazo Sredanović & various writers
Everest Media

Dikan is a young, strong and naive Old Slav, followed by his clever uncle. There adventures started at a time when the Old Slavs were populating the Balkans, but they also travelled further into the past or forward into the future. The comparison with Asterix is unavoidable, but Sredanović and his script writers kept the domestic characteristics and humour, preserving the unique, local charm. The comics lasted through 23 episodes and since 1968 for almost 40 years, and was more important for young comics readers than any other comics of the period.


Konstantinovo raskršće #2 (Constantine’s Crossroad #2)
by Dejan Stojiljković & Dragan Paunović
System Comics

This is the second instalment of a trilogy graphic novel written by Stojiljkovic and based on his bestseller and award-winning book Constantine’s Crossroad. The story is located in Serbia during the Second World War and follows a German’s quest for the mystical sword of the Roman emperor Constantine the Great. The story also revolves around an interesting assortment of characters, some fictional (vampires), some real (locals, politicians, soldiers), which provides for a multi-layered narration. The story is complex and follows the book in details and we will need to see the last instalment to judge the success of this adaptation, but the drawing talent of Paunovic is astonishing, confident and mature in keeping the intensity of the narrative. 


Vekovnici #6 (Endless #6)
by Marko Stojanović & various artists
System Comics

This unique project in the comic history of Serbia was started eight years ago by Stojanović on script, and numerous artists from the Balkans who he persuaded to draw his stories. There are six main albums, plus one “zero” album, plus one spin-off, Bloodless, with two instalments. The story is about two vampires, Chen, a Chinese mystic, and Marco, a Serbian hero from the middle ages. Stojanović’s stories are not just descriptive, but also philosophical, reminiscent and summarise some local wisdoms and folk stories.  This sixth instalment is probably the best book of the series so far, because Stojanović has opted for one long story, instead of a compilation of short stories. This allowed him to develop a longer narrative of better dramaturgy and characterisation, and to confirm his talent of storytelling. Despite advanced age of this series, Endless is still far from the final explanation either from the beginning or at the end of the storyline. These albums and their beautiful art on pages and covers are going to be a valuable possession when the script writer and many of the artists become the leading authors of graphic albums in the years to come. Check out the Vekovnici blog for samples and updates…

 

 

South Korea

Selected by Kim Nakho
Nakho Kim is a Korean comics researcher. He writes reviews and columns for book journals and other periodicals, has worked as the editor-in-chief for the comics critic webzine Dugoboza, and curated the special exhibition on manhwa or Korean comics at the Angoulême Festival in 2003.


Year Zero
by PARK Heung-yong
Kimyongsa

On the surface, Year Zero is the story of how a handful of villagers embark on a journey to find some food so they can survive the harsh reality during the Korean War. After a while, however, it becomes clear that this is a parable of society as a whole. What is a ‘nation’? Are grand ideologies such as capitalism and communism really worth fighting for, without anybody knowing what they are? Why do people need to form a community in the first place, and how? Faced on the outside with hunters trying to steal the promised food reserve and on the inside with the struggle of holding the group together, the villagers improvise social systems and rules along the way. Despite its heavy themes, Year Zero is full of fascinating visual transitions, compressed dialogues and a nuanced hint of humour to make it a great read.
 

The Girl from that Lecture (올라! 치꼬스) (‘Hello, Girls!’)
by PARL Su-bong
Anibooks

Getting a crush on someone while knowing nothing much about that person can be a tricky thing. Especially for a well-meaning but awkward, likable but rather naive everyday layperson. The Girl from that Lecture is the story of an unnamed college freshman who develops a helpless crush on an unnamed girl sitting next to him in one of the lectures. Of what could have been a simple and sweet story of one-directional love, this book takes a quite different path. It is loaded with the reality of being a college student in contemporary Korea, such as working shifts to pay the high tuition, freeloading in group assignments, dating customs, and even the mandatory military draft. More often than not, liking someone is the same as being easily taken advantage of. Rather than relying on dramatic faces, the author does not draw any eyes on his characters and every fine shade of feeling is expressed with bodily gestures, mise-en-scenes, and especially the realistic situations. Overall, this work is one of the most nuanced, realistic and bittersweet coming-of-age stories in recent Korean comics.


After-School War Activity
by HA Il-kwon
Jaemijui

Education in Korea is renowned worldwide for its high test scores, but it comes at the cost of being so ruthlessly competitive and stressful that one should call it a war. As such, After-school War Activity takes that rhetoric to a whole new level. Ball-shaped life forms of unknown origin and objective invade the country, and all highschool students of both gender are suddenly drafted as soldiers to kill off the murderous balls. Classes become platoons, and students are promised to receive bonus credits in the SAT based on this extra-curricular activity. Fighting aliens and fighting for scores, brothers-in-arms and classmates prove to be strikingly similar. With a highly detailed reality of the Korean school system and the military training system, this work is never shy to be cruel. People die for no just reason, the odds of survival is unpredictable, and above all, the bonus credits are meager. As all great science-fiction should be, it is a bold, provocative social commentary with a lot of realistic thrill.

 

Spain

Selected by Alfons Moliné

Alfons Moliné is an animator, translator, and writer on the subjects of comics, animation and manga. He is the author of a number of books, including El Gran Libro de los Manga (Glénat, 2002) and biographies of Osamu Tezuka, Carl Barks and Rumiko Takahashi.


Los surcos del azar
by Paco Roca
Astiberri

Writer and artist Paco Roca, after his highly acclaimed graphic novels El invierno del dibujante (‘The Cartoonist’s Winter’),  reviewed by this writer on this site 3 years ago and Arrugas (‘Wrinkles’), the latter also adapted as an animated movie, has scored a new hit with Los surcos del Azar (‘The Surrows of Fate’). This 328-page graphic novel tells us the story of a group of forgotten heroes from World War II: the 9th company of the French Army’s Second Armoured Division, which was nicknamed “La Nueve” (Spanish for nine), because it was mostly made up of soldiers who had belonged to the Republican Army during the Spanish Civil War, having fled their country after the triumph of Franco’s army and the establishment of his dictatorship. Under the orders of general Leclerc, “La Nueve” fought the Nazis and would eventually play a key role in the Liberation of Paris in August 1944. Like he previously did for El invierno del dibujante, Roca has carried out a lot of historical research for his new work, even contacting a couple of surviving members from “La Nueve”. As Spiegelman did with Maus, Roca plays with the duality between present and past and, like in some of his previous works, makes a psychological use of colour. While the wartime yarn is rendered in full colour, each chapter opens with a framing scene set in the present - in which Miguel, one of the survivors, now retired and living in the South of France, tells the story of his company to a young journalist (a self-portrait of Roca himself) - which is in black and white, in a sketchy style with borderless panels. Los surcos del azar has been almost unanimously hailed as one of Spain’s best comics from 2013, so it would not be surprising to see it win a lot of awards at most comic events during 2014. You can read online the first pages (in Spanish) here…


Beowulf
by Santiago García & David Rubín
Astiberri

This adaptation of the old English epic poem of the same name is another of the revelations of 2013 in the Spanish comics’ market. Writer and comic specialist Santiago García and animator and comic artist David Rubín (currently drawing The Rise of Aurora West, a spin-off of Paul Pope’s Battling Boy) have joined forces to create what is more than just a retelling of the saga of Norse warrior Beowulf and his fight against the monster Grendel. A long-planned project, García had started developing it about 10 years ago, expecting at first to have it illustrated by another artist, Javier Olivares. Beowulf is a deep work that constitutes an exciting challenge to the reader, encouraging him/her to plunge into the story. Rubín goes beyond García’s script, to the point that the final result is a homogeneous blend, in which one could not say where does the writer’s task ends and the artist’s task begins. The myth of Beowulf has been de-constructed and re-constructed again to offer us 200 pages of visual frenzy and experimentation which draws on the expertise of such masters of graphic storytelling as Frank Miller or Chris Ware, to name just a couple. Beowulf is now readying to conquer the international markets in the near future; the English language edition is scheduled to be published by Dark Horse.

 

 

Switzerland

Selected by Christian Gasser
Christian Gasser is a Swiss fiction-writer, university lecturer and journalist who reviews comics for various newspapers, magazines and radio stations in Switzerland and Germany. He is the co-editor of the comics-magazine Strapazin, the co-curator and host of the Graphic Novel Days in Hamburg and a member of the “Max und Moritz Preis”-Jury of the Comic Salon in Erlangen. His latest and upcoming books: animation.ch. Vision and Versatility in Swiss Animated Film (2011, as an enhanced e-Book in 2014), Comics Deluxe (2012), and Saunamonologe (novel, 2014).


Kongo: le ténébreux voyage de Josef Teodor Konrad Korzneniowski
by Christian Perrissin & Tom Tirabosco
Futuropolis

Most of us will agree that Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness is one of the most haunting novels about the madness of European colonialism. Many of us know that Conrad’s novella is based on his personal experiences as a captain on the Congo, but I guess only a few of us know what actually happened in 1890, when Joseph Conrad steered a boat up the mighty African river in the service of a Belgian company.

On the basis of personal and historical documents, French writer Christian Perrissin and Swiss artist Tom Tirabosco recount Joseph Conrad’s traumatic trip. On the Congo, Conrad became a witness of the particularly cynical Belgian colonialism. Everything we do, claimed the royal propaganda, we do it for the development of the indigenous population. Reality however looked quite different: Greedy ivory hunting, ruthless occupation of new territories to fight off European and Arab competitors, inhuman abuse and exploitation of the Africans, appalling forms of racism – but also fights between the colonialists, the constant fear of attacks by revengeful natives and wild animals, and of course the ubiquitous malaria and other tropical illnesses.

This was Joseph Conrad’s last trip as a seaman. Weakened by the malaria and traumatized by what he’d seen he quit seafaring and became a writer. In his stories and novels, he dealt a lot with colonialism, and almost ten years later, in 1899, he turned the feverish nightmare he experienced in the green African hell into a short masterpiece.

deals with the raw materials for Heart of Darkness, and regularly you meet characters, situations and locations you remember from the novella. With his pointillist style, Tom Tirabosco congenially translates the Chiaroscuro of Conrad’s nightmare and creates a gripping and feverish, always slightly surreal atmosphere between black and white, light and darkness, consciousness and madness. Kongo is on the one hand an insightful companion to Heart of Darkness – but it also stands on its own as an enthralling and authentic adventure story. Because in this case, reality was not less insane than the fiction. Check out a twenty-page extract here…


Lentement aplati par la consternation
by Ibn Al Rabin
Atrabile

Please don’t feel discouraged by the complicated title of this thin, 24-page but oversized (30x40 cm) comic book. It’s the only words you will have to endure – the story itself is mute (but still full of speech-balloons). Lentement aplati par la consternation is about sex, flirting, sweet-talking, courting, about picking up and scoring, about cockfights and catfights, about power and lust, about two- and threesomes, and about the part the abuse of alcoholic beverages can play in this oldest of human games. An old, stereotypical story, I agree. But Ibn Al Rabin (born in 1975 as Mathieu Baillif in Geneva) wouldn’t be Ibn Al Rabin if he hadn’t challenged himself to tell it in a surprising and particularly charming way. As a mute, but still loquacious shadow-theatre, in which the protagonists communicate (or fail to do so) through pictograms in their speech-balloons.

This of course isn’t really new as well, but Ibn Al Rabin doesn’t only picture what males and females are saying, but also what they are thinking while talking, he shows their hidden agendas and fantasies, and he shows even the hidden agendas behind their fantasies etc. etc. He scratches level after level off his characters until we reach the intimate core of their personalities. I’m not sure if I managed to convey Ibn Al Rabin’s narrative strategies in a comprehensible way, but I can assure you that Ibn Al Rabin is such a wonderful storyteller, you never get lost in this multilayered labyrinth of lusts. And you don’t even have to understand one word of French to enjoy it. In other words, this comic is pure and intelligent fun. See some samples here…

Posted: January 21, 2014

Newsletter

Mailing list sign-up:


Comica Events

Donate!

If you found this website helpful, please support it by making a donation:

Article Tags

Year in Review

View Tag Cloud

Visitors

free counters