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PG Tips No. 24:

The Best Of 2008 Part 3 - An International Perspective

In Part 1 of my Best Of 2008 selections I picked out my Top Ten English-language graphic novels and comics in book form from 2008. In Part 2 I highlighted my favourite books about comics of the year.

However, it should be obvious that not all the truly wonderful graphic novels published last year appeared in English. But you rarely get to hear about these untranslated treasures from other countries in English. So I decided to ask a few friends around the world for their choices of the very best local, homegrown "big comics in book form". They came back with further evidence that the graphic novel is a genuine movement burgeoning and blossoming across the globe: Belgium (1) - Belgium (2) - Finland - France - Greece - Italy - Japan - Spain - Sweden


BELGIUM (1): THE BEST OF 2008
Selected by Michel Kempeneers
Michel Kempeneers is a Belgian comics journalist. He is the author of a weekly comics column in the Flemish quality paper De Standaard.

Slaapkoppen
[Sleepyheads]

by Randall C.
Oogachtend
Randall C. (C for Casaer) is a stunning comics talent who divides his time between illustration and being the coach of Wim Helsen, one of Flanders’ most successful stand-up comedians. Yet, at 41, Slaapkoppen [Sleepyheads] is still only his debut album. Since its publication it won several important prizes, and had Randall C. being compared to Blutch and Blain - rightly so, though his style looks a bit lighter than those of his famous French colleagues.

It’s almost impossible to describe what Slaapkoppen is about. It’s not even sure if it really contains a story. The album starts with a number of short chapters introducing the characters. They return later on, when it becomes clear that these chapters are related to each other, but more via associations than through a clear story line. What happens to them is not that important: it is neither logical nor realistic, yet it is coherent, exciting, beautiful and original. And very poetic, though that could very well be a side effect. As the title hints, it might all be nothing but a dream, but heck, even dreams can be wonderful!. An English edition will be published in April 2009 by Blank Slate Books.

De Grote Toveraar 1: De Kruisweg van Mpyisi
[The Big Magician, part one: Mpyisi’s calvary]

by Jeroen Janssen (art) & Pieter van Oudheusden (story)
Oogachtend
If you’re looking for unknown Flemish comics talent, Jeroen Janssen (1963) and his expressionist painted comics are defenitely worth discovering. However, his work remains to be translated into ‘more accessible’ languages like English or French. Yet, for his latest album, De Grote Toveraar [The Big Magician], that would be a true challenge, as his writer, the Dutch comics journalist, translator and children’s book writer Pieter van Oudheusden (1957), did a stunning job on the dialogue, adding lots of French terms - the story is situated in an unidentified, Francophone African former colony, so this approach makes sense - with double meanings for those who want to see them. These ambiguities have mainly sexual connotations, as getting sex is what the main characters are continuously striving for. But Bakamé is the only one getting any. That’s logical because all the other characters are plain stupid and/or naive, and really ask to be cheated. Sounds familiar? That’s not surprising, as Bakamé is Janssen & Van Oudheusden’s take on the famous myth of Reynard the Fox, (re)locating it to Africa, where Janssen lived for several years in the 1990s. In this story the hyena Mpyisi is Bakamé‘s main victim and gets the full treatment. As in the original Reynard stories, this is not innocent, for Reynard/Bakamé are mean characters without compassion. The story, a diptych, is not only very funny, but at the same time really clever, making us look forward to the final volume.

Berlijn-trilogie
[The Berlin Trilogy]

by Marvano
Dargaud, 3 volumes
With his Berlin Trilogy Marvano, the alias of Flemish comics artist Mark Van Oppen (1953), confirms his status as one of the major contemporary comics authors. His plots are cunning, his storytelling is very elliptic and intelligent, and his realistic art work counts among the most efficient around. Marvano broke through in 1988 with his comics adaptation of Joe Haldeman’s sf classic The Forever War (1975), which became a classic in its own right, and he has been considered a worthwhile author ever since. In Berlin he visits the city at three key moments in its (and the world’s) recent history: in 1943, during the British bombing raids; in 1948, during the airlift which supplied the city; and in 1961, during the new airlift evacuating East-German refugees from the city. In these settings Marvano places his exciting stories of common people who above all are the victims of the situation. The three albums can stand on their own, but acquire added value when read as a whole. For the third volume Marvano switches to another main character, and that new perspective gives another, surprising view on several elements in the previous volumes.


BELGIUM (2): THE BEST OF 2008
Selected by Pascal Lefèvre
Pascal Lefèvre is a comics historian and theoretician living in Louvain, Belgium.

Spirou, le journal d’un ingénu
[Spirou, An Ingenuous Boy’s Diary]

byEmile Bravo
Dupuis
An intelligent and charming revision of one of Belgium’s longest running comics heroes by a French author with Spanish roots.

Het graf van de keizer
[The Emperor’s Tomb]

by Gerolf van de Perre
Bries
Inspired by his long stay in Beijing, the author, originally a painter, evokes as no one else the abandoned dwellings of the old quarters. In the midst of turbulent social and economical changes two little boys keep on dreaming and playing. The English edition was published at the same time as the original Dutch edition by Bries.

La jeune fille et le nègre
by Judith Vanistendael
Actes sud l’An 2
The problematic love affair between a young Flemish girl and an African refugee is told with many nuances in an elegant black and white style. Moreover this is the first album by one of my most talented former students from Sint-Lukas Brussels and it’s nominated for the Fauve d’ Or Award at the Angoulême festival 2009. It was originally published in Dutch by Oog & Blik.


FINLAND: THE BEST OF 2008
Selected by Harri Römpötti
Harri Römpötti is a freelance Helsinki-based journalist specialising in comics, cinema and music.

Kajaani
by Villa Ranta
Asema Publishing
Ville Ranta’s Kajaani is an easy choice. It’s an all-round masterpiece, beautifully drawn, moves effortlesly, and brings alive an important figure of Finnish history and his time. Ville obviously appreciates Lönnrot, best known for composing the Kalevala, Finland’s epic compiled from national folklore, but he makes him flesh and blood instead of a stiff statue.

Meti
by Aapo Rapi
Arktinen Banaani
Aapo Rapi’s strips, based on interviews with his grandmother Meti, reach over several generation gaps. Rapi translates her dialect into naturally flowing dialogue - not that easy a task in spoken Finnish. The strips are drawn in almost psychedelic colors that paradoxicaly yield a serene atmosphere.


FRANCE: THE BEST OF 2008
Selected by Jean-Paul Jennequin
Jean-Paul Jennequin is a Paris-based writer, artist, critic, translator, editor of the quarterly French journal Comix Club (Editions Groinge), and author of Histoire du Comic Book Volume 1 (Vertige Graphic) and cartoonist of Les folles nuits de Jonathan (La Comédie Illustré), among others.

Le Petit Christian Volume 2
by Blutch
L’Association
My choice for Best Graphic Novel in French of the year goes to Posy Simmonds’ Tamara Drewe, natch. But that’s a translation from English, so for my favourite originated GN in French, I choose the second volume of Le Petit Christian. Blutch tells further tales of le petit Christian, a little boy who, he says, is not his alter ego but nevertheless shares many traits with him. As it happens, the boy is no longer a boy but a teenager. He leaves the comfortable world of his small town to attend secondary school in the Big City of Strasbourg (Alsace) and during summer vacation, falls hopelessly in love with dainty brunette Cathy Borie. Blutch is definitely an author, with themes and imagery that he comes back to time and again, and I find his presentation of what is after all a quite ordinary childhood, in terms that are so completely blutchian,  simply amazing - and far better drawn that any comic should have a right to be.


GREECE: THE BEST OF 2008
Selected by Vasileios Sakkos
Vasileios Sakkos is a PhD candidate at The London Consortium (thesis focusing on comics and skin deformity) and columnist for Comicdom.gr. The next Comicdom con is due April 11 & 12 at the Hellenic-American Union in Athens.

Logicomix
by Apostolos Doxiadis (script) & Alecos Papadatos (art)
Ikaros
I am excited about this book, it really is amazing - passionately written, impeccable sense of rhythm, a fascinating plunge into the world of ideas. Oh, and Bertrand Russell is the main character! The book’s tragic heroes are key figures in philosophy and mathematics. The writer, Apostolos Doxiadis, has already had an international bestseller published by Bloomsbury and Faber entitled Uncle Petros & Goldbach’s Conjecture. His collaborator Christos H. Papadimitriou is a Computer Science professor from the University of California in Berkeley. Logicomix is Doxiadis’ first attempt at a graphic novel and seems to have sparked a renewed interest for comics in Greece - it’s been a best seller here for a month. The English translation will be published this year from Bloomsbury UK in September and Bloomsbury US in October. Here is how the book is described on Doxiadis’ website:

"The graphic novel Logicomix is based on the epic story of the quest for the foundations of mathematics. This is a quintessentially modern intellectual adventure, most of whose protagonists paid the price of knowledge with extreme personal suffering and, in some cases, insanity. In Logicomix, the role of narrator is granted to the most eloquent and spirited of the quest’s heroes, the great logician and philosopher Bertrand Russell. It is through his eyes that the plights of Frege, Hilbert, Poincaré,  Wittgenstein and Gödel come to life, and through his own passionate pursuit of absolute certainty that the various narrative strands blend together. A parallel tale, set in contemporary Athens, records the book’s creators’ clashing opinions on the meaning of the quest."

The English version of the Logicomix website is going online in mid-February. It is a wonderful website if you browse through its contents, even though it’s in Greek.


ITALY: THE BEST OF 2008
Selected by Matteo Stefanelli
Matteo Stefanelli is a media researcher and consultant based at the Università Cattolica of Milan and co-author of Il Secolo del Corriere dei Piccoli (Rizzoli).

LMVDV - La Mia Vita Disegnata Male [My Badly Drawn Life]
by Gipi
Coconino Press (Fusi Orari)
In his latest work, Gipi tells the story of his life, from kids traumas to adult (and tragicomical) sicknesses, shifting from bad/nervous sketch drawing pages to emotional and dreamy watercolour sequences. LMVDV stands out as one of the most brilliant autofictions ever. Definitely a confirmation for one the brightest stars in Italian and European comics scene since Hugo Pratt and Andrea Pazienza. More sample pages from LMVDV can be found on Gipi’s Blog here.

Canicola No.6: "Patto di sale" [Salt Pact]
by various
Canicola
The latest issue of indy magazine Canicola hosts three great short stories related to the same subject and made for a gallery exhibition project. Giacomo Nanni and Francesco Cattani‘s quite mental storytelling is blossoming with improved metaphorical imagination, and Alessandro Tota‘s visionary figures blend Marc Bell’s aesthetic in a weird mix with some David B. and Jeffrey Brown. Visit the Canicola Blog here.

L’Ombra di Walt
by Marco Corona
Coconino Press
Corona is an impressive drawing talent that emerged from the strongest "art brut" side of the Italian undergound comics movement. Now he is one of the most imaginative Italian comics storytellers, and his new book illustrates this with a hypnotic story (it reminded me of some Carlos Nine’s works) about a painter-dog in a perverted post-war city environment. More sample pages can be found here.


JAPAN: THE BEST OF 2008
Selected by Tamaki Seto
Tamaki Seto is a London-based manga editor and writer. She was one of the editorial staff of comic navigation monthly magazine Comnavi between 1997-1998 in Tokyo. She got her MA in Media Communication at the University of London, Goldsmiths College, with a dissertation on ‘Globalisation in Manga Presentation’.

Saint Young Men
by Hikaru Nakamura
Morning 2/Kodansha
One day, Buddha and Jesus Christ decided to live amongst mankind again and descend to earth. They moved into a shared flat in Tachikawa, Tokyo together and many strange and funny anecdotes in their daily life are depicted in this story.

Sakamichino Apollon
by Yuki Kodama
Flowers/Shogakukan
In the 1960’s, on Kyushu, the south island of Japan, the drama of teenagers had begun. Kaoru was a sensitive boy suffering from his new environment and  obliged to keep changing his schools because of his father’s business. Eventually, he finds nice pals in Kyushu, and later on, he also finds his first love… Two volumes were published and they sold 800,000 copies.

Moyashimon (Tales Of Agriculture)
by Masayuki Ishikawa
Evening/Kodansha
An agricultural university student named Tadayasu Sawaki not only has the special ability to perceive the existence of bacteria but is also able to talk to them. This story tells us how we all live close to bacteria and how they effect us. It was adapted for TV animation broadcast in 2007 and has won several prizes.


SPAIN: THE BEST OF 2008
Selected by Alfons Moliné
Alfons Moliné is a Spanish animator and comics expert who works on the Disney comics line launched by Planeta, including writing the feature articles for their Carl Barks Library.

Olimpita
by Hernán Migoya (story) & Joan Marín (art)
Norma Editorial
The titular heroine, Olimpita, is a working-class woman who works as a fishmonger in a market in Barcelona. She is the daughter of Andalusian inmigrants who, like many people from this Southern region of Spain, emigrated to Catalonia in the 60’s seeking a better standard of living. This 154-page graphic novel, set in present-day Barcelona, deals with one of Spain’s key current problems: immigration, and the difficulties that the new immigrants, who come mainly form Africa and Latin America, encounter with Spanish people - even with those who forget that their parents, too, were once immigrants. You can find more info about Olimpita (in Spanish) at Norma Editorial - by clicking on ‘Lee Las Primeras Paginas’ at left, you may browse a pdf of the first pages.


SWEDEN: THE BEST OF 2008
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.

Det är bara lite AIDS [It’s just a bit of AIDS]
by Sara Granér
Galago
This is her first book, and it hit the market, the media and the readers in Sweden like a bomb last autumn. Granér is a young female cartoonist who does comics and single panel cartoons which poke fun at society and all the injustices in it, often from a feminist perspective. She uses not-so-funny animals who say and do the most unexpected things. It’s hilarious and disturbing at the same time, and visually quite stunning I think.

Döda paret och deras "vänner"
[The Dead Couple & Their So Called Friends]
by Joakim Pirinen
Galago  
This is the latest collection by the grand master of alternative comics in Sweden, and it is such a good book that every reviewer is raving about it. Had Pirinen been born in an English speaking country I believe he would have been up there with Crumb and Spiegelman. He does arty, funny, strange, intelligent comics, which are very hard to explain. Brilliant stuff and one of the few Swedish comics artists I feel actually would not only deserve but live up to an international exposure. Art and comics in a beautiful mix.

Einsteins fru [The Wife Of Einstein]
by Liv Strömqvist
Galago  
This is a hard hitting book of feminist essays about all the wrongs in the world which are based on the ingrained patriarchy. Strömqvist preaches about a lot of things, but does it with a grace and a hefty dose of humour which makes it all very accessible. One of the stories is about the wife of Einstein, who for a long period was an equal partner in his groundbreaking work, but later on was reduced to mother, housewife and was finally divorced and left with their children when Albert left her for a younger woman.

Posted: January 11, 2009

Text © the respective authors.
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Featured Books

BELGIUM

Slaapkoppen
[Sleepyheads]

by Randall C.


De Grote Toveraar 1: De Kruisweg van Mpyisi
[The Big Magician]

by Jeroen Janssen
& Pieter van Oudheusden


Berlijn-trilogie
[The Berlin Trilogy]

by Marvano


Spirou, le journal
d’un ingénu
[Spirou, An Ingenuous
Boy’s Diary]

byEmile Bravo


Het graf van de keizer
[The Emperor’s Tomb]

by Gerolf van de Perre


La jeune fille et le nègre
by Judith Vanistendael

FINLAND

Kajaani
by Villa Ranta


Meti
by Aapo Rapi

FRANCE

Le Petit Christian Vol 2
by Blutch

GREECE

Logicomix
by Apostolos Doxiadis
& Alecos Papadatos

ITALY

LMVDV
La Mia Vita Disegnata Male
[My Badly Drawn Life]

by Gipi


Canicola No.6:
"Patto di sale"
[Salt Pact]

by various


L’Ombra di Walt
by Marco Corona

JAPAN

Saint Young Men
by Hikaru Nakamura


Sakamichino Apollon
by Yuki Kodama


Moyashimon
(Tales Of Agriculture)

by Masayuki Ishikawa

SPAIN

Olimpita
by Hernán Migoya
& Joan Marín

SWEDEN

Det är bara lite AIDS
[It’s just a bit of AIDS]

by Sara Granér


Döda paret
och deras "vänner"

[The Dead Couple
& Their So Called Friends]
by Joakim Pirinen


Einsteins fru
[The Wife Of Einstein]

by Liv Strömqvist