Paul Gravett is back with his annual roundup of the best comics from around the world. Once again, I’ve contributed my selection of the best Danish comics of last year. It is reproduced below, but check out the whole list here.
With Hr. Gris, Peter Kielland, one of the most distinctive voices in Nordic comics, signs his most complex and difficult work, but also one of his funniest. Hr. Gris is a doomed everyman of the kind that Kielland invariably places at the centre of his modern fairly tales. The protagonist is split between a world of grim fantasy ruled by a one-eyed demiurge, and a slow, quotidian death in the gutters of a big city and in its manicured suburban plots. Hellfire separates these planes of existence, but they are inextricably intertwined, revealed to each other in comics pages that the protagonist comes across. The book is essentially a series of loosely, but ominously connected short stories that unite to form an ambitious and exhilarating, but at times also frustratingly impenetrable metaphysics of life, full of dark humour and exquisitely timed sequences of absurd slapstick. A personal vision expertly fashioned in the frivolous language of the comics of old.
The second part of Pisket’s brutally poetic retelling of his Armenian/Turkish immigrant father’s life concentrates on his arrival and early life in Denmark as an immigrant haunted by a violent past, not least the torture he was subjected to as a deserter from the Turkish army. It is a life on the edge that poisons every relationship he enters into, particularly when it comes to the women with whom he has children. Epileptic seizures are medicated with marijuana, while his fears and anxieties are marinated in alcohol; a life of sordid and increasingly desperate crime awaits. Kakerlak is a powerful account of the immigrant experience, of its psychology and pathology, charted in a suggestively oneiric chiaroscuro by a rapidly-developing artist.
This piece of historical fiction mines the same powerfully romantic material as Nikolaj Arcel’s Academy Award-nominated 2012 banality A Royal Affair, but takes a more down-to-earth approach to the story of the mad Danish king Christian VII, his English bride Caroline Mathilde, and her lover, physician to the king and would-be political player Johan Friedrich Struensee. In this, the first volume of a planned trilogy, the focus is on the young queen and her efforts to maintain a meaningful life in what is only a marriage by name, and on the young, intelligent, but also unstable and dangerously fragile king, who sees his efforts at happiness frustrated by the duties of his office and the machinations of the politicians who actually run the country. Struensee is introduced, but how his brief and scandalous rise to the top will be handled is a matter for the next volumes. Clocking in at over 150 pages and rendered in what might be described as a youthful, slightly shojo-inflected interpolation of the illustrative classicism of French veteran André Juillard, this is an astoundingly assured debut by the 22-year old author.