Archive for the 'comics and cartooning' Category

Danish Comics of the Year 2015

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.

Hr. Gris (‘Mr. Pig’)
by Peter Kielland
Aben Maler

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.

Kakerlak (‘Cockroach’)
by Halfdan Pisket

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.

I morgen bliver bedre 1: Kongen (‘Tomorrow will be better’ vol. 1: ‘The King’)
by Karoline Stjernfelt

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.

Information: satirebladet Spot!

I juni sidste år lancerede en gruppe journalister, tegnere og akademikere satirebladet Spot, som er tænkt som en art dansk pendant til Charlie Hebdo. Der er nu kommet fire numre og jeg forsøger at gøre status over det prisværdige men stadig noget tyndbenede initiativ i Information, med implicit forhåbning om mere og bedre og sjovere og grovere i fremtiden. Læs her (paywall).

The Week

The week in review.

Sorry, I can’t let it go. Yesterday I filed an article on the media shit storm over Charlie Hebdo‘s provocation, Riss cartoon speculating that poor, dead Aylan Kurdi might have become an ‘ass-groper in Germany’, had he been given the chance to grow up in Europe. I guess this small cartoon, buried deep within an issue with David Bowie on the cover and with many other, very different cartoons (one of which is at least as offensive…) is newsworthy, in the sense that anything Charlie does these days is potentially so. But: this is a still rather marginal left-wing magazine we’re talking about and casting it as the reincarnation of Der Stürmer or whatever in the manner of many, mostly uninformed left-wing critics is not only hugely overblown, but ignorant of context. Not to mention insensitive to the multivalent qualities of even heavy-handed cartoons. Look, it’s perfectly legitimate to criticise this cartoon for bluntly furthering an anti-refugee agenda — it clearly does, whether intentionally or, more likely, not –but this is mostly because of the media treatment of it.

People actually reading Charlie would be less inclined to jump straight to that conclusion, and perhaps also take it as commentary on our remarkably schizoid and certainly (and understandably) confused perception and representation of the refugees arriving in Europe: one day innocent children in need of help, the next ass-gropers and rapists in Cologne and elsewhere. I suspect that Riss is disgusted with the increasing sacralisation of the devastating image of little Aylan, especially on the left, and the concurrent demonisation of refugess based on the actions of some. Neither is helpful in handling what is clearly a real problem, leading as they do to dangerous complacency. This, as much as anything, is expressed by that cartoon.

For what it’s worth, above is Dominique Sopo, president of France’s biggest anti-racism grassroots organisation, SOS Racisme, fiercely contesting the accusation that Charlie is racist.


  • It seems that last year’s possible new Donatello discovery, a small gilded statue of a cherub, or putto, has found a new home for what approaches as Donatello price. I haven’t seen the sculpture, but it looks sufficiently original to be by that greatest of quattrocento sculptors. It certainly appears to be of higher quality–of subtler characterisation–than the closely similar version in Boston, which hasn’t been given to Donatello for many years, and could now possibly be a contemporary studio replica, or perhaps even a second original. Anyway, I have no idea, but hope I’ll get a chance to see it.
  • Jack Kirby gets the art press treatment. Intriguing sign of a possible, beginning canonisation and testament to what a difference couple of intelligently conceived art shows can make.
  • Waldemar Januszczak’s recent, very entertaining piece on notorious art forger Shaun Greenhalgh is now online. The hook of the piece is that the latter now claims to be the creator of the controversial ‘Bella Principessa’, which has been proposed quite forcefully as by Leonardo da Vinci, which I’ve written about here before. Greenhalgh says that the lady depicted was based on the check-out at his local Co-Op. Worth a read, even if it doesn’t quite settle the attribution of the drawing.
  • Information: Charlie Hebdos seneste

    I dagens Information har jeg en analyse af Charlie Hebdos seneste provo-tegning, der forestiller sig, hvor 3-årige Aylan Kurdi ville være endt, hvis han havde overlevet. Det er grove løjer, men også business as usual for bladet. Læs mere her (paywall, suk) eller køb avisen.

    The Week

    The week in review

    As is always the case, lots happened this week, but my preoccupation continues to be the implications of the 7 and 9 January 2015 murders in Paris, or at least what they are coming to represent. As Kenan Malik laments in his excellent op-ed piece for Göteborg-Posten, the initial wave of sympathy for the dead and the huge public manifestations which happened as a reaction all over France, and in other countries, exactly one year ago don’t seem to have changed much for the better when it comes to public opinion on freedom of speech and freedom of expression. European countries, France not least among them, continue prosecuting people for various forms of “hate speech” and “terrorist sympathies” while identity politics are leading educated people in increasingly absurd to silence others. And Islamist reactionaries and jihadists seem as determined as ever to silence any perceived transgressors, whether in the West or in Muslim majority countries, most recently and horrifically Saudi Arabia. At the same time, very few in the West are joining Charlie Hebdo in the necessary, continued testing of the boundaries. And frankly Charlie itself is much diminished now that several of their best cartoonists are either dead or have left the publication.

    There is, however, some cause for optimism. The fact that Charlie is now a household name, and that the timing and particular combination of targets in the attack last January seems to have secured for them a special, still-horrifying place in our collective memory, may mean that the particular issues of intolerance and freedom of expression they raise will remain with us as reminders of what we have to lose for a long time.

    Related links:

  • Jeremy Harding on Emmanuel Todd’s Who Is Charlie? I found Todd’s polemic-dressed-up-in-sociological-respectability at times grating, even shrill, and at times overly Utopian, but it is a fascinating read for what it tells us about French nationalisms, and for what it suggests regarding am egalitarian republican future that not only incorporates but is nurtured lapsed Muslims. The review is a good introduction, but read the book.
  • Adam Gopnik’s forward to the American edition of murdered Charlie editor Charb’s in my opinion rather underwhelming posthumously published pamphlet Open Letter on Blasphemy, Islamophobia, and the True Enemies of Free Expression. Gopnik isn’t all that great here, but he is eloquent and summarizes the contents of the book well.
  • Kenan Malik (again!) is worth reading on the roots of radicalisation in Europe, and Thomas Hegghammer’s weeks-old op-ed on the allure of life as a jihadist today is a fascinating, even humanising read.
  • Al-Jazeera cameraman and journalist Sami al-Hajj on his time in custody in Pakistan and at Guantanamo Bay. Horrifying and informative.

  • The illustration above is by T. Thorhauge. I ran as part of Danish comics site Nummer9′s cartoon responses to the January Paris murders.

    Still at large

    Today, and on Saturday, it happened a year ago. In some ways it wasn’t all that new, nor unexpected — jihadist terrorist attacks have happened all over Europe with increasing frequency for the last 10-15 years, and several lower key attempts had been made to silence Charlie Hebdo. In fact, it remains scandalous that they weren’t protected better — the attack on their offices could have been prevented.

    Anyway, it seems like a watershed in Europe, creating a “before and after” in many people’s minds. The even more horrible attack in Paris on 13 November, while certainly shocking, only confirmed that everyone is at risk, not only cartoonists or Jews. Beyond that, there is a creeping, dangerous sense of “business as usual.” Probably because that is what it has become to us. Jihadist terrorism is surely here to stay for the foreseeable future, because its root causes are not going to disappear any time soon. And sadly, the influx of refugees from various Muslim majority countries probably isn’t going to help that particular problem. While we should clearly be doing more to help refugees — it is the only right thing to do — the challenges of integration are hard to deny, just like the prospects of peace in the Middle East and Afghanistan remain depressingly bleak.

    Many left-wing commentators seem to want to downplay the dangers of the situation, and while this is understandable given the rise in atavistic populism, Islamophobia, and at times ill-considered warmongering in the West, it also denies a pertinent reality that needs addressing. Jihadist terror is a threat to our open societies, even if the damage individual terrorists are able to inflict is generally limited, because our societies rely on trust to survive. Terrorism is an extreme form of the so-called heckler’s veto, in which a loud individual or small group disrupts, in some cases permanently, the free expression of others. It is designed to erode trust between individuals and to undermine the feeling of community that is so vital to us.

    The introduction of draconian anti-terrorist laws in response, including such measures as ultra-rapid processing of suspects, warrantless surveillance, and potentially the stripping of nationality for dual-nationality citizens, threaten us all in that, if allowed to take hold, they will inevitably transform our societies into closed, polarised and ultimately repressive ones. This is already happening, and at an alarmingly accelerated pace since 7 and 9 January 2015, which is another reason the events on those days feel like a turning point.

    Some of these measures are understandable, especially when applied in selected and particularly egregious cases, and it is naive to think that intolerance of the kind espoused by jiahids can be fought solely with tolerance. However, if we are to prevent the proliferation of terrorism and other politically or religiously motivated violence, there are certain core values that we need to uphold, not just for the afflicted (however we identify them), but for every person involved. It will not do to continue to encourage the formation of parallel societies and the neglect of minorities within the minorities that is often the result of well-intentioned multiculturalism, nor will it do hypocritically to deny rights to certain individuals because we consider them beyond the pale. The rights of the individual as defined in such foundational documents as 1789 French Declaration of the Rights of Man and the Bill of Rights amended to the United States Constitution in 1791 remain the best guide we have to achieving greater mutual understanding, respect and community. And yes, this includes unfettered freedom of expression and the abolishment of inevitably fuzzy and potentially oppressive notions of hate speech, not to mention so-called ‘blasphemy’.

    In the meantime, we would do well to remember that institutions like Charlie Hebdo, whatever we might think of their individual editorial decisions are the white blood cells of our societies, and that our minorities are essential to maintaining the oxygen levels of their vascular circulation. The events of 7 and 9 January and what has followed are stark indicators that we might be forgetting this. Increase the peace.

    The Week

    Writing extemporally what’s on my mind was kind of the point of these posts back when I was doing them regularly (i.e. almost weekly), so I guess that’s what I’ll do here for this brief resurfacing on my blog.

    It’s a new year, and as usual it holds promise while simultaneously carrying a lot of baggage with it. Just these first few days remind us that people are still dying on the beaches of Europe while an increasingly destructive civil was is going on in the Middle East, Sweden — my neighbouring country as I write this — is instating universal ID checks at the border for the first time in generations, costing the country millions and reminding us all of the profundity of the problem we’re facing in Europe. Oh, and so-called Islamic State has just released another piece of vile agitprop promising bloody murder in Britain, my country of residence. And so on.

    Yet, all of this seems strangely unreal to me, in the grip as I am — at least in unguarded moments — of a kind of apocalyptic paralysis. For obvious reasons 2015 was a stark reminder that climate change is almost certain to change the world as we know it over the course of the next generation. All the current problems are negligible in comparison to what’s on the horizon. COP21 arguably provided some cause for optimism, but it seems foolish fully to trust that we will be able to avert the cataclysm science tells us is coming to an extent that doesn’t profoundly upset life everywhere on Earth.

    We’re all good at repressing such emotions, but I still can’t quite chase a feeling of futility every time I see, say, a new construction project or ceasefire initiative, never mind the ephemeral things I myself spend my energy on. What remains is the knowledge that my children will almost certainly have to manage life in a world radically, violently different from ours, where most of these concerns will be forgotten.

    Nothing particularly enlightening about that, I know. Futile venting, I know. What’s the use?

    For what it’s worth, here are some links:

  • Because I just read his excellent memoir, Between the World and Me, and was reminded of the horrifying Rosewood pogrom by this article, here’s Ta-Nehisi Coates’ classic essay “The Case for Reparations.”
  • Naoki Urasawa and Hisashi Eguchi about 70s and 80s manga. Interesting discussion, not least about Katsuhiro Otomo, the president at the upcoming Angoulême festival.
  • Lastly, look at that giant squid and then read this. Good night, and good luck.

    Risbjerg og Pandolfo i Information

    Der er gået længe siden sidst, og lang tid siden jeg skrev anmeldelsen, men nu er jeg tilbage i Informations spalter med en vurdering af Terkel Risbjerg og Anne-Caroline Pandolfos double feature fra tidligere i år, Mina — mit liv som kat og Niels Lyhne-parafrasen Skarabæernes konge. Den kan læses (bag avisens paywall) her.

    Drawn and Quarterly 25 Years!

    Front cover image and design by Tom Gauld

    Over at The Comics Journal I’ve just published a review of seminal comics publisher Drawn and Quarterly’s massive 25th-anniversary book, which is actually more of a short essay on the significance and particular qualities of the publisher. Go read it here.

    Fremtidens Araber i Information

    I ugens bogtillæg til dagbladet Information kan man læse min anmeldelse af første bind af Riad Sattoufs Fremtidens Araber, udgivet på dansk af Cobolt. Det er i et vist omfang samme tekst, men kortere og på dansk, som den jeg for nogle uger siden skrev til The Comics Journal om Sattouf og hans bestseller.

    Hype: The Rotland Inquiry

    Ryan Standfest, publisher at the small-press (dark) humor operation Rotland Press, recently put out the first issue of the Rotland Inquiry, which focuses on Charlie Hebdo, the Paris murders and their aftermath. Standfest has assembled an impressive range of cartoonists, critics and historians who present a variety of viewpoints and thoughts and images on the subject.

    The roll call sounds: Stéphane Blanquet, Hugleikur Dagsson, D.B. Dowd, Mort Gerberg, Jeet Heer, Danny Hellman, David Hughes, Paul Krassner, Mark McKinney, Tony Millionaire, Leigh Phillips, Martin Rowson, Johnny Sampson, Mahendra Singh, Art Spiegelman, and um, me. I’m in there with an edited and slightly updated version of one of the pieces I wrote for The Comics Journal back in January.

    I’m proud to be in the publication and encourage you to seek it out. It’s well worth it, whatever you think of my contribution.

    More on the publication and Rotland Press from contributor D. B. Dowd here and here.

    Sattouf’s Arabe du futur at TCJ

    Over at The Comics Journal, the latest installment of my all-too-infrequent comics on European comics features an introduction to Riad Sattouf and a short review of the first two volumes of his current bestseller L’Arabe du futur. Both volumes have sold well over 200.000 copies in France and translations are appearing all over the place. Controversial, frank, brilliantly executed, problematic. Well worth your attention. Go, read.

    Lille Kvast i Information

    Denne uge bringer Information Bøger min anmeldelse af Pierre Bailly og Céline Fraiponts første fire bind af den dejlige børneserie Lille Kvast, der er udgivet i Danmark af Forlaget Forlæns. Læs den her.

    Forlaget Damgaard i Information

    I denne uges bogtillæg anmelder jeg en håndfuld udgivelser fra det lille forlag Damgaard og gør mig i den forbindelse nogle tanker om små con amore-foretagenders betydning for tegneserier i Danmark. De anmeldte skabere er John Porcellino, Henri Gylander og Ethan Rilly. Læs anmeldelsen her. (hvis du kan komme forbi den nyinstallerede paywall…)

    The Week

    It’s been forever since I did one of these. Such is the half dormant life of this blog. But anyway, the itch is still occasionally there so here we go.

    The above video was made a few months ago to coincide with the opening of the Sansovino Frames exhibition at the National Gallery. We had just successfully acquired the beautiful Venetian (non-Sansovino) frame which now adorns Titian’s Allegory of Prudence, partly through crowdfunding, and which features in the clip. I think it encapsulates well some of the very real pleasures of working with great artworks: the fact that details count; the kind of holistic thinking the works demand of you when you plan their display; and not least the passion and expertise that they demand. I appear for a brief moment and contribute nothing, but do watch the video for the insight it gives into our framing department and the great work Peter Schade and his staff do there.

    OK, here are some links:

  • London Art Week. I haven’t yet really done the rounds, but I did have a chance to look at this drawing attributed to Sebastiano del Piombo. I’m unsure about the attribution, but it doesn’t make it any less beautiful. And while we’re talking Sebastiano, there’s what I do believe is bona fide painting by him in Christie’s day sale.
  • Mikkel Sommer. A rising star on the Danish comics scene. He hasn’t yet delivered a work really delivering on his great talent, but if he keeps dropping gems like this brilliant GIF he’ll keep at least this reader watching him.
  • Roskilde 2015. No, I’m not there this year, sadly, but if you read Danish, you can follow the coverage of the hip hop at the festival by my homies at Rapspot here. Prominent in the line-up was El-P and Killer Mike’s by now ubiquitous-in-hipsterdom-but-no-less-awesome-for-that project Run the Jewels. They surely killed it, if their performance last weekend at Glastonbury is anything to go by.