Monthly Archive for September, 2010

Ulli Lust’s Heute ist der letzte Tag vom Rest deines Lebens at TCJ

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I have a review of Ulli Lust’s great Grand Tour diary up over at TCJ. Check it out.

Plastic Fantastic

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The Cambridge Film Festival is on at the moment and last night I attended one of its main events — a live interview with director Stephen Frears, followed by a screening of his latest film Tamara Drewe, adapted from the graphic novel by Posey Simmonds. It was a good time — Frears mixed self-deprecation and common sense in his short but thoughtful answers to the questions posed and shared a number of fine insights on filmmaking.

Particularly interesting was his observation of Hollywood filmmaking as a cinema of close-ups, something he realised on the set of Dangeours Liasons (1988). He explained how he had initially planned the film to include a number of full shot longtakes à la Max Ophüls, but decided against it once he realised the actors we much more proficient in close-ups. He also described John Malkovich as completely unschooled, which drew laughs. He very much confirmed the impression left by his films: a director of solid middle-of-the-road films with a certain social involvement; an inspired caster and director of actors attentive to good scripts, but without much vision as a film director.

He described the art of adaptation as that of achieving a general fidelity, not a literal one, saying that he strove to avoid going against the spirit of the source. In the case of Tamara Drewe, he further noted that he thought Moira Buffini’s adaptation of the graphic novel was ‘an improvement.’ Watching the film, however, it was hard to find justification for these statements.

Basically he and Buffini have turned Simmonds caustic social satire into a largely feelgood comedy, introducing romance where there should be none, exchanging her troubled Wessex idyll for soft-focus Dorset fairyland, and rewriting her perceptive dialogue to stilting effect. Most critically, they have softened radically the story’s denoument, essentially neutering the force of Simmonds pessimism and social critique, while keeping just enough of it to destabilise the film’s otherwise delightfully executed comedy. It’s by no means unwatchable–the actors are almost uniformly excellent, despite the script–and its all very professionally done, but it essentially it reduces an affecting, trenchant work to a piece of inconsequential fluff.

Above: Gemma Arterton is excellent as the title character.

Happy 5 Aben Maler!

Congrats to Steffen Rayburn Maarup for five great years of quality comics publishing in Denmark at Aben Maler, culminating with the finest foreign edition of Chris Ware’s Jimmy Corrigan this year. Here’s to many more!

Picks of the Week

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The picks of the week from around the web.

  • Ray Davis: “High, Low and Lethem”. Great essay about the continuing confluence of high and low culture and the transformation of that modernist dichotomy, which touches upon auteur theory, copyright issues and much more. (Thanks Tim!)
  • Comics! Ron Regé’s great “We Must Know, We Will Know” now available for free at What Things Do. If you haven’t done so already, bookmark or feed this site now. Oh, and there’s one of Shigeru Mizuki’s fun GeGeGe no Kitaro stories up here — check it out. It’s in a different tenor than the more realistic, later Shigeru books currently in the works for the English readership at D&Q (I wrote about one of them here). (Thanks, Dirk!)
  • What Is “Mutant Pop”?

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    When I was in Denmark a few weeks ago, I got the chance to cross the sound to Malmö and see the Dearraindrop-curated Mutant Pop show at Gallery Loyal there. I took a number of photos, which you can see here.

    It was fun, but I’m somewhat sceptical of this contemporary iteration of post-pop art. Here, it’s dubbed ‘mutant pop’, which according to Brandon Joyce, writing in the press material (and I assume the catalogue) is characterised as follows:

    “The image, the symbol, the icon — and the whole plane of pop-mythos — have power, dignity, and even a biology of sorts. Cartoons, afterall [sic], have cells [sic]. Scrawls and sketches serve as little anatomies and dissections of the living image. And like human and animal life, the image can even experience a kind of image-death. Or an afterlife, a creepy kind of undeath as zombie symbols, afterimages, ghost images, or what have you.

    Mutant Pop occurs whenever whenever these symbols and symbologies outgrow their sources. When they take root and incubate in impressionable minds. When they turn weird and grow tails and even get worked into a fullblown [sic] mythos by nice people such as yourselves. Happy, harmless spokesthings assume a self-consciousness. Fleeting-or-forgotten cultural moments, like Max Headroom, like Count Duckula, live on and haunt us through an infectious and hysterical freak culture. And the life-feeling in these images will even, at times, take on mystic or animistic dimensions; as a way of seeing God in the television, so to speak. It amounts, in a way, to a belief in a new, and somewhat noisier, mythos.” Continue reading ‘What Is “Mutant Pop”?’

    Hype: WSO!

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    If you’re in Copenhagen, I urge you to visit the grand retrospective on William Skotte Olsen opening today at Kastrupgårdsamlingen and running till 2 January. Skotte Olsen (1945-2005) is one of the great painters of his generation in Denmark, and anywhere really.

    While his oeuvre was plagued somewhat by overproduction, especially in the later years, his best work is amongst the most beautiful and affecting to come out of the 60s generation, merging expressive exuberance with spirituality affect in pictures of rare compositional acuity and deep colouristic sensitivity. A true original.

    Full disclosure: the show is curated by my father, who has also written the catalogue, but don’t let that deter you. Go — you won’t regret it.

    William Skotte Olsen, Figures and Birds with a Sunset, 1984, oil on canvas, 86 x 116 cm., Foreningen Kunst på Arbejdspladsen.

    Nikoline Werdelin at 50

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    The great Danish cartoonist and dramatist Nikoline Werdelin turned fifty today. Highly celebrated in her home country, her daily strip has chronicled the life and times of her countrymen since the mid-80s, with a distinctive voice blending quotidian realism with biting satire. Her plays supplement the ongoing narrative portrait of Denmark she has been building, making the oft-repeated claim that hers is the great Danish contemporary novel of the last 20 years seem less like hyperbole and more like fact with every year.

    She debuted as a strip cartoonist in the large, progressive daily Politiken in 1984 with Café, a satirical big city strip that caught acutely the Zeitgeist of those vainglorious boom years. The strip ended in 1988 but was essentially continued under a new name in 1994 with Homo Metropolis, also for Politiken where it has run intermittently ever since. Werdelin debuted as a playwright in 1997 with Liebhaverne, which she also directed, and has since followed it up with another six critically-acclaimed plays, mining the same territory as her strip.

    Although a couple of the plays have been performed abroad, she inexplicably is still virtually unknown outside Denmark. Only last year was a selection of her strips translated into English and published in the anthology of contemporary Danish comics, From Wonderland with Love. Universally (and unsurprisingly) singled out by almost every critic as the outstanding contribution to that book, her story “Because I Love You So Much” was nominated for an Eisner award.

    As a cartoonist, she is primarily distinguished for her sensitive ear for the vernacular of her time and her sense of spoken rhythm as broken down into four daily panels. Her drawing was always less assured, relying very much on a certain set of formulae refined over the years. Her cool, relief-like approach to design — almost deco in ambition — has invariably been hampered by the gelatinous inelegance of her linework, but with time she has made a virtue of these qualities, commandeering her line into remarkably expressive, ugly portraits of her fellow man, sometimes almost scabrous in their satire.

    And she is indeed merciless. A borderline if not full-blown cynic, her coldness is tempered by an exacting sense of humor that betrays her involvement. Plus it brings a rare clarity to her vision — she is a diagnostician rather than a nihilist. A refined observer of people, she has internalised the examples not only of such early cartoonist models as Claire Brétecher and Gérard Lauzier, whose work she has long since transcended, but more significantly the great 18th-century Danish playwright and satirist Ludvig Holberg and the modern tradition for urbane social comedy and satire he helped usher into European theatre and literature.

    A cartoonist for our age.

    Happy birthday Nikoline!

    Werdelin’s website. Fine recent interview (in Danish).
    From Wonderland with Love at Aben Maler and Fantagraphics.

    Pictures from Helsinki Comics Festival 2010

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    To my considerable regret, I could not attend the Helsinki Comics Festival this past weekend. It looked awesome, and sounded even more so from what I heard from Bunker associate Thomas Thorhauge, who was there as part of the Danish delegation, which also comprised one-time Bunker contributor Cav Bøgelund, as well as our buddies Simon Bukhave, Steffen Rayburn Maarup, Søren G. Mosdal and Christian Skovgaard. For those who read Danish, Thomas’ reports are here and here, while him and Cav have put together a nice flickr-set for everyone’s non-linguistic enjoyment.

    Anke Feuchtenberger in Copenhagen and Århus

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    The great Anke Feuchtenberger once again returns to Danmark for two related exhibitions. She will be present at the Scandianavian art fair Art Copenhagen in Forum, Copenhagen, 17-19 September, where she is part of a group show organised by Charlotte Fogh Contemporary (booth no. 5) that also includes the artists Ragnar Persson (S), Sam Kiyoumarsi (PH) and Andreas Sculenburg (D/DK). This will be followed up by a solo exhibition in Århus, at Charlotte Fogh Contemporary, which runs from 1-30 October.

    Feuchtenberger has exhibited and visted Denmark before: she was at Komiks.dk in 2006 and was part of the exhibition Comix at Brandts klædefabrik, Odense, in 2008, but this is her first solo show.

    Do go, this is one of the great cartoonists/draughtswomen of our time!

    DWYCK: Ishoku

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    My DWYCK column this month is a slightly edited, English translation of a 2004 essay I wrote on the great Yoshiharu Tsuge for the Danish comics magazine Strip! and which also appeared on Rackham.

    Ng Suat Tong today supplements my piece with a very fine close reading of Tsuge’s story “Red Flowers”, which he compares with Yasunari Kawabata’s novel The Sound of the Mountain.

    Picks of the Week

    “…hopefully the Steranko-crit drought will end soon, as more and more writers-about-comics get interested in the pure-visual dimension of things. Here’s a Steranko theme for yuh, though: nihilism. And not the limp, black cardigan, Gauloise cigs kind — rage and hate and total dessicated emptiness. Steranko — everywhere, but in Outland more than lots of other places — destroys his pages, welds these scabrous masses of information onto them, but they always refer back to the same void, this place beyond the story, outside the story. His first big continued saga, the Yellow Claw/SHIELD epic in Strange Tales, denies readers the kind of Kirbyist action climax that’s proper in these matters and ends on a big cresting cliffhanger, never resolved, with all the characters we’ve been following for issues and issues revealed as literal chess pieces, a shit-scary Dr. Doom howling with laughter as he manipulates them toward their deaths while shutting the story down with no ceremony whatsoever, spitting in our face, Marvel’s face, hero comics’ face. And don’t even get me started on “Today Earth Died”. Literary content? Steranko at his best wrote like a Borges from hell.”

    – Matt Seneca

    The picks of the week from around the web.

  • Deep Trouble. The reporting by Ben Casselman, Russel Gold and others on the BP oil spill for the Wall Street Journal is the most detailed and lucid reporting I’ve seen on the subject from a sheer clarity of information point of view. Based on meticulous research, they walk you through the establishment of the Deep Water Horizon for the drill, the day leading up to the explosion that caused the spill, and its chaotic aftermath with lucidity, layoing out the human errors as well as the technical details of the tragedy. Surely a Pulitzer contender.
  • Joe McCulloch and Matt Seneca on Kirby and Steranko. This conversation about Kirby’s 2001 and Steranko’s Outland adaptations is self-indulgently long, but these two smart critics drop enough gems to make it worth it. Especially Seneca’s thoughts on the critically under-appreciated Steranko are worth it.
  • Who Killed Cathy? Tim Kreider and Shaenon Garrity deliver great eulogies over Cathy Guisewite’s long-running newspaper strip, engaging it from two very different perspectives. Fine comics criticism.
  • Was the Copenhagen explosion terror-related?

    The news on Friday of an explosion at Hotel Jørgensen in the centre of Copenhagen and the initial report that the arrested suspect possessed effects suggesting he might have been targeting the Viby headquarters of Jyllands-Posten, the newspaper that published the 2005 Mohammad cartoons, is disturbing to say the least.

    The last bit of info, reported by the muck-raking tabloid Ekstra Bladet, that the suspect had a map with the newspaper’s address circled is apparently false, which I guess is a relief. The suspect, who apparently detonated his small bomb — perhaps intended for a letter — accidentally was hurt, but capable of interrogation via a French interpreter on Friday. He didn’t reveal anything, and the police are reluctant to jump to conclusions as to whether the he was intending to carry out a terrorist attack. They have released footage of him and a currently pursuing leads obtained from the public.

    It’ll be interesting to see whether their fears will be confirmed. The incident follows the arrest in Chicago last year of Tahawwur Rana and David Headley, suspected of planning to bomb Jyllands-Posten, and the latter involved in the planning of the 2008 Mumbai terrorist attack, as well as the home invasion earlier this year of the house ‘bomb in turban’ cartoonist Kurt Westergaard. Danes are slowly getting used to the still very new reality of being potential targets of terrorist attacks and one fears a political overreaction. But at least prime minister Lars Løkke Rasmussen emphasised in his initial statement that Danes should avoid letting it effect their daily way of life.

    L’Shana Tovah!

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    Nummer9: Rundbordssamtale om tegneseriekritik

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    Ansporet af Nanna Gouls kærkomne debatindspark/anmeldelse af Charles Burns’ Sort Hul i Weekendavisen for en måneds tid siden, har Goul, Thorhauge og jeg selv ovre på Nummer9 taget os en samtale om tegneseriekritik set primært fra et dansk perspektiv. Der bliver uddelt fygende håndmadder, så check det ud.

    Relateret: Marianne Eskebæk Larsen og undertegnede skrev på vegne af Dansk Tegneserieråd et læserbrev til Weekendavisen som svar på Gouls anmeldelse. Det kan læses her.

    Sekvens med tegneseriekritikeren Harry Naybors fra Dan Clowes’ Ice Haven.

    Picks of the Week

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    The picks of the week from around the web.

  • Jane Meyer, “Covert Operations”. New Yorker piece on the oil billionaires Charles and David Koch and their bankrolling of the libertarian cause, and currently the Tea Party movement. Fascinating reading on the workings of private enterprise in American politics.
  • The Imp. All four issue of Daniel Raeburn’s fanzine available for download. Features on Dan Clowes, Jack T. Chick, Chris Ware and Mexican historietas that make up some of the best comics criticism of the last two decades. A must.
  • What if Kirby. Great new site on the King of comics, with detailed scans of original art.