Danish Comics of the Year 2017


A little late this year perhaps, but I’ve now contributed my selection of last year’s best Danish comics to Paul Gravett’s annual international year in review feature. Go check out his full list, with the first part here and the second here, or peep my choices right here:

Fiesta-Magasinet (‘The Fiesta Magazine’)
by Various authors
Fiesta-forlaget
Last year, a trio of veterans of the Danish comics scene, Mårdøn Smet, Peter Kielland and Johan F. Krarup and revived the kind of comic book concept in which they made their names: the saddle-stitched, occasionally-appearing (mostly) black and white anthology. The result is Fiesta-Magasinet and in many ways it’s like the eighties or nineties all over again: three highly accomplished cartoonists and a bunch of invited talent producing short strips purely for fun, and pouring their heart into it. Smet continues to refine his particular type of cartoon (e)scatology and philosophy, pushing the limits of cartoon readability while aiming his always mordant satire at identity politics; Kielland finds a winning formula by having dictators such as Vladimir Putin, Kim Jong-Un and Recep Tayyip Erdogan tell us about their comics collections; and Krarup continues his long-running, harrowingly funny adventures of the dysfunctional and homosocial everyday heroes Bruce and Robin. Fiesta has so far appeared with surprising regularity — five issues are out already, plus a special edition devoted to the end of the world. Excellent work by such underground luminaries and up-and-comers as Line Høj Høstrup, Christian Henry, Clara Jetsmark, Nanna Amstrup, and others are the icing on the cake. Who would have thought such an an anachronistic endeavor would become a platform for some of the best Danish comics of the moment?

Grus (‘Gravel’)
Anna Degnbol
Fahrenheit
In her second graphic novel, Degnbol tells the story of a woman who returns to the small countryside town in which she grew up to tend to her mother after the latter has fallen into a coma. Degnbol marshals the well-established narrative device of physical homecoming triggering a return to an unresolved past with great sensitivity and narrative purpose. The flashbacks she interweaves from the protagonist’s youth are pitch-perfect renditions of high school anxiety and abandon, while the tersely staged present-tense narrative combines empathetic psychological realism with a bona fide ghost story of the kind that might feel contrived, but reads as an entirely natural enhancement of the story. Degnbol’s visual storytelling is unfailingly clear while suggestively textured in ways that are reminiscent of cartoonists as different as Debbie Drechsler, Jason Lutes, and Edward Gorey. This book establishes Degnbol as a major emerging voice in Danish comics.

Tusindfryd (‘Daisies’)
by Signe Parkins
Cobolt/Aben Maler
Parkins is amongst the most imaginative and provocative drawers in Danish cartooning. In this, her most satisfyingly resolved book to date, she combines more or less randomly generated verse with free-form drawing to craft a sustained lyrical mediation on sex, gender, and nature. She avidly employs organic metonymies, such as plants and insects doubling as signifiers of human procreation and ageing, as well as motifs of dissection and small-box categorisation to describe the way we inevitably order our life. One senses suppressed rage in the otherwise light-footed, intoxicatingly flowering proceedings and it seems to be here that Parkins needs to concentrate her energies in the future, without flinching, if she wishes to take things to the next level. In the meantime, these are exhilaratingly distinct and enjoyable comics that deserve an international audience.

Hjem (‘Homes’)
by Bue Bredsdorff
Basilisk
A small slip-cased collection of three thematically-linked minicomics produced by Bredsdorff over the last few years, this publication pulls into focus his distinct talents as a visual storyteller and chronicler of the intersection between place and memory. “Huset i Sønderhå” (‘The House in Sønderhå’) threads together individual verbal-visual details, that are simultaneously memories, of the artist’s childhood home in the Danish countryside; “Husumgade 30” (´Husum Street 30´) does the same for his bachelor’s pad in the Nørrebro section of Copenhagen, while “Ly” (‘Shelter’) mixes things up by detailing visually the construction of a small wooden house in almost DIY-catalogue fashion, but rendered with a thin, nervous line that enunciates emotional investment. The contrast to the smudged pencil of the preceding booklets, “Ly” brings Bredsdorrf’s memories into the present and applies them to the fundamental theme of (literal) homemaking, of constructing where we belong, in every sense.

Fortress
by Sofie Louise Dam
The Animation Workshop
Last year saw the first class graduate from the newly-established four-year Visual Storytelling programme at the Animation Workshop in Viborg, a major new institutional presence in Danish comics and cartooning. Sofie Louise Dam is one of several distinct talents to have emerged from that first crop and her graduation comic is a remarkably confident work of comics reportage. Marking the centenary of Denmark’s sale of its three West Indian Colonies, St Thomas, St John and St Croix, Dam travelled there to meet an American descendant of Danish-owned slaves, a contemporary of hers, to learn together of their shared past. She works in a sketchy, digitally drawn line and two tones of colour reminiscent of Frank Santoro’s work to detail a fairly banal tourist visit as well as to summarise in her narration the discussions and thoughts it brought to the two travellers. While no profound insights are gained, it’s an earnest and quietly powerful chronicle of discovery that prompts questions of Danish self-understanding through the elucidation of a past we as a nation have collectively wiped from our imagined community.

Here are my picks for 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015 and 2016.

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