Danish Comic of the Year 2012

As he does every year, Paul Gravett has rounded up proposals for the best national comics of the year from an international panel of experts. This time around, he asked us to name just one comic rather than several, as we usually do — not everyone followed this direction, but I did. Here’s my pick, but do go to Paul’s site for the entire list.

Stig & Martha
by Mårdøn Smet
Aben Maler

This slim, tall tome collects one of the hidden gems of Danish comics of the past twenty years. Since it first saw the light of day in the seminal anthology magazine Fahrenheit in 1992, Mårdøn Smet’s (e)scathological gag strip has led a liminal and rather intermittent existence in Danish comics, providing small revelations for the intrepid few. Now a wider, if still discerning, audience gets the chance with this near-complete collection. Smet has jettisoned a few early efforts and redrawn a few others in glorious watercolour, fashioning a seamless whole of what was always a shatter of fragments.

Eponymously titled, the strip centers on two characters: short and tall, male and female, ambitious and sensitive, rational and emotional. In Smet’s hands, this classic formula becomes a vehicle for sacred reflection through profane humor. Smet’s line was built as a pastiche on Dutch masters Fred Julsing and Daan Jippes, but has long transcended its paragons to become an almost cryptogtaphic idiom, where buoyant dynamism is encoded in multitudinous swoops and curls. An embodiment of the failure of language, appropriately set in pantomime – everybody can read it, if they are willing to brave the line. Smet himself describes it as a kind of ‘waste product’, the art shed by his despair. It is grim, but very human, centering on irrepressible if always vain aspiration. Tense and beautiful.

Here’s a preview:

For previous lists, here are mine from 2009, 2010, and 2011.

Danish Comics Go Museum!

Holger Philipsen wishes Storm P. a happy sixtieth in 1942


Denmark has a new museum for comics! Well, sort of, and as good as. As of today it is official: the collections of the long dormant Danish Comics Museum have now found a permanent home at the Storm P. Museum in Copenhagen. This means that the latter, a long-standing and well-respected museum dedicated to the greatest Danish cartoonist (1882-1949), now expands its scope to encompass comics as a medium and art form, with ambitions to maintain, expand and conduct research.

The man of the hour is Anders Hjorth-Jørgensen, whom one might call the Bill Blackbeard of Danish comics. Educated as a librarian, he was inspired early on in his career systematically to collect Danish comics publications, eventually amassing an expansive collection covering the century-long history of Danish comics, with a nearly complete collection of all comics published in Denmark since 1950. This collection formed the basis of the Danish Comics Museum, which Hjorth-Jørgensen opened in Gørlev, in Western Sealand, in 1993. The museum however closed its doors in 2001, living on in different makeshift incarnations, first at the nearby library, since at Kalundborg Museum, as well as a rich online resource on Danish comics.

As of now, the museum is no more. The collection has been transferred to the Storm P. Museum within which it will be titled the Anders Hjorth-Jørgensen Collection. The Storm P. Museum, under the leadership of director Iben Overgaard, has agreed to maintain and continue to build the collection, as well as make it available to scholars and the public at large. This is a major event in Danish comics, securing for posteriority this important piece of Danish cultural history, while further consolidating the Storm P. Museum as a central institution for Danish comics and cartooning.

The idea to thus secure the Hjorth-Jørgensen collection originated with the Danish Comics Council, with art historian Louise C. Larsen, journalist Søren Vinterberg, and yours truly midwifing the negotiations between the director of the Storm P. Museum and Anders Hjorth-Jørgensen. We are overjoyed with the agreement they reached. A great day for comics in Denmark.

Oh right, here I am talking about the news on Danish radio. And if you’re in town, do show up at the museum on 7 February at 5pm for the official reception, featuring live cartooning and much more.

Dongery at The Comics Journal


Today at The Comics Journal the latest installment of my column on European comics, “Common Currency”, features the Norwegian cartoonists’ collective Dongery, specifically the monumental compilation of a decade and a half’s worth of fanzines, published last year. Hop on over there for a primer on some of the freshest stuff in comics right now.

Building Stories Roundtable at Nummer9


For those who read Danish, or are willing to brave a Google translation, myself and a few colleagues — Thomas Thorhauge, Erik Barkman and Johan F. Krarup — have discussed Chris Ware’s latest major publication, Building Stories — one of the past year’s most anticipated and remarkable comics — at some length in roundtable-style format. It’s at the comics site Nummer9 and can be read here.

The Week

The week in review

Once again, I find myself moving house. This is the fifth time in two years. It’s a drag, but promises to be good once it’s done. This just to say that for the next while there’s a better than normal reason for spotty updates here, or at the very least incomplete ones. Such as this one.

Damn, sometimes I wish I didn’t own so much junk.

At least, here are some links:

  • James Meek on Breaking Bad. Fine piece arguing for the political edge to the excellent, if perhaps somewhat overlong, AMC show. Having enjoyed a large chunk of the series over the holidays, I must say that I share Meek’s enthusiasm, even if I have my reservations when subjecting it to closer analysis. Intelligent entertainment building a grand, if flawed conceit of chemistry as a metaphor for life.
  • Tom Spurgeon’s series of holiday interviews with comics folks are always a treat. I’ve missed most of them and his site doesn’t make them easy to find, but I’m sure he’ll post an overview with links once he’s done. Today’s interview with the fine cartoonist and groundbreaking editor Sammy Harkham is a good place to park yourself while waiting.
  • Huijbert van Opstal on Victorian Age wood engraving and its cartoon offshoots. The piece, which was inspired by a revelatory meeting of the Platinum Age nerd mind (guilty as charged) at Angoulême last year, this should be unknown territory to most people, including comics afficionados.
  • This article on Shigeru Mizuki’s autobiographically comics about the second world war is informative, but the real treat is a scanlated version of his key story on the subject “War and Japan” (1991). I’ve referred you all to it before, but that link is now dead, so here’s your re-up.
  • 2012: The Year in Hip Hop at Rapspot


    As always, we the people of Rapspot have selected our favorites (as well as the wackest) of the year 2012. The text is in Danish, but check out the list anyway, there’s some good stuff on it and for once I agree with the to highest-scoring records. I hope to write up my own shortlist soon, so stay tuned.

    Above: watch Kendrick Lamar break down the truth behind the most personal track on his brilliant major label debut album good kid m.A.A.d city.

    Politiken udskriver stribekonkurrence

    Fra Jakob Martin Strids Politiken-stribe anno 2001


    Som Politiken-læsere og iagttagere af det danske tegneseriemiljø vil have bemærket, har det venerable dagblad netop udskrevet en tegneseriekonkurrence. De kigger efter den næste store Politiken-stribe, der kan være med til at tegne bladets grafiske identitet på tryk og internet i de kommende år. Det er noget af en begivenhed, fordi netop Politiken altid har været tegnernes hjemsted nummer ét i den danske presse og blot i de seneste årtier har givet spalteplads til centrale danske tegneserieskabere som Nikoline Werdelin, Ivar Gjørup og Jakob Martin Strid.

    Tag endelig den anbefaling for gode varer, selvom den kommer fra et af medlemmerne af den jury, der om en måneds tid skal kåre vinderen. Jeg håber meget, at så mange tegnere — erfarne såvel som nye! — som overhovedet muligt derude vil byde ind. Og se at komme ud af starthullerne, for fristen er forholdsvis kort.

    Læs mere og konsulter vejledningen her.

    Happy New Year

    The Week

    The week in review

    On Christmas eve, 18-year old Joshua Davis was shot dead in the West Englewood section of Chicago. He was an aspiring rapper, going under the name Jayloud. He was killed in an altercation, allegedly because he was wearing a hoodie bearing the name of his close friend, the rapper Lil Jojo, himself shot to death in October. Another couple of statistics, I suppose, in a country suffering thousands of murders, the majority by guns, every year. Another couple of footnotes, I suppose, in the ongoing self-destruction wrought by poor inner city youth on themselves. But tragedy, first and last.

    The only reason I know about these deaths is because of the hip hop connection. The power of hip hop, in large part, has always been the voice it gives to subaltern parts of the world, primarily the United States. This is its lifeblood and its discontent. In the present case, hip hop music played an integral part in the gang feud leading to the killings, and secured for it much broader exposure than other such — from a news perspective — sadly routine events tend to get. Hip hop can be a beautiful thing, it carries a promise of emancipation, but gnawing at its core is a despairing nihilism reflective of its brain trust. It’s enough to make you wanna holler.

    RIP

  • The New York Times has a section up remembering notable people who died in the course of the year. I found this one on legendary graffiti writer Stay High 149 poignant, this one on Adam “MCA” Yauch incisive, and this radio clip with the great Maurice Sendak is very moving.
  • Keiji Nakazawa, creator of the blunt, shocking memoir of surviving Hiroshima, Hadashi no Gen (1973-1985, Barefoot Gen) also passed away this week. For those who read Danish, I wrote an obituary at Nummer9. Read a scanlation of his first work to engage the aftermath of the atom bomb, Kuroi Ame ni Utarete (‘Struck by Black Rain, 1972) here.
  • Last but not least, Marva Whitney, arguably the rawest vocalist to have worked with James Brown, died just before Christmas. He gruff, rousing voice lives on in legendary recording such as “Unwind Yourself” and “It’s My Thing.”
  • Cool Comics Documented


    So, Cool Comics — the exhibition I co-curated at Gammel Holtegaard (greater Copenhagen) — is over. For a show running just a month on a modest budget and with very little prep time, I was impressed with what they pulled off at the gallery and it seems it was a success, with a good number of visitors and lots of media coverage through its run.

    The director Mads Damsbo is really dedicated to showcasing the intersection between popular culture and high art and is planning to continue to do so in the coming years with new iterations of the Cool Comics idea. Color me excited that we have a gallery that devotes its energy simultaneously to such forms as comics, animation and digital media and to once popular, now enshrined high art such as the drawings of François Boucher — the object of a world class selection of drawings displayed beautifully at Gammel Holtegaard just prior to Cool Comics.

    Click on over to the Bunker’s photo page to experience our virtual walk-through of the exhibition courtesy of our ailing Canon Ixus camera. Enjoy, and keep an eye on future shows at Gammel Holtegaard!

    Merry Christmas

    El Greco, Adoration of the Shepherds, 1612-1614, Museo del Prado, Madrid

    The Week

    The week in review

    This holiday week, I thought I’d share a couple of insightful nuggets pertaining to particular corners of the hip hop and comics worlds that are dear to me. Little gifts of extemporal criticism, if you will. First up is cartoonist Emmanuel Guibert on the genius of André Franquin, creator of Gaston Lagaffe, from this interview on the former’s latest — great! — book L’Enfance d’Alan:

    I recently gave a talk on Franquin at a library seminar. I kind of went on a tirade to express my great appreciation I have for certain people, and especially him. This was a guy who, to me, lived his entire life, without filter. He endured perpetual and tremendous nervous stress because of his great sensitivity. Everything resonated with him: people, plants, animals, architecture… everything that surrounded him clearly affected him, haunted him, obsessed him… Naturally, this resulted in episodes of great melancholy, but this is how it had to be. When you have this human quality, which to me borders on the martyrological, there is inevitably an aspect of sacrifice. To capture the world, making the effort to do so when you’re possessed of a nervous temperament such as his, is restorative.

    Franquin’s nervousness is something singular. When you read Gaston Lagaffe or Spirou with an understanding of its aspect of frustration, of repetition, of the wear and tear of daily life (that one never succeeds in signing a contract, for example [a reference to a running gag in Gaston])… all this explains the grinding of teeth, the difficulties his characters have with fitting in… and at the centre of all this, it felt natural for Franquin to place the character Gaston, who — in contrast to himself — remained entirely unaffected. I think it would be worthwhile to write about all this. Perhaps I’ll do so one day, but it’s amazing how far it goes. And I think this explains the intensity of the passion some people have for comics.

    (The imperfect translation is mine). Next up is drummer and anchorman of the hip hop band The Roots, Questlove, ostensibly on Rob Base and DJ E-Z Rock’s classic “It Takes Two”, from his enjoyable list of fifty favourite hip hop cuts from the beginnings to his own professional debut in 1995. What an occasion to talk about James Brown’s drummers?

    For all of the James Brown/Clyde Stubblefield “Funky Drummer” sample folklore talk out there, I rarely hear conversation about the James Brown drummer who actually got sampled more than my idol Clyde did. John “Jabo” Starks was the Beatles to Clyde’s Stones. A clean shuffle drummer to Clyde’s free-jazz left hand. Clyde fit more with Public Enemy’s pop-art-rock sporadic vision. Emphasis on everything surrounding the one beat, thus making other parts of your body shake in order to keep up with his rhythm – see “Mother Popcorn,” “It’s A New Day” and “Give It Up or Turn It Loose.” Jabo’s sparse, all-on-the-one funk was more at home with conservative soul lovers – see “Hot Pants,” “Escapism” and “The Payback” – which is why it makes total sense that Clyde’s panic style was the anchor to drum and bass music and other experimental styles, while Jabo was the anchor of the New Jack Swing movement. He was always reliably on the one and never, ever in the way. Jabo’s go-to magnum opus was on the five-break-filled JB-produced “Think (About It)” by Lyn Collins. James’ holy ghost yelp almost threatens to upstage Starks’ show, but it’s Starks’ steady glide that gave R&B music its blueprint some 15 years after its release.

    Apocalypse Now

    Not that I want to jump on the silly media bandwagon or anything, but this End of Days affords me the opportunity to post the video above, for seminal Danish hip hop group Malk de Koijn’s “Braget” (‘The Boom’), written and directed atmospherically by Tobias Gundorff Boesen, alumnus of The Animation Workshop in Viborg — the school which has just announced a new educational track for comics makers. From the Gilliamesque vistas of a Copenhagen apocalypse to the Tarkoskyesque finish, it shows a keen visual talent and a sure directorial hand.

    Happy Apocalypse. Next.

    The Week

    Never Just a Joke: Representations of Race in Scandinavia


    Over at Hooded Utilitarian, the latest installment of my very irregular column, DWYCK, focuses on recent media controversies in Sweden over representations of race: Stina Wirsén’s empoyment of pickaninny stereotyping for her childrens book and film character Lilla Hjärtat and Makote Aj Linde’s infamous cake installation at Moderna Museet in Stockholm earlier this year.

    The dicussion also touches upon the media kerfuffle a few months back over the projected removal of Hergé’s Tintin in the Congo to the adult section of the Kulturhuset library in the same city, as well as — inevitably — the Danish cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad. It’s a complicated set of issues that have implications of cultural integration and free speech and I’d love to hear your opinion, so pop over there and have a look.