Same procedure as every year, Paul. In January Paul Gravett posted his “Books to Read: an International Perspective”, in which a plethora of comics specialists and afficionados from around the globe offer their selection of the best comics published that year in their respective countries. As I’ve done now for a number of years, I contributed the list of Danish comics. It is reproduced below, but do go and check Paul’s full list: part one, part two.
Among the most promising Danish comics debuts in a decade, this is the first volume of a trilogy telling the story of the cartoonist’s father. His youth in the borderlands between Armenia and Turkey is described with the kind of vividness that comes not only of a man with a good memory, but also of an attentive storyteller with a great sense of telling detail. Half-Turkish, half Armenian, the protagonist embodies the uncertain, untethered state of his hometown, circled as it is by Turkish soldiers guarding the peace, and haunted as it is by the bones of the Armenian genocide, still lining the roads. Central to the story is Pisket’s father’s short stint in the Turkish army, from which he deserts with fatal consequences. His motivation is partly political, but runs deeper, and Pisket is to be commended for trying to probe further, examining the more troubling aspects of his father’s personality and the sense of betrayal he clearly carries around.
Pisket’s approach is poetic, almost dreamlike—far from traditional realism, but clearly rooted in lived reality. His digitally executed line work, with its dramatically spotted blacks, is reminiscent of Didier Comès’ dreamy comics symbolism, while his use of visual metaphor—the Turkish solders all wear threatening, anonymising white burlap hoods, for instance—takes a page out of David B’s playbook. Pisket is possessed of a real talent for narrative drawing, however, composing pages that combine the visceral with the mysterious, and his prose is at times exquisitely evocative. While Pisket still struggles somewhat with the clarity of his storytelling, he is clearly a remarkable new voice in comics. The second volume, Kakerlak (‘Cockroach’), which describes Pisket’s father’s arrival as an immigrant in Denmark, will be published imminently. Read an eleven-page preview is available on issuu here and check out this interview with Pisket at Opaque Journal.
Based on the Norse sagas, this is a retelling the colonisation of Greenland by the Icelander Erik the Red and his relationship with his son, Leif the Lucky, the Christian convert who would subsequently ‘discover’ America. It is a portrait of a man who loses his grip in conflict with his son and becomes a symbol of the collapse of an old order in the face of a new one. Historic facts are interwoven with divine visions in an effort to evoke the spiritual milieu of the time, while the author’s oneiric inference in several impressively rendered sequences contributes additionally to what is essentially a darkly lyrical meditation on the thin line between power and marginalisation. Mosdal has always been interested in the outsider, or in people who consider themselves as such—see for example the compilation of his early stories in Gash (Slab-O-Concrete 2001) or his and Jacob Ørsted’s recent, hilarious generational satire Rockworld (Fahrenheit 2013; Hoochie Coochie, 2014).
His portrait of the marginalised patriarch Erik is by far his most ambitious work to date. It is, in part, also a failure: it was originally planned as a trilogy, which would also have covered in more depth Eric and the young Leif’s journey to Greenland, as well as the latter’s American adventure. Mosdal cut this sprawling project back to a single, fat volume, which makes for a confusing, unresolved read in places, exacerbating the difficulties with plotting and panel-to-panel continuity that characterises all his work. Nevertheless, this is a beautifully cartooned, haunting piece of work well worth the effort. Also available in French from Casterman. And here’s Mosdal’s tumblr.
In this, her second book-length work, Villadsen continues the examination of male archetypes and genre conventions started in 2011’s Ind fra havet. Her framework here is the western, with most of her characters plucked from Sergio Leone’s casting catalogue. However, this is a kind of psycho-sexual genre-bender, with two women—a whore and a young girl with transgender aspirations—at its centre. The various cowboys surrounding them strut around with their phallic implements, and one of them even gets to penetrate the whore with a fly on his member—something which Villadsen depicts from the inside!
Sounds gross, perhaps, but it’s actually rather hysterical, for Villadsen is a funny cartoonist, tempering her psychoanalytic insights with freewheeeling humour and inventive visuals. The dialogue is partly in Danish, partly in English, but it really is not all that important to know both languages to enjoy the book, which works in large part because of its expressive, painterly artwork. Villadsen, who relied heavily on the example of Anke Feuchtenberger in Ind fra havet, has matured considerably and has adapted her still-dominant inspiration to a sensibility that is actually quite different from that of the German master cartoonist. Rendered in ink wash with corrections and reinforcements left visible to the reader, this is lively, process-oriented storytelling brimming with ambition, if also rather heavy-handed in passages. A disillusioned statement on the biological underpinnings of gender that feels like a lively romp until it hits home. Here is Rikke’s tumblr.
Det Sarahkastiske hjørne (‘The Sarahcastic Nook’)
by Sarah Glerup
This online diary consisting of comics as well as text pieces is a deceptively powerful, honest day-by-day account of the life of a self-described “Lesbian, radical leftist, big sister-humanist nerd with muscular dystrophy”. Her condition makes Glerup’s point of view an unusual one, and one senses it informs her dry humour, but it is really just gravy in a strip which is plain funny, and not a little insightful. Glerup’s honesty is of the raw variety, but never becomes overbearing. She brings to material that in other hands might have been rather dour (such as being fitted with a respirator) a refreshingly cheeky, kinky gleam in the eye. The art is digitally wrought using vectors and is decidedly unlovely, reminding the reader of the motoric constrictions of the artist. A rather touching, paradoxical index of the artist’s hand. Its garish colouring and angular contouring also serve the material well—brutal and quite beautiful. [Sample strips above, prefaced on the Glerup's website with the heading “People tend to think that belonging to two minorities is hard. But in many ways being a cripple prepared me for a life being queer (and vice versa)..."]