Today’s Best of the Year piece has a distinctly Scandinavian flavour as we are joined by Jelle Hugaerts , who I’m sure some of our regular readers will recognise because he’s been kind enough to send some comics news and thoughts from Scandinavia in our direction from time to time. Jelle is serious supporter of comics and the ninth art in all its many forms, but naturally he has a special interest in those works coming out in his home in Finland and works by Finnish creators, although like most serious readers his interests range far and wide to encompass good books from any part of the world, an attitude helped by his upbringing (being raised and studying in Belgium, a country with two major languages, then moving to Finland and adding Finnish and English to his roster of languages, which makes me feel very inadequate at my atrophied knowledge of other languages.
One of the things I like about hearing from Jelle is that on one hand we get to hear about comics creators from other countries we might not otherwise hear about (except occasionally when very good publishers like Fantagraphics or D&Q translate them or feature them in anthologies), but as he is also reading some versions of books we see here too it also reminds me how wonderfully cross-cultural, cross-border a medium comics can be and that’s a thought that makes me happy. Jelle’s very kindly taken some time out from running his excellent Pitkä Mies website (well worth bookmarking) to have a look back at the last twelve months and share some of his personal highlights with us, so please have a look – you will see some familiar names here and some that will be completely new to you, but isn’t that part of the point of reading in the first place? Over to Jelle:
In general I would say that 2007 was a pretty tame year for comics and graphic novels especially. Ever since the market start booming (which I guess, happened with Chris Ware’s Jimmy Corrigan in 2000) there have been each year books coming out that caused a big bang. Books that perpetuated a growth, graphic novels that baffled people or that opened up new audience to the world of comics: books such as Persepolis (2004), Epileptic (2005), Blankets (2003) and Fun Home (2006, awarded book of the year by Time magazine)
I didn’t really see an equivalent of any of these books this year. As a matter of fact in my best of the year list the books are not up to par by a long shot with the aforementioned books as far approach or masterful storytelling goes.
I also didn’t see the equivalent likes of, for example, “Don’t go where I can’t follow” by Anders Nilsen. This low profile book was my personal best of 2006; it really floored me. An emotional super-punch that struck me because of the low key approach of Anders Nilsen, who dryly tells the story of his relationship with his girlfriend who was suddenly diagnosed with cancer and, sadly, just as rapidly died…
That being said, and getting all the negativity off from my shoulders, I would like to declare 2007 the year of Brian Chippendale. The unsuspecting audience had not yet recovered from his humongous Ninja book, which came out late November 2006 so it is basically a 2007 release, when he pulled out again with Maggots, a dense, dark and feverish pocket book. He then counterattacked once more with Galactikrap #2, an easy reading fun mini sci-fi art brut comic. On top of that he drummed on Björk’s new album and participated in that drumming performance 07/07/07 in which 77 drummers gathered to play together in Central Park, NY. Boy that must have been something.
But on to the comics then:
1. Princess of Time (John Vermileya)
I chose this comic because it is basically flawless. It works on all levels. And even though the comic itself is nothing out of the ordinary, I can’t see anybody not liking this. Princess of Time is a wordless, black and white comic tabloid that features three gentlemen smoking pipes, dressed as 19th century professors on a galaball. The drawings are very nice, kind of like early Moebius and the whole comic is in a very strict 9 panel per page division to let the whole joke work better. The story starts with those three gentlemen arriving in a car (with three steering wheels) at a strange building somewhere in the jungle. They end up in another universe and have to battle some sort of monster. It’s all pretty funny, actually and the end joke is so lame, that you can’t help but burst out. Don’t worry, I am not spoiling it here.
2. Powr Mastrs (C.F.)
It’s like badly drawn Moebius, but still better then what Moebius has done in say, the last 15 years. Besides, I have a beard and the beard party conversation cracked me up. Oddball fantasy, Dirk Deppey called it in Journalista.
3. Mr Wonderful (Daniel Clowes)
Let’s put it like this, anything that Daniel Clowes does and puts distance between us and the Artschool Confidential movie is a good thing. Clowes was the best thing that happened to comics in the 90s; why, oh why did he hook up with a mediocre movie director and start making lousy movies? Maybe Chris Ware was right when he said that the invention of movies was the worst thing that ever happened to comics.
4. Glömp 9 (Various Artists)
A steady collection of Finnish and foreign artists. Can’t come up with another compilation that displayed such a consistent pace of quality (and yes this includes “The best American comics of 2007”, since that one only contained what was already published in 2006). The exclusive story by Olivier Schrauwen about a phallus-obsessed cannibalistic tribe who eat the penises of their enemies is reason enough to buy the book. Dig this passage:
“I don’t understand how they could capture us so easily?”
“Yeah, how come the penis power didn’t work?”
“There were too many of them. Penis power doesn’t make us invincible.”
5. I Shall Destroy all Civilised Planets. (Fletcher Hanks)
This much talked about book works best reading the last chapter first and then consistently detecting hints of Fletcher Hanks‘ own life in the book. It will make these archetypal stories even more brutal. I don’t really understand people who say these drawings are crude or static: I for one thought the artwork and the use of colours worked beautifully. I also like the fact that Stardust, the main superhero in the book has basically two expressions: “Severe” and “More severe”
6. Garden Sketchbook (Anna-Kaisa Laine and Emma Willis)
This is a collaboration of the Finnish comic artist Anna-Kaisa Laine with her room mate Emma Willis and is simply a diary with drawings of the garden of both authors and all the plants they managed to grow for one year. The book looks really nice and reads like an exciting weather report. On top of that, it is just a great collection of tips on how to turn your backyard wasteland into a flourishing vegetable garden and how to battle slugs effectively. Funny stuff in here as well, as Anna-Kaisa is an eco warrior on a mission. For example, an effective tool against cats intruding in the garden turned out to be lion’s faeces. But it wasn’t approved by Anna-Kaisa. I quote: “A.K. wasn’t sure she wanted to support the zoo even if it was by buying lion dung”. But hey, who am I to mock, I am a vegan housecook myself…
7. Lucky volume 2 #1 (Gabrielle Bell).
The comics journal severely trashed Gabrielle Bell’s previous book and to some extent I agree. It was indeed a bit boring. The new issue of Lucky however, is a hit. Gabrielle pulls it off with a wonderful combination of the diary real life stuff with absurd dry humour fantasy.
8. Pullapelto (Amanda Vähämäki)
Amanda will feature in the upcoming Drawn and Quarterly Showcase book and by all means, please check it out. She is one of Finland’s finest cartoonists at this point who combines great half dream stories with Finnish youth memories and a thin beautiful pencil line. She used to be part of the Canicola collective in Italy but now is apparently in Finland and became a “kutilainen” (a Finnish word meaning: being part of Kuti (for what is Kuti, see below)
9. The Kuti tabloid and especially # 5, the anniversary issue.
The Kuti free newspaper sprung forth from the Kuti Kuti art studio which is basically a cheap office space studio rented by comic artists so they could affordably share a workspace. As regular as clockwork they produce every three month a free full colour comic tabloid that features their works and comics from likeminded spirits (Anders Nilsen, Yvan Alagbe, La Dernier Cri,..) in Finnish with English subtitles. It is a CMYK explosion reminiscent of the now legendary Paper Rodeo tabloid.
10. The conversation Seth, Joe Matt and Chester Brown have in the Spent book, in which I discovered that Chester Brown lives in the damp basement of his ex-girlfriend. (also well worth a look at Matt’s The Poor Bastard collection – Joe)
11. Isi on vähän väsynyt (Ville Ranta)
This one actually came out in 2005 but since it has a new ending and new pages I can easily slip it in the best of list. This was Ville’s first attempt at drawing in a very loose sketchy style. I am guessing his new drawing technique was a side effect of a new person coming into his life. With the birth of his baby daughter, his life was turned upside down and when Ville’s girlfriend took up studies again, Ville became a household dad.
He tried still to be a comic artist and kept running his publishing company Asema and hence came his inner struggle of what will become of him as an artist since there’s no more time for anything. Well, Ville, let me give you a tip: first stop whining, then take care of your daughter and the rest will find its own place in its own time. I have a small son myself so I know what I am talking about. Then again, I wouldn’t want my child to be diagnosed with diabetes and worry if I will have to spend the rest of my life in hospitals. It is also available in a French version, “Papa est un peu fatigué“.
12. Aapo Rapi’s run in Ilta Sanomat with his extremely hilarious Kelomökien mies
I have seen plenty of these worn out artists who spend their time drinking and lecturing young people in bars. Or, who spend 6 months preparing their “big exhibition” in some friend’s dodgy gallery and come with the idea of painting ten 2-meter-long cucumbers. Then 4 months later they have again an exhibition (same place) with again the same cucumbers only with the tops cut off. “I changed my concept a bit,” they confide in you. This small-press comic is about one of these artists: a hard drinking no talent who is angry at the world around him.
13. Honeymoon island (Terhi Ekebom)
Honeymoon Island is Terhi’s third longer graphic novel, made with ink and etching technique. The book includes five touching stories about troublesome relationships and brake-ups. Love is a mess!
14. Tunteiden Maisteri (Jarno Latva-Nikkola)
A doomed relationship makes our main character go ballistic. Or maybe it’s just the amount of alcohol he takes in that turns him into a lunatic. Well, he becomes more of a sad lunatic. But there’s a happy ending! Underground Finnish comic; sweating hearts, alcohol, war memories and sadistic behaviour – it’s all here in Jarno’s new book, which was created, as the author put it “usually during major hangovers”.
15. Shortcomings (Adrian Tomine)
This is the 2007 version of Ghost World. Crisp storytelling and artwork with plenty of jokes about being an American-Asian. It’s fun but not ha-ha funny; a story about love that “doesn’t have a shred of sentimentality on its bones”.
Looking forward to 2008:
As I am “in the know”, I can tell you this: Anders has already finished the Big Questions book (quite a while ago now), but we will still have to hold our horses until the fall of 2008 to read it finally in one glorious hardcover book.
Rusina: Katja Tukiainen
Katja Tukiainen, an award-winning comics artist, just has a picturebook out but I personally can’t wait to see her “Rusina” in print. I have read it, and the first 100 pages were definitely the best Finnish comic I have read this year.