Once again, Paul Gravett has taken a trip around the globe for his annual survey of the best in world comics. And as usual, I’ve contributed a small list of what I consider the best/most notable Danish comics of last year. Read the full list here and here, but just in case, here’s my contribution:
Rendered entirely in red ballpoint pen, this is an intense, visceral and — in large part because of the bright, busily hatched luminescent lifework — almost delirious wordless account of the beginnings of the 1791-1804 slave rebellion in Haiti. Although visual research clearly went into bringing the story to life, this is far from a dry historical account. It is, rather, a potent effort on the author’s part to express outrage at the legacy of colonialism as it endures today through very basic, painfully empathetic storytelling. While undeniably a little heavy-handed, and visually clearly indebted to the ballpoint paintings of Belgian artist Stéphane Mandelbaum (who also inspired the great Dominique Goblet to pick up the Bic), it is as undeniably an impressive first effort by the Danish-French author, which was justly awarded the Ping award for best debut at the Copenhagen Comics Festival last summer. Read a 17-page sampler here, an interview (in Danish) here, and watch a video interview (also in Danish) here.
Ting, jeg gjorde (‘Things I did’)
by Maren Uthaug
Uthaug is quite a phenomenon in Danish comics. After having built a sizeable (well, huge, for comics) and fiercely loyal audience on her personal blog for the last couple of years through a combination of deft, observant writing and hilarious cartooning about her daily life as a budding writer-artist and mother of four, she exploded into wider public consciousness by winning a widely-publicised competition for a spot in the daily newspaper Politikenâ€”the most prestigious and no doubt inspiring place to be for a strip cartoonist in Denmark (full disclosure: I was on the jury). The strip Ting, jeg gjorde (examples) continues in the same vein as her blogged diary, but is more universal in reach, using her personal experience as a springboard for perceptive exposition about life in Denmark right now. Her line is deceptively primitive. She works exclusively with remarkably expressive stick figures, capturing a wide range of posture, gesture and facial expression with startling simplicity. Her work might seem somewhat lightweight at first glance, concerned as it is with banal and at times somewhat bourgeois happenstance, but she brings to it unsentimental wit, intelligence born of experience, and even at times genuinely poetic nerve. In addition to drawing the strip, she has self-published a highly successful compilation of her blogged comics, Ellers går det godt (‘Otherwise everything is fine’), as well as an even more successful and critically acclaimed debut novel, Og sådan blev det (‘And that’s how it went’), which weaves her Sami heritage into a tale of growing up different. This has clearly been Uthaug’s year. Read an interview (in Danish) here.
This is thinly-veiled autobiography upgraded to generational social satire. Originally released as three individual comic book issues between 2007-2012, this book narrates the misadventures of the hopeless aesthete Bjørn and his equally hopeless slacker friends Steen and Totte. Conceived as a Danish pendant to Peter Bagge’s Hate!, it treads familiar ground in its recounting of late-night fiascos and youthful arrogance crashed, but its astute satire on how things like musical taste come to define and distort one’s identity in those formative years when one subsists on canned food and beer transcend the commonplace, becoming an indictment of, as much as a love letter to, youth and growing into maturity. Plus it’s hilariousâ€”Mosdal, here working in his thinnest, most cutting Viennese Secession-line fathoms a remarkably broad and precise expresssive range, from the goofy to the boozy, and the dialogue evokes a time and a place in the Nineties that is becoming increasingly distant, but has its natural analogues today. And the set-pieces are priceless: from Bjørn being robbed in the shitter by a gang of psycho dwarves, to the contents of a ripe, yellowed boil on his ass blowing up in the face of a buxom autist in a lake deep in the Swedish forest. It’s that kind of comic. Read the first issue in English here. Watch a video interview (in Danish) with the authors here, and read another, fun one here.