After having skipped a year, Paul Gravett is back with his annual roundup of the best comics worldwide. As usual, I’ve provided my view of what was best in Danish comics in 2019. My choices are reproduced below, but check the whole list here and here.
Rikke Villadsen will, by now, be known to American art comics cognoscenti, having had her first graphic novel, The Sea, published by Fantagraphics in 2018, with her second, Cowboy, slated for release this year. In Denmark she put out her third big book last year, the one here under review, and it’s her best, strangest, most affecting yet. It is marred somewhat by didactic and slightly rambling interspersed text pieces on sexual politics, but one quickly forgets about them while reading this intoxicating comic. The story starts with a woman fainting on a harbour pier and giving birth to a placenta-like speech balloon that grows into a broccoli tree while she is passed out. It disappears and she spends most of the story flicking about with clown’s makeup around her eyes and her jumper pulled up awkwardly to reveal her breasts. Perhaps she is looking for the lost child, perhaps not. She is at various times courted and helped by a warmly stoic man, the Tatooist of the title. They go to India where she meets an amorphic blob that becomes her therapist; she plunks down in a soldiers’ mess hall in the Korean war and proceeds to participate in an air raid in a sequence derived directly from Tintin in the Land of the Soviets. And so on. Villadsen is transcribing her dreams to decidedly surreal ends here, with equal amounts humour and horror. The atmosphere is redolent of David Lynch, while her charcoal-with-visible-palimpsests rendering style remains heavily indebted to Anke Feuchtenberger. But despite such obvious sources, Villadsen’s voice is becoming increasingly distinct. She deals with themes of female sexuality and motherhood in ways that are her own, and builds her narrative to a beautifully haunting finish.
My review in Danish newspaper Information.
The death save is a maneuver in pinball whereby you can save a ball that would otherwise be lost down one of the board’s outlines by gently pushing the machine one way, then jerking it in the opposite direction to make the ball ricochet back up into the game. It’s a cheat, but if executed right it will give you a second chance. That’s the central metaphor for this classically conceived coming-of-age story,. At its centre is Bassâ€”drawn as a red birdâ€”who comes to that point in his young life where he has to make important decisions in order not to lose himself to self-destructive impulse along with his friend, the desperado Rickâ€”drawn as a reptile reminiscent of Randall Boggs in Pixar’s Monsters Inc. Both are pinball fanatics, which provides the book with a handy symbolic device in the form of individual gaming situationsâ€”played on real, historic pinball machinesâ€”that reflect important points in the story. Rune Ryberg stages this drama masterfully, with soft and pliable character designs, swift panel-to-panel propulsion and high-fructose colouring. His training in animation serves him well, not just for his memorable character designs, but also their situation in a believable milieu. The central achievement of Death Save is its urban setting, sampling and combining elements of cities the world over, from Naples to New York, Chicago to Copenhagen. It breathes post-industrial decay, but is touched by a romantic patina. The plot may be a bit predictable and the characters rather typological, but its executed with such passion and energy that this seems secondary. Ryberg deservedly won the Ping Award for Best Danish Comic for it last year (note that Villadsen’s comic fell outside the nomination period).
My review in the Danish newspaper Information.
Emil Friis Ernst is among the talented recent graduates of the world-class Graphic Storytelling programme at the Viborg Animation Workshop. This was his graduation comic in 2017, but was released in a newly-coloured, English-language edition last year and created a bit of a buzz on the American festival circuit. It’s easy to see why: Friis Ernst has a striking sense of graphic patterning and effect and for dynamic panel-to-panel storytelling, and he tells a spectacularly expressive story rooted in pulp tropes that evokes a distinct sense of melancholia and precocious reflections on growing old. And he colours like a latter-day flower child. Friis Ernst also published his first book-length comic last year too: Reservat, written by crypto-fantasy author Dennis Gade Kofod. It’s a near-future, dystopian story of climate change and revelation, detailing the movement of five different people on a single, apocalyptic day between Copenhagen, the island of Bornholm and Mars. Unfortunately, its writing is rather purple and off-puttingly impersonal. Although slighter, more limited in scope and less visually accomplished, Dr Murder would therefore be my first-stop recommendation for discovering Friis Ernst’s work.
My review of Dr Death and Reservat in the Danish newspaper Information.