It’s been a tough year, but thankfully that doesn’t mean good comics haven’t been made and published around the world! Once again, Paul Gravett is here to help us all get an overview with his by now tradition-rich internaitonal annual roundup of the best comics . As usual, I’ve provided my view of what was best in Danish comics in 2020. My choices are reproduced below, but check the whole list here.
by Halfdan Pisket
Pisket established himself emphatically with his great Dansker trilogy (2014:16), but he also created a tough challenge for himself. It was the vigorous and harrowing story of his Turkish-Armenian immigrant father’s life between countries, cultures and criminal justice systems. A powerful, personal story of the kind that is often hard to match a second time, as we have seen with Pisket’s role models, Art Spiegelman and David B. His new book Døden, however, is a worthy follow-upâ€”a kind of fictional reconfiguration of the same thematic field. It is the portrait of a young man’s inexorable dance with death, as the loyal companion of a dying friend in the cancer ward, as an ex-criminal haunted by his past and as an orphan of immigrants. Similar to the trilogy, it merges social realism with poetic fabulism and terse lyrical prose with inky, expressive drawing. It feels close to life as lived, while reaching for an epic register without feeling forced.
My review of Døden in the Danish newspaper Information.
I morgen bliver bedre 2: Dronningen (‘Tomorrow will be brighter 2: The Queen’)
by Karoline Stjernfelt
This is the greatly anticipated second volume of Stjernfelt’s trilogy on the mad Danish king Christian VII (reg. 1766:1808), his English queen Caroline Mathilde, his personal doctor Johan Friedrich Struensee and the so-called and very short-lived Danish Revolution of 1771:72. The first book, published in 2015, set the scene by bringing together the three central characters in pre-revolutionary Copenhagen. It was an enormously confident debut for Stjernfelt, and even something of a commercial success. This second volume ups the ante in every way, concentrating on the the famous romantic relationship between Caroline Mathilde and Struensee and how it empowered the young queen personally to assert herself at a court that regarded her as nothing but a means to an end. Stjernfelt’s interpretation of this historical episode is both eloquent and elegant, an affecting study of youthful love and rebellion set against the backdrop of Enlightenment idealism. It culminates in the radical reformsâ€”notably the most wide-ranging freedom of expression laws in historyâ€”that Struensee instates once he has gained the trust of the king through a combination of guile and genuine sympathy. This is a big project and the third and final volume, which will detail the political fallout and its tragic personal consequences, will evidently not see the light of day for another few years at best, but considering where we are, it is hard to see how it would not be worth the wait.
My review of I morgen bliver bedre 2 in the Danish newspaper Information.
by Line Jensen
Line Jensen has had a great year. When the pandemic hit in March, she was primed for it: Having chronicled for several years her daily life with two kids and a touring musician husband on Instagram, she was perfectly positioned to describe the unsettlement and anxiety brought on by the pandemic. She described lockdown with humour, warmth and precision, reminding her tens of thousands of followers that we were all in similar boats. She tends in her work to gloss over the darker or more troubling aspects of life, but her sense of everyday family dynamics is spot on and her bendy, cheeky drawings often laugh-out-loud funny. She supplemented this effort with a children’s book on Danish author Tove Ditlevsen, a national treasure, and opened an honest-to-god bricks-and-mortar shop selling her artwork and merchandise in defiance of the economic slowdown. At the end of the year, however, it is her account of a widely-shared ordinary life under extraordinary circumstances that remains with us.
Noget frygteligt er altid lige ved at ske (“Something awful is always just about to happen”)
by Lars Kramhøft
Lars Kramhøft is among the most ambitious younger Danish cartoonists working today. While he already has several books under his belt, this one felt like a bona fide arrival. The book is a semi-autobiographical account of a young man’s first year in the cartooning programme of the Viborg Animation Workshop, negotiating his artistic dreams with sometimes crippling social anxiety. It is also a thoughtful dissection of masculine identity in a society with rapidly shifting attitudes to gender. The protagonist’s flirtation with incel culture is ultimately too superficial truly to become interesting, but it ties in very smoothly with Kramhøft’s more organic treatment of his character’s suicidal tendencies, explored in recognition of the rising suicide rate among young men in Westen countries today. Kramhøft exhibits a terse grasp on structure and a works in clear rendering style that may owe a lot to Kevin Huizenga but works seamlessly. Noget frygteligt er altid lige ved at ske was awarded the Ping Award for Best Danish Comic of the year.
My review of Noget frygteligt er altid lige ved at ske in the Danish newspaper Information.
by Signe Parkins
Much to my shame, I missed this milestone work by one of Denmark’s most distinctive and fascinating cartoonists when I wrote last year’s roundup. It came out late in the year however, so I don’t feel too bad about including it here. Grøde is a chunky book of loosely connected drawingsâ€”and no words, so do try and get hold of itâ€”that add up to a vague if unmistakeable narrative of inner conflict and despair. The same character, a woman with long, bendy limbs and sagging breastsâ€”Parkins’ signature alter egoâ€”populates the pages in multiples, forming constellations of organic shapes and architectural structures. Themes of sex and motherhood are central in this tour de force of sequential drawingâ€”a difficult, depressed book, but also one of unflinching resolve.