The New Chairman

Passing the mantle: Thomas Thorhauge and Stine Spedsbjerg at the Danish Comics Council general assembly in March


It happened a few weeks ago, but I figured I should still note it here: we have a new chairman, or rather chairwoman, of the Danish Comics Council. Elected at the general assembly on 18 March, Stine Spedsbjerg succeeds my pal Thomas Thorhauge who had decided to step down. Stine is a successful online cartoon diarist and earns her keep in advertising. She’s enormously enterprising and resourceful — I can’t think of a better person to take over.

The Danish Comics Council was founded in 2009. I was part of the founding group along with a diverse group of comics professionals, and have sat on the board since. Considering that we have had no funding apart from the annual fee paid by members, it’s been a productive five years: we’ve had a hand in the establishment of a state-approved cartoonist’s programme (BA, ‘graphic storytelling’) at the Animation Workshop in Viborg, Denmark — the first of its kind in Denmark; we’ve managed to place the semi-private Comics Museum archive with a state-recognized institution, the Storm P. Museum in Copenhagen, which secures it for the future in terms of preservation, collection, expansion, research and facilitation; we’ve created an comics award, the Ping, given annually to cartoonists in a number of categories; we’ve undertaken annual registration of all comics published in Denmark, published annually in a small compendium; we’ve arranged two conferences at the University of Copenhagen, one of which helped stimulate the establishment of the Nordic Network for Comics Research (NNCORE): we’ve partnered with the ambitious Danish comics biennial Copenhagen Comics; we’ve brought comics to wide audiences through live cartooning and other activities; and quite a lot more.

While Thomas takes a well-deserved breather (though remaining at the Council’s board), there is plenty for Stine to get up to. The Comics Council is still essentially an unfunded organisation and other affiliated groups such as Copenhagen Comics will also depend on more steady sources of funding to survive — the hope is eventually to secure larger, ongoing partnerships with possible patrons, as well as with the Danish State to help secure an institutional infrastructure for Danish comics in the future. And I know Stine also has ambitions for preaching the comics gospel to a much wider audience than is currently the case.

Here’s to the next half-decade!

Photo: Henrik Conradsen

The Week

Paolo Veronese, The Conversion of Mary Magdalene, about 1548, oil on canvas, 117.5 x 163.5 cm. London, The National Gallery.


In a couple of weeks’ time, we’re opening the first major show of the works of Venetian Renaissance artist Paolo Veronese in decades at the National Gallery. Although it falls within my area of responsibility and will therefore occupy much of my time for the next few months, it’s an exhibition I have had nothing to do with, having started at the gallery only a few months ago. But needless to say one I’m looking forward to immensely: it’s a privilege thus to be dropped into the midst of a great project on an artist of immense generosity.

It’s not just that his pictures pull out all the stops, that his art is a rarely paralleled display of elegance, magnificence, and virtuosity, it’s that there is something profoundly touching about those qualities in his work. He is one of the few artists who really understood the lessons of Raphael. His immaculate sense of composition, his grasp of form, two- as well as three-dimensional, his sensitive use of gesture, and the subtlety of his portrayal of human interaction are all elements in what seems to me a distinctly civilising art, to paraphrase Kenneth Clark’s characterisation of Raphael. Contemplating Veronese is not only a joy, it makes you feel better about life and who we are.

That’s the high register. Keep an eye on the NG website for further thoughts and more concrete analysis during the course of the exhibition. I’ll keep you posted here and on twitter.

Links:

  • “There Are Good Guys and Bad Guys.” Bhob Stewart’s classic essay on/obituary of Wally Wood reprinted at the Comics Journal to mark the passing of its author. RIP. Read it, it is one of the most evocative, personal texts of its kind in comics. Really brings the great, flawed cartoonist to life.
  • Nikoline Werdelin interviewed. Arguably the greatest living Danish cartoonist, Werdelin has rarely if ever been interviewed about her comics (she has often talked to journalists about other things — life, style, death, and everything in between), so this in-depth, work-oriented interview by Thomas Thorhauge is a major scoop. Unfortunately it is only available in Danish, as is indeed the case with most of her work. English readers can sample her in From Wonderland with Love.
  • Finally, this uncredited photo, from the Yarmouk refugee camp in Syria, is arresting, sobering, terrible. A reminder that something has to be done there. A no-fly zone blocking the government’s use of their air force remains a good place to start.
  • Trondheim on the Angoulême Grand Prix

    Illustration by Trondheim of the Angoulême mascot (designed by him) and Bill Watterson's Calvin

    Over at The Comics Journal, I’ve just posted a small article on the recent changes to the Grand Prix awarded at the Angoulême comics festival, this year to Bill Watterson. It is arguably the greatest formal honor bestowed in the comics world, and any change brings with it controversy, of course. I asked the great cartoonist, and member of the Grand Prix awarding body, Lewis Trondheim to help me out a bit. Check it out.

    Notable Comics Criticism of 2013

    From Jim Woodring's Fran, a comic Joe McCulloch made me appreciate more, even if the cartoonist's recent work has left me a bit cold


    Once again, Ng Suat Tong has posted an overview of some of the best comics criticism published online in the year gone by over at the Hooded Utilitarian. In previous years, he has gathered differing juries consisting of a fairly wide range of critics, but this year he has dispensed with that in favor of just selecting a bunch of pieces on his own.

    And once again, I’m flattered to be included on his list, especially considering just how little I’ve written in the past year. I’ve kept wanting to, but other things just kept getting in the way, and much as I want to say things are going to be different, that probably won’t change much in the coming year. Anyway, it was nice to see my piece on Abel Lanzac (aka. Antonin Baudry) and Christophe Blain’s Quai d’Orsay and Willem’s Degeulasse, written for The Comics Journal last August, mentioned. Especially since so many really excellent pieces (as well as some fairly mediocre one, it has to be said) were included.

    Suat’s taking stock, which has now been running for five years, remains a valuable service to the corner of the comics internet interested in serious writing about the art form, and I for one am grateful that he still makes the effort. Also, he continues to write outstanding comics criticism himself: from the last year, I particularly liked his critique of Michael Deforge(‘s critics), his appreciation of The Trigan Empire, his essay on Daniel Clowes’ because of Shia Laboef now rather famous “Justin M. Damiano”, his examination of Suehiro Maruo’s The Strange Tale of Panorama Island, and his head-scratching dissection of a particularly lauded xkcd story.

    Now, don’t waste more time here — go check out the list.

    The Week

    The week in review

    It’s been a while since I’ve done one of these and it will probably be a while yet before I do another one. Much happening in terms of relocating more permanently to London, so… but I just felt the itch to post something here wishing you all (those of you still reading this rather stagnant page) a happy new year. Over the holiday I rekindled my interest in the civil rights movement and black liberation in the US by reading Manning Marable’s fantastic, and controversial, biography of Malcolm X, A Life of Reinvention. Presenting by far the most nuanced view of this complex figure so far, it does more to make him human, real, in the reader’s eye than just about anything else I’ve read. My one quibble is that by being so scrupulous about presenting the details of his life, warts and all, it tends to lose sight of what made him, this leader who achieved very little in terms of concrete political results, such a crucial figure in modern American history. It lacks sufficient exegesis on his words and thoughts, despite an excellent closing chapter that aims to provide perspective. But don’t let that deter if you have any interest in American history or the civil rights movement. It’s a great book.

    With that, I figured I’d post the above video of Malcolm X speaking in Oxford (close to home for me now, that’s why, I guess!) in 1964, five or six months after having broken with the Nation of Islam. It’s a remarkable encapsulation of the fluctuating state of his thought at that moment, starting with a forceful statement of principle — the nature of American racism, the use of violence — entirely consistent with his earlier, more confrontational rhetoric, passes through a Barry Goldwater quote as well — poignantly — as one from Hamlet, to an approchement to the civil rights movement and embrace of the vote as a potential game changer for black Americans. And he ends on a universalist, revolutionary call for action. There are greater moments to be found in his many speeches and interviews (the Malcolm X Project at Columbia University is a good place to start learning more), but I love the eclecticism and coherence of this clip.

    More links:

  • For those that missed it, Barton Gellman of the Washington Post interviewed Edward Snowden at some length last week. The paper also provided a disturbing perspective on the development of quantum computers and what it may mean for universal surveillance.
  • For Danish readers, this piece on how Green Growth has become a global buzzword over the last ten years , loosening the purse strings of corporations as well as government worldwide, is worth checking out. The same goes for Rune Lykkeberg’s piece on how the centre-left seems to have taken back the microphone in the Danish discourse on moral values.