It was a surprise when Sammy Harkham and Picture Box publisher Dan Nadel announced their plans for Kramers Ergot 8 about a year ago. Some of us had assumed that the monumental Kramers Ergot 7 had been the decadent word in what has been by far the most groundbreaking comics anthology of the new century.
Despite good intentions and hard work, Kramers Ergot 7 was a disappointment, but on the other hand it was a book with everything to lose and little to gain, and at any rate it marked a fitting finale to a great run.
As an aesthetic project, Kramers Ergot has succeeded beyond the wildest expectations, and especially the breakthrough Kramers Ergot 4 remains the high point of helmsman Sammy Harkham’s anthology series.
The week in review
Whew! What a week. It seems the great things that have been brewing in Danish comics for the last few years are finally starting to make waves, what with a year of excellent and innovative homegrown comics, the resurrected Ping Awards, plans proceeding for an official educational track for comics makers at the fine Animation Workshop in Viborg, and the ambitious further development of the comics festival Komiks.dk, which has now changed its name to Copenhagen Comics and will once again be held in Ã˜ksnehallen, Copenhagen, in 2013 — bigger and better than ever, if the current signs are to be believed.
It’s all still baby steps of course, and there’s a long way to go before we can talk about genuine consolidation in terms of financial security or cultural clout. As things are, much of all this is run on a volunteer basis and a shoestring budget and it remains hard to muster the support, public or private, for comics accorded to other art forms in the country.
Still, the will seems to be there and good comics continue to be made. The photo above is from the release on Thursday of sometime Bunker denizen and my long-time collaborator (and Danish Comics Council chairman, and Ping director) Thomas Thorhauge’s latest comic, Det sidste ord (‘The Last Word’). The book compiles a series of strips done for the film section of the daily Politiken from 2009-2010, adding two longer, similar strips from elsewhere as well as a brand new one.
The concept is one that harks back to “M”, his contribution to BLÃ†K, an anthology we edited together in 2006 — a comic reprinted in English in the Fantagraphics/Aben Maler production From Wonderland with Love. Thomas takes authentic quotes from figures of interest and illustrates them in comics form. In the case of the Politiken strips, the focus is a diverse range of personalities from cinema. (One, on Godard, is republished in English here).
In the newspaper, they were primarily fun, satirical mini-portraits of the celebrities involved, but taken together they become much more than that — Thomas has been sensitive to certain types of quotes, dealing with issues of vanity, desire, aging, legacy, and death, and has crafted from them an acutely personal statement on life, all the while producing a very funny book. A direct jump from his last book’s youthful aspirations to something anticipating mid-life reflection. Give it a (second) look.
Photo by Frederik Høyer-Christensen. The entire set is here.
This week’s links:
This year, Danish comics culture is seeing the revival of the Ping Awards, an industry award last given back in the Nineties. Once a hall of fame prize, it is now awards cartoonists in five categories in the manner of the Angoulême Fauves. This year focuses on comics published in 2011, and five Danish comics have been selected in their particular category. Although I didn’t participate in the nomination process, I was involved in organizing the event, and was part of the jury that selected Rikke Bakman’s Glimt as Danish Comic of the Year. So I’m biased, but I can say immediately that it was very hard indeed to select a winner. Here are the five nominees — for my money not just the five best Danish comics of last year, but the strongest showing in Danish comics for a long time.
The Ping Awards gala last night? A success, no doubt about it. Sold out, full house, crowded and fun! The young event team had pulled out all the stops and were almost entirely stress-free. Things just worked.
Anyway, this was a major event in the small subculture that Danish comics, and one we hope will continue for many years. It was done on a shoestring budget and came off looking like, well, not like a million kroner, but really neat. And there was a real atmosphere of enthusiasm for comics, even from the media who have covered the event surprisingly soberly and smartly.
As for the Danish prize winners, they were remarkable not only for their quality, but also for what they tell us about Danish comics right now. I’ve written at some length about each of the nominees for Best Danish Comic for Paul Gravett’s Best of 2011 rundown, and the general conclusion bears repeating here: this is perhaps the strongest showing in a single year of the last decade or more. A long time.
Finally, it seems that Danish comics are shedding years of polished euro-mainstream fetishization of craft at the expense of ideas and expression. These comics have heart, they want to tell you something. Perhaps not unsurprisingly, the majority of them are by women.
With Danish comics culture having been male-dominated for way longer than those even of our closest neighbors in Sweden and Finland, it seems women understandably have stayed away. The great Nikoline Werdelin has been the main exception to the rule for years. But now women creators are making waves like never before with strong, original work.
That’s just one factor of course, but perhaps the most spectacular one right now. More generally, however, a new generation of cartoonists less concerned with the trends of the past is emerging, and considering the fact that the two big and longstanding big publishers, Carlsen and Egmont fused and went on more or less to implode a few years back, a surprising number of excellent comics from around the world are still being translated and published in Danish.
There’s still much room for improvement of course, and it remains a rather small fragile comics culture, but things are looking up!
Here are this year’s Ping winners:
Best Danish Debut: Post-it monstre by John Kenn Mortensen Best Comic for a Younger Audience: Ankomsten by Shaun Tan Best International Comic in Danish: Speedy Ortiz dør by Jaime Hernandez Best International Comics : Habibi by Craig Thompson Best Danish Online Comic: Signe Parkins & Drawings by Signe Parkins The Hall of Fame Award: Rolf Bülow and Søren Pedersen, founders of Fantask Best Danish Comic: Glimt by Rikke Bakman
Photo above by Niels Larsen. Check his Flickr set from the night here.
Who rocked the comics internet in Denmark? Who arrived on the scene with the biggest bang? Who spoke most convincingly to the youth? What’s going on abroad and how with it are we in Denmark? Who will enter the Danish Hall of Fame? And who blew up the spot on these shores?
These questions and many more will be answered in Lille Vega tonight. Hosted by media personality Anders Lund Madsen and featuring guest appearances from several of his colleagues, the night will also feature a live drawing event, music, and free beer for the early birds! Doors at seven, show starts at eight.
Get your tickets here.
Today the Nordic anthology KOLOR KLIMAX, published by Fantagraphics Books, ships from Diamond and thus becomes available in the US direct market. Chock full of the best and brightest in Nordic comics, one of the comics hotspots of the world right now.
Look for it in your nearest comics store or wait for its bookstore release coming up!
Here’s a preview:
På torsdag åbner Charlottenborgs forårsudstilling, i år med 70 kunstnere fra hele verden, deriblandt danske Gitte Broeng og Mikkel Damsbo, der udstiller originalsiderne til “Relocating Mother,” deres bidrag til den store nordiske antologi KOLOR KLIMAX, redigeret af undertegnede.
King ind forbi til ferniseringen og hils på kl. 19-22!