Magnus Engström made his debut in 2011 with the graphic novel Luftspår (Air Track), an experimental detective story with existential dimensions. Skuggfärd (Shadow Road) is a kind of sequel, in the sense that it once again contains a detective/thriller story used as a tool to discuss other issues, in this case, what happens after death.
This is the tenth chronological collection of the classic Belgian adventure comic Spirou and Fantasio, and includes three albums from the early 1970s.
The creator of this epoch, Fournier, inherited the comic from André Franquin, whom most view as the master artist of the series. Fournier’s style is not quite as dynamic, but is clearly based in the same school and works surprisingly well for these comics. Not the least does the somewhat more rigid style fit these typical, somewhat didactic 1970s stories, in which Fournier tries to remedy the fact that the previous comics with Spirou and Fantasio took place in a traditional boys adventure world by introducing a strong female supporting character, a number of believable colored characters as well as a more modern view of life in the third world.
The classic Belgian album series Spirou and Fantasia was created in the 1930s and since then a number of different comics artists have shouldered the responsibility of creating this humorous adventure comic. After a number of years when the series was less artistically interesting, the creative duo of Tome (Philippe Tome) & Janry (Jean-Richard Geurts) took over the reins in the early 1980s and restored the comic to its former glory, and not at least made it more contemporary. This volume contains four of their best albums, in which the two adventurers and journalists travel around the globe.
The most interesting story is set in in Russia just after the Berlin Wall fell. A story that despite or perhaps because of the humorous tone and the caricatured style, really feels like a historical document about this now long lost era.
As for the art, Tome & Janry have here really hit their stride with their modern take of the classical Marcinelle style. This volume is complemented by a long preface that puts the comics in their historical contexts and also contains an abundance of photos, alternate covers, illustrations and other interesting material.
Entertaining, well-made comics, which despite the humorous adventure genre often contains serious themes.
The second volume of the Spirou writer and artist Tome’s crime comic Soda. This is an improvement compared to the first volume, both in terms of the script and the art. The story mostly comprises of a flashback, a so-called origin story, in which we get to know why the protagonist became a police officer but insists on pretending that he is a priest to his worried mother. This story has some pretty big logical holes in it but it is entertaining, not least thanks to all the depraved inhabitants of the dilapidated house the main character lived in when he arrived to New York. Had this series been published when I was a kid and devoured everything that was published in the French-Belgian album format, I probably would have loved it. Today, several decades later, this comic feels historically interesting as it colours my perception of Tome & Janry’s Spirou, but it is probably mostly my love for the Marcinelle style that has me reaching for the next volume.
The fourteens volume, and still an adrenaline rush… You’d think that Kirkman would have milked this post apocalyptic zombie concept for all its worth by now, but he still manages to get me involved in the lives of the characters, and making me quite exhausted after finishing reading. And with that cliffhanger (SPOILER ALLERT) of having Rick’s son’s life hanging in the balance, you can bet I’m reaching for volume 15 as soon as I stop typing.
The first volume of the Spriou artist and writer Tome’s “other” album series, Soda. In France, there are so far thirteen albums since the debut in the late 1980s and the comic is on its third artist by now. Soda is based on the standard story about the not too clever but honest and energetic New York Police officer who solves cases by running, jumping and chasing around. Positive, non-stereotypical traits in this, the very first volume is the fact that the main character lives with his elderly mother and in order to to reassure her dresses up as a priest each time he goes home, and that one of the more important supporting characters is a strong and intelligent woman. Warnant’s drawings end up on the slightly more realistic side of the scale for Marcinelle-artist, but a Janry (the artist working with Tome on the Spriou series), he is not…
Charlie Christensen is back with the twelfth collection of the cult comic Arne Anka. These volumes are nowadays only partly collections of the short comics that Christensen makes for a Swedish newspaper, which as always contain satirical comments about our time, presented as a dialogue between the main protagonist and his friends as they stumble from bar to bar. Most of the book, however, contains a longer stand-alone comic made especially for this book. This time Christensen addresses the terrorist attacks that has shook the world in the last few years, and in particular the attack against Charlie Hebdo, and how we react to these threats. This difficult question is discussed from a philosophical perspective and a large part of the comic is set in Europe in the 15th century, where the operations of the Inquisition are contrasted with what is happening now. An interesting contribution to the debate on freedom of expression, by a master of comic art. This should really be translated into other languages, as it deserves a larger audience.
This is a little gem of a graphic novel. Set in Russia after a world war in the near future that seems to have wiped out most of humanity (here made up of anthropomorphic pigs…) and most of the technology. A small group of survivors have built themselves a true communist society and are trying to make do, while they are all slowly dying from radioactive poisoning. The protagonist is a former soldier who deserted and are now trying to make himself useful by biking around, helping out, solving disputes etc., while coughing worse and worse. It’s sad, beautiful and touching, and really far from many other, more chaotic, action filled post apocalyptic dystopias. I do hope we will see more stories from this world in the future.
The Finnish artist Tommi Musturi creates wordless, symbolic comics, often with four square panels per page and images brimming over with imaginative details and richness of color. Inspiration can be discerned from Hergé and Joost Swartes ligne claire, but also from Jim Woodring’s whimsical, hypnotic comics. The main character is a simple, stylized white figure which rarely shows any emotion despite being exposed to everything from traveling backwards from the tomb of the womb, to the artist’s hand literally, and forcefully intervening in the storyline. The short comics contained in this book are not clearly linked, and are divided with what appears to be individual, non-sequitur illustrations. Overall, the book’s content, however, creates a unified feeling that lingers after reading.
Yet another volume in the album series Les Tuniques Bleues (The Blue Tunics), and as per usual, it´s a traditional, well-made comic in the classical French-Belgian album tradition. The plot is pretty thin – someone within their own ranks is trying to assassinate General Ulysses S. Grant, and as he becomes more and more paranoid, the rest of the camp is trying to figure out who might be behind it all. Cauvin delivers yet another OK script, but it’s Lambil’s artwork that lifts this album above the average. Not the best album in the series, but well worth reading.
Åsa Grennvall is back with a sequel to the critically acclaimed Deras ryggar luktade så gott (Their backs smelled so good). In a sense, this book starts right where the previous one ended and deals with how Grennvall starts her own family and how this leads to her finally dealing with the relationship with her dad and his (non-existent) role as a father. It is, as always with Grennvall’s comics, emotionally exhausting to read, and you just want to beat up her seemingly emotionally crippled father for what he has done and not done during Grennvall´s childhood. But the book also contains a great deal of warmth and optimism in the new-found family life, which makes reading the story bearable although it fittingly enough ends with a discussion between the character Åsa and Death … Grennvall is one of the sharpest, most personal comics artists we have in Sweden, and her last two graphic novels are among the best, most literary ever made in Sweden.
Yet another album with Les Tuniques Bleues (or Blåfrakkerne as they are called in Danish). There are 59 albums so far, and even if the creators are aged by now it seems they are not about to quit producing an album a year, like clockwork.
A story that begins promising and has great potential, which unfortunately is sorely misspent by scriptwriter Cauvin at the end. The idea of alternative, subjective versions of the chaotic reality during a battle is inspired, although no one who reads this long-running series would ever believe in the possibility that Blutch, one of the comic’s two main characters, actually would have died. Despite this, entertaining and well done, if not ingenious.
This is the 38th album of the Les Tuniques Bleues and the artist Lambil is as good as ever in his somewhat more realistic version of the dynamic Marcinelle-style. Sometimes I feel, however, that the script writer Cauvin has lost some of his edge thorough the years. In this particular album, though, he rises to the occasion. A battle between the North and the Confederate soldiers is contrasted with a protracted childbirth. Life and death. This has of course been done before, but Cauvin manages just the right balance between nonsense and seriousness. The pacifist end of the story is also spot on.
Le Petit Spirou is a spinoff of the classic Belgian comic Spirou and Fantasio, about the protagonist as a child, probably set somewhere during the 1950s and actually more successful than the main series. Le Petit Spirou is made by the duo Tome (Philippe Vandevelde) and Janry (Jean-Richard Geurts), who for a period of time also were the creators behind Spirou and Fantasio. The comic mostly consists of one pagers with a joke at the end and is clearly geared towards boys in their tweenies.
The Danish-Swedish publisher Mooz continues the publication of hardcover collections with the classic French children’s comic Spirou. This volume contains three albums from the 1980s by Tome and Janry. This creative team was clearly the heirs to the undisputed master among Spirou artists, André Franquin, both in terms of the art, which has the same expressive, fast paced feel to it, and in the storylines, which are often linked to Franquin’s characters and comics.
The second graphic novel with Li Österberg’s contemporary take on the Greek gods, and a much better, more coherent story than that in the first, Nekyia. We here follow the young woman Persefone, a minor goddess who is the daughter (and granddaughter…) of the god Zeus and the goddess Demeter. Persefone is a goddess, but is very much depicted like a woman of flesh and blood, and her thoughts and feeling feels more based in the modern world than in ancient Greece.
The Danish/Swedish publisher Mooz continues the publication of hardcover collections with the classical French album comic Spirou and Fantasio. This volume contains the first three albums by Franquin’s successor, the then young and inexperienced Jean-Claude Fournier. Taking over after the recognized master was surely no easy task and both art and storytelling are quite clunky at first, but gradually gets better.
Ariol is quickly becoming my favourite children’s comic. Guibert constantly delivers scripts that really feel like they depicts the reality of children, as opposed to all those stories about children, written by adults from a safe distance. In this volume, for instance, I loved the little story of how the hesitant Ariol tries hard to impress the resolute and confident girl he loves, or the one about the obsession of collecting cards that can transcend generational gaps.
This is a weird and wonderful original Polish graphic novel, which title loosely translates to “In a foreign skin”. It’s an eerie, silent story of a wolf in a forest populated with a combination of traditional animals and what looks like huge fantasy creatures.
Lars Sjunnesson is one of Sweden’s most internationally well-known and respected comics artists, which is not surprising. Since his debut in the 80s, he has consistently created provocative and distinctive comics with high artistic integrity. Sjunnesson’s most famous characters are the permanently agitated anarchist Åke Jävel and the more phlegmatic Tjocke-Bo. The latter is part of the story in Den svarta undulaten (The Black Budgie), the eighth book in Sjunnesson’s slow but steady production, which picks up where the last book, Möte med monsunen (Meeting with the monsoon) from 2010, left off.
Palimpsest is an autobiographical graphic novel about a Swede who was adopted from Korea searching for her origins. Sjöblom has previously made shorter comics and illustrated children’s books, but this is her first full-length graphic novel.
Scriptwriter Patrick Rochling and comics artist Li Österberg keep adding to their low-key but extensive book series about a fictional Sweden. First out was Johannasviten (the Johanna series), five graphic novels which were later collected in one volume. Right now they are in the midst of creating a trilogy that follows another character, Eliana, who in the first volume, Gasraketen, was a child in the 80s, and now in the second, Partydrottningen (The Party Queen), is a teenager in the 90s.
This is a great collection of early stories by Rutu Modan. I read most of them in the anthologies that her collective Actus Tragicus put out in the late 1990s and early 2000s, but rereading them in one go puts them all together and shows the development of a great comics artists, on her way to creating the intriguing graphic novel Exit Wounds.
Re-reading this book in preparation for an artist talk with Modan in a few day, and actually enjoying it more than the first time around. Modan has a way of writing real people doing real things, having real relationships, and you sense that outside of the panels they are actually living real lives. That’s a rare quality in comics, and the closest I can come to something that compares are the graphic novels by Anneli Furmark, which are sadly, so far, not available in English.
The second book by the Argentinian comics artist artist Liniers in Swedish and just like the previous one, Regnballongen, a wonderful, compassionate, thoughtful little book that is suitable both for those who recently learned to read, and for reading aloud. Continue reading
The second collection of the French children’s comics Benjamin Bear/L´ours Barnabé, which is just as strange and at the same time pedagogical as the previous volume. In my review of the first collection Benny Björn på rätt spår I compared this series with the absurd Cowboy Henk, and that impression remains. Fun, unexpectedly drastic and at the same time always with an eye on teaching young readers things about how our world works. So far from dreary educational comics as you can possibly get. Refreshing.
I recently wrote a review of the two first volumes of Riad Sattouf´s masterpiece L’Arabe du future for the Swedish newspaper Svenska Dagbladet. It can now be found in its digital form here.
The first album in what is likely to be a series of “extraordinary adventure” with Lucky Luke, probably inspired by the successful book series with independent, more experimental comics with Spirou and Fantasio. The latter are often enjoyable, albeit of varying quality, depending on who the publisher chooses to invite to play with these classic characters. It was therefore with some hope, but also a certain amount of trepidation that I started reading this first volume.
A new album in the specials series with Spirou and Fantasio. One again, the script is by Olivier Schwartz and the drawings by Yann, who together previously created Operation Bat in the same series. These albums, which were originally intended as stand-alone stories in which various comics artists could try out wild ideas, is now more and more being built together into an alternate continuity. This is, as I said Schwartz´ and Yann´s second book, which begins immediately where the last one ended and has an open ending with an indication that there will be a third volume. Additionally, the album Spirou – Portrait of the hero as an innocent young man by Émile Bravo can also be said to be part of the same continuity
The fifth collection of the classic French science fiction comic Valerian, with comics from the late 1980s and early 1990s. The stories in this volume follows the two space-time agents during a period where the future Earth from which they came has ceased to exist, and they are struggling to survive without many of the technological advantages they have been used to.
The third collection with Ellen Ekman’s comic strip Little Berlin (Little Berlin), and it is evident that Ekman has developed the strip, making it more diverse and allowing for more development of the various characters. It is still biting satire of our times and the world of a younger, urban Swedish generation. At the same time, it is a bit repetitive and sometimes too chatty in the dialogue. While reading, it becomes clear that these comics were designed to be read one by one in a newspaper, and overall it gets a bit too much and I needed to pause and read on later, as I got a little tired of the concept.
The first part of an album series in the historical adventure genre, set in the early 1500s, during the Spanish conquest of South America. The main character is part of a group of mercenaries who are assigned the task of stealing the fabled treasure of the Aztecs.
An extremely strong reading experience about a young Moroccan who is forced away from his little family to try to earn money in Europe. The Finn Tietäväinen takes his time to let us get to know the main character and his reality so that the reader really cares about what will happen to him, and he has also spent a lot of time doing research on the Moroccans’ situation, both domestically and in Spain, where many of them get stuck, more or less as slaves in various shady industries.
The fourth volume of Daniel Ahlgren’s Swedish pastiche of the decidedly American superhero genre. The story picks up where the last volume ended, with a cosmic threat in the form of giant “passion leeches” which the heroes have to stop, on all parallel worlds.
An entertaining book for those of us who have read a Swedish crime novels, or seen a version on TV, which should by now include most of the world’s population … This is a variation on Lange’s winning concept to summarise novels and movies in three very concise panels, and the book also contains a number of these patented short versions of classic Swedish crime novels. Most of the book consists, however, of a tongue in cheek look at the genre, with an overview of all the clichés you have to use as well as advice on how to build a career as a writer of detective novels, including advice to always include food in the stories so that you can then write the obligatory cooking book, participate in cooking programs on TV and so on.
A beautiful graphic novel about dying of cancer, not a heroic fight and win over the decease, but actually dying from it. We follow David who learns that he has throat cancer, his adult daughter who recently had a baby, his new young wife and their young daughter – and see how the disease unfolds from different perspectives. It’s beautiful, sad and poignant – and very well told. Despite the topic, it never gets sugary sweet, and the images are evocative and very personal in style.
Lars Krantz is likely THE most different and artistically interesting Swedish comics artist working right now. This second and final part of his epic Vandrande stjärnor (Wandering stars) is incredibly beautiful with its well-composed images, pages and spreads with black and white flowing back and forth, crawlingly frightening in a way that gives you an empty feeling on your stomach after reading it, and intellectually challenging with visual cues high and low – from today’s popular culture to the Bible, and everything in between.
Mari Ahokoivu is fast becoming one of my favourite Nordic comics artists. No sooner had I reviewed her beautiful children’s comic Sanni & Jonas: Vinternatt, than this book pops up; published almost simultaneously, which is a feat as there are not that many Finnish comics published in Sweden these days.
Fanny Agazzi makes her book debut with a graphic novel of how it is to have a close friend dying abruptly and way too early in life. The story is autobiographical and woven into the story of how her friend Nabil passed away and the mental breakdown that followed are other recurring themes such as trying to get pregnant despite a number of failures,attempts to function socially and keep a job.
Claes Jurander is an unusual fish in the Swedish comics pond. Art Professor, sculptor, animator and creator of what is probably the first Swedish graphic novel (Nilsson, 1974). That Jurander is a fine artist is also reflected in the comic books he creates (which, incidentally, seems to have occurred with intervals of about one or two decades), in that they are more like picture books for adults, with sparse captions below each image.
This really is a book that touches it’s reader. No-one in Sweden at least will have missed out on the fact that comics artist Sara Olausson has a burning commitment to changing the fate of an EU migrant/beggar that she has befriended. They have both appeared in virtually all Swedish media these last few years, in a deliberate campaign by Olausson to generate a debate and raise interest, both for general issues of poverty, EU migrants and the situation of the Roma, as for the specific fate of Felicia.
Thomas Olsson made his debut in the mid noughts with the satirical strip Rogert. 2013 came the graphic novel Församlingen (The Congregation), about growing up in a fundamentalist Christian environment. Olsson’s latest graphic novel, Det är inte meningen att man ska vara här (We are not supposed to be here), is a claustrophobic reconstruction in comics form of the much talked about Franklin expedition to find the Northwest Passage in the mid-1800s. To make the story more humanly accessible, it is here presented from the point of view of a young ship´s boy’s point of view (piquantly enough, also named Thomas).
This is a book that I looked forward to reading, not least after it won the Audience award in Angoulême a few years ago. And maybe I had set my hopes too high, for I was not as smitten as I expected to be. Sure, it’s a strong story and I was really touched by several scenes, but at the same time the history feels a bit too predictable as if it was written after a preset schedule where the author checks the right boxes along the way. And the relationships are also a little too stereotypical for my taste. The end felt slightly rushed, and the long jump in time that takes place does not feel completely justified. Even the pictures feels a bit tentative, but this at least fits the story of this insecure teenager.
A poignant autobiographical tale of escaping from your home country and trying to build a new reality in another part of the world altogether. The main character moves from Iran to England to study in the 1970s, but moves back home at the revolution in 1979 to try to help rebuild the country. Nothing, however, was as it seemed and she and her little family must soon flee, and end up as refugees in Sweden. Razani retells all of her experiences in a very personal text, which reads as if she was sitting next to you talking, and this is illustrated with 2-3 images per page.