lørdag 27. september 2014


Playwright David Zane Mairowitz has a history of mixing the literary classics with the comic book format. He was the author of Kafka For Beginners, famously illustrated by Robert Crumb, and also adapted two Kafka novellas for the comic book format: The Trial (with Chantal Montellier) and The Castle (with Jaromir99). In addition to this, he has adapted Crime and Punishment and Heart of Darkness. With the exception of The Castle, all of these publications have been translated into Norwegian, so it the Norwegian audience had ample opportunity to get familiar with his works by the time he decided to adapt one of Norwegian literature’s greatest classics - Henrik Ibsen’s Peer Gynt.

Penned by Ibsen as a “dramatic poem”, Peer Gynt was originally intended to be read rather than performed on stage, but was later reworked for the stage and has become one of our most famous plays ever.

The most important task – to illustrate the adaptation - went to Geir Moen, a Norwegian artist who’s neither a stranger to Ibsen, big drama nor 18th century imagery. One of his previous works was illustrating De Fire Store ("The Four Great Ones") based on scripts by Øystein Runde;  a steampunk/proto-superhero comic starring four of Norway’s greatest 19th century writers (including Henrik Ibsen) as secret agents. Both conceptually and art-wise, the premise was somewhat similar to Alan Moore and Kevin O’Neill’s The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen.  

This background serves him well when illustrating Peer Gynt.  As previously mentioned, the work was originally meant to be read, not performed on stage, but in retrospect it comes across as a visually strong story with many burlesque and imaginative ideas. So Moen has a committed to tradition, while at the same time he and Mairowitz have a commitment to try and renew it.

Geir Moen has a somewhat rigid art style, and his characters are often lacking in animation. On the other hand, he also has a detailed and expressive line, which looks great in this story. His creativity is considerable, and his respect and enthusiasm for the original is very transparent. In his own statement he has "taken a million reference images" from the text.

A pattern becomes evident as soon as you begin reading: The images that are (probably) only in Peer’s head are brightly colored, while the images from reality are dimly colored. But just as you have gotten accustomed to this pattern, it becomes more unpredictable again. The scene with Anitra and from the madhouse, for example, are both dim, while the homecoming scenes (which admittedly include some surreal images) are in color. The distinction between fantasy and reality, and what symbolizes what, are becoming more ambiguous, and the reader is being challenged. This makes for a more interesting read.

The comic also has an international flavor. Some of it is probably due to Mairowitz' contributions, but Moen has a certain international artistic flair himself. Many of his Gynt characters are reminiscent of Vertigo Comics boogeymen, including the Strange Passenger and the Button-Molder. The trolls in the hall of the Mountain King look more like demons from medieval art than traditional Norwegian folk-art. The Mountain King himself is obviously Ibsen, and he resembles the playwright more the further out in the story we get.

If you know the original well*, you'll appreciate that relatively little is cut from this version, all in all. Every scene of some importance is included and the flow of the original story is retained. Mairowitz has done a very good job of keeping that. The spelling is cautiously modernized, and for the sake of the format some rhythm and rhymes had to be broken down, but are mostly kept very recognizable.

Comics Norway in general are breathing a sigh of relief well these days, even though we did have faith in Geir Moen all along: One of Norway's foremost literary works have made a successful transition into comics.  

* Translations of Peer Gynt are widely available on the net. Here are a few links:

mandag 15. september 2014



To explain what this comic is about, here’s some very brief encyclopedic information that will help you along the way:  Petter Dass (ca. 1647 – 18 September 1707) was a Lutheran clergyman and the foremost Norwegian poet of his generation, writing both baroque hymns and topographical poetry (source: Wikipedia)

But there’s another aspect to Dass; he was a so-called grimoire minister, and according to legends he actively fought the dark powers and outwitted the devil himself on more than one occasion.

Art: John S. Jamtli 

With this starting point, comic book creators John S. Jamtli and Vegard A. Skogmo has turned ​​the poet clergyman into a mythic action hero who fights trolls, demons and witchcraft in the county of Nordland, northern Norway. Jamtli and Skogmo themselves are native to this county.

So far, four comics of varying length has been made, all of which are only available digitally for the time being. Notably, all of them have now been translated into English, by John Erik Andersen. To translate a comic that is related so specifically to Norwegian cultural history could easily have become awkward, but it works thanks to two aspects:

First, while sticking firmly to Norwegian folklore, there is an international flavor to this comic. TV has turned supernatural investigation into a popular subgenre (Buffy, Supernatural, Grimm), and Dass relates to this, while the action sequences and the fictional Petter Dass’ own mannerisms seem to owe a lot to the superhero genre.    

Art: John S. Jamtli 

Second, the translation reflects the difference between the academic Dass and the “subjects” of his parish. In the original text, the locals speak the Northern dialect while Petter Dass speaks High Danish (he was educated in Copenhagen). In the English translation, the locals speak something faintly resembling Scottish and northern English dialects, while Dass speaks the King James Bible’s English, which fits perfectly with his dramatic manner (and makes sense for a strict, 17th century Protestant clergyman). The translator wisely downplays the locals’ dialects in favor of Dass’ speaking patterns, since they make him stand out well enough as it is. 

The premise is well executed. Jamtli’s drawings are exquisitely detailed and caricatured enough that the humor shines through, but not so stylized that it seems like pure comedy. His Petter Dass is a towering figure, looking every bit as hammy as he acts. Jamtli and Skogmo succeed in giving us a Petter Dass who is a convincing badass.

Art: Vegard A. Skogmo

John S,. Jamtli draws the first full story, Dass and the Træna Ogre as well as the Christmas special, while Vegard A. Skogmo draws the second full story Dass Meets the Shaman in Mo. Jamtli is easily the best artist; he is noticeably more detailed, the shading and the use of perspectives are more dynamic, and there is an intensity to his artwork that Skogmo is missing. The fourth comic is a short piece, just like the Christmas special, drawn by guest artist Øyvind Lauvdahl (another Nordland native). He also lacks the hardline action style of Jamtli, but being a more experienced artist, he delivers rounded artwork that looks good.

Art: Øyvind Lauvdahl 

The first collection on paper is due in 2016. In the meantime, the collection so far can be bought online both in Norwegian (here), in English (here or on iTunes, here) for 3 USD 

søndag 7. september 2014


I’m a subscriber to gocomics.com. And while most of that website’s prime content are newspaper comic strips that are several decades past their glory days, there’s some exciting (or at least funny) new stuff to be found as well, including Dana Simpson’s Heavenly Nostrils.

Dana Simpson is a cartoonist I’ve been following since the beginning of her career. She had a breakthrough of sorts with the popular furry comic Ozy & Millie (1998-2008) under the name D.C. [Dana Claire] Simpson. Debuting in 2012 and running steadily since then, Heavenly Nostrils is her first syndicated comic. Now the first collected edition has just been published with a foreword by none other than Peter S. Beagle, author of The Last Unicorn. The book itself is published Andrews McMeel, the company behind pretty much every collection of American newspaper comic strips since Calvin & Hobbes.

And while Heavenly Nostrils is hardly a rip-off, it has some obvious similarities with Watterson’s modern classic. Like Hobbes, Marigold Heavenly Nostrils the unicorn has a gigantic ego, not as much on behalf of herself as on behalf of her species. Like Hobbes, she regards her kind as the pinnacle of creation, while her human Phoebe – like Calvin – regard her non-human friend with a mix of indulgence and admiration. And like Calvin, Phoebe can be both weird, sassy and self-centered. Though not quite as badly as the spiky-haired blond; Simpson clearly wants us to side her, after all.  

One important difference, however, is that while Calvin’s interaction with Hobbes appears to be only in his own head (though I know this is widely debated) , it’s quite obvious that Marigold is supposed to be a real live unicorn walking amongst us. So why isn’t her presence getting more attention? Because of a deus ex machina known as the Shield of Boringness, a spell that makes humans indifferent to the fact that they are looking at a unicorn. Conveniently, this also explains why Phoebe doesn’t become more popular by riding to school on a unicorn every day. Not surprisingly, Phoebe is an outsider, the one who is too weird to be liked by the popular girls. Dana Simpson’s sympathy for the unpopular kids that don’t follow the crowd is well known to those who have read Ozy & Millie.

While Marigold boasts more about the supremacy of her species than she can show proof of (again, not unlike Hobbes), she does have magical abilities and she is a beautiful, elegant creature. Simpson modelled her after medieval illustrations of unicorns, so she doesn’t look just like a horse with horns. Her biggest flaw is her ego and narcissism; the first time Phoebe met Marigold, she accidentally saved her from being stuck admiring her own reflection.

The strip’s biggest flaw is that it’s a bit too dependent on jokes based around Marigold’s character traits (funny though they may very often be). She’s arrogant and narcissistic (yet overall quite friendly) and takes things too literally – Innocently arrogant, as Peter S. Beagle so aptly describes her in the foreword. Ozy & Millie used to have a little more varied characterization. What saves the strip is the combination of heart and clever verbal comedy. Simpson combines the snappy dialogue – often emphasized through use of fonts – with simple, yet effective facial expressions.

You may read the entire archive of Heavenly Nostrils here (you can also order the book from the same place) but I bought this collection because sometimes it’s nice to have the strips collected and handy. Also, the strips have been colored for this edition*. However, I have a faint suspicion that Simpson can’t have been 100 % happy with the design of the book. Most likely someone in the publishing company thought “Ah, so this is about girls and unicorns. Then the cover must be pink and glittery”. But Phoebe is not a particularly “girly” girl, and certainly no “little princess” type. Her parents are hipsters and geeks, and she is clearly taking after them (I’m guessing that Simpson is seeing something of herself in Phoebe’s artistic mom). The comic as a whole is not all that feminine, either. Like all the best comic strips, it breaks down the borders of gender and age.

Phoebe and Her Unicorn: A Heavenly Nostrils Chronicle by Dana Simpson
ISBN: 978-1-4491-4620
224 pages
USD 10
Andrews McMeel Publishing

*For practical purposes, most of the illustrations in this review are pasted from the website, where the daily strips are in black and white. However, the book is entirely in color.