This article is about a comics-based movie, and it might be more about the comics that inspired it. I’m not sure yet.
I recently reviewed the latest graphic novel written and drawn by Christopher Nielsen (b. 1963) one of Norway’s most prolific comics artist. Generally he works in a rough and direct style, inspired by the American underground comic tradition. He is especially well known for his subcultural depictions.
Nielsen got his first comics printed in 1980 after entering a competition arranged the Norwegian anarchist magazine, Gateavisa (= the street paper). Only three years later he got his first album published, and since then he’s been delivering anthologies and graphic novels more or less regularly. Nielsen, like so many great storytellers, frequently works within his own self-contained universe, which in his case is not a nice place to be. The “Nielsenverse” is a gloomy, rundown place populated by hooligans, layabouts, petty criminals, drug abusers and the occasional sane man who knows perfectly well what a hellhole he’s living in, and acts accordingly. It used to be centered around Oslo’s east side, but has gradually expanded geographically as well as socially.
Two Wasted Wankers
In later years. Nielsen has taken his universe beyond the comics pages and into theatre, television and cinema. His most famous cartoon, To Trøtte Typer (“Two Wasted Wankers”), depicts the life of the two drug users and petty criminals Odd and Geir living their relatively boring lives on Oslo’s east side. This comic was made into an animated series for television, running for 13 episodes (2000-2003) plus a Christmas special (2006). Some of his characters were also included in the jukebox stage musical Verdiløse Menn (= worthless men), which was based on the songs originally written and performed by his brother, Norwegian rock legend Joachim “Jokke” Nielsen. Jokke died according to rock’n’roll traditions from a heroin overdose at the age of 36, but left behind a huge legacy. Christopher is still building his legacy, and it’s getting bigger all the time. In January 2015, he announced his intention of getting in the Guinness Book of Records for doing work in the most diverse form of arts in one year. His claim to this record lies in the fact that in 2014, he produced a work of art in each of the nine art forms except for dancing.
HudMaSpecs (third from the right) and his crew
Nielsen had one chance of making his characters international household names. In 2006, after some delays, he finally released the animated cinematic movie Free Jimmy (original title Slipp Jimmy Fri) in 2006. This was the movie in which Nielsen’s movie universe was supposed to come together. In addition to Odd & Geir, it also starred another gang of characters that would be very familiar to fans of Christopher Nielsen’s comics exploits. Early in the movie, we run into a gang of hicks on their way to shoot moose during hunting season. The group is led by a bespectacled brute named Hold Brillan in the original and HudMaSpecs in the English dub. In both cases, the nickname comes from the fact that he always tells one of his (usually terrified) mates to hold his glasses when he gets into a fight (which he does very often). In the original, Hold Brillan is Trønder (central Norway); in the English dub he’s Scottish. There are some overlapping. popular stereotypes about both population groups, such as them being street book dumb, drunken, and prone to solve problems with violence. Despite being an exaggerated hick archetype, Hold Brillan has become one of the most complex and significant characters of the “Nielsenverse”, and the title character of Nielsen’s two most recent graphic novels.
Roy Arnie and Jimmy
Getting back to the movie, it had a simple high concept that at the same time was very Christopher Nielsen: Odd and Geir are offered a part-time job as caretakers at a z-grade Russian circus. The offer comes from Roy Arnie, who clearly has ulterior motives. Sure enough, it turns out that the circus elephant Jimmy has a fortune in heroin sown into his body. Before too long, Odd, Geir and Roy Arnie are stuck between an aggressive animal rights group so full of straw you could use them all for scarecrows, Lapland biker gangsters, and HudMaSpec’s hunting team.
Free Jimmy never succeeded outside of Norway, though serious attempts were made to give it an international flavor: Celebrity voice actors Simon Pegg (Odd) and Woody Harrelson (Roy Arnie) were brought in to try and add to the movie’s credibility, and despite having several references to Norway, it’s kept somewhat ambiguous where the movie is supposed to take place at any given
I managed to get hold of a UK copy of the movie (sadly, the Norwegian DVD didn’t include the English dub as a desired bonus material). And I have to admit that it’s a weird experience to see such specifically Norwegian (even regionally Norwegian) characters anglified. The accents are good, but arguably overdone. Simon Pegg and Woody Harrelson do a decent, but routine job. James Cosmo as HudMaSpecs does the accent right, but fails to bring out the character’s hammy qualities.
The few international critics who could be bothered to review the movie, were mostly unimpressed. It has a 10 % “fresh” rating at Rotten Tomatoes, the consensus being that it’s “a weird, misfiring, Norwegian animated mess of a film. Unsure of who its target audience is, it misses every target.” I beg to differ; the movie knew exactly who was its target audience was. Its target audience was fans of Christopher Nielsen, and that was its problem. It needed to appeal to people who were unfamiliar with his storytelling style to begin with, but the movie failed to bring those people in. And so Nielsen’s core audience remains in Norway.