onsdag 29. april 2015


This spring, Centrala publishes the first English language edition of Norwegian writer/artist Lene Ask’s graphic novel Dear Rikard.

Lene Ask has her family background from the evangelical community in southwest Norway. Her graphic novels are influenced by this, especially her debut Hitler, Jesus og Farfar (Hitler, Jesus and Grandad). And even though she is no longer religious, she still respects her roots. If you know this, it’s not so difficult to understand why she was inspired to make Dear Rikard.

Ask now lives in Oslo, but she found inspiration for this work her native city Stavanger. More specifically in Stavanger’s Mission Archives, where the Norwegian missionary history is preserved life. The story Ask wanted to share, however, is not so really one about the people who went out to preach the gospel in foreign lands – But rather the ones who were left behind. Buried somewhere in these archives she found the correspondence between a father and a son: In 1892, widower David Jakobsen left Norway to work as a missionary at Madagascar, while his son Rikard, in his father’s absence, grew up at an orphanage in Stavanger.

"God help me that I must not be disappointed"

The story, then, is authentic. Ask is showing tremendous respect for the original material, something which I also personally, as an employee, of state archives, appreciate very much. With the exception of some basic bibliographic data, the whole comic is told through Rikard and his father's letters to each other. The ornate font from letters are even reproduced exactly, which requires a little more time and concentration for the modern reader to follow. That’s a good thing, however, as this book should be read slowly and with reflection.

The pictures are Ask’s own, but again she strives for authenticity. To her Norwegian audience, Lene Ask is probably best known for drawing in an easy and naivist style, but has previously demonstrated that she fully able of drawing in more photorealistic styles as well. And of course, that’s exactly what she needed to do here: The drawings, which of course are in black and white, are supposed to resemble faded photographs. Even the design of the book follows this pattern; with its tall format and mat, yellow-ish binder, it clearly resembles an old family album.

"Dear dad and mom [stepmother] / Tank you very much for the letters that we received yesterday"

Dear Rikard is a triumph in so many ways. It’s unique, at least in Norway, both in theme and presentation, but is also a notable artistic achievement for Lene Ask. While she stays respectful to the original material, she still adds a lot to the story by her choice of motifs and facial expressions. She says a lot without adding any new words to those she found in the letters. But also through the choice of letters, she adds her personal touch to the story. The further into the story of Rikard’s childhood she gets, the more obvious is Rikard’s sense of loss and unhappiness caused by the absence of his father. Loss, but also the need to live with the loss and deal with it, is central to this tale. Without being melodramatic or sentimental in her imagery, Lene Ask has recreated an obscure but beautiful and melancholy tale and made it fit for a modern audience.

(Images from inside the book are reproduced from the original, Norwegian edition, since I haven't gotten the translated edition)

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