A renewal of the Danish comics scene
A lot is happening on the comics scene in Denmark today. The genre has gone from a niche phenomenon or a genre for children to a literary and graphic art form with strong influence from visual arts.
According to the Danish traditions, comics were viewed either as a means of freedom of expression, with the comic strip functioning as a useful tool for political satirists, or as a literary genre primarily for children. Comics have now entered a new era with the present generation of comic artists, graphic novelists, and illustrators interested in a range of visual expressions, stories and experiences.
Meanwhile, Denmark’s first education in graphic storytelling has opened in Viborg as part of The Animation Workshop, with the first brood graduating Summer 2017.
The audience of the genre has broadened as well and the comic artists working within the fields have diversified. Long gone is the stereotypical male comic book nerd. The new generation of comic artists brings a broad range of stories and lived or imagined experiences to the world of comics, hence, appealing to a broader audience.
Below, you get a glimpse of the exciting talents of the Danish comic book scene.
The work of Signe Parkins (1979) is an excellent example of how the comic genre has been influenced by visual arts. In Parkins’ Tusindfryd (Eng.: “Daisy”) Magritte rhyme with pommes frites. With clear references to the Belgian surrealist artist, Rene Magritte, Parkins turns the sexual conventions upside down. In June 2018, she won the Danish comic award, Pingprisen, for Tusindfryd. Parkins tells her stories in a very blossoming and bold language. Tusindfryd is an incredible portrayal of the senses of within that focuses on the bodily orifices and the meaning of passion.
In 2015, Parkins published Signe Parkins & Drawings. A drawn diary for which she was nominated for Pingprisen. The publication is a selection of drawings from her blog of the same name, for which she was also awarded Pingprisen. The diary is imbued with personality. It portrays both big and small impressions from the everyday life. It is illustrated in a clever and sensitive way where corrections and deletions are kept and the book cover is handmade with scrap fabric by Parkins herself.
The young graphic novelist Karoline Stjernfelt (1993) represents a rather classic style. Semi-realism with a historical perspective – as Stjernfelt herself describes it. Stjernfelt is a graduate from Serieskolen in Malmø, Sweden, where she began creating her historical trilogy I morgen bliver bedre (Eng.: “Tomorrow will be better”) about a famous historical love triangle taking place in the Danish royal family in the 17th century. The trilogy depicts the drama between the Danish King Christian VII, his queen Caroline Mathilde and the doctor Struensee who was both the adviser to the king, a shadow ruler who reformed the Danish society, and the lover of the queen.
On top of several nominations, Stjernfelt won Pingprisen and the Carl Deleuran award for best Danish debut for I morgen bliver bedre in 2016. Stjernfelt’s combination of the historical perspective and the illustrative style differs from a general trend among younger comic artists who work with personal material with individual, experimenting styles. Stjernfelt is inspired by history, but most importantly she breathes life into history through psychological portraits and classical comic book elements.
Ida Felicia Noack (1981) is a multi-disciplinary artist. She graduated from the Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts Schools of Architecture, Design and Conservation in 2010. Noack is a master of many medias and works in different genres such as magazine illustration, graphic recording, ceramics, original artwork, prints, posters, murals and graphic novels as well as comic books. In 2015, Noack was nominated for the Claus Deleuran and Pingprisen for best Danish debut for her graphic novel Rævhul (Eng.: “Fox off”).
Rævhul is the story of a fox tired of the humdrum everyday life living with a blonde, curly haired boy, and eventually taking off from home to explore the world. Out there, the fox is presented with the difficult choice between security and adventure, when it meets an exotic, tall, dark stranger, here in the shape of the mythic creature, the giant. The story is a depiction of the classic love triangle in the form of a fable.
In her second graphic novel Klip mig (Eng.: “Cut me”) from 2016, Noack makes use of her technical graphic skills to tell a story with only a few words. Rather, the story is told primarily through the colour scheme with stark contrasts between the dominant grey colours and occasional splashes of vivid colours embodying the characters. The story centres on a young couple meeting for a one-night rendezvous in a hotel. The title of the novel is a wordplay between cut me and fuck me, both of which they do. It is an intimate story, by some defined as an erotic comic while others argue that the existential dread looming over the story kills any possibility of an erotic vibe.
One of the young comic artists who have succeeded in transcending the genre and appealing to a broader audience, is Halfdan Pisket (1985).
Pisket studied visual arts at the Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts, graduating in 2009.
In 2014, Pisket published the first part of a trilogy, a graphic novel called Desertør (Eng.: “Deserter”), the two second volumes following 2015 with Kakerlak (Eng.: “Cockroach”) and 2016 with Dansker (Eng.: “Dane”). The trilogy has been both an artistic and a commercial success, for which Pisket has received numerous nominations and awards, including the Pingprisen and the Carl Deleuran award. He also received a three-year working grant from Danish Art Foundation as one of the two first comic artists together with Rikke Villadsen.
The trilogy depicts the life of Pisket’s father, James Pisket, and sheds a light on the contemporary history of immigration to Denmark. In the first volume, Pisket tells his father’s story through flashbacks from a cell in a military prison in Turkey. The father travels as a deserter from the Turkish army to Denmark where he becomes a weed dealer in Christiania, a self-proclaimed autonomous neighborhood in Copenhagen, and in the end, a law-abiding Danish citizen.
The figures are drawn in black and white with sharp contours. The language is simple and intelligible with a poetic nerve, which is filled with the expression of pain, grief, and war. It is both an illustration of a personal trauma and an illustration of the bigger trauma of the Armenian genocide.
The trilogy has so far been translated into Dutch, Swedish, Spanish, and French.
Comic artist Rikke Villadsen (1976) is a graduate from Denmark’s Design School’s Institute of Visual Communication. In collaboration with the author Bjørn Rasmussen, Villadsen has created the graphic comic series 9 piger (Eng.: “9 girls”) of which two of the nine comic albums have been published. In Liftet (Eng.: “The Ride”) and Hesten (Eng.: “The Horse”), Villadsen and Rasmussen play with both the grim and the pleasant in a chaotic and claustrophobic storytelling. In 9 piger Villadsen explores gender and identity depicting girls both hunting and fleeing. She uses carbon pencil, which gives Liftet a gloomy expression. Hesten evokes claustrophobic feelings, and the sharp composition of the images emphasizes a sensuous intensity.
Villadsen shows another artistic approach in her work Et knald til (Eng.: “Another bang”), where she blends unfinished compositions with well-structured finished compositions. In Et knald til, Villadsen deconstructs the gendered and masculine clichés that are particular to the Western genre, which she depicts with humorous honesty as a part of her ambitious gender-political criticism.
She has yet to be awarded it, but she has been nominated for Pingprisen four times and in 2015, she received a three-year working grant from the Danish Arts Foundation.
Furthermore, Villadsen is an editor of comic books for the publishing house Basilisk.
Mikkel Sommer (1987) is a self-taught comic artist and self-employed illustrator working and living in Berlin. He is a prolific illustrator and has produced illustrated books, comics and drawings since 2009, besides illustrating for newspapers such as The New York Times and the Danish Politiken and working as a character designer for Cartoon Network on several of their shows.
Among his many publications is Hadet (Eng.: “The Hate”) from 2015, an illustrated poem collection, for which Sommer did the illustration work to accompany Thorstein Thomsen’s 64 poems. The poems are written as a personal journal of a young girl during World War II.
Sommer started drawing in early childhood and has developed his line ever since. His style is sketch-like in appearance and in many ways reminiscent of the French new wave. Sommer’s approach to the craft is systematic and repetitive, and he is a self-proclaimed rigorous planner and perfectionist. For the illustrated work, which he did for the book Burn Out by French author Antoine Ozanam (Casterman), Sommer drew more than 70 sketches of the main character, featuring him in many different positions and with different facial expressions, in order to get the full appearance and expression completely right. In 2016, he was nominated for the Carl Deleuran award for best comic colourizer and in 2017, he was granted the three-year working grant from the Danish Art Foundation.
Danish comic artist Adam O.’s works fall into the more traditional categories of political satire and children’s books. These genres are in Adam O’s versions characterized by a remarkable skill for storytelling and interesting point of views. His artistic style and his career are marked by his background as a leftist activist. He did illustrations for the Danish independent leftist online media Modkraft from 2013 to 2015, and since 2015 for the street paper, sold by homeless people in Denmark, Hus forbi. He creates satirical interpretations of Danish politicians, and typically focuses on the contradiction between official political speech and the reality behind the speech itself.
In 2011, he published his debut book Ruiner (Eng.: “Ruins”), which depicts a political dystopian surveillance society getting out of hand. The book was nominated for Pingprisen in 2012 for best Danish debut. His comic series Kakofonia from 2015, set in a dystopian version of Copenhagen, is a wordless comic about the demons hiding inside us all.
Not all is gloom and dystopia in the comics of Adam O., though. Over the last two years, he has published two comics for children, Tonni 2 Ton and Tonni 2 Ton & Jagten på Hugtanja (Eng.: “Tonni 2 Ton & the Hunt for Tanja Tusk”). The stories are a celebration of the uncompromised fantasy of children, and as such they may serve as inspiration for any adults who find themselves in need of a bit of make believe in their lives.
Adam O. is currently working on two projects: The illustrated Young Adults’ novel, Flugten fra Danmark (Eng.: “The Escape from Denmark”) and the wordless comic book Verdensmester (Eng.: “World Champion”), both scheduled for publication in 2018.
Also, Johan F. Krarup’s works fall into the satirical tradition. Krarup has a master in philosophy from University of Copenhagen and has taught comics at the Folk-Art School in Holbæk. He has several publications behind him and has made comic strips for the very popular, Danish web portal heltnormalt.dk (Eng.: “completelyordinary.dk”). Through his satirical lens, Krarup focuses on the ordinary person and her everyday problems. Corruption is a relatively rare phenomena in Denmark, however, in Krarup’s latest publication Styrelsen (Eng.: “The Immigration Service”), corruption in the Danish administration is exactly what he deals with. The graphic novel is about a quite ordinary man who in his attempt not to be too much of a pedant starts down a slippery slope. Krarup won two Carl Deleuran prizes for Styrelsen and he was nominated for Pingprisen in 2017 for Styrelsen as well as for his comic strip on heltnormal.dk with the title Episke fejl (Eng.: “Epic errors”) and several other titles.
Again in 2018, Krarup was nominated together with the rest of the Fiesta Crew for Fiesta-magasinet 3 (Eng.: “The Fiesta Magazine 3”). The comics in Fieste-magasinet 3 are vigorous, raw, and unrestraind in a way that just makes you want to read more.
Another way that the genre of comics has broadened up is through different digital formats, especially blogs. Several bloggers tell everyday anecdotes about troubles, joys and wonders through the stroke of their pen. The drawings of the bloggers tend to be comparable with matchstick men, but with few means, they manage to tell short fascinating stories or jokes. A few have received more attention than others.
Stine Spedsbjerg is the woman behind strictlystine.com. With the combination of cute drawings and gross and self-deprecating humour, Stine Spedsbjerg gives serious issues as identity crisis, depression and heartbreaks a relatable expression. Stine has been nominated for Pingprisen several times for Strictlystine.com and her previous blog stinestregen (Eng.: “stinetheline”) as well as for a collaboration with Mikkel Maltesen and other web artists. Besides the numerous nominations, Stine has received the Comics.dk award in 2010 for best Danish web comics and Pentelprisen for the best cartoonist.
Line Lisberg Refstrup has also been nominated for Pingprisen several times for her blog linelisberg.com. Line’s drawings are rarely accompanied with text, which makes them poetic in their expression. Her artistic style is characterized by great versatility, curiosity, and experimentation.
Comic artist and author, Maren Uthaug, uses a simple matchstick-like technique and a witty and honest voice to tell about moments of her everyday life. She does so on her blog marensblog.dk. Uthaug has been a regular cartoonist in the newspaper Politiken since 2013 and she has published two books of comics besides her fiction writings. Both her authorship and the blog has received much attention, of which the latter gained her several nominations for Pingprisen, in 2013, 2014, and 2017, respectively.