Monday, 9 August 2010

A New Wave of Swedish Comics Creators: Bergting, Skogäng and Andersson

Earlier this summer, I finally got around to reading a few Swedish comics I have had sitting on my shelf for a wee while now. The comics in question were Peter Bergting's The Portent: Duende (albeit in Swedish translation, The Portent: De dödas rike (2007) (see my review, in Swedish). It was originally released as a miniseries by Image Comics and collected in 2006), Kim W. Andersson's Love Hurts (see my review, in Swedish. It was collected in 2009, but much of it, if not all, was previously published in anthology comics, etc), and the two first instalments of Ola Skogäng's series Theos ockulta kuriositeter (Eng. Theo's Occult Curiosities), Mumiens blod (2008, Eng. The Blood of the Mummy (see my review, in Swedish)) and De förlorade sidornas bok (2010, Eng. The Book of the Lost Pages (see my review, in Swedish)).

What these three comics creators have in common is artistic capability and a very nice sense of visual storytelling. In the Swedish comics field, this is something of a rarity. Not that all Swedish comics artists are bad artists or that all Swedish comics writers (who for some reason more often than not are the same as the artists, leaving little room for collaborations between writers and artists that are not all that uncommon on the continent or in the Anglo-Saxon world), but most really good Swedish comics have tended to be within the comedic genres, e.g. satire or parody; and some of that is admittedly really, really good (e.g. Charlie Christensen's Arne Anka (Eng. Arne Duck) and Johan Wanloo's Örn Blammo (Eng. Eagle Blammo (though the inherent pun is lost in translation) and De äventyrliga karlakarlarna (Eng. The Adventurous Manly Men)). On the other hand, there has been, and perhaps still is, an overflow of black and white, autobiographical comics out there, many of which seem to embrace an aesthetic which is quite frankly ugly, and more often than not reminds me of images drawn by people who could not really draw if their lives depended on it.

Bergting, Andersson and Skogäng, to my mind, offer a new visual paradigm in Swedish comics, and also open up genre boundaries that mostly seem to have been closed here. This in spite of the fact that there has been a more or less continuous influx of translated comics both from Europe and the US for as long as I can remember, with Japan as a comparatively fresh, albeit by now well established, competitor as well. As such, it feels almost strange that it has taken this long for this to happen.

So what do these three bring to the table then? My reviews (linked above) wax on this, but as they are (unfortunately, for more than a few of readers) in Swedish, I will provide a few words in English here. Mostly because I think you should all keep an eye out for these comics creators on the international scene.

Bergting, of course, first published his The Portent: Duende in English, so that one is readily available. It is a very nicely drawn high fantasy series with a quest plot. While it could be argued that it is geared towards the US market, it nevertheless shows that Swedish comics creators are capable of creating wondrous realms of fantasy, both in terms of beautiful images and well-told tales. Bergting weaves a potent mythology that draws upon that which has gone before without being too repetitive of the old. The collected edition also includes a nice foreword by comics artist Michael William Kaluta.

Andersson, on the other hand, shows with great precision, in a day and age where (especially on the US comics market) never-ending story arcs seem to be the order of the day, that it is fully possible to tell nice and intriguing comics stories on no more than a couple of pages. Love Hurts is a great anthology concept that allows Andersson to tell short, short romantic horror stories with twists. I had not encountered his work before this collection, but was entirely won over by it. Visually, one can see clear influences from Peter Snejbjerg (of DC Vertigo's Books of Magic fame). In terms of writing, I am guessing that Andersson has been reading old DC classics like The House of Mystery and The House of Secrets (and quite possibly EC's horror comics from before that) as well as watching TV-series like Tales from the Crypt and films like Creepshow. As far as I have understood, his work has been published outside of Sweden, but I am not entirely sure in which languages or where.

Last, but certainly not least, we have Skogäng, whose combination of Hergé's la ligne claire tradition and influences from great American stylists like Mike Mignola is utterly compelling. Mignola is also a good point of reference, because one of the easiest (and most fitting) descriptions of Skogäng's series is that it is a Hellboy in Swedish (and in Sweden; Skogäng captures Stockholm beautifully in his images). Clearly, Skogäng shares Mignola's interest in and fascination for the occult, the mystical, the mythical and the fantastic, and his protagonist Theo (a man who has been trapped in the body of a brown bear since the 1920s or 1930s) does bring Hellboy to mind with his investigations into the occult. This, and the fact that Skogäng could easily, and very successfully, illustrate a Hellboy story for Mignola (of this I have no doubt whatsoever), could easily make one assume that Theos ockulta kuriositeter is simply a copycat series, but such an assumption would be flawed. It is a rather a case of commonalities, where the reader of one may very well appreciate the other. The first 200 pages volume, Mumiens blod, is also being serialised in French in a more traditional album format. The first album, Théo: Le vampire de Stockholm (Le sang de la momie #1), is available from Amazon (UK) for anyone interested (who also happens to read French, naturally).

So, for my own part, I am looking forward to see what these gentlemen will produce in the future. Not to mention what they will influence others to produce.

1 comment:

  1. I have yet to read these comics you mention (will do after reading this), but did I read Gängkrig 145 which features art by Bergting and I loved his visual style.