9 April 2015 | Articles
It’s impossible to put Finnish graphic novels into one bottle and glue a clear label on to the outside, writes Heikki Jokinen. Finnish graphic novels are too varied in both graphics and narrative – what unites them is their individuality. Here is a selection of the Finnish graphic novels published in 2014
Graphic novels are a combination of image and word in which both carry the story. Their importance can vary very freely. Sometimes the narrative may progress through the force of words alone, sometimes through pictures. The image can be used in very different ways, and that is exactly what Finnish artists do.
In many countries graphic novels share some common style or mainstream in which artists aim to place themselves. In recent years an autobiographical approach has been popular all over the worlds in graphic novels as well as many other art forms. This may sometimes have led to a narrowing of content as the perspective concentrates on one person’s experience. Often the visual form has been felt to be less important, and clearly subservient to the text. This, in turn, has sometimes even led to deliberately clumsy graphic expression.
This is not the case in Finland: graphic diversity lies at the heart of Finnish graphic novels. Appreciation of a fluent line and competent drawing is high. The content of the work embraces everything possible between earth and sky.
Finnish graphic novels are indeed surprisingly well-known and respected internationally precisely for the diversity of their content and their visual mastery.
Life on the block
12 December 2014 | This 'n' that
For 41 years, from 1967 to 2008, Books from Finland was a printed journal. In 1976, after a decade of existence as not much more than a pamphlet, it began to expand: with more editorial staff and more pages, hundreds of Finnish books and authors were featured in the following decades.
Those texts remain archive treasures.
In 1998 Books from Finland went online, partially: we set up a website of our own, offering a few samples of text from each printed issue. In January 2009 Books from Finland became an online journal in its entirety, now accessible to everyone.
We then decided that we would digitise material from the printed volumes of 1976 to 2008: samples of fiction and related interviews, reviews, and articles should become part of the new website.
The process took a couple of years – thank you, diligent Finnish Literature Exchange (FILI) interns (and Johanna Sillanpää) : Claire Saint-Germain, Bruna di Pastena, Merethe Kristiansen, Franziska Fiebig, Saara Wille and Claire Dickenson! – and now it’s time to start publishing the results. We’re going to do so volume by volume, going backwards.
The first to go online was the fiction published in 2008: among the authors are the poets Tomi Kontio and Rakel Liehu and prose writers Helvi Hämäläinen (1907–1998), Sirpa Kähkönen, Maritta Lintunen, Arne Nevanlinna, Hagar Olsson (1893–1979), Juhani Peltonen (1941–1998) and Mika Waltari (1908–1979).
To introduce these new texts, we will feature a box on our website, entitled New from the archives, where links will take you to the new material. The digitised texts work in the same way as the rest of the posts, using the website’s search engine (although for technical reasons we have been unable to include all the original pictures).
By the time we reach the year 1976, there will be texts by more than 400 fiction authors on our website. We are proud and delighted that the printed treasures of past decades – the best of the Finnish literature published over the period – will be available to all readers of Books from Finland.
The small world of Finnish fiction will be even more accessible to the great English-speaking universe. Read on!
Kaisa Leka is a thirty-something graphic artist who is into yoga and cycling, among other things. With her husband Christoffer they have pedalled, as ‘cyclotourists’, around in Iceland, eastern Europe, from Porvoo to Nice.
Cycling without calf muscles is not plain sailing though – Kaisa lost her legs to (voluntary) amputation in 2002, as her feet were malformed from birth and walking was getting more and more painful. She feels completely at ease with her technologically advanced new legs.
In their graphic novel Cycling around Iceland (2012) Kaisa and Christoffer describe their adventure (1,385 km, in 18 days). Not plain sailing, either: the wind in Iceland goes against you more often than not. In these extracts Christoffer gives a talk about the journey and shows slides to a small mixed audience. In Kaisa’s comics she herself is a mouse and Christoffer a duck. In this good-natured, humorous story they always support each other, come rain or shine.
13 February 2014 | In the news
The Finnish Comics Society was founded in 1971 and has since 1972 it annually awarded the Puupäähattu prize to an established Finnish comics artist. The prize is not money but a honorary hat – named after a classic Finnish cartoon character, Pekka Puupää (‘Pete Blockhead’), by Ola Fogelberg and later his daughter Toto. The Puupää comic books were published between 1925 and 1975, and some of the stories were made into films.
The 2014 Puupää prize was awarded to illustrator and comics artist Terhi Ekebom (born 1971). Ekbom began work as a comics artist in the early 1990s. Using diverse techniques, she often depicts feelings and states of minds. Her work has been shown at the Angoulême comics festival and has been published in English, French, Swedish and Czech.
A special title, sarjakuvaneuvos or ‘comics councillor’, was also awarded to two people; the comic artist Harri ‘Wallu’ Vaalio, and to the director of FILI, Iris Schwank who, as part of the Finnish Cultural Spring project held in France in 2008, commissioned a Finnish comics exhibition which attracted widespread attention. In her role at FILI Schwanck has been an energetic promoter of international visibility for Finnish comics.
Minerva. Alajuoksun kelluva pullukka
[The floating dumpling of the Lower Reaches]
Helsinki: Otava, 2013. 48 pp., ill.
Minerva is a cartoon character who has appeared in two previous volumes (2006, 2009) by Juba, a.k.a. Jussi Tuomola. Juba is the creator of an extremely popular comics series for adults about the woman and the pig (both male chauvinist and porcine), Viivi and Wagner. Minerva is a brave and extremely resourceful little heroine who is never daunted by even the wildest adventures she experiences after leaving home to fly around in weird lands. Petra, the floating dumpling of the Lower Reaches, is a woman with magical powers who likes to travel in a flying gondola. In this volume Minerva also meets other old friends on her journey under water, underground, on a river and in the air above a jungle, in pursuit of a rare ingredient for a perfume that Petra has determined to acquire no matter what. The comedy in the uninhibitedly fantastic adventures, illustrated effectively in cartoon squares of different sizes, will amuse readers of many ages.
The father is woken up in the middle of the night because his small daughter suffers from nightmares. He asks her to tell him about them so they won’t frighten her any longer. Giant bunnies wearing high heels chase little Aino, a scary three-eyed gnome pours apple jam onto her, Daddy has turned into a dog….
Graphic artist Ville Tietäväinen began writing down Aino’s dreams when she was three, and together they illustrated them. The result is a graphic storybook entitled Vain pahaa unta (‘Just a bad dream’, WSOY, 2013).
Visible in the background are selected quotations from books on dreams and nightmares.. Aino’s nightmares are certainly produced by a lively imagination, making this an excitingly quirky book.
It was selected as one of the six runners-up of the Finlandia Junior Prize 2013; the winner will be announced on 26 November. (We tend to think, though, that Vain pahaa unta is definitely a more interesting read for daddies than kiddies.)
30 August 2013 | In the news
Expat Finland, created by Stuart Allt – an Australian web designer living in Turku, Finland – is an information resource on the Internet. It is particularly useful for people moving to Finland, or for anyone who is interested in finding out about Finnish services and products and in living in the country in general.
If you’re looking for maps, restaurants or universities, are interested in knowing more about the language(s), culture, sports etc, take a look at the recently redesigned Expat Finland.
And what do Finns think is funny?
Among latest additions on the Expat site is a selection of comic strips by Pertti Jarla. The creator of the cartoon town Fingerpori is often impossible to translate as he constantly plays with words and their meanings (getting the joke sometimes takes a while, too).
Take also a look at the samples of Jarla’s illustrations to Zoo – eläimellinen tarina (‘Zoo – a bestial story’), a book for children by Roman Schatz and Jarla, featured in Books from Finland.
15 February 2013 | This 'n' that
One day in the antediluvian times of dawning Beatlemania, a schoolboy in a Finnish small town found himself smitten head over heels by the new pop songs by (probably) the most famous band in the world ever (so far). Like some two billion other teenagers, he learnt by heart every single song the Beatles recorded. Yeah!
The schoolboy grew up and became the illustrator and writer Mauri Kunnas (born 1950), whose storybooks, mostly for children, have now been translated into 30 languages.
But his interest in the Fab Four never left him, and last year he published his illustrated history of John, Paul, George and Ringo, from the day they were born to the day when Please, Please Me / Ask Me Why became number one in the British Top 20 in 1962. As the book is partly written in his native local dialect, its title is Piitles. Tarina erään rockbändin alkutaipaleesta (‘Beatles. The story of the first stage of a rock band’, Otava, 2012).
In this 77-page graphic story the Beatles grow from babies into celebrities. The large number of hilarious visual details keeps the reader vigilant: for example, in their early days on Hamburg’s Reeperbahn John, Paul, George and Pete (Best) stay in lodgings behind a cinema that are less than hygienic, so on closer examination the lads turn out to be wearing underpants with yellow spots.
Julia Lennon, Klaus Voormann, Astrid Kirchherr, Stuart Sutcliffe, Cynthia, Brian Epstein, George Martin: the faces in the gallery of characters are instantly recognisable. Piitles illustrates how Beatlemania was born, and it is truly the work of a faithful fan.
24 January 2013 | In the news
The first anthology of Finnish comics in French will be introduced to a French (and international) audience on 1 February at the biggest European comics festival, which takes place in Angoulême, France.
La Bande dessinée Finlandaise 2013 (published by the Finnish Comics Society and the French publisher Rackham), edited by Johanna Rojola and Kalle Hakkola, features the work of thirteen Finnish female comics artists. Finland is an exception in the comics scene, because a large proportion of the artists in this field are female.
The Finnish participants in Angoulême are FILI (the Finnish Literature Exchange) and the Finnish Comics Society.
7 September 2012 | In the news
Comics are the ‘ninth art’, according to the organisers of the 27th Helsinki Comics Festival, which runs from 7 to 9 September.
This time, the special theme examines comics in relation to visual arts, and the main venue of the Festival is the Kiasma Museum of Contemporary Art in Helsinki. An exhibition entitled Eyeballing! and a concert series where comics meet music will take place there – artists improvise drawings inspired by live music.
Belgium is the country of focus; in the homeland of the classic Tintin the tradition and the experimental forms of comics live side by side. Among the guest artists will be Benôit Sokal and François Schuiten, Gert Meesters and Herr Seele from Belgium, Émile Bravo from France and Arne Bellstorf from Germany. Tommi Musturi and Amanda Vähämäki are the Finnish guests.
The ninth art? In Greek mythology, the Muses are nine goddesses personifying the fields of the arts. So nowadays Polymnia, Clio, Melpomene, Urania, Euterpe, Terpsichore, Calliope, Erato and Thalia inspire, respectively, painting (including drawing and photography), sculpture, theatre, architecture, music, dance, literature, cinema (as well as television & video) – and comics.
Thalia is ‘the amused muse’: in most languages the term for comics is a variant of ‘comic story’ or ‘amusing art’ – but the Finns call comics sarjakuva (serial pictures), which is what they mostly are.
10 May 2012 | In the news
The 2012 Finnish Comics Annual, edited by Reija Sann, was published in May by HuudaHuuda and the Finnish Comics Association. The book focuses on everyday realism, featuring eleven artists: Terhi Ekebom, Grönroos & Rantio, Matti Hagelberg, Pauli Kallio, Tarmo Koivisto, Mika Lietzen, Petteri Tikkanen, Tiitu Takalo, Katja Tukiainen and Riitta Uusitalo. In their work the limits of the individual and the collective, the local and the universally human are explored by means of fantasy.
The first Finnish Comics Annual, featuring Finnish comics and graphic novels in English, was published last year. The editor was Ville Hänninen.
This year’s Finlandia Comics Prize, worth €5,000, awarded by the association Tampere Kuplii (‘Tampere bubbles’) at a comics festival of the same name in Tampere on 4 May, went to graphic designer and illustrator Ville Tietäväinen for his voluminous graphic novel Näkymättömät kädet (‘Invisible hands’, WSOY, 2011). Ten finalists were chosen by a jury out of 68 candidates, and the final choice was made by actor Armi Toivanen.
Näkymättömät kädet is the story of a Moroccan tailor, Rashid, who loses his job and has to leave his family to look for work in Europe. For an illegal alien life in Spain is unbearably difficult. Introducing the work in the article ‘Funny peculiar’ (there is also a sample from Tietäväinen’s work) Heikki Jokinen comments: ‘Through the story of one person, Tietäväinen speaks of important matters: poverty, human value and what keeps us going, hope.’
2 February 2012 | In the news
Suomen sarjakuvaseura (The Finnish Comics Society) has awarded its Puupäähattu Award 2012 to the graphic artist and illustrator Kaisa Leka.
The prize is not money but a honorary hat, and is named after a classic Finnish cartoon character, Pekka Puupää (‘Pete Blockhead’), created by Ola Fogelberg and his daughter Toto. The Puupää comic books were published between 1925 and 1975, and some of the stories were made into film.
Leka describes herself as a mouse named Kaisa. Both of her legs have been replaced with steel prostheses, and she has featured disability in her comics book, for example in I Am Not These Feet.
Artificial limbs haven’t stopped her from cycling, for example, from Finland to Nice in France; she has described this tour in her book entitled Tour d’Europe.
(See a video of Kaisa cycling, by Lina Jelanski.)
Comics? The Finnish word for them, sarjakuva, means, literally, ‘serial picture’, and lacks any connotation with the ‘comic’. The genre, which now also encompasses works called graphic novels, has been the subject of celebrations this year in Finland, where it has reached its hundredth birthday. Heikki Jokinen takes a look at this modern art form
Comics are an art form that combines image and word and functions according to its own grammatical rules. It has two mother tongues: word and image. Both of them carry the story in their own way. Images and sequences of images have been used since ancient times to tell stories, and stories, for their part, are the common language of humanity. The long dark nights of the stone age were no doubt enlivened by storytellers.
One of the pioneers of comics was the Swiss artist Rodolphe Töpffer. As early as 1837, he explained how his books, combinations of images and words, should be read: ‘This little booklet is complex by nature. It is made up of a series of my own line drawings, each accompanied by a couple of lines of text. Without text, the meaning of the drawings would remain obscure; without drawings, the text would remain without content. The whole gives birth to a sort of novel – but one which is in fact no more reminiscent of a novel than of any other work.’ More…
1 April 2011 | In the news
Finnish Comics Annual, by HuudaHuuda, is the first in a series of books introducing Finnish comics and graphic novels in English: edited by Ville Hänninen, the book features 20 Finnish comics artists. This massive work (two kilos) is published in cooperation with the Finnish Comics Association.
Finnish serial picture art celebrates its 100th birthday this year. One of a number of exhibitions related to this anniversary takes place at the National Library of Finland, entitled ‘Reverly, rambuctiousness, rough stuff’ (until 15 October). It presents pioneers of Finnish comics, rare comics albums and originals from early comics publications. Professori Itikaisen tutkimusretki (‘Professor Itikainen’s expedition’) by Ilmari Vainio was published in 1911 and is regarded as the first Finnish comic.
24 February 2011 | This 'n' that
As a little girl in Paris, I dreamed of going to the Angoulême comics festival – Corto Maltese and Mike Blueberry were my heroes, and I liked to imagine meeting them in person.
20 years later, my wish came true – I went to the festival to present Finnish comics to a French audience! I was an intern at FILI – Finnish Literature Exchange, and for the first time, FILI had its own stand at Angoulême in January 2011.
Finnish comics have become popular abroad in recent years, which is particularly apparent in the young artists’ reception by readers in Europe. Angoulême isn’t just a comics Mecca for Europeans, however: there were admirers of Matti Hagelberg, Marko Turunen and Tommi Musturi from as far away as Japan and Korea.
The festival provides opportunities to present both general ‘official’ comics, ‘out-of-the-ordinary’ and unusual works. The atmosphere at the festival is much wilder than at a traditional book fair: for four days the city is filled with publishers, readers, enthusiasts, artists, and even musicians. People meet in the evenings at le Chat Noir bar to discuss the day’s finds, sketching their friends and the day’s events.
As one Belgian publisher told me, ‘There have always been Finns at Angoulême.’ Staff from comics publisher Kutikuti and many others have been making the rounds at Angoulême for years, walking through the city and festival grounds, carrying their backpacks loaded with books. They have been the forerunners to whom we are grateful, and we hope that our collaboration with them deepens in the future.
This year two Finnish artists, Aapo Rapi and Ville Ranta were nominated for the Sélection Officielle prize, which gave them wider recognition. Rapi’s Meti is a colourful graphic novel inspired by his own grandmother Meti [see the picture right: the old lady with square glasses].
Hannu Lukkarinen and Juha Ruusuvuori were also favorites, as all the available copies of Les Ossements de Saint Henrik, the French translation of their adventures of Nicholas Grisefoth, sold out. There were also fans of women comics artists, searching feverishly for works by such artists as Jenni Rope and Milla Paloniemi.
Chatting with French publishers and readers, it became clear that Finnish comics are interesting for their freshness and freedom. Finnish artists dare to try every kind of technique and they don’t get bogged down in questions of genre. They said so themselves at the festival’s public event. According to Ville Ranta, the commercial aspect isn’t the most important thing, because comics are still a marginalised art in Finland. Aapo Rapi claimed that ‘the first thing is to express my own ideas, for myself and a couple of friends, then I look to see if it might interest other people.’
Hannu Lukkarinen emphasised that it’s hard to distribute Finnish-language comics to the larger world: for that you need a no-nonsense agent like Kirsi Kinnunen, who has lived in France for a long time doing publicity and translation work. Finnish publishers haven’t yet shown much interest in marketing comics, but that may change in the future.
These Finnish artists, many of them also publishers, were happy at Angoulême. Happy enough, no doubt, to last them until next year!
Translated by Lola Rogers