Books Features

A city of bubbles

artist Achdé has been responsible for the Lucky
adventures since the death of Morris in 2001. Joakim Pirinen, from
Sweden, is an artist well known among hardcore comic lovers, who became popular
in 1985 with Sugar-Conny, a graphic
novel about an anarchistic borderline personality. Some of the Finnish names at
Kuplii are Kari Korhonen, the only Finnish artist drawing Donald Duck, and
Kristian Huitula, who has created the only graphic novel in English based on
the Kalevala.

Antti Grönlund is the man behind the idea for the festival, although he quickly
admits that it is due to effort and cooperation of more than 10 people. “Why
Tampere? I realised that there are many people involved in comics there, even
more than in Helsinki. There is a lot of enthusiasm and creative potential”.
However, Grönlund is realistic about the difficult situation comic artists have
in Finland: “the market is very small here. Only Juba can make a living with
comics. For everybody else, this is a side job”. Nevertheless, in Antti’s
opinion the level and quality of Finnish artists is very high.

There will
also be the first event of the Cosplay Finland Tour 2007 during Tampere Kuplii: dress up as your
favourite character and be there.

information and full programme at:

Books Features

The First Book of Hope

The main
character in The First Book of Hope is
seemingly an ordinary Finnish middle-aged man: a little bit overweight and
slightly balding. His name is never mentioned and we do not know where this
story takes place. Clearly we are dealing with an allegory, and our main
character (actually the only person in this book) embodies the Finnish
Everyman. The comic resembles a mediaeval morality play since the main
character ponders about the life he has led and lost friendships. Throughout
the work a melancholic feeling permeates, as voiced in the monologues of our
Everyman: "you hope you become wiser as you try to avoid the bitterness
life so often offers. "

This book was the graduation work of Tommi
and was featured in the Masters
of Arts 05
exhibition at the University
of Art and Design in Helsinki. It is not,
however, a stand-alone-work: just recently The
Second Book of Hope
was published (in English) and there will be 6 Books of Hope in total. Otava will
publish The First book of Hope in
Finnish; the English version is already available in well stocked comic stores.


Books Features

The polemic pencil

did you publish your
first comic?

I was 13 years old, I self-published a 50-paged album. It was an adventure
influenced by Asterix, Corto Maltese and Indiana Jones.

place to draw, meaning where do you feel more comfortable and concentrated to

like to draw in cafés drinking coffee and smoking mini cigars. But I think the
place I can concentrate best and find my inspiration most easily is my own
drawing table in my workroom.

artists you admire?

are a lot of excellent artists here! The poet Pentti Saarikoski is the most
important (called himself "The Poet of Finland" and translated
Joyce’s Ulysses into Finnish). In the comics I like Jyrki Heikkinen, Marko
Turunen, Terhi Ekebom…

artist you admire?

Joyce, Picasso, Keith Jarrett (jazz pianist), Ornette Coleman (jazz musician
also), the poets and writers of the Antique Greece and Rome like Petronius…
Frédéric Chopin…

was the last comic you read?

Heikkinen’s Tohtori Futuro that is about to be published by the small
publishing house Asema in Finland. I am one of the founders of Asema and do a
lot of work as editor. Otherwise, I think the last book was Joann Sfar’s latest
Chat du rabbin, Jérusalem d’Afrique (Dargaud).

was, in your opinion, the best comic of 2006?

You know, I haven’t read them all. I’m quite fond of Joann Sfar’s Chat du
rabbin albums. One appears every year and it’s almost every time the best comic
of the year, for me.

makes a Ville Ranta’s comic work different from the others?

rarely use panels in my stories, I improvise alot and find my influences a lot
from other art than comics, for example modern jazz music. As a comics artist,
the rhytm is the most important thing in storytelling.

you like being polemic when drawing a comic?

I find contemporary subjects interesting and I comment things alot. When I get
furious about something, I draw a comic. A lot of this material is published in
my comics blog in but I also draw contemporary and
politic comic/cartoons in the on of the biggest newspaper in Finland,

you like manga?

Though I’ve get to know only the mass entertainment stuff which doesn’t
interest me at all.

can you tell about the censorship in Kaltio for the Mohammed cartoon?

of people in Finland (and in Europe) are afraid of the discussion of religion
and islamistic fundamentalism. Or even afraid of any discussion on muslims. A
group of people among the sponsors of Kaltio and the publisher of Kaltio got
extremely afraid of something when Kaltio published my comic on Mohammed. They
didn’t even read it. The comic ironizes the fundamentalism and the European
fear of Muslims and opposes the Iraq war. But they were totally ignorant of
what I had to say. They didn’t want that this discussion is done in Kaltio and
they censored my work in a brutal and illegal way. That’s all I have to say
about that.

do you think about so many comics adapted into films in last few years?

not very interested in those films more than the comics behind. Except The
Ghost World is a great book. I haven’t seen the film.

other activities do you do apart from drawing comics?

run this publishing house of alternative comics, Asema. I teach comics a little
in a art school near Oulu.

other hobbies do you have?

the house, listening to free jazz, watching films of Fellini.

have your own company. Is it hard to be an artist and business man at same

not a business man. The publishing house is a hobby, it doesn’t produce money.
I only get paid of the rights if Asema publishes my book, the rest is hobby of
me and Mika Lietzén. We run this house for free.

are your future projects?

going to finish my next graphic novel in fall. I’ve worked a long time at it.
It will be probably published in France at the same time as in Finland.

Books Features

Letters from Finland

The 31 letters can be read like short stories.
Some tell of fatal incidents, like the "Faisan of Malmi" ending up as
a delicious French dish in the casserole of the writer's mother. Or about a
cheese sent from France, arriving weeks late, due to a public strike. In a
correct and pitiless attitude the postman delivers the stinking package, where
a cribbling "spite from Satan" is left, beside a rotten postcard
"with the best wishes from your parents".


The nature is really beautiful and muurahainen
sounds so erotic

In one letter Guicheteau prepares his friend
for the first visit to a mökki (wooden summerhouse) and provides instruction on
how to obtain the sympathy of the Finnish landlord: "You take a long hot
bath accompanied by a white wine or a bottle of Finlandia. Then, with a towel
around your hips, sit outside on the balcony. Take your photo album from
Finland and have it open at the most beautiful page. Look at the lakes and
forests. Listen to them. Be patient. Surrender to the wind and air. Let it seize
your body. Wait for this sublime moment, when you feel neither cold nor hot.
Finally, in a faithful voice, sigh out slowly: "Kyllä luonto on todella
kaunis". ("The nature is really beautiful")

There is a poetic description of the mökki: We
can smell the wood and moisture, see the old magazines from the seventies that
nobody reads, the mugs in different sizes and colours, the pot with the sugar
hardened during the winter, hear the conversation about trees to be cut, feel
the comfortable old clothes and the time passing by slowly.

The peculiar Finnish family names are
meditated: Koivujärvi ("Birch-Lake"), Haapapuro (Trembling-Stream),
Jokimaa (River-Earth) and Haukka (Falcon) – don t they remind you of names from
the North American Indians? And the sound of the language – how sensual in
"muurahainen" (ant), as moving slowly with your mouth over a naked
body. Or howling like a wolf in the forest with "kuu" (moon), dancing
a Brasilian music rhythm in "katokatokukatuli" (See, who comes!) and crashing
solidly in "minä rakastan sinua" (I love you).


Finns are strange

Of course the "typical" Finnish melancholy
is a subject. The experience of a  joyful
birthday party that turns into a burial atmosphere, when in late hours the saddest
tangos are played and people sink into silence, think deep thoughts, or even
start to cry. Is it moral hangover, heritage from their Slavic roots, or a need
for self-punishment?

Some themes and questions may arise especially
from the contrast of Protestant north and Catholic, Latin south. Hence the
straight way of northern talking whereb the author feels sometimes "like a
baroque artist overcharging his painting with angels or superfluous

To the question of why the lights in a bar
flash in the end of the evening, comes the short answer "They close"
and not "because it is late and this is the way to…blah blah". No
explanation from a doorman of the disco, regarding why you can't get in. Only

One chapter is about the hopeless effort to
teach students the sense and art of lying. How can they honestly tell the
teacher that they have not done their homework? It's like offending a person.
Could they not excuse themselves by telling they have forgotten it at home or
were busy with an important exam?

Also, why are some people so rudely knocking
against you in the tram or supermarket without any "anteeksi"? Or why
do your neighbours hide behind their doors until you have disappeared into the
lift? And if by accident the common journey takes place – why don't they say a
word? How can Finns be so worried when you come some minutes late for an
appointment? And why do they meet in the windy corner under the Stockmann clock
and not in a cosy café enjoying the lecture of a newspaper?

Each of the questions appears in its own
chapter. Exaggerated and presented in a pointed manner the stories have also
their own dramatic turns that lead to a surprising end or conclusion.
Guicheteau's style is made of French delicatesse, of self-irony and might
sometimes sound slightly presumptuous. Therefore the citation of La Fontaine at
the beginning of the book: "No-one is prophet in his home country. Let's
search for our adventures elsewhere".


Finns are wonderful

Reading in some American guide: "Be aware
that since the Ostrogoths the human being has not seen a more rude and impolite
civilisation than the one of the Parisians", the author concludes that the
numerous pardons and demands in conditional form in French ("Excuse me, would
it be possible to order a coffee" instead of "Yksi kahvi" – one
coffee) cannot compete with the Finnish "kohteliaisuus (politeness)".
Because Finns act politely. And we can only admire their flexibility of switching
from their own language to a foreign one, opening the space to share

"From love and iron" tells a story of
two iron finger-rings found in a fleamarket. They belonged to a couple at the time
of the Continuation War and replaced the golden wedding rings given away to
finance the fight for independence. Trying on the small rings, the writer feels
the blood beat in his cold fingers and imagines it as the hearts of the old
lovers made of iron courage and their love for their country.

"You see," Samuel, ends one letter,
"all this is Finland, a mobile ringing on a deserted island, a country
house without running water but with television, a campfire that is lighted
with methylated spirits".

Many foreigners come to live in Finland. They
grow into Finish culture. It can happen to be an astonishing experience.



"The Finns have not only one traditional
vodka, they have two of them. They pretend that "kossu" and
Koskenkorva are the same thing. I disagree. The "kossu" is an alcohol
designed to make you drunk, to forget or to destroy yourself. But
"Koskenkorva" is something completely different. Usually I keep a
bottle of it in an iceholder in the fridge. It happens, on certain evenings in
the cold of the winter, in the warmth of my apartment, between calm and
solitude, that I allow myself a little glass of this brew. The effects, Samuel,
exceed capacity of human comprehension.

All alone on the scenery of the livingroom
table, the glass, filled to the rim, is executing a strange performance. Covered
with icy frost and foam as if it wants to recreate (I ignore the reason) the
clattering cold of winter in this cozy home. I approach with the reverence of a
noble, bowing and take the glass delicately with two fingers. Carefully, not to
spill a drop (because here is also the difference between the drinker of kossu and
the drinker of Koskenkorva), I slowly lead the elixir to my lips, which ignore
until now the torture they are going to receive.

In the moment where the glass is close to the
mouth and where the scent of alcohol rises to the nose, it is good to
concentrate, like a sprinter on the starting line.

One does not drink the Koskenkorva, you must
fling it into your body!

It is divine and terrible!

First the lips, then the mouth, the throat and
the chest are set to fire and blood, as an eagle drawing in his talons. The
belly then begins to glow like a forge. You have to retain your respiration to
get the fire down. It feels good like a hit of the axe, or something of this
kind and you can't be sure if you are the victim or the murderer.

Once the pain has disappeared I heave a sigh.

And here, Samuel, at this precise moment when
it steams out of me like a liberation, I am the most independent, the most
proud, and the most heroic of all the Finns."

Books Features

Of pigs and ducks

{mosimage}This will come as no surprise to anybody as
the Aku Ankka weekly magazine is still the biggest-selling magazine in Finland.
In few other countries does Donald Duck gain such great popularity as in
Finland. In the US, for example, sales of a Donald Duck magazine are
practically non-existent, Alas, if you hold any illusions that this all due to
Finnish craftsmanship and quality work, I must disappoint you. As these things
go in this globalised world, the actual work for Donald Duck is done in small
animation studios around the world and then assembled and translated by
separate companies. Finnish artists are hardly involved in this process. Since
this article deals with Finnish comics, we should therefore focus on other

To get an understanding of the Finnish
comic market one must first realize that the reading market is not so large.
With a total population of around 5.2 million, the potential readership of
comics is going to be rather small, of course. Even more so, since the
popularity of this medium has been in a steady decline since the fifties. In
actual numbers this means for example that the book Persepolis (a memoir of the
young Iranian Marjane Satrapi moving to Europe) was considered a surprising
bestseller even though sales did not peak over 5,000.

But even though the whole comics scene is
small in size, the production is surprisingly high and of good quality. Proof
of that can be found in the growing interest abroad in what’s happening around
here. Finnish artists were asked this year to show their works in several
exhibitions during important comic festivals in France, Holland and Belgium.
Also, many works by Finnish artists are being translated and published in
English and French.

Comic books that sell well here are not
particularly popular elsewhere. Every country has their own equivalent of
newspaper humour strips like “Viivi ja Wagner” or “Virtanen” so who in France
or Germany would be interested in reading these comics? On the other hand, the
young and sometimes rather unknown artists that make their own brand of
alternative comics are appealing to foreign readers. Names like Tommi Musturi,
Ville Ranta, Matti Hagelberg, Marko Turunen, Kati Kovacs may not ring a bell to
many readers but they are widely known amongst comic connoisseurs abroad.

{mosimage}Ville Ranta, for example, is a comic artist
living in Oulu who started his own publishing company, Asema, in 2000, through
which he has published several books. Lewis Trondheim, one of the biggest names
in French comics nowadays and founder of the renowned l’Association publishing
company, specifically asked Ville to put together a comic album. The result is Célébritz
(Dargaud), a witty satire on our celebrity-obsessed society. The main character
invents a pill which turns people into instant idols but the fame lasts only
from 3 seconds to two weeks. Ville’s own work is mostly autobiographical in
nature and he draws in a loose, sketchy way. Earlier this year, however, Ville
Ranta was the focus of plenty of media attention after being banned from the
Kaltio culture magazine and being censored by too-careful Finnish politicians
of the Oulu city administration due to the whole Mohammed cartoon craze. In his
banned comic strip, Ville and the prophet Mohammed have an animated discussion
about Islamic and western differences and later Tarja Halonen and Matti
Vanhanen are shown burning the Danish flag “as a sign of friendship towards the
Muslim world”. As an hilarious comment on the always-overcautious Finnish
foreign policy this worked quite well, but three major sponsors of Kaltio left
and the chief editor was fired.  When the
whole media attention had died out, however, Oulu city rehired Ranta as an
illustrator for the Snellman book they had been planning.

Matti Hagelberg has also been published by
l’Association and several magazines all over the world (most notably Blab in
the States) thanks to his well-known scratchy drawing technique and absurd
storytelling. His 200-page masterpiece about Urho Kekkonen (published by Otava
in 2004) has also been translated into Swedish.

A third name to keep an eye open for is
Tommi Musturi, who is not only the editor of Glömp magazine (more about that
later) but he most recently gained fame with First Book of Hope, which has
already been published in French. This comic (in English) captures very nicely the
mental state of a typical middle-aged Finnish man who contemplates his lost
childhood. While stuffing himself with greasy food and complaining about his
missing longjohns he mumbles to himself and engages in countryside activities
such as building a bird’s nest, going to the sauna and walking in the forest. The
Second Book of Hope is scheduled in January 2007 and will be simultaneously
published in English and French. Otava will at the same time publish The First
Book of Hope in Finnish.

One event is marked in red in the calendars
of every Finnish comic lover and artist; the yearly comic festival in Helsinki.
During this occasion, which usually takes place on the third weekend of
September, the whole comics industry comes together and presents their newest
publications side by side. The 2006 comic festival gathered more than 6,500
visitors over its two-day period and his been growing in popularity quite
rapidly these last few years. It is no wonder, because the main guest of this
year, Garth Ellis, said it was “the best small-sized comic festival I have ever
attended”. Lectures, exhibitions and sometimes hilarious stage acts entertain a
mixed crowd of comics collectors, artists, urban hipsters and families with

The comic world is in general very male
oriented. In the States, 90% of the comic readers are male, and female comic
artists are just a handful. The comic stores are considered safe havens for young
nerds and sweaty, unwashed comic collectors. This is nicely illustrated in The Simpsons with the Comic Book Guy
character, a sarcastic 45-year-old overweight virgin who still lives with his
mother. Girls hardly ever enter a comic book store, and why would they? There
are no books that they would be interested in and they would be scared away by
the clientele and staff alike. In Finland, however, the situation is a bit
healthier. From the top of my head I can list at least 10 female comic artists:
Jenni Rope, Kati Kovacs, Katja Tukiainen, Roju, Kaisa Leka, and Tiitu being
among the most important. In Tampere the Irtoparta magazine (False Beard, comes
with English translation sheets) publishes female cartoonists only and has
already 7 issues out. I honestly don’t think there’s any other country where
the female presence is so strong in the comics scene. The readership also is
almost equally divided.

{quotes}A good start for getting to know the
artists listed here would to buy comic anthologies such as Laikku or Glömp.
They feature a healthy array of all the up and coming Finnish comic artists and
come with complete English translations on the bottom of each page. The 8th
issue of Glömp especially was critically well-received and managed to sell out
completely in a matter of months. It should still be available in several
stores, though. The book is a colourful 225-page collection of experimental
graphics and painful youth trauma stories shown with every possible drawing
technique. To illustrate the international appeal of this book (and Finnish
comics in general) even more, a quarter of all copies were sold in the States.

The main problem with all these fine books
is finding them in the stores. Print runs often don’t exceed 1,000 copies, and
when they are sold out, there’s very little chance of reprinting. Nationwide
distribution as well has proven to be very difficult. It might take some
digging and snooping around in several bookstores to actually get your hands on
these books. Fortunately, the libraries usually have a good collection of
homegrown comics in the adult comics department. If you would be willing to
sample these Finnish comics, they are out there – just go and track them down.
The lucky finders will be rewarded with some good reading material.

Books Features

Helsinki Book Fair

The fair became a paradise for book lovers. The biggest names of the industry placed huge stands where you could find all the newly-released books, but there was also plenty of time to visit smaller stands where attendees could chat in a relaxed way, or even go inside a library bus where information about the city library network could be found.

Altogether there were more than 850 authors and speakers telling about their work, from big consolidated names as Arto Paasilinna to younger authors with big success like Riikka Pulkkinen. The readers had a chance to get a book signed by their favourite author and exchange some words, because the companies always try to create a good climate of communication between the visitors and the writers.

There was also place for big international names as the Swedish Mikael Niemi, or exotic authors like the Chinese Jung Chang and his controversial biography of Mao.

If reading is one of your passions, do not miss the fair next year!