Books Features

The demon crush – Interview with Kristian Huitula

In 1999 you moved to Japan, why did you choose this country?

I've always been interested in Japan. I started training ninjutsu in 1990 and since then it has had a very important meaning in my whole life. In 1999 I had the opportunity to move to Tokyo and study the animation process in the studios responsible for Ghost in the Shell. It was a turning point in my life because I even met my wife there!

Oni Kudaki is a collaboration with your wife and that makes it the first Finnish-Japanese comic production. How was it?

Of course, she was a very good assistant. She helped me be very precise with details. I wanted to do a historical story, but the plot is fiction and the details are accurate, just like the real 16th century Japan. It's not only fantasy, as I did a lot of background research since 2000.The idea had already been in my mind for quite some time. The time spent in Japan gave the final kick: all the experiences about Japanese culture, people, nature, training… I think all of that has had a strong impact, that without it Oni Kudaki wouldn't have been possible.

Music is a big part of your life. You studied classical guitar for more than ten years. How would the soundtrack of Oni Kudaki be?

Oni Kudaki

It wouldn't be too modern. There would be lot of ambience to get a mysterious feeling. It would be a bit spooky music, indeed.

A couple of years ago Kristian Huitula received great acclaim because of his adaptation of the legendary Kalevala. It is the first and only comic adaptation of the Finnish national epic and it has been translated to English and Russian.

How was this idea developed?

It's hard to say. When I read it at school I didn't hate it. I didn't have any traumas as most of the children at the time, although I didn't become a Kalevala freak. Some parts got stuck in my mind.

What was the most difficult part of adapting this epic?

It is such a long story that I wasn't sure if it would work as a comic. Editing was the hardest part: how to tell the 50 runes of the Kalevala in less than 200 pages.

Do you find any similarities between Finnish and Japanese legends and myths?

Sure. For example, there is a certain mystic sense of nature that strongly links both. The shamanism that has obviously a specific importance in Kalevala, is very closely connected with nature and all the different “gods and spirits” inhabiting the nature and the forests. On the other hand, the Japanese Shinto religion and its gods and spirits (Kami) which are present in all Japanese legends, is also related to natural elements, sacred trees and mountains, for example. Those nature spirits have quite an important role in the stories of both Kalevala and the old Japanese legends. They are important characters that get involved with the people's activities, and also make the story move on.

Oni Kudaki – The Magician and the Ghost Boy is published in the English language.

More information:

Books Interviews

The perfect book to read in the toilet

What inspired you to write a book about shit?

The idea came at my daughter’s one-year birthday party. My family and friends was there, people from different ages, and everybody started to tell stories about that, so we realized the potential of publishing a book about…shit.

Paskakirja contains a great deal of research. How did you divide the work between Miika and yourself?

Basically, we first thought about what should be there. Then we expanded it. Most of the chapters are written by one of us and then the other one read through.

Swallow the Sun

Did you have to erase any part after talking to the editor?

No, actually there was one part we found that we should have included later, that is sex and shit. It is something that the editor said that should be there, but it was too late to be included.

How would you take it if somebody tells you that this book is shit? Would it be a compliment in this particular case?

Yeah, it depends upon the face they have when saying it – people make so many jokes about it…

It is also a very handy book when going to the toilet and some reading is needed…

It is designed for looking good in the bookshelves…and yeah….also for going to the toilet…

Why are people, in general, shy when talking about going to the toilet?

There is a chapter about it. It is a complicated issue. Philosophically, it is said that a human being is something that shit is not. And well, obviously shit is also disgusting. So the answer should be somewhere between there. I don’t know because there is not only one answer; different cultures have different opinions and approaches.

Did you find any group of people that adore shit?

Not like adoration. There is a chapter about people who “like” the shit, so that they talk about it a lot with their friends, and they have competitions to see who can expel the longest piece of shit…and that kind of stuff. Mostly males who gather many friends together and it is more a kind of a game.

Where did you find the sources for such a difficult topic to be researched?

We mostly made many interviews with doctors, psychologists and all kind of specialists. For example, a biologist was very excited explaining about her job. The other opposite side was the doctors, because no one wanted to be labeled for appearing in a book like this, talking about this topic. In the end we got a couple of doctors to collaborate.

Is there anything you discovered that shocked you while writing the book?

Most of things were not shocking, but kind of surprising. The most surprising thing was that shit has been used as a medical therapy, because some of the bacteria help to fight other bacteria inside the human body. The therapy is used even in Finland.

How did you get the paskatarinat (stories about shit) from people in the street?

Mostly they sent the stories through internet and then we also had a query about how long time they spent in toilet, for example. Eventually we gathered over 300 different stories.

Paskakirja authors

Was it complicated to get a balance between serious research and the funny side of the topic?

Both authors talked and thought a lot about it, so the title itself is so funny that we cannot underline it anymore. So we try to talk seriously about it, but then, when the stories come, they do not make the book look boring. So we found that we got a balance between giving good information and being entertaining.

Did you discover any different features in the habits of Finnish people when going to the toilet, compared with others?

It is difficult because for that, a similar research should be done in other countries. I have only this “Finnish” point of view, but I guess that there could be many differences with other countries like Russia and Sweden, but it would be a good topic for another book.

How likely that there will be sequel published in the future?

Well, there are some things we discovered later that were missed from the book, like sex and other stuff, plus it would be nice to compare with other places, but it is also very complicated to do.

Tell me more about the fact that, on average, men go to the toilet 7,000 more times than women each a year.

That is something that I found interesting myself. We made a query about that. There should not be any physiological reason. It could be that the men talk more about it, so they exaggerate it, or that women feel shy to talk about it. There is also quite big a difference about how long they stay in the toilet, so men stay much longer. It was a surprise that it was such a big difference.

You also include a special interview with Ari “Paska” Peltonen. What is the story behind that?

He is very popular in Finland; he writes and does a lot of stuff. He has had that nickname for many years. He told us that once he was in Russia and he was going to be interviewed by the national television, but when they heard about the literal translation of his nickname, they changed their minds.

And finally, you also investigated the music business…

Miika took care of that part more. We knew there were funny “shit stories” with HIM and The Rasmus, but the manager did not want them to talk about it. Not so glamorous…

Books Features

A noble prize impossible to duplicate

Having no boundaries
at all at expressing his personal opinions, convinced Communist until
the end, and atheist, Saramago has provoked polemic
admiration towards his creativity and integrity, plus he was
unanimously considered a worthy winner of the Nobel Prize. During his
intervention in Helsinki, he pinpointed the fact of having a break in
his writing process for more than 20 years.

Actually, he did not
publish anything from 1947 to 1966, because, as he has repeated many
, “I had nothing to say.” And he
also had time to defend the respect for the elderly, “When I
started to be published internationally, I was 60-years-old and I was
a beginner, when many others are retired. So I have a message for the
young people, and also for the ones who are not so young. That means
basically for everybody, and it is that life does not end when you
are 30…or 40 or 50. I have written my best books when I was old.
And I enjoy working, I do not believe in this thing called
retirement. So please, respect the older people because they still
have many things to offer.”

really, like with a good wine, the work of Saramago improved with the
passage of time. Since 1980 he has written many acclaimed titles such
The Year of the Death of Ricardo
, The
Gospel According to Jesus Christ
, The
and The

The author is quite
a talkative person who does not feel shy at all to analyze his works
or his previous
experiences. He exhales an
aura of satisfaction about all the things achieved in his life, but,
at the same time, he is very humble and respectful in his comments
and answers. Although Saramago’s schedule was very hectic, he kindly
had some minutes to answer a couple of answers from FREE! Magazine:

{mosimage}Mr Saramago,
coming back to the topic of your book
, how
would you feel if you went out to the street and met a duplicate of

I think I would not
like it at all. As I said, I think that if you meet a person exactly
the same
as you, the tendency would be to
eliminate that person. The topic goes very faraway in time; it was
treated already in old Greek Mythology, in the story of Zeus in the
role of Amphitrion to get Alcmena, his wife. And we could discuss a
long time about nowadays issues such as cloning, but well, I think we
have not enough time, and better things to do…

What was your
reaction when you
received the Nobel

Well, at the
beginning I was shocked, it was like if they had hit me with a hammer
in the head. But then, I took it more relaxed. Of course
it was very nice to go to Stockholm and receive the prize and
everything…but you know… I was alone at an airport when I
received the phone call that gave me notice of being awarded with the
prize, and after a while, I just thought…well… I have won the
Nobel Prize… so what? Life goes on…

After renouncing to
take a taxi, preferring to take the arm of his wife, the Spanish
Pilar Del Río, who is also his translator, they walk off into
an exceptionally sunny day in Helsinki. Later, at the end of one
interview in a bookstore full of admirers and curious people, he
received a quick visit from a very special fan: the president of
Finland, Tarja Halonen.


Photos by Eduardo Alonso 

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 Interviews

Running to the limit

Where were
you born?

In Oulu. I
moved to the capital some years ago to study.

Do you like
living here in Helsinki?

Yeah. The
first months I missed my home city a lot. I was even visiting the Railway
Station just to watch at the trains departing to Oulu. But after some months, I
started to work in Linnänmäki amusement park and it became more fun.

What do you
like doing in the capital when you have free time?

I like
running around, especially on summer. When I was younger I trained hard in
athletics, but now I can just open my eyes and enjoy the landscape. I have
recently discovered the Punavuori area, which is really nice.

How do you
deal with your studies at Helsinki University?

I am a bit
ashamed because I still have to finish my thesis and I have not talked to my
supervisor… I am so busy that I don’t know when I am going to have time to
complete it…

What is the
thesis topic about?

It has to do
with the devil.

What book
have you read lately?

Pääskynen´s Vihan Päivä

What place
in Finland would you recommend to visit?

{quotes}Oulu, of

Do you feel
nervous about the critiques?

It is the scariest part of being a writer
for me. I have read three bad critiques, and three good ones.

Your reaction about the bad ones?

They were right on some points. I tried to
read them from that angle, but it was hard for me as well.

In your book, how can you imagine being
under the skin of a man who makes love to a woman?

I have only one answer, it is a cryptic
answer, I said that I know my own parts because he is “me” at that time in the
process of writing, so everything feels right and natural.

What is the future for Riikka Pulkkinen?

There are different kinds of projects. I am
going to be on TV for the whole spring. It is kind of a talk show called Kuka, mitä, häh.

Books Interviews

Pedro Juan’s dirty Havana

FREE! Magazine had the honour to get an exclusive interview with one of the hottest contemporary authors in Latin American: Pedro Juan Gutierrez. A writer whose style, full of passion, sex, visceral, raw, harsh but also hugely beautiful, creates equally love and hate among his readers.

Pedro Juan kindly answered our questions while staying in Colombia for some days, out of his beloved city. "I always have a nice relationship with journalists. I was one for 26 years, and I know how agonizing this job can be, but also how rewarding in other occasions", he recalls.

When you published Dirty Havana Trilogy, in 1998, you recognised that it was a very hard
time in your life, very depressing, almost with suicidal tendencies. What do you feel now when you look back on that period?

I try to forget the past and not to be afraid of what the future will bring. I just try to enjoy the moment, be calmer.

Pedro Juan Gutierrez

That book has a high degree of autobiography, hasn’t it?

Yes, it is almost an autobiography, but not totally. I think that many readers, after the second time they go through my works, start to understand that the real “leit motiv” of my books is poverty more than sex.

Your books have a very aggressive style. There are ideas poured against almost everything in politics, philosophy, religion… How are they received in Cuba?

Well, they are not received well, nor badly. The point is actually that they are not published here. There are only some selected titles that circulate with a small number of copies. But I think that the new generation, young people with no prejudices, like them very much. Many times they circulate from hand to hand.

I see some features in your work that reminds me of Guillermo Cabrera Infante´s masterpiece Infante's Inferno. Have you read that book?

No, I have never read that book. In Cuba you cannot find his works. As simple as that. If he would have won the Nobel Prize, no Cuban would have known about it. When he died, nobody even published a short article in the press. But I like very much his book Three Trapped Tigers.

“I have had sex with more than 2.000 women in my life”

What contemporary authors do you read?

I am interested in Richard Ford, Carver, Houllebeck, Guillermo Arriaga, Fernando Vallejo and some others.

You have worked in many different jobs, met many people and gone through many experiences. How do you face life when you get up every morning?

I learn new things every day, I am like a child. I still get amazed about many things and I try to understand them better. Now for example in Colombia I was carrying out a poll about silicone implants. It has become very popular here among women, they do it everywhere, in their tits, lips, ass, and cheeks. It is fascinating to hear
what they have to tell.

Going through your work, we can appreciate that you must have had many experiences and success with women. Have you found often real love, or has it been more about frantic sex like in your books?

I have had sex with more than two thousand women in my life. A bit excessive maybe. Real love…only with five or six… and I feel very bad when everything is over. A female Finnish journalist, whose name I do not remember now, interviewed me in La Havana not long time ago. She was very friendly. She tried to link all this behaviour to former psychological problems with my mother and father.

Pedro Juan

Would you be able to live in another place, different from Havana?

Moving to somewhere else? No, never! Well, maybe Spain. I would not like to live in a place with a different language.

Have you ever been in Finland? What do you know about this country?

Yes, I was invited to Helsinki and Lahti some years ago. I gave a speech for two minutes, and the other five days I was walking around the beautiful lakes and forests. I had a very nice romance with a sweet Finnish woman who cultivated aromatic herbs, and I enjoyed sauna. Lahti was an unforgettable experience. I would love to go back, but I suppose that warm woman does not live there anymore, because the world is not a perfect place.

“I suffer from censorship in Sweden. Publishing houses do not want to publish my books there”

In your book Tropical Animal (Etelän Peto), the main character also had a romance with a Swedish woman: Agneta. Is the inspiration coming also from a real story?

Yes. Agneta, with another real name, really exists. She is a real woman. I lived in Sweden in 1999
for three months, and everything happened just as it is told in the book. She felt betrayed at the beginning, but later, she understood that a writer is always a bit of a “son of a bitch”, not always a nice human being, and she accepts me the way I am. Publishing houses in Sweden, in revenge, do not publish my books. I suffer from censorship in Sweden, and I think that they are really stupid because they are missing very good books that are already published in twenty other countries.

What are the future perspectives for Pedro Juan?

Like everybody else: projects. The first one is to live a relaxed life, and have fun whenever I am able to. Life is a great crazy adventure, funny, unpredictable…  Time flies, and without realising about it, we have become old, and we cannot fuck anymore, or drink, or smoke, and the women look at us like if we were old grandpas. Shit, what a horror!

Books Interviews

Mikael Niemi: A warm writer from the North

We have the good luck to meet him in the
offices of his Finnish publishing house, few minutes before flying back to his
home in the Swedish Artic Pole. A trip of 10 hours leading him to his village
of  only 2000 citizens not far from the
Finnish border: Pajala. Mikael has spent the week end in Helsinki promoting his
new book: The man who died like a salmon
(Mies joku kuolli kuin lohi), and
feels surprise about how the author of this interview, coming from a southern
warmer country, can live in Finland’s capital. I wonder the same about his life
in such a remote place as Pajala is.

“I am a typical northern person, so my
mentality is from the north. I was growing up there, my father is from Pajala
and my people too. We have our minority there, we speak Finnish , my surname is
Finnish “Niemi”, my father first language was this typical Meänkieli, different
from the Finnish spoken in Finland,
but still related, and it is about my roots. I love to be there. I love skiing
for example. I do 1000 kilometres in total during the winter and of course, and
then I also write. I have my family there, I have 3 kids, and I like that they
are growing up in my own culture, and I think I am lucky to live there. When I
was younger I was living in Helsinki
for one year, because I had a girlfriend here. I also lived in Stockholm, but I think that Pajala is

must be a very beautiful place to live

I like it, but some people say that it is
too dark and too cold, but we are very warm people, to balance the situation…

have now this new book whose title in Finnish is
joku kuolli kuin lohi, The man who died like a salmon. In Popular Music book, we
could find also a funny title in the Finnish version (The title literally
translated meant Popular Music from the cunt). Is it your personal choice when
choosing the titles?

Yes, I always make my own title, and it is
very important to have a good one, I started as a poet, and it is very
important that the language contains a lot of poetry. I was also a very bad
musician, I was composing my songs, so I work a lot with the titles, and I am
very satisfied with this one. I think that is poetic, but a bit brutal and
strange at the same time.


write your originals in Swedish. Why not in Meäkieli, the Finnish dialect
spoken in Tornionlaakso, the region where Pajala is?

Because it is not my language, it is my father’s
language. But in 1960´s, people were ashamed of using it, cause of the
oppression from the state. They were afraid of us speaking Finnish, so we would
like to have independents thoughts. It is about history, so Sweden was very
nationalistic years ago. This is the same case all around Europe,
but we never wanted a nation or our own land or belong to Finland, We
only wanted to have our own culture and feel proud of it. When I grew up, my
father never taught me Finnish. I learnt from the streets, from my friends,
from speaking when I am hunting with my friends, so I know a bit, but not too
well to write it. Meänkieli did not have a written language, and efforts
started very recently to try to write down this language. So people are
developing the grammar, or rules to spell the word.


So it
is a language under construction…

Yeah, it is under construction,  and you have to make that with every word, so
it is complicated but very interesting at same time. That also means that we
have very few books written in meänkieli. Some authors are writing in
meänkieli, very few, but then you have the problem that people cannot read it,
so they are not used to see their language in letters.


father spoke Meänkieli, your mum Swedish, you grandmother Sámi, and you are
married to a Dutch woman. What language do you speak at home?

At home, we have 3 children and we decided
from the start that she should speak only her language to the children. It is
not Flemish, but Frisian, a minoritarian language too in the north of Holland, so we have the
same situation in that aspect. So my children speak Frisian and Swedish, and
then we try to learn a little more of meänkieli too.


with your wife, do you speak English?

No, my wife speaks perfect Swedish; she is
very good in languages. My oldest son, who is 9 years old now, is very good in
languages, so he can learn now other languages like English. He goes to Holland and talks to
people there in good Frisian, so it is fantastic to see how he can speak much
better than me. This could have happened to me, I could have had fluent
knowledge of meänkieli and Swedish, but it was not allowed at that time. It was
considered to be bad.


you explain us a bit more about the plot of your new book?

{quotes}It is a criminal story, so it starts with a
murder of an 89 years old man in Pajala.
{/quotes} He was working in the customs when he
was younger, to guard the border between Finland and Sweden, and he
is very aggressive to the minority language. He is a symbol of the oppression,
although he belongs to the same culture as well. So he is murdered and a woman
comes from Stockholm,
a police officer called Therese Fossnes and she starts the investigation. She
cannot speak any Finnish and does not know anything about the culture. She is
watching reindeers for the first time in her life. So she is in her own
country, but it is like another world for her. I am using here the conflict of
culture collision, conflict of woman against the man “macho” strong society, and
she is a very strong woman as well. She meets a man from Pajala whom suspected
to be the murderer and then they start to get to know better, so there is love
in the story as well. The book will be translated soon to English.


grade of self involvement do you have in the novel?

I am much involved too. I put a lot of real
people in the book. I am using around 40 real people of Pajala in the book, and
for instance, at the beginning there is a woman who takes care of old people,
and she finds the dead body, and she is an existing person


Mikael looks for some papers and show us
pictures of real people and places in Pajala that appear in his novel.


is the reaction of the people when they see themselves in the story of your

Well, I ask them for permission, I always
say “Do you want to be in my book?” and everybody says “yes!” I had also a
chapter about hunting, I am a hunter too. My father is in that chapter and my
hunting friends too. They appear with the real names. And everybody gets a free
copy of the book…


So at
the end, the entire village wants to appear in your book!

Yeah, some people told me “Why am I not in
the book? You should put me in the next one!


you said, there is not much written tradition for Meänkieli, it is coming
mostly from oral tradition and stories. So which are the sources from where you
get to hear the stories?

In our culture, in some special occasions,
people start to tell stories, and then I always listen with “big ears”. Now I m
starting to tell them myself, cause when you are getting a bit older, I am 47
now, then you start to tell stories also, about people who lived there or
special things that happened in our area. It is really wonderful, and I get a
lot of energy from that. So I tell to those people that they are authors also,
they do not write books, but they have the language, the ability to tell.


was your father also telling you stories?

Well, my father was a quiet man. He was
telling sometimes. He was a policeman, and actually that is also a great
motivation for me to write the police story in this new book. Sometimes he told
me about some dramatic things that happened during his police job. Many times
he told me “you must never write about this!” “It is a secret” and I always
answer, ok, I will not write about it now, but I don’t know if I can keep this
promise forever, because they were very good stories, so as a writer I feel the
need to collect them.


you satisfied with the
Popular Music movie version?

Yes, I like it. Of course it was much
shorter than the book, but well, some people said to me that the movie was ok,
but the book better, so I could just answer to them “Thank you!


the book became so popular, no bigger company made you an offer to film
something with bigger stars?

Yes, I had propositions, but I wanted the
movie to be recorded in Tornionlaakso, I wanted to be shot there, and I wanted
also to have some Finnish meänkieli there. It was important from our culture,
and the producers from other big countries like Germany or Denmark wanted it to
be shot in south Sweden or in studios, and they wanted to dub the actors, so I
preferred to do it in Pajala, and it was very good, many hundreds of people
there participated in the movie. For example, my mother was in 2 scenes, my
wife also appeared in the movie, and a lot of young people who could be actors
for first time in their lives, so it was fantastic to see that experience for
the people.
{quotes}As an anecdote, when they were making the scene for the sauna
competition, they had a real sauna, and it was real hot.
{/quotes} It took many hours to
film it.
The director said to one Finnish actor “Could you do it like if you
were dying”, and the actor answered “I am dying!”, and he fainted, he was
really ill, and was taken from Pajala by ambulance to reanimate him. They were
going to stop the filming, but they had still one important scene to do, so the
actor came back to the sauna again. That really showed some Finnish “sisu”!.


or Rolling Stones?

I prefer Beatles, but I also like the
Stones. We played with my band covers like Brown
. When I saw the Stones in Stockholm,
they started the concert with that song, so I felt a high feeling, like if they
were playing it especially for me.


are The Beatles your favourite all time band?

I would say yes, but I listen to a lot of
music. I can listen to hip hop, techno, hard rock, trash metal… I also follow
new bands, and when I have the opportunity to go to a concert, I try to see
them on live, because I love live music and rock and roll.  I play also some harmonica, accordion,
guitar, piano, just for myself. But I think I am a better writer than musician
(laughs). But I love music and it is very important for me in my lifestyle. For
example, I also love Hendrix, he was a genius! In my science fiction book,
there is one part where people go to heaven, and there is a Jimi Hendrix’s gig
every night!


you feel pressure when releasing a new book into the market?

I felt some pressure when I wrote a science
fiction book after Popular Music (Nahkakolo), but now it is not like that
anymore. With this new book I did not feel pressure. Writing is my hobby more
than job. I get a lot of good feelings, it is fun to sit and be many hours
writing and writing. Many people do not understand it, but I love it, it is my
life!. That is why I write, and then of course I try to publish. When Popular Music book was finished, 2 big
companies said no to the publication (it was not still a success in Sweden),
they thought that sounded very strange, and the 3rd company was Like
who took the risk. So it was not easy to publish in Finland first. But it is a good
question how you deal with expectations. I stopped to read reviews, I do not
read them anymore, because they change my mind in a bad way, and I do not want
to write for money, but for my heart. My creativity should come from my heart
and from my soul, so that is why I try not to think about money or success.
That is very easy in Pajala. They ask me how is to be famous in Pajala, and I
say that in Pajala, every one is famous, I go in the street and I talk like
them, I act like them, I go hunting like them, so I am only one more there.

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!