Friday, 26 February 2010

Review: Kolbeinn Karlsson’s The Troll King (Top Shelf, 2010)

"The Troll King"
Story and art by Kolbeinn Karlsson
Price: $14.95 (US)
Full-colour; 16.51 x 23.50cm; 160 pages.
Published by Top Shelf Productions
Released: April 2010
Diamond Code: FEB10-1096
ISBN: 978-1-60309-061-2

The more I think about writing a review of Kolbeinn Karlsson’s The Troll King, the more I realise that  it is one of those comics where there's something new to be found in each successive reading. Heavily saturated with imagery and symbolism, this naturalistic, sometimes-macabre, other-world is largely left to the reader to deconstruct. As much a story as it is an introduction to a parallel universe, the setting of The Troll King feels like a micro-ecology, and reading it often feels like watching a nature documentary on weird and wonderful newly-discovered species and their environment.

Nature plays a central role in the book, and the strange flora and fauna help to produce a world that seems familiar whilst remaining completely alien. This skewed version of the natural world evokes both comfort and concern and creates a feeling of unease that exists throughout the comic. Although there are brief references to an industrial world existing outside the perimeters of this woodland, the focus never strays from  a “geographical space of one or two kilometers” (as described by the author in his interview with us). 

Spiraling ever upwards: One of Karlsson's beautifully-rendered trees

Wednesday, 24 February 2010

Sex, Drugs and Comic Books: The 120 Days of Simon Review

"The 120 Days of Simon"
Story and art by Simon Gärdenfors
Price: $14.95 (US)
Black and white; 10.8 x 17.8cm; 416 pages.
Published by Top Shelf Productions
Released: April 2010
Diamond Code: FEB10-1095
ISBN: 978-1-60309-050-6

Simon Gärdenfors is the first man to admit that he doesn’t come off as an angel in The 120 Days of Simon. A journal of the cartoonist/musician’s 120 days of self-imposed exile from home, the book shamelessly details a hedonistic trip of casual sex, drink and drugs, all done in the name of cartooning. Gärdenfors’ rules for his experiment were simple: no returning home and no more than two nights spent at the same place. Like a much sleazier comic book equivalent of the “for fun’s sake” adventures of comedian Dave Gorman, it’s the journey not the destination that is the draw here. Facilitated by a website posing the simple question "You want Simon to eat your food and crash on a mattress on your floor?", his couch-surfing (mis)adventures covered 53 towns and attracted mainstream media coverage in his native Sweden.

Simon's utilitarian inventory for his less-than-pragmatic trip

Monday, 22 February 2010

Review: Tribute to Popeye (Editions Charrette, 2010)

Everyone loves Popeye; that's just a fact. Whether it be for his status as a classic pop-culture icon, his role as a precursor to the ever-popular american super-hero archetype, being indirectly responsible for the creation of Super Mario, or simply for encouraging generations of children to eat more spinach, Popeye is a legendary figure in the cartoon pantheon.

Created by E.C. Segar in 1929, Popeye has since become one of the oldest (1) and most enduringly popular cartoon heroes of the mass-media age. On the 1st of January 2009, the sailor-man finally entered the public domain, giving people (outside the US) the freedom to (or, at least in the murky world of copyright law, more freedom to) utilise the character in their own work. Almost exactly one year on, French publisher Editions Charrette have released Tribute to Popeye, a collection comprising over 70 re-interpretations of the world's most famous spinach-lover.

As with many collections of this type, a wide variety of different styles and themes are represented. Although some are parodic in approach, all convey an affection for Segar's characters. Not unexpectedly, a number of thematic troupes reoccur throughout the collection, most likely due to the simple nature of the characters. In no way intended as a criticism, it is interesting to see how the artists imprint their styles into these basic ideas. Popeye's relationship with Olive Oyl seems to be the favoured subject for most of the artists and is seen frequently throughout the collection. The two are showcased in a number of situations, including being presented as a hard-boiled tough man and femme fatale and a depiction as the biblical first couple.

A particularly sturdy-looking Popeye and Olive by Tanxxx

Sunday, 21 February 2010

Review: Mats Jonsson's Hey Princess (Top Shelf, 2010)

"Hey Princess"
Story and art by Mats Jonsson
Price: $14.95 (US)
Black and white, 472 Pages Softcover
Published by Top Shelf Productions
Released: April 2010
Diamond Code: FEB10-1094
ISBN: 978-1-60309-051-3

Coming this April from Top Shelf, Hey Princess is a series of memoirs about writer/artist Mats Jonsson’s romantic development from university through to his career in the Swedish comic industry. Written retrospectively, Jonsson writes a candid warts-and-all confessional that leaves no stone unturned in detailing his most pathetic and awkward moments for the reader’s amusement/ discomfort/ empathy. Set to a 1990s Brit-pop soundtrack, the comic collects excruciatingly honest memories from one man’s journey through the world of relationships, casual sex, social validation, the Swedish indie music scene of the 90s, fashion-victimhood and more.

Thursday, 18 February 2010

Great Swedish Invasion Promo

If a picture speaks louder than words, does a video speak 24 frames a second louder than a picture? Regardless, here is an awesome video promo for Top Shelf's upcoming Swedish Invasion graphic novels.

Recently, we interviewed all three of these creators about their upcoming English-language books. All of them great guys, we wish them all the best as they attempt to conquer the American comic books scene.

You can view our interviews with them here:
We'll be posting in-depth previews of the comics in the next few days. Until then, please check out the Swedish Invasion blog; tell them we sent you!

Tuesday, 16 February 2010

Review: Lucie Durbiano's Le Rouge Vous Va Si Bien (Gallimard, 2008)

Lucie Durbiano’s Le rouge vous va si bien (approximately “Red becomes you so well”), is a comic that we at ATF hold close to our collective heart. Given to me as a birthday present by Judith, I opened the book to find that: A) she had completely translated the comic, panel by panel, for me; and B) the comic was thoroughly awesome. I guess that it could be said that this is the comic that first planted the seeds that would eventually grew into this blog.

Comprised of seven unrelated stories, Rouge is all about taking a sideways look at love. Although independent from one other, the tales are always connected by the loose thematic anchor of 'relationships'. Not necessarily always amorous, the book presents relationships of many different forms. In "Lili et Charlie", a young woman and her lover, a 'freak', share forbidden passion. In the title story, the Little Red Riding Hood fable is subverted into a tale of naïve first love with an older man (the Wolf). "La complainte de l’escargot" is about a snail’s unrequited love for a statue of a woman. Regardless of the setting (or species), at the centre of all seven stories lies a connection between two characters.

Lili et Gonzo Charlie

Saturday, 13 February 2010

Interview: Mats Jonsson, creator of "Hey Princess"

© Idha Lindhag

Ok, before we get down to business, the first thing that we want to say about  Mats Jonsson  is that he should be made the patron-saint of bloggers everywhere. For those not paying attention, this week, Team Avoid the Future have been hard-at-work, interviewing the creators behind the upcoming titles in Top Shelf's Swedish Invasion line. Being a busy guy (he's the editor of Galago as well as a comic creator in his own right), we agreed to conduct our interview with Mats via email. The result being that, pretty much, he did all the work for us.

Mats has provided us with a great in-depth interview, in which he details (amongst other things) his upcoming English-language book Hey Princess, his thoughts on the Autobiographical genre of comics, the method behind his own writing, his development as a cartoonist, the role of music in his work and his thoughts on the future of comic books in the digital era. Enjoy!

As the Editor of Galago and the author of four graphic novels, you are an influential member of the Swedish comic community. In 2008, your work gained exposure in America via the anthology From the Shadow of the Northern Lights. How do you feel about Hey Princess, a piece entirely your own, being published in the English-speaking market?

I'm pleased, I'm proud and I'm a little bit nervous. I've never even dared to dream about having my comics published abroad; I've always thought that they are too deeply rooted in Swedish culture, with all the references to Swedish music and popular culture. Now I've started to believe that the local color actually might be a selling point for the book - the stories I tell, with all their grievances and moments of happiness, are easily understood by everyone, everywhere, but the Swedish setting makes them unique. I got some positive feedback for the story in Northern Lights, so I dare hope that people will like the book. Another important thing to me is that the cartoonists that influenced me, and the artists I admire, now will be able to read my work.

Who were your initial influences as a creator? Who influences you now?

Galago made me discover that comics could be more than just superheroes or "funny" four panel gags, but early on I was just as influenced by the American underground artists that were published in the Swedish magazine Pox. Crumb, Kominsky, Spiegelman, Peter Bagge, Phoebe Gloeckner and Rick Geary were major influences. A few years later I fell absolutely in love with the works of Joe Matt, Julie Doucet, Chester Brown and Seth, and I don't think I'll ever enjoy any comic as much as the first six issues of Peepshow. I learned a lot from Joe Matt; that total honesty is an unstoppable force that can make your work irresistible to readers, but at the same time may ruin your personal life. The discovery of Peepshow made me much more daring, and raised my ambition as an autobiographical cartoonist, from merely telling amusing anecdotes to start questioning my own behaviour and my choices in life.

My favourite cartoonists at the moment are David Heatley and Anders Nilsen, and I think you'll be able to spot some influence from them in my upcoming work. I'm also extremely impressed with Alison Bechdel's Fun Home. It might be the finest piece of storytelling I've ever encountered, in any medium.

First encounter with "The Bunker"

Thursday, 11 February 2010

Interview: Kolbeinn Karlsson, creator of "The Troll King"

"Comics' cuddliest Viking" (as described by Top Shelf)

Kolbeinn Karlsson, writer/artist of upcoming graphic novel "The Troll King", recently took some time to speak with us about his new book. Topics discussed included: his influences, the presence of nature in the comic, the process by which he creates characters, adapting his work to animation and the time he almost sent a copy of his 'zine to a member of ABBA.

Firstly, I’d like to ask you about Top Shelf’s "Swedish Invasion" event. How did you become involved in the project?

Well, Chris Staros has liked me since day one, and it was a little bit of a fluke that my book was released in Sweden at the same time as Top Shelf's visit to the SPX in Stockholm. But it sort of makes sense; my stuff represents a generation shift in comic artists in Sweden, a bit different from the usual autobio stuff that Mats [Jonsson] (and to some extent Simon Gärdenfors) represents. Why they signed me though, you have to ask them. I can't really tell what qualities other people see in my comics. I am sort of interested in seeing how the American comic readers are going to take my book though; it's always interesting to see how people react in different countries. And it's a lot of nature, it has a bit of a Scandinavian mindset. It's Swedish exotica!

Talking about the reaction to your work; I saw that in the press release for The Troll King, Jason Leivian compares you to both Hans Christian Andersen and Hayao Miyazaki. Who/ what are your creative influences?

Ha! I loved that! Especially Miyazaki, I've been watching a lot of his films in the past years, so I guess it shows. HC Andersen: maybe? A lot of folk tales, but not primarily. And of course a lot of comics. I grew up reading my dad's Underground magazines, along with the usual Swedish children's comics. I especially loved the Anarchistic figures that Joakim Pirinen and Max Andersson drew. And of course a lot of films. I'm a big fan of the Wicker Man movie, obviously.

A giant effigy burns in "The Troll King"

Tuesday, 9 February 2010

Interview: Simon Gärdenfors, creator of "The 120 Days of Simon"

Earlier today, ATF interviewed Simon Gärdenfors, Swedish cartoonist and creator of the upcoming graphic novel “The 120 Days of Simon”. Autobiographical in nature, the comic details Simon's four-month journey in which he imposed two rules: he wasn't allowed to return home and he couldn't spend more than two nights at the same place. He spoke with us about his part in Top Shelf’s “Swedish Invasion” event, upholding the truth in an autobiographical story, his inspirations as a cartoonist and his rather impressive collection of candy packaging.

Hello there!

Hey hey!

Obviously, in the Swedish comic scene you're well known for having made three graphic novels and also for your work in music and television. How do you feel about The 120 Days of Simon being your first exposure in the American market?

In one way it feels good because I like the 120 Days of Simon work. I think it's a good introduction. Maybe it gets a little bit misleading about me as a person because that book is very focused on scandal. Both when I went on the trip for doing the research for the book and while picking the material I would use, I focused on... sex and drugs and scandal, in general. So, maybe it gets a little misleading. People might get a little nervous when meeting me, like, “That guy’s only got sex and drugs on his mind!”, like, “What kind of character is that?” (he laughs). My other work has got some of that in it too, but it’s also more focused on other things.

When you were writing the book, did you approach it as you would when writing fiction?

No... When I wrote the book The 120 Days of Simon, I was keeping a diary, like a real diary with just text. I was writing and taking photos for four months. When I went home and started doing the book I went through the diary and underscored the parts that I wanted to keep in the comic. Then, I focused on fifteen events or so; fifteen anecdotes from the trip. I tried to keep it as real as possible, but that’s a difficult question, you know.

Monday, 8 February 2010

Misc: "Traditional Comics" Youtube Advert

Benjamin Marra's Traditional Comics Youtube spot is too awesome not to post. Regardless of the fact that it was obviously designed to go viral, it's certainly won me over.

From Traditional Comics' website:
TRADITIONAL COMICS is a comic book publishing company that publishes comic books with stories containing themes consistent with tradtional American values such as power, individualism, a personal code of justice, justice, the right to carry a gun, the right to fight, imposing your will upon the world, revenge, lust, sexy, desire, drug use, prostitution and gambling. Our stories have white-knuckle action, intense drama and drip with sexiness. Our comics are printed on newsprint paper.
If "Night Business" isn't our next review, I don't know what is.

Night Business #1

Mmmm... Newsprint!

Saturday, 6 February 2010

Review: Ethan Rilly's Pope Hats No. 1 (AdHouse, 2009)

Cover to Pope Hats #1 (depicting a scene unmentioned in the comic)

First of all, I'd like to make it known that any comic that ends with the words "Emilio Etevez" is okay by me.

Ethan Rilly’s Pope Hats is a comic that, structurally, is difficult to describe concisely. Whilst I realise that the preceding statement is a gigantic reviewer's cliché, in this case I believe it to be an appropriate point of discussion. Of course, from a marketing perspective, there's no comic that can't be reduced to a combination of features; however, to do so here would be a disservice to a book that circumvents being simply another "genre story with a twist”.

A problem with "paper-and-staples"/ "floppy" format comic books is that they are a medium at the mercy of their own format. Like film, the necessities that inform the production of comics, in turn, dictate the limitations of their content. The most apparent of these limitations is space: the space for drawings, panels, words - and, by extension - story, characterisation, dialogue and to describe the passage of time within a narrative.

The North American comic industry has developed in such a way (mainly due to the prominence of superhero serials) that the 20-40 page story has become its publishing standard. As a consequence, the majority of its output (mainstream or otherwise) adheres to a very truncated style of storytelling, where all the components of a narrative are compressed, losing detail. The result of this being that most graphic narratives become simplistic and easy to describe (“high-concept”). Whilst I don’t necessarily mean this derogatively, in most cases genre becomes apparent above all else.

Rilly demonstrates time passing throughout Frances' day

Wednesday, 3 February 2010

Seiichi Hayashi's Q&A at the Centre Pompidou, February 2010

English edition cover (Drawn & Quarterly, 2008)

For a couple of years now, Paris' Centre Pompidou
has organised a series of conferences and exhibitions about comic books around the world. This conference with Seiichi Hayashi, which took place on February 1st, 2010, was special for two reasons: firstly it celebrated the French publishing (by Cornelius) of his graphic novel Red Colored Elegy (originally printed 1970-71) and secondly, it was also a great opportunity for the museum and the author to bring more exposure to the history of the alternative/avant-garde manga scene of the 1970s.

Below is a transcript of my notes from the Q&A conducted with Hayashi. (
Please keep in mind that this is only a translation from notes taken in French of a live/immediate translation from Japanese to French; whilst not a verbatim transcript, the core of the interview is there)
Seiichi Hayashi (on the right, manga-reading-style) and translator n°2

What was your first contact with comic books? What memories do you have of that time?

In 1963-1964 I was working in an animation movies team for TV, although it wasn’t called animation at that time. Then one day one of my collegues came up with the magazine Garo. It strongly impressed me, as it offered manga for adults, with was completely new. At that time manga was only aimed at children and suddenly this magazine changed all that. People discovered that it could be used as a new mode of expression.

Review: Jeffrey Brown’s Sulk Issues 1-3 (Top Shelf, 2009)

You don't really need me to tell you this, but here's the cover to Sulk #3

I am a huge fan of the anthology format. From horror-comic staples like Creepy (recently resurrected by Dark Horse) to Fantagraphics’ multiple-creator showcases Mome and Zero Zero, I can’t help but gravitate towards a succession of short self-contained narratives assembled under a (usually) completely arbitrary umbrella. I can’t help it; I’m a sucker for anthologies. I think that something about the tidy definitive construction of “one-and-its-done” stories back-to-back appeals to the obsessive Lego-building, comic-hoarding child within me.

Anyway, that’s really the basis for another article.

Sulk is an anthology of material by Ignatz Award-winner Jeffrey Brown. Career-wise, Brown is known for alternating between intimate tales of autobiographical humility (Little Things) and left-field genre pastiche/parody/homage (Incredible Change-Bots), the unifying aspect in his work being an idiosyncratic lo-fi visual style and measured approach to dialogue. Defined by a busy minimalism, his comics are ostensibly doodle-like whilst exhibiting a keen sense of composition and rhythm. Appropriately, given their compressed format (approx. 12x17cm, featuring between 64 and 96 pages), the stories in Sulk are nothing if not concise, and, like most good short fiction, waste nothing in their construction. Every panel and word is valuable, and consequently, it’s difficult not to feel absorbed whilst reading it.

From Sulk # 3

Monday, 1 February 2010

News: Top Shelf announces "Swedish Invasion"

Not as ominous as it initially sounds, Top Shelf have announced a "Swedish Invasion" of their catalogue, stating that they will have seven books from Swedish creators in print by the end of April. Phew; I thought there might be guns and bombs and stuff.

Already available to buy are Niklas Asker's Second Thoughts (pictured above, priced US$9.95) and Galago anthology From the Shadow of the Northern Lights Volume 1 ($19.95).

Still to come in the collection (all shipping in April):