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PG Tips - Best Of 2010:

An International Perspective - Part 3

For the third year running, I’ve asked some of my friends from across the globe to pick their favourite comics of the year just gone. In part 1 and part 2 of this international round-up of the best of 2010 we have travelled to Australia, Austria, Croatia, Denmark, Germany, Italy, Japan, Norway, Russia, Serbia, Spain, South Korea and Sweden. Now read on…

ARGENTINA - BELGIUM - FINLAND - PORTUGAL

Argentina

Selected by Juan Manuel Dominguez
Juan Manuel Dominguez wanted to be a superhero. Now, the Batman-Gorey lover drowns his dreams of saving the universe with comics and film criticism - the Clark Kent answer to reality - and believes his folks and friends contribute to the most super factor of his professional and non-ultra-powered life.


Cena con amigos
by Rodolfo Santullo & Marcos Vergara
Loco Rabia

How is it possible to alter Argentine comic books from a simple story, a mystery regarding a death among friends that uses idiosyncrasy as the net value inside the storytelling? Written by Rodolfo Santullo and featuring the drawings of Marcos Vergara, someone too important for Argentine comic books, Cena con amigos explains it in a way that is as simple as it is incredible: without using excess or gestures, knowing how to narrate without hurrying or yielding to the forced page format. A simple whodunit story is, without losing its idiosyncrasy, precisely that: a mystery that grows, and irritates, more and more as the characters are built up, becoming closer and more human. That mix between everyday life and something exceptional is where Cena con amigos confirms the narrative intelligence of its authors.



Super
by Fran Lopéz
Burlesquitas

A few pages. Very few. Small. Clipped together. Almost a fanzine (such a Do-It-Yourself answer to this age of overstylized books), Super is the confirmation that Fran Lopéz has achieved something more important than a style or a beatiful edition: something to say. These few black and white pages are enough for Lopéz to play with a bittersweet happiness and a mature sense of childhood that very few Argentinian comics artists share. Doing a punk and unintentional cover reminiscent of Chris Ware I guess, Lopéz draws a fight between a robot and a superhero that’s millions of light years away from the genre standard (the anabolic Colliseum syndrome) and fills every handmade balloon with a sort of first-person speech, in which he - or the created character-  seems to be speaking his heart out. Lopéz’s lines, nervous, wild, heartfelt, become the Kryptonite to the genre (or even to the confessional genre). The outcome of all these fights (robot vs superhero; Lopéz’s speech vs the one who wants - or doesn’t want - to hear it; Lopéz’s tense line vs the epic that a fight to the death and a love declaration both mean) is a small, clipped-together wonder.


Belgium

Selected by Michel Kempeneers
Michel Kempeneers is a Belgian comics journalist. He is the author of a weekly comics column in the Flemish quality paper De Standaard.

2010 was again a good comics year in Belgium (and its Dutch speaking region Flanders). Obviously, the impressive list of worthwhile titles on this web page is a clear indication that talent is everywhere, not only in Flanders. But the support these ‘other’ kind of comics get in Flanders, may make a difference in the long run. Indeed, the structural approach of the Flemish Literature Fund (FLF) pays off, that much seems clear, with two of the titles of which it supported the translation into French making it to the long list for Angoulême 2011. Brecht Evens (1986) even ended up winning the Fauve de l’Audace (whatever that category is supposed to mean) for Ergens waar je niet wil zijn [The Wrong Place published by Drawn & Quarterly]. For the equally talented Olivier Schrauwen (1977) his second nomination (after My Boy in 2007), this time for De man die zijn baard liet groeien [The man who grew his beard], wasn’t the right one either. Let’s hope it will be third time lucky for Schrauwen. Anyway, Schrauwen got lots of attention for his book, with the Angoulême nomination even adding to this, so I will not come back to it and pick three lesser known titles, Spruyt and Janssen in Dutch, plus one essential French-language title, just to prove that I’m Belgian after all!


SGF
by Simon Spruyt
Silvester

Simon Spruyt (1978) is one of the most talented Flemish authors of the new generation. His fame hasn’t passed the Belgian frontiers yet, but that’s only a matter of time, as several publishers have shown interest in SGF, his most mature book to date. SGF is an excellent parody in which Spruyt pokes fun of… himself. In this story the young comics artist S.G.F. Spruyt sells his soul to the devil, after which he gets engaged to the heiress of the Dargaud comics imperium and in no time works his way up to the top of the business. Thanks to the helping hand of thousands of anonymous Chinese draftsmen, combined with a cunning marketing concept - the three c’s of succcess! - S.G.F. Spruyt finds a way to publish thousands of comics a year and earn fortunes. Obviously, the added value of SGF is to be found in the confrontation between the wet dream of any comics artist and reality. This results in lots of double meanings, though Spruyt is clever enough not to address insiders only. The album’s concept reminds me of Blotch (by Blutch), with a touch of Gotlib craziness and funny megalomania à la Winshluss. Yep, Spruyt is in excellent company!



Fritz Haber #3:
Un vautour, c’est déjà presque un aigle

[A Vulture Is Already Almost An Eagle]
by David Vandermeulen
Delcourt

Brussels comics author David Vandermeulen (born 1971) began researching his magnum opus Fritz Haber more than ten years ago and this is the 3rd volume in this ambitious project which will come to more than 800 pages, to be distributed over five or six albums. It is quickly gaining fame: two major exhibitions were dedicated to the project last year, and the latest volume ended up on the long list for Angoulême 2011. The controversial Fritz Haber (1868-1934) was a brilliant German chemist with jewish roots. He won the Nobel Prize for chemistry for his revolutionary work on the production of fertilizers, but he was also one of the fathers of chemical warfare. Haber deserves the doubtful honour of the first attack with poison gas: on April 22nd 1915 he successfully used chlorine gas at Ypres, Belgium. According to Vandermeulen, Haber was a child of his time, so a genuine portrait is only possible by placing Haber in a credible way in the German society of the time. This requires this much documentation and research that in the mean time Vandermeulen is regarded worldwide as one of the utmost Haber experts. In the first volumes Vandermeulen tells how the antipathetic Haber notwithstanding his talents can’t seem to make his way in the most anti-semite Germany of Kaiser Wilhelm, and how he tries hard to compensate his inferiority complex by exaggerated nationalism. The third volume focuses on Haber’s efforts for the war industry. It is remarkable to read that also for his poison gas project he had to overcome a lot of internal resistance! Vandermeulen impresses not only with his portrayal of his subject and society, his realistic, sepia coloured aquarels - reminding us of old, partially vanished photos - are a token of his class. In the same way that Bilal no longer makes full comics pages, Vandermeulen elaborates every panel as a single little painting, next mounts them into a comics page on the computer.



De wraak van Bakamé
[Bakamé‘s revenge]
by Jeroen Janssen & Pieter van Oudheusden
Oogachtend

Jeroen Janssen (1963) may very well be Flanders’ most underestimated comics artist. His exuberant, expressionistic style is a tough lover though: hard to sense in the beginning, ever so resistant next, but a genuine enrichment for those who persist. Janssen has been collaborating for years with the Dutch scenarist Pieter van Oudheusden (1957), who in the mean time has become one of the more succesful writers of children’s books in The Netherlands. De wraak van Bakamé [Bakamé‘s revenge] is in fact the sequel to De Kruisweg van Mpyisi [Mpyisi’s calvary], which was published two years ago as part one of De Grote Toveraar [The Big Magician]. However, the authors decided to ‘skip’ the final part of this diptych and to publish the complete story at once instead, which lead to an impressive bookwork of almost 300 pages. Moreover in full colour. A defendable option: although Janssen’s black and white art is top class, even genuine aficionados of the ‘better’ comics tend to prefer colours. De wraak van Bakamé [Bakamé‘s revenge] is a funny and entertaining satire on how the hare Bakamé, an African variant of our fox Reynard, always comes off best in his little conflicts with the hyena Mpyisi, a borne loser, be it with the right connections in society. When Mpyisi asks the help of the mighty magician Bwana Kero, whose name even thousands of kilometers away makes people chill, Bakamé‘s fate seems sealed. Luckily for him, Mpyisi starts believing that he can outplay even Bwana Kero… The album contains lots of sex and black humor, and is a perfect illustration of everything driving humans and making man so unappealing.


Finland

Selected by Harri Römpötti
Harri Römpötti is a freelance Helsinki-based journalist specialising in comics, cinema and music.


Silvia Regina
by Matti Hagelberg

Matti Hagelberg draws on scratchboard and that takes time. Silvia Regian is his first major work since Kekkonen (2004). Kekkonen was a surreal version of the (after)life of Urho Kekkonen, the president of Finland for more than 25 years. In Silvia Regina Hagelberg gets even more political and topical. It shows the predatory nature of the globalised Capitalism. To show the effects on today’s Finnish society, Hagelberg adapts the classic novel Köyhää kansaa (the poor folk) by Minna Canth from 1886. Too little has changed from the horrors of the 19th century poverty. The story feels barely exaggerated. Hagelberg’s glum prophecy suggests that yet worse may come. In the book the welfare state is in ruins and the parliament house in flames at the end. All this with Hagelberg’s usual intertextual fun: Jesus, Santa Claus and some characters from James Bond movies are included in the cast.



Lempi ja rakkaus
by Reetta Niemensivu

The most impressive debut of the year is the love story of Reetta Niemensivu’s grandmother Lempi. Loosely based on real life Lempi ja rakkaus (Lempi and Love, the name Lempi also meaning love) takes place in the 1920s and 1950s. Niemensivu has researched the period well and brings her family history to life with charmingly antiquated graphics. The colors are bright but slightly faded. The drawings nicely evoke the atmosphere of old Finnish movies but Niemensivu doesn’t romanticize the rural life like they did.


Portugal

Selected by Pedro Moura
Pedro Moura (Lisbon, 1973) teaches, studies and writes about comics, along with other unhealthy habits.


O Amor Infinito que Te Tenho
[The Infinite Love I Have for You]
by Paulo Monteiro
Polvo

A collection of many short stories, both published and unpublished, with genres spanning the fantastic and the autobiographical, and with a black and white work that goes from gentle graphite line drawings to stark chiaroscuros, the main characteristic of Monteiro’s work is the powerful emotions it is able to ellicit and express. Love for family members, his lover and humanity in general are the object of these small pieces, but it’s not as touchy-feely as you might expect. In some respects, one could call these stories love letters addressed to real people that surround Paulo Monteiro’s life, and as we peer into them we also come to engage with what makes us humans: flawed, fragile things who should take joy out of every blissful moment we have in our lives, no matter how small.



O Pénis Assassino
[The Killer Penis]
by Janus
MMMNNNRRRG

Janus is a Porto-based brute force of comics and animation-making. Working alone for no glory, mostly in photocopied fanzines, it was only due to an independent and maniac publisher that his work would be compiled and published in book form. He is mostly known for a previous project, somewhat autobiographical, in which all the characters were depicted as ugly monkeys. This is a book that he did years ago but only now found an opportunity to have published. It is the portrait of a young man who discovers that every time he ejaculates, he kills the women he’s with. He tries to avoid it and is consumed by guilt, but strange twists and turns, under the influence of what one could call a witch, lead him always to terrifying deeds. In many aspects, as in his previous work, there is quite probably a very strong yet disguised autobiographical penchant. Catholic upbringing, sexual experiences and too many comics bring into formation this weird tale (Binky Brown meets The Killer Condom, perhaps).



Hans: O Cavalo Inteligente
[Hans, The Intelligent Horse]
by Miguel Rocha
Polvo

Based on a play by contemporary stage director Francisco Campos, based in turn on the real-life case known as ‘Der kluge Hans’ or ‘Clever Hans’, a horse owned and presented by phrenologist W. von Osten, this books brings up questions of wishful thinking, the boundaries and similarities between humans and animals, the limitations of intelligence and emotionality, at the same time as presenting an incredible complex family saga. Miguel Rocha is one of Portugal’s most accomplished artists in the comics medium, and a rare case of being able to put out at least one graphic novel a year (sometimes more). His works are always very distinct from each other, searching for specific ways of being tuned in to its specific purpose and ambience, changing tools and forms in order for the best expression possible. Rocha works mainly with digital means today, and this book is made up of black and white, somewhat static images presenting its characters in full-length shots, as if pretending to be as close as possible to both early 20th century group photography and theatre. This does not mean that Rocha’s customary experimental page compositions, free explorations and many exercises in tressage or braiding (mostly using symbols, abstract marks, graphic details that are used over and over), are absent, but Hans does indeed aim for a subdued atmosphere, the better to explore the unspoken yet intense feelings thundering inside the protagonist’s soul.



A Fórmula da Felicidade 2
[The Formula for Happiness Vol 2]
by Nuno Duarte & Osvaldo Medina
Kingpin Books

This is perhaps the most commercial project in this list, although it issues from a smaller platform with limited runs. Written by a professional scriptwriter and drawn by a respected animator, this is something that attempts to mimic professional, international modes of comics creation, and it attains the same level of quality, without forgetting local lore and culture. Using anthropomorphised animals as characters, and a strange mix of casual yet legible line work and suave colouring, this is the story of Victor, a school teacher prone to failed relationships, who comes up with a mathematical formula, which, when read, brings about an ineffable feeling of happiness to those who hear it. This will bring him the status of a guru, providing him with a momentary, artificial sense of accomplishment and happiness too, but it’s all too fleeting when he faces a deeper, truer part of his being. Ascension, fall, redemption. All the ingredients for a universal tale, disguised in furry forms.

Posted: February 13, 2011

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