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PG Tips No. 28:

The Best Of 2009: An International Perspective Part 2

There’s a whole world of comics out there and part two of this International Perspective takes us far and wide to discover the greatest global graphic literature of 2009. I am so pleased to see more of last year’s comics correspondents, including Finland, Japan and Spain back again this year to share their choices. And I have widened the net to embrace more countries, so this year I welcome commentators from Austria, Ireland, Mexico, Norway and Russia. A big thank you to everyone who has taken part.


AUSTRIA
Selected by Gottfried Gusenbauer

Gottfried Gusenbauer is the director of the NextComic Festival which was launched in Linz, Austria, European Capital of Culture in 2009. The Festival returns in 2010 from February 25th to March 5th.



Wired Worlds
by Thomas Ballhausen & Jörg Vogeltanz
Prequel
With Wired Worlds, draughtsman Jörg Vogeltanz and writer Thomas Ballhausen continue their “Anger Diaries” series, which consists of the traumatic memories of the agent JF Sebastian. With each new volume this dystopian world is enriched with new elements. Vogeltanz offers a fully mature and relentlessly explicit drawing style in order to illuminate the most degraded sites in this world: his exuberant page compositions are bathed in bright colors; his backgrounds threaten to engulf the single images or allow them to appear briefly, emerging on the visible page surfaces. A visually exhilarating reading experience. The plot: The military conflict between the Empire of Albion and the Holy Zentropian Reich, post-apocalyptic alienation between England and the European continent, is deadlocked. J.F. Sebastian is instructed to set off a human bomb in the middle of these two warring nations’ activity, to put ‘the game” in motion once more. This obscure game called “Sheng” can be thought of as entertainment for a corrupt and morbid elite; it also is the invisible engine behind the political developments. Wired Worlds describes a radical moral decay and the enforcement of a mechanical anti-humanism. By the methods of biotechnology, the disastrous merger of body and machine is being advanced. Vogeltanz and Ballhausen convey unique atmospheres and concise scenes, though at the cost of some clarity of the plot - the “Anger Diaries” rarely gets beyond allusions and narrative fragments.



Curt Cubin:
A Fact-Fiction Comic-Biography Of Alfred Kubin

by Christoph Raffetseder & Herbert Christian Stoeger
Bibliothek der Provinz
The Curt Kubin title is definitely making a knowing reference to Nirvana’s Kurt Cobain, to suggest that Kubin the “pop star” was also a normal person by showing him in private scenes. This new graphic novel about the Austrian artist Alfred Kubin (1877-1959) is a new and very interesting way to introduce this “master of the dark side.” In this freely invented comic-biography of Alfred Kubin, the writer-artist team from the Linz area devote themselves to the personality of this “painter prince”, a highly respected artist in Upper Austria, by taking a multi-layered approach. Kubin himself narrates everything that seems important and significant about his life, from the moment of his birth until after his death, as you read his diary in which he is still writing fifty years after his death. Just as Kafka Kubin says here “I create from my dreams,” so you might say that this one sentence sums up everything about this book which seems to have arisen as if from dreams. Through daily events and his contacts with famous people like Hitler, Kafka and Jesus and with certain animals and things which surrounded Kubin, Raffetseder and Stoeger show how and why his special artistic output may have come about. This fact-fiction biography also provides an opportunity to read about this great artist afresh, freed from the burden of established stereotypes about his person and his artistic works. Though the comic this is the first attempt to evaluate Kubin as a relevant phenomenon in art history, in a context of the cults surrounding stars of popular culture. “Curt Kubin” features episodes from life after Alfred Kubin, encounters with other artists, with women, etc. using original quotes from historical figures. There is one anecdotal story about Kubin hurrying out into the garden into a strong summer thunderstorm, naked and happy and cheerfully surrendering himself to the pouring rain. What remains of Alfred Kubin here is an artist with prophetic abilities and a chronicler of the human abyss who floats above that abyss almost like a guru.



Die Goldene Welt 01:
Rick’s Allerletztes Spiel

[The Golden World 01: Rick’s Last Game of All]
by Linda Bilda
I like the work of Linda Bilda and the way she critiques against capitalism in a very artful and sensitive way. The plot goes: Rick Subisha is dead and leaves behind his fortune of one million dollar to seven chose people.  The condition is that only one person can get everything, whoever can make the highest returns out of $100,000 seed-money. So Monica Alvarez, Herodes Bosch, Dora Pandarella, Francis Pax, Gwendolyn Granny Smith, Hy Hunter and John Ohneangst [No Worry] quickly set themselves up in business. Who will win and how? Linda Bilda’s Comics are political with a feminist/anarchist focus. After her zine “NO - Politcomics”, since 2004 she has been developing her ambitiously conceived criticism of capitalism, The Golden World.



Miller & Pynchon
by Leopold Maurer
Luftschacht
A very strong concept about mathematics, sexual emotions, death and the sense of “nothing”: an Austrian jewel! For both the melancholic Pynchon and the daring Miller abstract numbers give some cohesion to their own personal existence, a kind of concrete anchorage: for Pynchon, coping with the death of his beloved wife and for Miller, who goes ever further into sexual debauchery. Together they face the task of drawing a first line of demarcation, which is interrupted for a bigger one: the measurement of the transit of Venus, by which the distance of the Earth from the Sun is calculated. But faced with the size of this task, the personal hopelessness of both characters appears to be growing, and the more precisely they define the distances, the more closely and irresistibly it pulls them to their own limits. Using literary resources and a strong economic drawing style, Leopold Maurer transports us into scenes which are as affecting as they are comical, and into a world populated not only by numbers but by trigger-happy twin brothers and strange saints, werewolves and poetically gifted crocodiles.


FINLAND
Selected by Harri Römpötti

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



Samuelin matkassa
[Traveling With Samuel]
by Tommi Musturi
Huuda Huuda
The best Finnish album of 2009 was Tommi Musturi’s wordless fantasy in psychedelic colors. In a strange and gloomy dreamscape Samuel’s escapades comment art, creativity, history and cruel ironies of humanity. Musturi’s storytelling borderlines stream of consciousness. The inner contradictions are part of the book’s fascination and keep Musturi off any high horses. Being wordless and having been published simultaneously in Sweden, Belgium and Portugal this one is more accessible than most Finnish comics.



Löydä minut tästä kaupungista
[Find Me In This Town]
by Mari Ahokoivu
Asema Kustannus
The most promising Finnish debut of 2009 was Mari Ahokoivu’s atmospheric story about loneliness and alienation in a foreign town. It is actually loosely based on her stay in Angoulême Comics School but the town is almost unrecognisable. More important than the actual location is the feeling of being elsewhere. Ahokoivu draws with a delicate line. She uses speech balloons originally and poetically. The book comes with English “subtitles” typeset at the bottom of each page.

 


IRELAND
Selected by Patrick Brown

Patrick Brown is the main editor of the Irish Comics Wiki, and the creator of the webcomic serial The Cattle Raid of Cooley, an adaptation of an ancient Irish war story, of which two print issues have been published so far. He lives in Belfast.

Ireland is a small country, and, although we export quite a few creators to the British, American and European industries, indigenous comics are largely small press or self-published, and mostly short. I would single out the following as the best comics published in Ireland over 2009.



The Monkey-Head Complaint
by John Robbins
Downright Bockedy
John Robbins has been creating comics of disturbing mundaneity for a decade. Here he constructs a dense, multi-layered short story of emotional repression and violence, his tense linework and repetitive images held in a claustrophobic grid of panels. A man who spends his time trying to comply with the petty demands of his wife encounters a young man who shoplifts as the only expression of his individuality, the rest of his life being devoted to caring for his depressed mother. His advice to the young man that he should take charge of his own life and seek his own happiness has unforeseen consequences.



In the Aquarium
by Patrick Lynch
Cardboard Press
Paddy Lynch is a very talented cartoonist with an eye for body language whose comics tend to be observational character pieces. In this short story, behind a screen-printed colour cover, a man tries to lose his thoughts by visiting an aquarium, but the pressures of his life that he’s trying to forget keep impinging on his daydreams. Lynch’s loose, agitated line ably captures the protagonist’s state of mind.

 

 


JAPAN
Selected by Tamaki Seto

Tamaki Seto is a London-based manga editor and writer. She was one of the editorial staff of comic navigation monthly magazine Comnavi between 1997-1998 in Tokyo. She got her MA in Media Communication at the University of London, Goldsmiths College, with a dissertation on ‘Globalisation in Manga Presentation’.

For my Best Manga choices, I have extracted data from an article by G.B. Company, featuring a reflection of manga in 2009. This article was published in the video games magazine Otonafami (21 December 2009 edition), a version of Famitsu aimed at adult readers. The featured manga have been chosen for their high quality and high sales from surveys by 3,000 bookshops in Japan.


Bakuman
by Tsugumi Ohba & Ken Obata
Serialised in Shonen Jump (Shueisha)
Boys’ Manga: Saiko, a talented artist, and Shujin, the brightest student in class, form a duo as manga creators and work together to fulfill their dreams, with Shujin writing the story and Saiko taking on the illustrations. From their very first presentation to winning an award and getting published, the duo’s passion for manga gradually leads them towards success. The most talked-about manga by Death Note‘s Ohba and Obata illustrates the duo’s own journey to success. In other words, this manga tells you how to become a successful manga artist in Japan! Viz will begin serialising Bakuman in the monthly American Shonen Jump in 2010.



Kimi ni Todoke
by Karuho Shiina
Serialised in Margaret (Shueisha)
Girls’ Manga: Sawako Kuronuma, a bashful high school girl who has trouble making new friends, overcomes her shyness through finding friendship and love. Looking rather ‘gloomy’ all the time, Sawako’s nickname was Sadako. After her failed efforts to befriend her classmates, popular kid Shota Kazuhaya comes to the rescue. This leads Sawako to new friends like Chizuru and Ayane, and Sawako gradually develops feelings for Kazuhaya. This manga won the Kodansha Manga Award Girls’ Category in 2008. There have been 9 volumes to date, boasting a total distribution of 800 million copies.



Mama wa Temparisuto
by Higashimura Akiko
Serialised in Chorus (Shueisha)
Gag Manga: This comedy illustrates the author’s action-packed life, as she juggles her roles as a mother and a manga artist. Her silver-tongued infant, Gocchan, is bound to become a playboy and lives a careless, self-centered life despite his mother’s busy life. The story is full of seriously hilarious dialogue between the first-time mother and her cheeky little son. Every parent will be able to relate to this humorous story.

 

 



Shojo Fight
by Yowoko Nihonbashi
Serialised in Evening (Kodansha) 
Young Adults’ Manga: Since her sister’s death, Neri Oishi has tucked away her skills as a volleyball player. But after entering high school, she meets trustworthy teammates like Captain Inugami and Manabu, who motivate her to play serious volleyball once again. The story illustrates the lives of young boys and girls who gradually mature as they learn to work in teams. Strong and powerful volleyball match scenes. Mildly sexy scenes involving cheeky volleyball uniforms may be a highlight, but the story vividly expresses the heat of sports matches, and evokes sympathy for these struggling teenagers.


KOREA
Selected by Nakho Kim

Nakho Kim is a Korean comics researcher. He writes reviews and columns for book journals and other periodicals, and has worked as the editor-in-chief for the comics critic webzine Dugoboza, curated the special exhibition on Korean comics at the Angoulême Festival 2003, and has been participating in drafting several public policies on comics.



Moss
by Taeho Yoon
IBS Net Inc
Recently fired from his office job and abandoned by his wife as a result of his excessively obsessive pursuit of justice, protagonist Haekuk receives a call that his father has passed away. He learns during the funeral service that the small farming village where his father spent his last 20 years holds darker secrets than meet the eye. ‘Ikki’ is a dark and subtle tale about how mundane desires and hopes of everyday people build up to corruption of power in every layer of life. Yoon’s expressive visual storytelling blends pure suspense and vivid social commentaries nicely together, and shines at its brightest when depicting one of the creepiest villains that Korean comics has to offer.



Perpetual Engine
by Homin Joo
Sangsanggongbang
Pursuing your dreams is often considered a luxury, especially in times of recession when it is hard to get any decent job at all. ‘Muhandongryuk’ is the story of young job candidates who experience one harsh reality after another and are tempted to forget their dreams. However, the landlord of the boarding house where the protagonists live has been pursuing one impossible dream for decades - he is builiding a huge perpetual engine in his yard out of scrap metal parts. A heart-warming story that depicts the perils of contemporary social life in Seoul in great detail and at the same time emphasises not to forget one’s dreams.



A Boy Named Taeil
by Hocheol Choi
Dolbaekae
Taeil-e is the biography of Taeil Chun, a textile factory worker who sparked the labour movements in Korea in the 1970s by literally becoming a spark, setting himself on fire to protest against inhumane working conditions. ‘Taeil-e’ vividly visualizes the poverty-ridden landscape of post-war Korea and the individual lives lived within it. With details bordering on ethnography, it retells the harsh lives of sweatshop workers in a dictatorship which focused only on national economic growth and had little consideration for human rights. But above all, it is a great coming-of-age story about how a regular young labourer came to understand compassion and took a stand.



100°C
by Kyusok Choi
Changbi Inc
Through cross-sectioning fictional episodes of various everyday people of all ages and classes in the wake of the civil revolution in 1987, 100°C attempts to capture the true meaning of people power. Standing up against a long-standing oppresive government is not so much a holy war against evil, but rather a struggle to overcome prejudices of the people themselves that the status quo is somehow bearable and cannot be overturned. 100°C boasts artwork that closely reminds readers of Korean 1980s-era press photos without sacrificing its easy-to-read fluidity.


MEXICO
Selected by Ernesto Priego

Ernesto Priego has written about comics since 1991. He worked with Jessica Abel as a cultural consultant for her graphic novel La Perdida and translated it to Spanish for Astiberri Ediciones, Spain. He is currently writing a PhD thesis about online comics and comic books at University College London.

2009 was not a very good year for comics in Mexico. Due to the swine flu pandemic, 2009 was the year Mexico City, one of the most vibrant megalopolises on Earth, stood still. It was the year the “war on drugs” exploded on the face of a complicit right-wing government and monopolistic mainstream media. My quick survey asking for the best Mexican comic from 2009 amongst some key players in the field of Mexican literature, illustration, comics and journalism sends back the same answer: “None.”  The specialised blog Comic Mexicano, had only three posts throughout the whole year, and one of them was devoted to the best of 2008. Nevertheless, after a little bit of digging we can spotlight one essential comic and two special mentions. With thanks to Bernardo Fernández, Patricio Betteo, Ira Franco and Luis Roiz, who kindly contributed scene reports.



El Muertito Sabrosón (webcomic)
by Ricardo García ‘Micro’, Luis Sopelana ‘Sope’, Victor Hernandez ‘Vic’, Bernardo Fernandez ‘Bef’, Emmy Hernández ‘Emy’, Raúl Valdez ‘Rulo’, Augusto Mora, Adriano Pérez Acosta, Mauricio Caballero ‘Zeraky’ & César Evangelista ‘Kone’
Producciones Balazo
It is symptomatic that the best of 2009 started in 2008 online. Inspired by the exquisite corpse technique as applied to online comics in Who Killed Round Robin?, El Muertito Sabrosón (literally The Tasty Corpse) is a collective humoristic webcomic about a teenage zombie. The writing is full of untranslatable Mexican puns, and the themes and situations are extremely local, which makes an English or French translation almost impossible. Like most promises, it starts full of hope but gradually and fatally devolves into disappointment, but it is nonetheless the best barometer of current Mexican comics (graphic) talent to date. This webcomic represents very faithfully the state of the comics scene in Mexico: it is small, inward-looking, incestuous; it is middle-class and hyper-local; it’s essentially male and self-taught (there are only two or three female comic artists out there, and nothing was seen by them in 2009 -the only woman participating in El Muertito is Emmy Hernández); and there are a lot of unpublished talents who are too busy making ends meet working on something else.



Asuntos Moneros: Cartas 1997-2009
by Jis & Trino
Editorial Sexto Piso
This is a collection of cartoon letters between long-time collaborators Jis and Trino. A long time before Round Robin and of course El muertito Sabrosón, Jis and Trino had applied exquisite corpse techniques to their weekly comic strip production for national newspaper La Jornada with much-loved series like La chora interminable and El Santos contra la Tetona Mendoza. (Jis has a book published by Seattle’s Fantagraphics Books, Cats Don’t Exist). This is a collection of their drawn correspondence, brilliantly merging handwriting and cartooning, humour, wit and just sheer cleverness. It is the story of a friendship in cartoon form. It is full of hallucigenic, whimsical visual poetry and hilarious vulgarity. This book deserves bookshelf space next to Robert Crumb, Harvey Kurtzman and Harvey Pekar. Read a sample pdf here.



Diario de Oaxaca
by Peter Kuper
Editorial Sexto Piso
During 2006 American graphic novelist Peter Kuper moved to Oaxaca City with his family. He lived there for two years, which he spent drawing in his journal. It was a chaotic year in the history of the city, and Kuper portrays it with an admirable combination of passion and neutrality. Once again this is not a comic book or a graphic novel, but it is a cartoon narrative book nonetheless. Kuper is of course a gifted comic artist but he also proves here an incredible ability to defy negative stereotyping. This is an art book and a treatise about the politics of cartoon representation, and a hopeful document of inspiration and intelligence. This book was also published in the USA by PM Press.

Also, Mexican publishing houses to watch for in 2010: Editorial Sexto Piso, Editorial Caligrama, Producciones Balazo, Comikaze, Resistencia.


NORWAY
Selected by Tor Arne

Tor Arne is a Norwegian writer, publisher and designer. Editor of Seriekritikk.no and publisher of Morten Harpers 3-volume books on comics, he lives on a farm in Telemark, Norway where he writes about comics, blogs about his outdoor hobbies and design websites for a living.


Mare Frigoris
by Tor Ærlig
Egmont
Tor Ærlig’s third graphic novel, Mare Frigoris, was released last spring. Undoubtedly the most ambitious storyteller in the Norwegian comics community, Tor Ærlig (Thor [the] Honest, aka Tor Erling Naas) continues to tell stories about friendship, growing up and growing apart, as well as dealing with inner demons. In Mare Frigoris he, like Jason, turns to anthropomorphic characters. Mare Frigoris is probably his very best and most memorable story so far.

 



Soga om Olaf Sleggja
[The Saga of Olaf The Hammer]
by Øystein Runde
Det norske samlaget
Øystein Runde is something of an ‘enfant terrible’ and a productive genius. His Viking saga Soga om Olaf Sleggja about a warrior in the service of King Olaf I of Norway (Olav Tryggvason, 995-1000AD), finds inspiration in both Snorri Sturlason’s Heimskringla, Frank Miller’s comics and maybe even from Quentin Tarantino’s take on genre movies. This Ninja-style, superhero type of story is hyperviolent, but at its core is a tale of responsibility and humanism - the Viking way.



Horgan
by Flu Hartberg
No Comprendo Press
Horgan is the story of an overweight, pessimistic loser who one day finds a bag full of money and finally can live out all of his dreams. This crime pastiche, which is both reminiscent of Guy Ritchie’s gangster films and Norway’s underground comic book master Christopher Nielsen’s tales, has a strong, gritty first part, while the second half is more of a lightweight but still very funny crime sitcom.



Sydover: Kappløpet mot Sydpolen
[South: The Race To The South Pole]
by Bjørn Ousland
Cappelen Damm
This is the second book in Bjørn Ousland’s series about polar heroes for children, and this time he recounts the events of Amundsen and Scott’s race to be the first to reach the south pole. Ousland mixes comics storytelling with traditional techniques of children’s illustrated books to make the drama more intense.

 

 



Kanon
Lars Fiske & Steffen Kverneland
No Comprendo Press
Norway’s most successful and praised comics artist the later years came with their third annual issue of Kanon on No Comprendo Press, where the ongoing tales about the life and art of respectively Kurt Schwitters and Edvard Munk are published, but at the end of 2009 they also released a 16 page Kanon Special issue about Knut Hamsun. The controversial and brilliant Nobel literature prize winner and Nazi sympathizer was celebrated throughout all of 2009, since it was 150 years since he was born, and Fiske and Kverneland was commissioned to do a comic book about him by Deichman - Oslo’s public Library and the city’s cultural agency.


RUSSIA
Selected by Dmitry Lakovlev

Dmitry Lakovlev is director of Boomfest, the St. Petersburg International Comics Festival which he began in 2007. He is also the curator of an exhibition on contemporary Russian comics at the 2010 Angoulême International Comics Festival in France.

It is necessary to explain that in Russia the comics market has not been greatly developed and with the exception of some manga and comics about superheroes, practically nothing is being published. I think these are the best books from Russia, but I’m a little subjective, you know.



A?
by Oleg Tishenkov
Redbird Studio
Oleg Tishchenkov is perhaps the most well-known Russian comics author in Russia. Already for several years he has been drawing a series of one-page comics in which the protagonists, a person and a cat, live together and talk about different nonsensical and serious things. Very many stories appear on the Internet, and he has decided to publish a part of it himself and he has made it perfectly.

 

 



Chepukha
[Trifle]
by Various artists
Edition Boomkniga
This small anthology has been published in Russia since 2008 (and I should explain that I am one of the co-editors). Last year the second number was included in the shortlist of the best alternative comics at the festival in Angoulême. In 2009 two issues of the magazine have been published, in which you can read short stories by young Russian authors alongside others by already-known authors, such as Jason, Ulli Lust, Mawil, Knut Larsson, and the Russians Alexey Nikitin and Askold Akishin (a short 1989 story by him entitled Snow was included by David Kendall in his 2007 Mammoth Book of Best War Comics).

 


SPAIN
Selected by Alfons Moliné

Alfons Moliné is a Spanish animator and comics expert who works on the Disney comics line launched by Planeta, including writing the feature articles for their Carl Barks Library.



Burbujas
[Bubbles]
by Daniel Torres
Norma Editorial
Renowned Valencia artist Daniel Torres, best known for his adventure hero Rocco Vargas, who has starred in eight albums, shows with Burbujas a new facet of his talent after nearly 30 years of professional career with a 280-page ‘slice of life’ parable whose main character is Ramón Sánchez, a middle-aged man who has a good job, good health, a nice family… but who, suddenly, feels plunged into an existential crisis while contemplating an aquarium full of fishes and bubbles - hence the title - and wondering about what he has done with his life, and whether he has done it right or not. While Torres has abandoned here the full-colour fantasy world of his previous works, Burbujas still remains faithful to his spirit and personality, and is bound to become an international hit and a future classic.



El Arte De Volar
[The Art of Flying]
by Antonio Altarriba & Kim
Editions de Ponent
Kim (a pen name for Joaquim Aubert), best known for his long-running humorous strip Martínez el Facha (Martínez the Fascist) published in the satirical weekly El Jueves, has changed here into a more realistic style by joining forces with writer and comic expert Antonio Altarriba to present this 208-page biography of the latter’s father, who died of suicide in 2001. In El Arte De Volar, we discover a fresco of 20th century Spain as seen through the eyes of Altarriba’s father, from the poverty of rural Spain in the 1920s and 1930s, the Spanish Civil War, Franco’s dictatorship and eventually the return to democracy. Antonio Altarriba Sr, never gave up hope despite the hardships he suffered through the decades, always trying to make the world a better place and to learn ‘the art of flying’ with the wings of illusion. El Arte De Volar has been issued both as a hardcover collectors edition, limited to 1,000 copies, and as a paperback.

Posted: January 17, 2010

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