Laughing at the ‘Vicious’ World: Humour for all ages in Contemporary Norwegian Children’s Comics

By: Dona Pursall
Two of the best known Norwegian humour comics are Pondus, written by Frode Øverli, (1994 – ongoing) and Nemi, drawn and written by Lise Myhre (1997 – ongoing). They both share a joy of laughing at the painful in everyday life, indicative of a dark and absurd type of Norwegian humour often more associated with adults rather than children. However, this paper argues that Norwegian children’s comics also exploit this dark and absurd humour through what Charles Hatfield calls cross-writing, “a dialogic mix of older and younger voices” (69).

Focusing on “Floke. Ein fredeleg fyr i en vill vikingverd” (Floke. A Calm Kid in a World of Vicious Vikings 2020) and Jojo (2018), by the Norwegian artist Ida Eva Neverdahl, this paper will explore ‘cross-laughter’, and the socio-political themes it raises through three key areas: how dark humour and absurdity are constructed through tone, perspective and knowingness (Lewis); the balance and disruption of tensions between fantasy and absurdity, sense and nonsense, and ridicule and compassion (Stewart); physical comedy and slapstick humour as furtherance and disruption of storytelling and normative behaviour (Paulus and King). This paper concludes that comics creators such as Neverdahl humorously explore the serious experience of childhood through cross-writing and that the flexible and yet stable comics form is fundamental to the ways in which these stories are able to tackle emotional and controversial themes in an amusing and exploratory ways. Cross-written dark and absurd humour, drawing from a prominent tradition in the Norwegian popular adult comics, enables children and adults to laugh at and wrangle with complex themes and difficult contemporary debates.

Hatfield, Charles. Redrawing the Comic-Strip Child. Oxford University Press, 2011. Crossref, doi:10.1093/oxfordhb/9780195379785.013.0009.

Lewis, D. “‘Oops!: Colin McNaughton and “Knowingness”’. Children’s Literature in Education, 29 (2), 59-68, 1998.

Paulus, Tom, and King, Rob editors. Slapstick Comedy. Routledge, 2010.

Stewart, Susan. Nonsense: Aspects of Intertextuality in Folklore and Literature. Johns Hopkins University Press, 1979.

About the author:
Dona Pursall is a PhD student of Cultural Studies and Comparative Literature at Ghent University, Belgium. She is embraced within a wider European project seeking to piece together an intercultural history of children in comics: https://www.comics.ugent.be/

Her PhD research explores humour, childhood, resilience, identity, imagination, irreverence and culture within the history of comics, particularly in relation to eras of social unrest and political change. She is currently investigating the relationship between the British ‘funnies’ from the 1930’s to 1960’s and the experiences and development of child readers. As a teacher with over fifteen years of classroom experience in both the UK and in Norway, Dona is especially interested in children’s comparative reading experiences and socio-emotional development.

The Vocal Influences of Silent Sam – Transnational Visual Genealogies Attributed to Sweden’s Greatest Comics Export

By: Fredrik Strömberg
Adamson/Silent Sam by Oscar Jacobsson (1889–1945) is probably the most successful Swedish comics export, ever. During the first half of the 20th century, Adamson was published all over the world – from Europe and North America, all the way to Asia, creating a flurry of early international comics related merchandise and syndications deals that had the strip survive its creator by several decades. It has been postulated that the success of Adamson influenced comics artists in other countries, who emulated everything from style and visual narrative techniques to the actual gags. From the visual jokes of the Tintin comics by Belgian comics artist Hergé in the 1920s and 1930s to the American Matt Groening’s design of Homer Simpsons in the 1980s, this has become truisms in the writing of international comics history. But is it really so? I will use a schema based formal analysis of the artworks involved, combined with historical analyses of archival material, interviews and news reports to attempt to get a better understanding of these processes and how this Swedish comic may have contributed to comics cultures across the world.

About the author:
Fredrik Strömberg is a journalist, author and historian who has studied comics since the 1990’s. He is editor of Bild & Bubbla, the world’s second oldest magazine about comics, heads the Comic Art School of Sweden, edits Scandinavian Journal for Comic Art (SJoCA) and is a founding member of the Nordic Network for Comics Research (NNCORE). Among the books he has written are the English language Swedish Comics History, Black Images in the Comics, The Comics Go to Hell and Comic Art Propaganda. Strömberg lives in Sweden and is currently writing his thesis at Malmö University.

New Left Politics in the Swedish The Phantom Comics

By: Robert Aman
The Phantom, an American comic about a superhero of British heritage set in a fictional African country, is held in highest esteem elsewhere, regarded as a national institution in Australia, New Zealand and much of Scandinavia. Since the early 1970s, officially licensed scripts have been produced by the Swedish-based scriptwriters of ‘Team Fantomen’ who today remain the major suppliers of adventures to the Phantom comics around the world. This paper suggests that this shift in the scripts’ geographical origin also altered the politics of the comic. In the hands of Team Fantomen, the masked hero is instilled with political doctrines influenced by the New Left and other radical social movements in the wake of 1968. This ideological shift means that the masked hero moves away from the role of a colonialist fantasy prevalent in the American scripts to become a supporter of decolonisation, social justice, and equality. The colonial framing of the comic book is in a Swedish context transformed into a postcolonial resource. The Phantom is present in that Africa which had been placed at centre stage in the national political debate. Behind the black mask, his eyes witness the social injustices that solidarity movements in Sweden emphasize, he intervenes in the armed conflicts discussed in the Swedish parliament, and he helps the people that Swedish foreign aid seeks to reach. In many ways, especially during the whole 1970s, the Phantom embodies the ambition behind Swedish foreign policy. This without having to take into account the principle of neutrality, the interests of great powers, or diplomatic relationships.

About the author:
Robert Aman is Associate Professor in Education at Linköping University, Sweden. He primarily conducts research on ideology, legacies of colonialism, and the politics of representation in comics. He has published a number of articles in journals such as Third Text, Journal of Graphic Novels and Comics and Inks. His most recent book, The Phantom Comics and the New Left (Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan), was published in 2020. He currently works on a monograph about new left politics and the Swedish comic book scene during the 1970s.

Visualizing critique of consumerism in Swedish comics and cartoons from 1968 until today

By: Margareta Wallin Wictorin
Since the industrial revolution in the 18th century, human activity has had a significant impact on the planet’s climate and ecosystem. Nicolas Mirzoeff (2015) claims that this era, named the Anthropocene, cannot be seen, only visualized. To visualize the Anthropocene is to invoke the aesthetic. One way of doing that is to draw comics, and comics artists in Sweden have for quite many years used their skills for contesting even the widely spread idea that we cannot imagine the end of capitalism. With irony and satire but also serious facts, artists such as Lena Svedberg, Gunna Grähs, Sara Granér, Lotta Sjöberg and Ulrika Linder have questioned the neoliberal idea that “market forces” must be obeyed. They have contested the notion that consumption is the meaning of life and criticized the ongoing exploitation of nature. As Laureen Rickards (2020) relates, a host of irony and satire has arisen in response to the Anthropocene and the climate change. According to Rickards, satire offers a valuable means of positioning climate change within the politics of everyday life, making people interested in engaging with the issue in a more effective way than scientific information does. This presentation will show examples of Swedish comics and cartoons, from 1968 until today, that use different ways of visualizing critique of consumerism and the Anthropocene.

About the author:
Margareta Wallin Wictorin is Associate Professor in Art History and Visual Studies and Senior Lecturer in Culture Studies at Karlstad University, Sweden. She has published articles and chapters with postcolonial, educational, and feminist perspectives on comics, such as “Women’s Liberation. Swedish Feminist Comics and Cartoons from the 1970s and 1980s” (in European Comic Art, 2019), and “Comics craftivism: embroidery in contemporary Swedish feminist comics”, for Journal of Graphic Novels and Comics, 2021, together with Anna Nordenstam. Wallin Wictorin is a member of the research project “Contemporary Swedish Feminist Comics as Medium for Activism and Critique” (Swedish Research Council, 2019-2022).

Moral Matters – Notes on the Naturalization of ”Good” and ”Evil” in Superhero Narratives and their Reception

Abstract:  Superheroes are having a moment. It seems like they’re everywhere. Not just in our comics and our screens, but in the general, social and cultural, air we breathe. Social and political events and actors are often reframed with superheroic imagery, and social, cultural, economic, and political actors seem increasingly to call on images and tropes that connote superhero generic formations to stake their position on an issue or to claim how what they’re doing is right and good and just. This paper considers how the figure of the superhero can work to naturalize political positions and to make contingent values seem “natural” rather historical, and the effects this can have.

The journey of French feminist tradition and contemporary creative renewals to the Nordics

By: Ylva Lindberg
The growing number of female comics author-illustrators in the Nordic countries allows for enhanced visibility of comics in general on northern local markets. Moreover, it triggers a reconceptualization of the art form as such, paving the way for exportation and circulation on an international level (Lindberg 2014; 2016). This contribution is an attempt to observe how Swedish feminist comics enter dialogical relations with feminist comics author-illustrators in France through translations. The aim is to gain insight into how feminist comics are shaped and reinforced through circulation and cultural exchange. Literature on comics translations is fragmented and mainly concerned with central and consecrated comics (Asimakoulas 2018; Assis 2016; Zanettin 2018), which motivates a reorientation toward comics production beyond the mainstream. The study takes its point of departure in a quantitative study of French-language comic art translated into Swedish in the time-period 1950-2020 (Lindberg, forthcoming), and focuses specifically on feminist author-illustrators that occur in the data. The exploration is constructed as a case investigating diverse albums, such as, Le Bleu est une couleur chaude (2010) by Julie Maroh, Mauvais genre (2013) by Chloé Cruchaudet, and California Dreamin’ (2015) by Pénélope Bagieu, and their trajectories toward Swedish readerships. The analysis adopts a method that marries both sociological and linguistic dimensions to understand how “the process of inscription” (Venuti 1998a; 1998b) – including selection, introduction, translation, packaging, and reception -, enables mediation and cultural dialogue targeting feminist issues and comics. The findings offer insights into which feminist French-language comics Sweden chooses to promote and translate.

Asimakoulas, D. (2018). Synchrony Issues in Comics. Language Transfer and Gender-specific Characterisation in English Translations of Greek Aristophanic Comics, Journal of Graphic Novels and Comics 9, no. 4: 350-372 (351).

Assis, E. (2016) The Concept Of Fidelity In Comics Translation, TranscUlturAl 8, no. 2: Translation and Comics : 8-23.

Lindberg, Y. (2016) The Power of Laughter. Swedish Female Cartoonists Raise their Voice. Scandinavian Journal of Comic Art, 2(2), 3-31.

Lindberg, Y. (2014) Satiriska feministiska serier. Nina Hemmingsson och Liv Strömquist. Tidskrift för litteraturvetenskap 2014:2, 83-99.

Venuti, L. (ed.) (1998a). Translation and Minority: Special Issue. Manchester: St. Jerome. Venuti, L. (1998b). The Scandals of Translation: Towards an Ethics of Difference. London: Routledge.

Zanettin, F. (2018). Translation, Censorship and the Development of European Comics Cultures, Perspectives 26, no. 6: 868-884.

About the author:
Ylva Lindberg is professor in Education, language and literature, at Jönköping University, Sweden. Lindberg is a member of the executive board of NNCORE – Nordic Network of Comics Research, and of the editor board of SMAJ – Stockholm, Manga, Art, Japan book series. She leads the strategic investment project LeaDMe – Learning, Digitalization, and Media (2018-2022).

Drawing disease: How illness is told in two graphic narratives from Sweden and Denmark

By: Nina Ernst
This article examines how illness is conveyed in contemporary Nordic graphic narratives. In the emerging genre called Graphic Medicine, today globally recognized, comics artists develop their own communicative styles in a myriad of ways. In the medical school curriculum, comics has a newfound credibility and several scholars have written about American works, but rarely any examples from the Nordic countries have been examined. In this paper I will explore the ways of depicting illness, elicit certain patterns, and in particular discuss two graphic novels from Denmark and Sweden, and to some extent compare them to previous international works. In her work, Det rette element [The right element] from 2019, Line Høj Høstrup follows a young woman who is diagnosed with Lou Gehrig’s disease (ALS), whereas Per Myrhill’s narrative Aneurysmdimma [Aneurysm Fog] from 2017, depicts the comics artist’s autobiographical account which centers on his experience with a brain aneurysm. Drawing on Elisabeth El Rafaie’s taxonomy of pictorial, spatial, and stylistic metaphors, as well as Ian Williams’ iconography of illness, I will bring the various narratological and medium-specific strategies that Høj Høstrup and Myrhill employ in their respective works to the fore.

About the author:
Nina Ernst is a comics scholar and a senior lecturer in Comparative Literature at Linnaeus University, Sweden. She holds a PhD in Comparative Literature from Lund University and most recently she has been working as a Swedish professor at Columbia University, New York (2018-2020). Her doctoral thesis deals primarily with contemporary autobiographical Swedish comics, with a comparative perspective taking in European and North American examples. She has presented her initial findings at various international conferences, including at the NNCORE conference in Helsinki, the ISSN conference in Cambridge, at Nanjing University, and at The Royal Swedish Academy of Letters, History and Antiquities.

Defining the Graphic Novel

By: Jakob Dittmar and Berndt Clavier
The use of the terms comics and graphic novel follow different traditions in different countries and cultures. The difference between its use for marketing purposes and to mark substantial differences in form and/or content is crucial. In the Francophone part of Europe, the emphasis lies on graphic qualities. In this tradition, the focus is not so much on illustrating a narrative than on finding new ways to narrate visually. A clear division between comics albums of the Franco-Belgian tradition and the longer and more complex comics that are considered graphic novels in the USA is impossible to maintain.
The term and its use are ill-defined and accordingly are used in different ways. Graphic novels are comics according to the generally established definition. They are not a medium of their own (if we do not take shelter behind some tailor-made definition of medium). And while there are considerable differences in what a literary novel is, the exercises in defining the Novel might help us to define the Graphic Novel – the question is if they are a specific genre within comics or only a finer word for the same thing.

About the authors:
Jakob Dittmar is a university lecturer in visual communication and associate professor in media and communications at Malmö University.

Berndt Clavier is a university lecturer in comparative literature at Malmö University.

Norm-critical work with Comics in the Classroom

By: Lars Wallner & Robert Aman
This presentation explores how students and a teacher in a Swedish secondary school do gender talk with comics. Literary research on comics have shown them to both reinforce existing stereotypes as well as being a tool for problematizing gender. However, much of the existing research on comics in education has been more interested in exploring what boys and girls like to read, rather than on what gender work can be done with the material. Therefore, using conversation analytical methodology, we have documented situated classroom talk through video observations and participant talk and embodied interaction. The collected data is analysed with a focus on how gender is socially constructed in educational practice. In relation to comics, three different aspects of gender talk are displayed and discussed in the groups. The results indicate that students are capable of seeing past the gender stereotypes in comics. They identify gendered characteristics and behaviour in the materials, deconstruct aspects of these gender differences, and criticize them. Use of comics enable students to discuss characters that they are familiar with since early childhood, to deconstruct gender aspects and relate this to students’ everyday life. The gender binary aspect of the comics used could be viewed as problematic, but students work with what they have – were they to use comics with more gender fluid representation, perhaps it would enable other perspectives on gender. We see a vital opportunity here to continue to use, and further expand, comics as a tool to discuss norm critique in the classroom.

About the authors:
Lars Wallner is a Senior Lecturer in Pedagogic Practices at Linköping University. He is working with the use of fiction in educational practice. His dissertation, Framing Education – Doing Comics Literacy in the Classroom, explores literacy work with comic books in primary and secondary school, and social interaction around comics. His latest book Det rutiga klassrummet – serier, multimodalitet och litteracitet (Studentlitteratur) introduces Swedish readers to the usability of comics in education. His current work includes research on comics and intersectionality, feedback processes in higher education, and fiction as a tool in teacher education.

Robert Aman is Associate Professor in Education at Linköping University. He primarily conducts research on ideology, national identity, and the politics of representation in comics. He has published a number of articles in journals such as Third Text, Journal of Graphic Novels and Comics and Cultural Studies. He is the author of Socialist Superhero: New Left Ideology, International Solidarity and other legacies of 1968 in The Phantom (New York, Palgrave Macmillan), Decolonising Intercultural Education: Colonial Difference, the Geopolitics of Knowledge, and Inter-Epistemic Dialogue (London, Routledge), and, together with Timothy Ireland, Educational Alternatives in Latin America: New Modes of Counter-Hegemonic Learning (New York, Palgrave Macmillan).

Work in progress: Teaching Methods for Drawing and Visual Narratives.

Gunnar Krantz is a comic artist and professor in visual communication/drawing at the School of Arts and Communication (K3), Malmö University

Oskar Aspman is an illustrator, graphic designer and lecturer in comics, visual communication and graphic design at the School of Arts and Communication (K3), Malmö University. He co-founded the art-comics anthology CBA in 2001 as an outlet for experimental, visual narratives.

Tina-Marie Whitman is a lecturer in drawing and visual communication and program coordinator for the visual communication program at the School of Arts and Communication (K3), Malmö University

Modesty Blaise cut up in Sweden – The issues of adaptation of a newspaper comic strip into an unsuitablepublication format as the comic book.

By: Pascal Lefèvre
Every graphic narrative is originally made for a specific publication format, but when such a comic is selected for translation, the local publisher may choose to print it in another publication format. This transition from one publication format to another may give rise to several problematic issues, as seen in the case study: how the first story of Modesty Blaise went from a British daily comic strip to a Swedish comics magazine (called there ‘serietidning’). After proposing some prototypical descriptions of the involved publication formats, our case study focuses on the formal modifications, both concerning text and pictures. The publication format of the Swedish comics magazine (based on the American comic book) was not well suited to publish the daily tiers, because these were a little too wide for the smaller pages of the magazine. To make the daily tiers fit for the comics magazine format panels were vertically cropped, conversely horizontally extended or, panels were even completely cancelled. Furthermore, the visual treatment of the verbal part had its issues too. All these modifying practices impacted the way the comic was experienced and moreover they raise the issue of derogatory treatment of the artists moral rights.

About the author:
Pascal Lefèvre (PhD in Social Sciences, University of Leuven) teaches at bachelor and master level at LUCA School of Arts (campus Sint-Lukas Brussels). His main research (some 100 publications), related to the medium of graphic narratives, includes representation studies (of WW2, Cold War, colony Congo), formal and historical approaches. In addition to his specialisation, he is also interested in visual storytelling in cinema, animation, television, and in the cutting edge research of human visual perception. In 2020-2021 he received a honorary doctorate from the university of Malmö.

Working-class Comics

By: Magnus Nilsson
In recent years, several scholars have identified links between contemporary Swedish comics and the country’s strong tradition of working-class literature. For example, in her doctoral dissertation about autobiographical graphic novels, Nina Ernst (2017, 145) argues that there are strong connections between the works of Mats Jonsson and classic Swedish working-class literature. I’ve also made similar claims regarding works of such comics artists as Hanna Petersson and Mats Källblad (Nilsson 2016; Nilsson 2018). In this paper, I will try to make a contribution to the academic discourse about contemporary Nordic comics by arguing that the concept of working-class comics could be useful for understanding a relatively strong current of Swedish comics, but also that it brings to the fore important questions about the relationship between comics and literature and the study of these two artforms in the Nordic countries today.

About the author:
Magnus Nilsson (b. 1975) is Pro dean and professor of comparative literature at Malmö University. His main area of research is working-class literature, including working-class comics. His comics research has been published in journals such as Journal of Graphic Novels and Comics, International Journal of Comic Art, and Scandinavian Journal of Comic Art.

A Tradition of Proletarian Comics and Cartoons in Sweden?

By: Fred Andersson
If proletarian comics are comics drawn by, for and about proletarians, is it then necessary that all three conditions are met for a cartoon or a picture story to be defined as “proletarian”? Inasmuch as comics can be regarded as artifacts of both literature and visual design, this theoretical dilemma is the same as the one faced earlier by researchers of proletarian literature (cfr Lars Furuland and Beata Arnborg in Sweden). With some examples drawn from the past 150 years of popular and leftist press in Sweden, the aim of this paper is to specify the role of cartoons and sequential pictorial narratives for the formation of a proletarian readership and a visual tradition of the labour movement in Sweden. To what extent was cartooning not only a means for survival among young artists with proletarian background, but also a channel for expressing political convictions? (Productive aspect.) To what extent did topics and themes reflect an adaptation to tacit assumptions about the proletarian readership and its organisations? (Socio-semiotic aspect.) What are the prospects if we want to secure documentary evidence that these artifacts reached the intended audience and provoked reactions? (Receptive aspect.) Finally, we might inquire whether a proletarian comics production for a proletarian audience exists today and, if so, according to which criteria?

About the author:
Fred Andersson has a PhD in art history at Lund University (2007), title of docent in art history with a specialisation in visual communication (2014), teacher and coordinator of the Visual Studies minor at Åbo Akademi (2008 to present, title of Head of department since 2018). Andersson has researched on Nordic avantgarde and popular culture from a communicative and semiotic perspective. His current research/writing projects concern ideological functions of art criticism (ongoing), social and cultural semiotics as applied to political art (ongoing), and aesthetic modernism as intermediality (see the monograph Jan Widströmer: Av inre tvång och kärlek till konsten, Lund 2019).

Political disillusionment in Suomen suurin kommunisti

By: Oskari Rantaala
In my paper I discuss Suomen suurin kommunisti (“The Greatest Communist of Finland”) by Jesse Matilainen, a graphic novel focusing on the early history of the Finnish communist movement. The graphic novel deals especially with the decimation of Finnish communist leaders and the whole Finnish émigré community in USSR during the Stalinist purges of late 1930s. The Soviet secret police operations against Finns led to approximately 20,000 deaths by some estimates. Following the centenary of Finnish independence in 2017, the fate of Finns in the Soviet Union has drawn the interest of several creators of popular culture.

After the bloody Finnish Civil War in 1918, the remnants of the losing socialist side fled to Soviet Russia. In 1920s and 1930s, tens of thousands of Finns escaping political persecution joined them in exile or were forcibly deported, with thousands of Finnish immigrants also emigrating from North America. Tragically, this diaspora community was almost completely wiped out in the Stalinist purges – a fate shared by numerous minority nationalities.

Matilainen’s graphic novel is a fictionalized historical account of the lives of the leaders of the Finnish communists — of their power struggles, relationships and ultimately unsuccessful attempts to survive the political repression on both sides of the Finnish-USSR border. An especially noteworthy aspect is the graphic novel’s use of appropriations of early Soviet political avant-garde artworks and visual propaganda. The comics narrative employs the designs of recognizable artworks, often with subtle variations in order to emphasize political disillusionment and narrative irony.

About the author:
Oskari Rantaala is working on his doctoral thesis at the University of Jyväskylä, Finland, researching medium-specific narrative strategies and medial self-awareness in comics. His research interests are: experimental narrative strategies, medium-specificity, (inter)mediality and their politicial uses.