2009 didn’t quite turn out as exciting as one might have expected based on previous years’ publications. However, there still are a lot of releases worth mentioning and many of them will probably be acknowledged for years to come. Presented here are five graphic novels and five collections/anthologies that might be among those to be remembered from 2009.
An important requirement fell into place this year, when it became clear that graphic novels now also can be considered under the government procurement scheme for literature for adults. Previously, only comics for children had this right. The governmental program for grants for publishing or production of comics that was established in 1990, also increased.
Tor Ærlig’s third graphic novel, Mare Frigoris, was released spring 2009 by Egmont. Undoubtedly the most ambitious storyteller in the Norwegian comics community, Tor Ærlig (Thor [the] Honest, org. 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.
Øystein Runde is somewhat of an ‘enfant terrible’ and a productive genius. His Viking saga Soga om Olaf Sleggja (The Saga of Olaf The Hammer, Det norske samlaget) about a warrior in the service of Olaf I of Norway (Olav Tryggvason, king 995 – 1000), finds inspiration in both Snorri Sturlason’s Heimskringla, Frank Millers comics and maybe even from Quentin Tarantino’s take on genre movies. This Ninja-style, superhero type of story is hyper violent, but in its core a tale of responsibility and humanism – the Viking way.
Flu Hartberg published two graphic novels in 2009: Horgan by No Comprendo Pressand Odd by Egmont Serieforlaget. Unfortunatly Odd was sold exclusively by Egmont’s now-defunct comic book club, Seriebokklubben, and not even available for reviews, so I do not have any idea what it is like, but it seems to be a sarcastic view on a (in)famous Norwegian painter, Odd Nerdrum. Horgan is the story of an over-weighted, pessimistic looser that 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 Nielsens tales, have a strong and gritty first part, while the second half is more of a lightweight, but still very funny crime sitcom.
Bjørn Ousland’s Sydover - Kappløpet mot Sydpolen (South – The Race to The South Pole, Cappelen Damm) is the second book in his 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.
Lars Fiske and Steffen Kverneland, 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.
Probably the most important comic book collection of 2009 was Undergrunn, a collection of underground pioneer Arne W. Isachsen comics from early 70’s. The book was published by Jippi Comics on the occasion of Isachsens 60th birthday. The importance is not in the quality of either the comics presented itself or in the book, but in the recognition of Isachsen as one of the “founding fathers” of the modern Norwegian comics tradition. Isachsen importance as an inspiration both for future generations and contemporary colleagues neither can nor should be underestimated.
Another important collection was the Box set Megapyton containing 9 hardcover albums collecting the most important names of the humour magazine Pyton (1985 – 1996), published by Egmont Serieforlaget. Pyton was a focal point of some of today’s most important Norwegian comic book artists. Pyton found inspiration in French bad-taste and satirical magazines like Fluide Glacial and Charlie Hebdo as well as American Underground and of course Mad Magazine, and made it into a success story that for some time sold more than 50 000 copies monthly in Norway and also had editions in Sweden and Finland. The stories in the albums are coloured and re-texted for this edition in order to make them more up to date.
Norwegian newspaper strips still have very strong marked position compared to the syndicated American comics that dominated the papers for many years, and each year collection of the most popular strips are among the bestsellers, with Frode Øverlis Pondus as the most popular one. In 2009 it was 10 years since Karine Haaland published her first collection and more or less started the trend, and this was celebrated by Egmont with a collection of some of her best strips, Gøye tegneserier – Den store jubileumsboka (Fun comics – the big jubilee book), with notes and anecdotes by the artist herself.
Bendik Kaltenborn’s Serier som vil deg vel (Comics that will do you good), a collection of short stories, some unpublished, but mostly previously published in several magazines over the last five years. It was one of the latest books to be published in 2009, but maybe also one of the best. The collection is a tour de force in absurdity and storytelling techniques. Kaltenborn have by critics been hailed as the foremost stylist among Norwegian comic book artist.
Jippi’s anthology Forresten (By the way) came with its 23rd issue in 2009. In a time whenthere are so many other possibilities for artist to publish their work today, Forresten is still the most important comics anthology in Norway. Jippi and No Comprendo Press also published the third issue of Angst, an English anthology of new Norwegian comics, and of course thereby more available than the rest of the comics on this list for most of the world.
Parts of this article have previously been published on Paul Gravetts website as part of an introduction to the best comics of 2009 from around the world. In fact this article was written on request from Gravett.