Published June 27, 2003

Ragnar Egilsson

The Icelandic comic scene up until recently has been as legless as a drunken worm.
Mostly, the comic book culture here has consisted of importing series aimed at children. During World War II some action titles started to seep in with the soldiers and much later efforts were made to translate those titles, which was unfortunate in many respects, since these were often poorly translated. In the 70´s we started to publish most of the big Belgian/French children’s titles, such as Tintin and Asterix, not to mention Donald Duck who has always enjoyed a strong following here. But through all this there was no major activity among the natives. It´s enough to drive a man to drink.

But now it´s time to put aside the bottle, because the situation has been rectifying itself for the past few years. It has even come to the point where Edda miðlun, the largest publishing house in Iceland is turning out at least one graphic novel come autumn, called Kárasaga (more about that below). We have enjoyed visits from western comic luminaries like Warren Ellis and Grant Morrison who, as well as being big selling authors, have enjoyed much critical acclaim and have both contributed a lot to the battle for public acceptance. Things are improving all over. As Morrison pointed out in his speech held at the downtown City Library (Borgarbókasafnið), the geeks are taking over. With Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings, Matrix and Star Wars crazes sweeping everywhere, not to mention the endless comic book adaptions, it´s becoming harder to shun the medium where a lot has been going on for the past 15 years.

Comic books for mature readers with elaborate and powerful scripts and meticulous artwork are more commonplace now than ever and Iceland can only benefit from that. We are lucky to have a comic store, Nexus, that concentrates on carrying the more cutting edge, quality work with less emphasis on the more soapy superhero titles. Aside from that we have The City library that carries over 2000 comics and graphic novels in English, the majority of them aimed exclusively at adults, as well as a few hundred titles in Icelandic and the other Scandinavian languages. This was formally opened in the year 2000 and has consistantly been one of the most popular sections of the library.

Things are looking up. Something is in the air, maybe it´s just smell of money…but quite possibly we will be seeing young Icelandic talent, influenced by the new scene, crawling onto the world stage in the coming years. You will know when we do – It´ll be swell.
ICELAND: RECENT COMICS AND WORKS IN PROGRESS Kárasaga (Saga of Kári) by Ingólfur Örn Björgvinsson and Embla Ýr Bárudóttir, based on the old Icelandic

Brennunjálssaga, should be seeing light this fall. Like most of the titles referred to here it will only be available in Icelandic, at least for the time being. Kárasaga sounds like a focused, energetic piece that should avoid the mistake of the last project of this kind, the Egilssaga comic adaption. Egilssaga was a beautiful piece of work that regrettably tried to cover too much ground and ended up a little muddled. Kárasaga, on the other hand, sounds very promising and something to keep an eye out for.

Bjarni Hinriksson´s Stafrænar fjaðrir (Digital Feathers) and Aukablaðið by Dónald both came out a couple of months ago. The two are unlike in content as the former is a take on modern culture done in a progressive art style, while the latter springs from the vein of editorial cartoons nibbling at the heals of the nations leaders. But both are tasty and available in book form in Nexus (the only comic book vendor in Iceland –and the best in the universe, per head, at least.)

Elskið Okkur by Hugleikur (whose name means Mindgames) is another single panel funny like Aukablaðið. This grand, majestic story, matched only by Moby Dick and possibly The Bible in its epic sweep, attacks the Icelandic national soul where it´s at its weakest. Sweeping strokes of Swiftian satire leaves the reader grabbing his epiglottis and coughing up praise (and blood) for the boy-genius author. This really, really, really good book will be out in translation as “Love Us” so everyone can get really happy.

Besides the English translation of his previous work, Hugleikur will later this year bring us a new dose of forbidden love and social awkwardness with his sequel “Drepið Okkur” or “Kill Us”. Not to mention the very hush, hush collaboration with poet Sjón (whose last partnership with Björk Guðmundsdóttir almost bagged him an Oscar).

Blek, along with Gisp, is the largest and longest running comic book anthology in Iceland (neither has been running much longer than 8 issues which says a lot about the state of the Icelandic comic community). Both have been instrumental in giving young comic writers and artists a platform to showcase their work. Blek recently published a gorgeous hardcover book that collects all previous issues to date as well as putting out a new issue.

Finally there is a illustrated novel in progress, which has yet to be named, by two young men, Theodór Líndal Helgason and Steinar Kristinn Sigurðsson. It sounds like it could be a very enjoyble little, sci-fi romp and it is always encouraging to hear tremors from underground. And there are likely many young comic-creators-in-the-making like them out there and they should not hesitate to contact us to tell us about it. A proper comic community is long overdue.

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