Published July 8, 2005
A couple of American emigrants stopped by The Grapevine office this week to discuss their move, our paper, and the future of Iceland. As it turned out, they were from my neighbourhood in Brooklyn, NY, and before that from my neighbourhood in Cambridge, Massachusetts—grad students and writers move around a lot. But they were here in Iceland ready to start a new life, ready to make some financial sacrifices, because they felt the country was beautiful, the people friendly, and the environment full of promise.
I agreed, but couldn’t help raising an eyebrow.
“Moving to Iceland is not a rational decision,” they told me. “You just decide to do it.”
And that made a lot of sense to me, especially as, while we were talking, I was looking down at my Things to Do List: EXPLAIN WHY PUFFINAIRE JUMPS ONTO FACE, WHO MAKES A GOOD SUPERHERO COCKTAIL?, MAKE HRAFN LOOK LIKE ARKHAM ASSYLUM.
When we decided to make an all comic book issue out of The Grapevine in the peak of the tourist season with a very limited staff, an even more limited budget, and with a total of ten days in which to produce material and lay it out, we knew we were making an irrational decision, but we felt it was one our readers would appreciate. Comics are in the air, of course: in June, Iceland featured prominently in the comic book movie Batman Begins; the Reykjavík Art Museum recently featured an extensive exhibit on comic art; and as consumers of popular culture, Iceland has access to the sixty-plus comic book movies, plus the waves of comic-influenced English-language novels that have gained critical acceptance.
We could also go back and say that comics and Iceland have a long history: the illuminated manuscripts for the sagas contain remarkably vivid drawings that advance plot points. The sagas and Nordic mythology would also feature prominently in the Silver Age of modern comics, when Stan Lee decided to glean the characters Thor and Loki for his Marvel comic line. As you can see in this magazine, the favour was repaid when Icelandic artist Erró borrowed images from Stan Lee and his colleague Jack Kirby for his own work.
Iceland has many connections with comics, and we could trace them for more than 56 pages, but as much as we could try to present a logical reason for the extra effort we put into this issue, we acknowledge that we are acting irrationally.
We are doing a comic issue mainly because the designer, Hörður Kristbjörnsson, and I had early emotional connections with the medium of comics. As he told me in a late night session on an earlier issue, when he first read a Marvel comic in the 1980s, he understood how design, colour and layout could communicate more than just text.
I had been impressed, very early on, with the fact that comics I read as a child spoke directly about death and sickness. In fact, kids collected issues in which heroes died—the death of a villain was worth a lot less. I am still astounded by a 1982 comic book the Death of Captain Marvel, in which a dashing hero gets cancer and dies and even the villains mourn him. But all comics, as I remember them, involved a hero almost dying, and facing this peril through the pages of a monthly publication, knowing that your favourite b-list hero might actually disappear, felt truthful, just as having a full-page drawing of a funeral in conjunction with an epitaph seemed more truthful than the few words a parent or a minister might say after a grandparent or young friend died.
In any case, there are drawings here, and there is some humour and fantasy, but we hope that in some odd way they connect with our readers. If you find the connection appealing, the people who collaborated with us will be on display on a local art gallery, Gallery Lobster or Fame, and thanks to JPV Press, The Puffinaire will be available in comic book form—in a limited printing collector’s edition, of course. If you think we overdid it, don’t worry, photos and more conventional journalism will return with our next issue.