Inspired by Finland – a Danish experience of Helsinki

KAUPUNKI JA KARHU exhibition poster: both Bredsdorff and Hansen prefer detailed artwork in comics.

While interviewed, the Danish comic artists Bue Bredsdorff and Allan Hansen still enjoy the warm May of Helsinki. Bredsdorff and Hansen applied for the CUNE-Comics-in-Residence Programme in Helsinki, and the result of their residency is the exhibition Kaupunki ja karhu (“City and the Bear”) in Helsinki Comics Center’s gallery. Bredsdorff and Hansen also use artist names Bue B and Ursus, and their work have been published in zines, anthologies and small magazines.

Bredsdorff and Hansen met each other in the Malmö comics school, when Hansen wanted to start a critical discussion group for people interested in new comics and the future of the scene. Bredsdorff noticed Hansen’s advertisement about the group and joined.

During their residency, Bredsdorff and Hansen tried at first to do both writing and illustrating together for their exhibition. However it became difficult to make a one story in collaboration, so the artists decided to do their own comics separately. Kaupunki ja karhu tells about the collision of city and the nature and also about the collaboration and artistic process of the artists.

– What our style has in common is details. We are used to critiquing each other’s works. I usually always show my works to Bue first, because the points he makes are always sound. The making of this exhibition and applying for the residency was a very good idea! Hansen says.

– It’s nice that you have company in a city you don’t know. It’s nice to share the experience, Bredsdorff says.

“The Danish comics scene is very different from the Finnish one.” Bredsdorff left, Hansen right.

“Finland has a great comics scene”

The two Danes are impressed by the leading comic country of the Nordic countries.

– We came to Helsinki, because we wanted to make a comic about the city. Finland has a great comic scene and is present at nearly every comics festival we know. We don’t have a scene like that in Denmark and no comics center. The Copenhagen Comics festival is held only every other year. I went to comics shop in Brussels and in their Nordic section two thirds of the comics were Finnish, and only the remaining third Norwegian, Swedish and Danish, Hansen says.

When asked to name interesting Finnish artists Hansen mentions Ville Ranta. Bredsdorff likes the work of Amanda Vähämäki and KutiKuti comics.

– My works have been published last summer in KutiKuti’s Denmark-Finland issue that came out at the Copenhagen Comics festival, Bredsdorff says.

– There are three comic shops in Copenhagen and you can get KutiKuti in all of them. There are bestseller, mainstream comics in the main library, but hardly anything alternative, Hansen says.

– There’s only one blog focusing on comics in Denmark, and maybe once or twice a year newspapers write something about comics. The Danish comic scene is very small and closed community. Only few artists manage to get published. There are no Danish anthologies, Hansen says.

– American comics are more popular in Denmark than Danish, French or Belgian, Bredsdorff says.

Bue Bredsdorff tells stories about empty spaces, buildings and the environment

Bredsdorff draws mainly buildings, architecture and infrastructure. Having once studied geography, Bredsdorff has an invested interest to observe his surroundings by drawing.

– I draw buildings and spaces without people, because I’m interested in environment and little things that surround us in everyday life and that we take for granted. I want to freeze time and the feeling of the places, Bredsdorff says.  
– I draw things how they are seen, in first person and realistically, like a documentary. Though I still want to leave some ambiguity for the readers to interpret by themselves.  

The works of Bredsdorff in Kaupunki ja karhu continue Bredsdorff’s architectual and geographic themes, because they tell about abandoned villas of Kruunuvuori.  

At the moment Bredsdorff works on a trilogy about the places where he has lived. The first part of the trilogy, little black and white book Huset i Sønderhå, tells about Bredsdorff’s childhood home in the little village of Sønderhå. Bredsdorff has published the story also on his tumblr blog and KutiKuti in English. Huset i Sønderhå is nominated at this year’s Pingpris awards in Denmark for best Danish comic debut, and the winner will be announced 7th of June.

– I think I have to start thinking about writing the winning speech soon – or a loser’s equivalent if I don’t get it, Bredsdorff jokes.

The second part of the apartment trilogy tells about Bredsdorff’s Copenhagen city apartment.

– The third part will tell about this garden allotment cottage me and my brother are building. It will be called Home and as the name implies, it tells about building your own home.

Bredsdorff also plans to release a Christmas book for the holiday market.

Followed by a bear

Hansen started making comics, because he wanted to draw something personal.

– I have an urge to draw my history and my own experiences. I want to make stories that relate to reality, but contain also some fantastic sequence of events or the like.

– Everytime I travel to a new place, I try to make a short story about the people or funny events I see on the streets. In Stockholm I saw a man in a suit, carrying a suitcase in one hand and a fish in the other, and I made a story about it.

Hansen’s story in the Kaupunki ja karhu exhibition tells the story how the bear statue of Kallio’s Karhupuisto (Bear Park) ended up there. The bear character has appeared in Hansen’s earlier works as well and his pen name, Ursus, means bear, so the character works as an alter ego.

Hansen works currently on two book projects in Denmark. One project, Christina Leonora, is a graphic novel about the oldest novel in Denmark called Jammers Minde. Princess Leonora Christina Ulfeldt wrote her autobiography Jammers Minde in the 17th century while imprisoned for 20 years and accused of taking part in her husband, Corfitz Ulfeldt’s plans of treason. The manuscript for the autobiography was not found until 200 years later. Book has been praised for the realistic description of the bleakness of captivity.

– Reading Jammers Minde I felt like I was in prison with her, which is a sign of a good book, Hansen says.
Hansen is also making a children’s book Ly Ö, which is about a man looking for a troll on an island and all the adventures taking place there.

– I have made a contract with a small publishing house about making three children’s books.

Hansen has studied Nordic languages in Copenhagen and taught Danish to foreigners. This year Hansen has started doing comics full-time, but he’s also releasing a Danish pronunciation book soon. Hansen is also interested in the Finnish language, and has in the past taken a 3-week Finnish course in Vaasa and likes to practice his skills.

Bredsdorff and Hansen have enjoyed Helsinki very much. Hansen had already visited Helsinki once before, but Bredsdorff saw the city for the first time. The two Danes have visited the districts of Kallio and made a short jaunt into Tallinn as well. They have also visited the exhibition of the most famous Finnish comic artist.

– We recommend Tove Jansson’s exhibition in Ateneum. It is the greatest solo exhibition of a comic artist that we’ve ever seen.

Bue Bredsdorff’s House in Sønderhå website in English
Allan Hansen’ website

Article written by Matleena Kantola
Photos by Aliisa Peltoniemi

CUNE CiR residency selections for 2014

The artists for this year’s residencies have finally been confirmed. There were over 100 excellent applications this round, among which the residence coordinators chose the following 9 artists to take part in CUNE CiR:

Helsinki, Finland

Bue Bredsdorff & Allan Christian Hansen (DK)
Marijpol (DE)
Julia Thorell (SE)
Julie Delporte (FR/CA)

Riga, Latvia

Berliac (NO/AR)

Tallinn, Estonia

Kivi Larmola (FI)
Sally Jane Thompson (UK)

Malmö, Sweden

Jouko Ruokosenmäki & Jaana Suorsa (FI)
Anna Sailamaa (FI)

Leipzig, Germany

Ella Eiranto (FI)

Kiel, Germany

Albo Helm (NL)

More detailed information about each artist and their residency projects will be updated at the CUNE website shortly.

Meanwhile, two of the residencies are already in motion. Feel free to follow Berliac’s exhibition and visit to Riga this month via our Facebook and kuš!’s own blog.

Ella Eiranto is also already in Leipzig and will take part in The Millionaires Club next week, so keep your eyes peeled for news from Germany.

We thank all applicants who took part this round, and would like to remind you that the next application round for 2015 is scheduled to take place in Autumn 2014.

Riga and food – Emmi Valve in-residence

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I did a residency for one month in Riga, and the time there turned out to be unexpected, surprising and productive. The place I was staying at was a houseboat floating peacefully in the middle of the Daugava river and facing the Old Town.

Initially, I went to Riga to do a project about taxidermy, which consisted of stuffing dead mice in people-like postures in a Victorian-style diorama. In the end, the workshop was cancelled because the planned collaborator for the project withdrew at the last moment.

Although my time in Riga was useful, interesting and instructive, I still wanted to get more out of it. I thought that taking part in local cultural events would be a good idea. I went to experimental music festivals, vernissages and short-film festivals. I was a jury member in a comics competition between local artists organised by the Belgian Embassy. I participated in comics events. I went on a photography trip to the autumnal town of Jurmala, and took many pictures of other things, too.

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Market places soon became my favourite hang-outs. Small farmer’s markets and similar events were organised every Saturday. But I fell especially in love with the central market. There I spent a lot of time, both because you can get literally anything you want there and because I just enjoyed being there. You could say that one of themes of my whole residency was my love for food. In the central market, the endless choice of wonderful and inspiring vegetables booths, fish vendors, meat counters, cheese and spice counters and bakeries could hold me spellbound for days on end.

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The choice of local grocery stores and restaurants was so varied and exciting. It was a delight to that the most commonplace Baltic foodstuff, pelmeni, could be found in many variations all over. Pelmeni have always been close to my heart, even before I went on this trip. So it was great to be able to taste for instance the home-made, expensive rabbit pelmeni and then the one-Euro regular ones available from any shop around the corner.

For a while I felt bad because all the time I was supposed to use for working, I spent thinking, tasting, making and writing about food. Then I had an epiphany. This was the moment to act upon an idea that had been in the back of my mind for the last five to six years: I had to find a way to combine my two passions, food and comics.

Through the years I had developed a plan for a comic book full of easy recipes for seasonal dishes, but the graphic storytelling part of it had had me puzzled. So during my stay in Riga, I surprisingly came up with a working concept for a comics cookery book, best described by the working title “Food Porn for Beginners and the More Advanced”.

I wanted a concise and clear book, with a working, interesting and entertaining concept. The guiding star of my book should be easy, surprising and tempting recipes. On the comics’ side, the illustrations should support the content, with images that still make an impact. To realise all of that, a lot of work had to be done. But little by little, from one idea to another and sketch by sketch, a script took form and fitted those lines. When I get home, it will (at last!) be time to write down and test my recipes, and then get on with some serious drawing.

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All in all, I am really satisfied with my residency month. I have seen, experienced and taken part in a lot of things and met locals and other people from abroad as well. I have been met with hospitality and been touched by sincere interest towards my work. And above all, I have got the chance to immerse myself in my thoughts and ideas, which might bring out the best of me, and which will hopefully bring others joy and good results in the future, as well.

Guess in the end all I can say is this: thanks for the food, Latvia!

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Text and pictures: Emmi Valve

Emmi Valve, originally from Porvoo, took part in the CUNE Comics-in-Residence Programme in Riga. Apply now for residencies in 2014 here.

Emmi Valve fan club blog: emmi.sarjakuvablogit.com

Sign language and monsters

A bunch of comics-enthusiasts gathered on August 8th at the Comics Center to celebrate the opening of a new exhibition at the Comics Center Gallery. The atmosphere was literally quite warm as people circled inside exploring all kinds of monsters and robots doing their daily routines.

Matt Boyce, photo by Jack Barnes

The man behind the exhibition is Matt Boyce (1981), a British artist who comes from a bilingual family. Both his parents are deaf, and he is fluent in English and British sign language. Sign language is part of both his own art and teaching work at a college in London. The Everyday Monsters exhibition is part of Matt’s residency project in the CUNE Comics-in-Residence programme.

The day before the opening I sat down with Matt and we talked about the residency and his stay here in Helsinki. What are his plans for the forthcoming month, what are his first impressions so far and what are the things that inspire him?

Matt told me that during his first week in Finland he has mainly done some touristy things like looking at sights and walking around Helsinki. During his residency Matt will be staying at Suomenlinna, an island off the coast of Helsinki that holds an old maritime fort built in the 18th century. He has been overall impressed by his lodgings at HIAP residence center.

“It’s great to have a big house all for myself. It’s the biggest place I’ve ever stayed in. It’s kind of funny to have a big space for painting and there I am, working on my comics.” During his residency Matt will be working on a new comic book, but that’s still very much a work in progress.

The way Matt uses sign language in his comics interests me. There is no sound involved in comics anyway, and all sounds from speech to effects are presented visually. Does he still feel like it’s important to incorporate sign language into comics? I revealed my ignorance to Matt and he gave me an answer:

“British sign language is different from English, and not everyone who speaks sign language knows English. For me, sign language was the first language I learned, and I still find English weird sometimes even though I can speak it fluently. In my teaching I use simple English and try to keep the style very visual. I teach courses for deaf children, and it’s important that everyone understands the comics I use for teaching.”

The most important thing for Matt is that everyone can draw comics and express themselves. This will also be the basis of the workshop he will be teaching during August at the Comics Center in Helsinki and HIAP’s Gallery Augusta. During the workshop the participants will be making autobiographical comics using sign language, similar to the courses Matt is teaching in London. He showed me some comics made in the workshops by deaf children who are leaving school. In the comics they talk about themselves but also their fears regarding the future. Matt explained to me that in England, deaf children get support and help with studies while they’re at school but after graduation they might have anxieties about the future. In their comics the children talk about their dreams for the future but also the obstacles they might run into.

Matt describes the island he is living on as both strangely silent and filled with tourists at the same time. The tourist crowds have actually given him an inspiration for a zombie-comic – both tourists and zombies are known to wander around in large packs with no sense of direction.

matt_everydaymonsters-web

EVERYDAY MONSTERS exhibition is open at the Comics Center Gallery until August 31st.

Interview and exhibition photos by Laura Antola. Matt’s photo by Jack Barnes.

CUNE Comics-in-Residence Programme is supported by:

Culture_ENG_SMALLEesti Kultuurkapital

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