I don’t read a lot of graphic novels or comics, but over the spring I’ve read two that I’d love to talk about. One of them was a lucky find from a second hand bookshop and the other a spur of the moment pick from the library. Moreover, both are Finnish which means they count towards my 15 in 2015 challenge! Unfortunately neither of them has been translated into English, but I’ve included some pictures to give you a sense of the drawing style.
Disclaimer: Neither of these books have, unfortunately, not been translated into English. Thus all the excerpts here have been translated by yours truly.
HARDCOVER, 88 P. ARKTINEN BANAANI, 2011 SOURCE: PURCHASED
It all began in 2003 as a series of Sunday strips depicting student life. Today the Villimpi Pohjola series is a cult phenomenon and has a steady but growing fanbase. From separate slapstick panels and single moment stills, the story has matured to contain larger story arcs. From the large cast of characters of the previous albums only the core are left and they continue to develop their identity from page to page. More than anything, the troupe of friends now faces the challenges of serious relationships, falling in love and loss. Kypsyyskoe (eng. Maturity test) presents the everyday situations from a new angle – without forgetting the omnipresent twinkle in the eye. The series is a mixture of the everyday life of a student, pop culture references, drama and parody.
I’ve been following the Villimpi Pohjola comic series for about 5 years on and off, but I became almost obsessed back in 2014 when I discovered that the artist had published entire albums. The series now has four albums that have been published (plus a compiled version of the first two) and I’ve been tracking down to collect them all. A few months ago I was hanging out in the centre with my friend – waiting to see The Theory of Everything – when we stopped by this second hand bookshop that had put books on display outside. I had heard that the third album in question, Kypsyyskoe (eng. Maturity Test), was about to sell out and had contemplated on ordering it, when I chanced to see it from the shop window. It only took me a couple minutes to fish out my money and sprint to the counter and smiling from ear to ear.
The name of the third album, Maturity Test, refers to the test that students have to take after submitting their thesis to prove that they can write properly. However, the title is also apt because instead of showing simply young students getting into all sorts of scrapes and living life to the fullest, it focuses a lot more on maturing and becoming an adult (aka. adulting). There are many different storyline that alternate, but alongside those are also the crazy, laugh-out-loud, and slapstick-y moments that really make the series what it is. It doesn’t try to take itself too seriously despite the fact that it sometimes deals with serious topics.
HARDCOVER, 47 P. WSOY, 2013 SOURCE: FROM THE LIBRARY
When a child has a nightmare, it’s the adult’s job to step up and explain that everything is okay. The nightmares of young girl Aino derive from everyday situations as well as from the collective consciousness. In her dreams, Fluffy has gone missing, giant high-heels-wearing hares chase her in the woods and daddy has transformed into a drawing of dark black lines that doesn’t even look like daddy. Even the scariest things can be trapped on paper, and thought the dream is sometimes SO bad that you can even put it in a book, talking about it to a grown-up helps!
Vain pahaa unta (eng. Only a Bad Dream) was nominated a few years back for the esteemed Childrens’ Finlandia prize and also caused a lot of discussion about the images that children are exposed to through the media. The author duo are a father and daughter, who have together collaborated a book based on the daughter’s nightmares. Ville Tietäväinen is a well-known illustrator and a comic artist and Aino is his 7-year-old daughter. The book presents a collection of Aino’s nightmares from the ages of 4 to 6 as well as small strips presenting discussions between the father and the daughter about these nightmares and about seeing nightmares.
Despite the fact that it’s been a long time since I saw nightmares such as these, even the absurd fears of Aino truly spoke to me and moved me – and made me feel like they were my nightmares. The book is quite short but it is filled with details and points that make you stop and consider about the things behind these nightmares. Some of the nightmares, such as The Hotel (age 4)(pictured above), really show how something seen in the news or in a film can transform into a very frightening nightmare. After reading Only a Bad Dream I pushed it to many people and talked about it with many of my friends. I liked how the art combined the drawings of Aino with those of his father and also how the narration moved across the pages. I only wish that the book would have had a longer foreword or an afterword, because despite the strong visual effect of the book, I would have wanted to read more about the nightmares and about the exchanges between these two artists.
EDIT: A few pages of the book have been translated into English and can be found from the Books from Finland website.