In spite of the dramatic international intrigue Sparkplug Comic Books and its affiliates faced at the Canadian border on the way to TCAF last weekend, we managed to simultaneously invade a whole other continent at Stockholm Sweden’s 11th Annual SPX Festival. Sparkplug was honored to be invited to the festival for the 3rd year in a row along with many other hella distinguished international guests.
Swedish SPX is free to the public and held in the center of Stockholm in the same building as a – wait for it – comics library with a well rounded, up to date collection called the Kulterhuset. The Kulterhuset is exactly what it translates to from Swedish to English: a “Culture House” that is open to the public seven days a week. In addition to its comics library, it also houses five floors of screening rooms, restaurants and theaters .The festival took place on Saturday, May 7 through Sunday, May 8, with several satellite and on location events held on the Wednesday and Thursday before the show. You know, just how we do in America, except classier and with a buttload of government funding.
Myself and Sparkplug published and distributed artists, MK Reed, Trevor Alixopulos and Austin English were at a table next to Swedish publisher and festival co-organizer, Galago. Close by were fellow US publishers Top Shelf and Fantagraphics and other North American festival guests, cartoonists Hope Larson, Dash Shaw, Vanessa Davis, Gabrielle Bell and Bryan Lee O’Malley. So what follows is a somewhat subjective report as I was either behind the Sparkplug table or on a panel for most of the show and didn’t get a chance to see everything I would’ve liked to.
But a lot of what I saw and did was good and worthy of sharing. Like, the first international edition of Drink and Draw Like a Lady attended by one of the DDLL co-founders herself, Hope Larson.
The Drink and Draw was really relaxed and pleasant, with a lot of Stockholm ladies saying they didn’t know anyone there when they first arrived but left with the phone numbers of other girl cartoonists in the spirit of networking the event intends. Swedish organizer, Berit Verkland said they’ll definitely do it again.
I also enjoyed meeting Ulli Lust, an international guest of the festival from Berlin, Germany, and her husband, cartoonist Kai Pfieffer. Everyone at the show was buzzing about her book, Today is the last day of the rest of your life. Lust describes the 400+ page graphic novel as a “travel into the heart of darkness.” The site electrocomics.com (where you can download a full pdf English translation of the book) says it’s the story of how
Ulli, an aspiring punk girl with a catholic middle-class upbringing, meets Edi, a nymphomanic runaway her age. They dream of spending winter in Italy and try to make some money in a brothel (with only little success).
One look through the nicely packaged German edition and I was sold. As were several other festival guests, like Cuno Affolter, curator of Europe’s second largest comics collection in Switzerland, who couldn’t stop talking about how I need to let the rubes of the US of A know about this book over dinner on Saturday. Apparently, no less than Mr. Scott McCloud, is in agreement with the esteemed Mr. Affolter so take note and get on it US publishers.
I also liked Emelie Ostrergen’s new minicomic, The Story of a Girl from Swedish publisher, Optimal Press and Scandanavian US Expatriate (and Sparkplug artist) Juliacks’ new self-published venture, Invisible Forces, which features a visually pleasing and inventive use of Finish subtitles with English text (or vice versa, depending on which language you can or would prefer to read).
One of the things I did get out to see was the table promoting Swedish Cartoonists Simon Gardenfors and Jonas Pike Dahlstrom’s animation project, Paco the Judo Popcorn.
The two have about a week left on a Kickstarter campaign to fund the making of Paco, so go help out a couple of nice Swedish country boys if you’re able to (or at least watch the Paco trailer, which is pretty cute).
Another thing I didn’t get a chance to read was Austin English’s The Disgusting Room which debuted and sold out at the show but I’m looking forward to getting one (and hopefully I will, unless everything Sparkplug’s transporting via mail, ground shipping or air is on some Canadian child pornographer terrorist watchlist now). Some things I would’ve loved to have read but couldn’t because they weren’t translated into English included Swedish artist Sara Hansson’s new book by Galago (which sold out) and Finish artist Mari Ahokoivu’s new minicomics. I did however have the pleasure of being on a panel with both Hannson and Ahokoivu, as well as my fellow American guest, cartoonist Hope Larson, German editor and publicist Jutta Harms, and Carmela Chergui of the legendary French publisher L’Association on Thursday afternoon. The panel was moderated by Swedish cartoonist and radio journalist, Sofia Olsson and it concerned the current global state of women’s representation in comics publishing. Hope and I seemed to be in agreement that the US comics business environment sucks so much right now that cartoonists seem far more preoccupied with trying to get anything published, hopefully for actual money, than they are with making sure that both genders are represented equally by comics publishers. But we also both seemed to agree that US publishers would be business savvy to produce more work that’ll be capable of luring in female readers, thereby expanding the overall base of comics readers.
The other ladies on the panel had something to say as well, with Harms, whose been in the European comics business for over 20 years, asserting that women’s readership and interest in female creators has been steadily growing during her tenure. Hannson stated that she thinks female comics artists should be proud to be female authors whose work is of interest to female readers while Chergui said that L’Association prefers to promote authors with the emphasis on their art and stories without putting too much focus on either their gender or age.
Other panels included a reportedly well attended one featuring Austin English in conversation with Dash Shaw and a panel moderated by Galago’s Berit Viklund that purportedly asked the panelists how they field questions from the media and readers trying to understand their work in the context of their feminity. That panel featured Swedish artist, Sara Graner, of the Dotterbollaget Feminist Comics Collective, Gabrielle Bell and Vanessa Davis. Eric Reynolds of Fantragraphics also joined Johannes Klennell of Galago and others for a discussion moderated by Finish journalist and editor Ville Hanninen entitled “Is Humor Borderless?” to discuss which foreign titles do well in which foreign markets, which titles get lost in translation and why. Hanninen, himself, is the editor of another collection I would’ve liked to have seen more of, The Finish Comics Annual – although what I saw of it looked quite good – and it’s en anglaise at that.
I was on a Spotlight on Brian Lee O’Malley panel on Sunday that featured a free screening of Scott Pilgrim, along with a discussion moderated by prominent Swedish film critic Roger Wilson. Galago’s Mats Jonnson, Top Shelf’s Chris Staros, O’Malley, and myself talked about what makes a good comics film adaptation and whether the current “comics movie bubble” is stopping anytime soon (although it’s currently showing few signs of doing so).
But while that was fun, it wasn’t half as much fun as seeing all the teenage (or very close to teenage) Scott Pilgrim fans who were absolutely gaga to get the chance to talk to a very nice and patient O’Malley about how meaningful the series has been to them. It was kind of heartwarming to see that there’s something universal that kids can relate to in the Scott Pilgrim story that transcends international borders.
Another fun, international border transcending occurrence that I’m sure everyone in attendance will agree was the utmost highlight of the con, was the Justin Bieber Flash Mob that took place right outside the Kulterhuset on Saturday afternoon!
Imagine yourself inside a small, pleasant indie comics convention, lazily browsing tables of books as hundreds of tween girls chant outside, “JUSTIN BIEBER! JUSTIN BIEBER! JUSTIN BIEBER!” nonstop for, I dunno, at least two hours. You can’t, can you? I only can because I lived it. Apparently, Bieber wasn’t able to make it to Sweden on his last world tour and the tween ladies of Sweden felt they had to take to the center square of Stockholm to protest the injustice of it all. In the immortal words of South Park creators Matt Parker and Trey Stone, I blame Canada. What is wrong with them? They won’t let the Biebs (a Canadian grown tweenybopper cyborg) out of the country to grace Sweden with his presence and they won’t let potentially, although ultimately indeterminately obscene comics into their own country. Why must they get in the way of art and commerce so?
Also fun was the Galago Release Party on Saturday night, which featured a band singing historic Swedish Union songs and pinatas adorned with the faces of some of the country’s current very right leaning leaders to protest recent government decisions, like eliminating the Swedish government’s Artist Retirement Fund. Yes. Artists had a retirement fund there. HAD. Let’s hope that no more of the arts funding that’s responsible for festivals like Swedish SPX and much of the recent prolific output from Scandanavian cartoonists is eliminated.
The last fun thing I can speak of was our foray into the touristy Olde Town area of Stockholm on Sunday night to go to a medieval bar. The picture below says it all.
If you want to see more about Swedish SPX, Gabrielle Bell hinted she might do a comic about her adventures in Sweden for her Lucky blog. She may not, so don’t hold me to it, but you should check back because, come on now, everything she does is good. And tak (that’s thanks in Swedish) for reading.