Finnish comic literature conquers Germany

In addition to conventional works of fiction, Finland as Guest of Honour is also focusing on its active and internationally renowned comic scene at the Frankfurt Book Fair 2014

Frankfurt, June 4th, 2014 – Colorful, young and lively. These characteristics roughly describe Finland’s literary scene of Finland and no literature genre can portray this image as well as the comics do. What began in the postwar period to the early seventies with Tove Jansson’s Moomins is today being expressively continued and with a joy for experimentation by artists from the modern comic scene such as Ville Tietäväinen.

These two examples clearly demonstrate the broad thematic and creative variety of Finnish comics. The world of Tove Jansson’s Moomins is characterized by the daily problems and external threats to Moomin Valley. But also cheerful adventures are a part of the Moomin universe. Tolerance and friendly cooperation are communicated. The conflicts and methods of resolution which are illustrated in the tales of the Moomins are almost timeless and can be transferred to the present.

However, Ville Tietäväinen is more specific in his works. He attempts to elucidate social issues and expresses social and political criticism. His stories deal with specific topics that he attempts to pierce in his graphic novels in an artistic and topical way.

“Finnish comic authors are well known for their ambitious visual creations and graphic quality. Illustrators like Ville Tietäväinen work with experimental, provoking and unique styles in order to continually develop themselves further. We do not have something like a graphic tradition in comics. Because of this, new genres and visual impressions are permanently being created”, explains Kalle Hakkola, director of the Finnish Comic Center in Helsinki.

The Finnish comic scene has been highly active for several years and is growing rapidly and not only due to the efforts of the respective authors. In the past year Finnish comics implemented a sales volume of 9.7 million Euros. Furthermore, the Finnish state financially promotes the comic culture, so that Finland’s comic scene of Finland is organized at its specially constructed Comic Center and from here can promote new stories and illustrators. The Ministry of Culture invests 300,000 Euros per year in the national comic scene. FILI the Finnish Literature Exchange, also supports the export of Finnish comics: for example, translation and printing costs are being subsidized by up to 1,000 Euro. Comics hold cult status in Finland. It’s not a coincidence that the biggest comic festival in Northern Europe takes place in Helsinki each September.

“A primary sign of the continuingly increasing popularity of comics is that last year two out of ten of the commercially most successful books in Finland were comics”, says Maria Antas, literature expert at FILI. “A further characteristic which distinguishes the Finnish comic scene from those of other countries is that most of the graphic novels drawn by women”, continues Antas.

Comic stories are not for children per se and can definitely please an adult public. “Besides, many Finns are not afraid to admit that they first learned to read through comics”, says Kalle Hakkola.

In order to pay tribute to pioneers like Tove Jansson , who would have celebrated her 100th birthday this year, Finland will equip the comic genre with an impressive showcase with international flair at the Frankfurt Book Fair (October 8th to 12th). Many young comic artists will be on site to present the colourful variety of their country. Even the renowned Ville Tietäväinen will be there whose social-critical graphic novel “Invisible hands” (published by avant Verlag in 2014) that narrates the story of Moroccan refugee Rashid who is illegally looking for work in Southern Spain in order to support his family. He was awarded with the Finnish Comic Prize for this unconventional work. One year before, he was already awarded Finnish Cultural Fund prize.

“It’s very nice to see how graphic novels continue to acquire more fans, also in Germany, the potential in this artistic narrative form is definitely nowhere near being exhausted”, Ville Tietäväinen is pleased about the high popularity of comics and graphic novels in Germany.

Besides social-critical and serious topics the generally most well-known form of comic, the comic-strip, deals with controversial subjects accompanied with a cutting humor (e.g. “Fingerpori”) that is in the style of the traditional underground comic.

“The most successful comics are those which were printed in newspapers before their publication as a book. Finland itself is a very small market with only five million inhabitants. Because of this, the authors directly structure their comics to assume an international relevance. For this reason Finnish comics can be understood around the world and the content is current for every culture”, states Kalle Hakkola of the Comic Center.

In order to increase the reputation and attention for comics in general and Finnish narrations in particular, the Finnish artists will visit a wide range of events in German-speaking Europe during the run-up to Frankfurt Book Fair. For example, the Fumetto Comic Festival which recently took place in Lucerne, Switzerland. Ville Tietäväinen was already a guest at the Literarisches Colloquium (LCB) in Berlin in May. Following this, the International Comic Salon will be held in Erlangen (from June 19th until 24th). Also attending this event are JP Ahonen, Mika Lietzén and Reetta Niemensivu. The exhibition “Ein Mittsommernachtstraum” at the Kunstverein – Neue Galerie is devoted to young comics from Finland. The Moomins will also move into Erlangen City Hall in the scope of the “100 Jahre Tove Jansson” exhibition.

The Comic Atlas Finnland provides an insight into the Finish comic world, that was published at the beginning of the year by Reprodukt Verlag. In the 240 pages of this anthology, editors Kalle Hakkola and Sascha Hommer provide an outline of the avant guard comic scene in Finland with contributions from artists such as Roope Eronen, Matti Hagelberg, Jarno Latva-Nikkola, Mika Lietzén, Hanneriina Moisseinen and many more. In order to strengthen the ties between Finland and Germany in the comic sector, Germany will be the honored guest country at the Helsinki Comic Festival from September 5th until 7th. At the Frankfurt Book Fair in October 2014 the stars of the Finnish comic scene will be guests and will present a bigger range of idiosyncratic Finnish comics that know no consistent style and each possesses an individual quality.