The 26th Helsinki Comics Festival was 16-18 September. It’s held right in downtown Helsinki, five minutes walk from the central railwaystation, and next to Kamppi shopping mall. Each year the event has grown bigger and more popular and each year more and more venues are joining the festivities. I heard it’s the largest comics festival in the Nordic countries.
I usually go to the festival because there are pre-owned comic books for sale, but the festival is mostly about new comics and a great way to get publicity for new comics. There are also self-published comics, giving artists the possibility to sell their own products straight to the audience and also getting a bit of publicity themselves.
In the past years I have pretty much walked past the new comics and self-published comics, and gone straight to the pre-owned comics sellers, but this year things were a bit different.
Used comics: 11 books
My first stop was, of course, the old comics seller SS Libricon Oy, which sells comics via Huuto.net (local Ebay). I got the last few comics I was still missing from my collection – except for the very first X-Men comic, Ryhmä-X 1/1984, because I arrived too late. They had one copy and sold it immediately. I was also able to buy better copies of some comics I already had. My Marvel 3/1990 had suffered water damage, making the pages wavy. Marvel 6/1990 looked like somebody had used it to ride down a hill. These are all comics I have bought as a child from second hand bookstores. I’m happy all the comics I have subscribed to are in perfect condition – except for two copies which were damaged in mail. The other one, Ryhmä-X 3/2007, I found and bought.
I also managed to find a weird and rare (at least I have never seen it on sale before) copy of Täh..? Marvel parodiaa! Parodia-sarja 1/1993. Basically, it is a parody of Marvel and DC superheroes and it looks so bad I’m not sure if I really have what it takes to read it.
And the best thing was I found the two comics I talked about in my first post about how I found superhero comics. Surprise, they were both Superman comics! At some point they stopped printing the Batman magazine in Finland and instead published short Batman stories in Superman’s magazine called Teräsmies. The story where Superman fights that giant white cell is from Teräsmies 7/1983 and the Batman story is from Teräsmies 11/1983. The funny thing is, in the beginning of that second Teräsmies there is a story where Superman and Robin have an adventure together in a nightmare circus. In the second story Batman gets shot by an evil police man! I must write about these two comics after I’ve read them again.
New comics: 5 books, 1 calendar
Usually we have just walked past the new comic book sellers, but lately it seems there are a lot more interesting comic artists in Finland. Pertti Jarla’s Fingerpori is popular, but there are also other interesting names.
One of them is Jupu aka Johanna Tolonen. Her strips have become quite popular in the internet. I bought her Jupu – Baarien nainen (Jupu – Woman of the Bars) comic book for 5 euro from the festival. It tells of single woman Jupu and her quest to find a man. Sounds really pathetic, I know, but it’s a hilarious comic which will break any illusions you might have about tender and cute women.
Another one is Anni Nykänen and her Mummo (Eng. Granny) comics, also available via Internet. Her granny and granpa are a wonderful couple, granny having a bucketful of good vibes and positive attitude to share. The first Mummo comic book is out, but we bought a Mummo wall calendar for 2012. I love it!
We also found a true treasure. JP Ahonen’s Villimpi Pohjola (Northern Overexposure) comics have been noticed even abroad. We browsed through his two comic books on display and chose the latest one Villimpi Pohjola: Kypsyyskoe (either “The Graduate” referring to the movie or “maturity test”). Amazing drawings and good stories about the everyday life of young adults, who have same hobbies as my husband and I: comics, video games, miniatures, etc.
A delightful surprise was that many of the Finnish comics have English translations included at the bottom of each page. One of those comics I bought was Aino Sutinen’s Taksi Kurdistaniin (Taxi to Kurdistan), in which the artist tells about her backpacking through Near-East all the way from Turkey to Iran. I would have hoped she would have had shared more of her own thought about the events she faced. Now they are there only as a sort of a list of things that she experienced. But there are a few interesting details I would have loved to hear more about.
We also bought Angel Omnibus, which I’m not going to read until I’ve watched both Buffy and Angel serieses. The last new comic book we bought is the legendary Understanding comics – The Invisible Art by Scott McCloud.
Self-Published comics: 3 Christmas gifts
By the time we got to self-published comics tent we had already blown our budjet and had no money left. But we still had just enough in small coins and lunch coupons we could buy some Christmas gifts to our dear friends. And that’s enough of that. ;)
I’m certainly happy comics as an artform and as a way to express yourself have become so popular and also respected in Finland in the past few years. My husband and I went to see a small comics exhibition at the Post Museum and talked about the development of comics afterwards. In the early 1900s the comics published in Finland were just short stories and funny events, where the text ran below images. Then gradually comics developed into two categories in Finland. There were comics for children and some comics for adults, but to my understanding (I’m really not an expert in this matter) the characters were often a bit foolish like Masi (Beetle Bailey), which are easy to label also as children’s comics because the subject matter is not very intelligent. Then there were well drawn adventure strips like Rip Kirby, but those were very few. When I was young the only comics were either from abroad like Batman or Disney comics. They were made with big money by excellent artists working for big companies. It’s really not something to inspire you to think you could make your own comic unless you had some solid talent to back it up.
But in high school I remember reading some independent comics at the public library like Ralf König‘s gay comics or Robert Crumb‘s underground comics. These comics were about humans that could be real, usually in normal everyday situations. There were also self-published comics, but usually not very good. Or maybe they were, I just didn’t know better, valuing good looks more than good stories. But with Internet in the mid 90s the world opened, I grew older and wiser, and the aesthetic culture started to develop more to lovely, maybe naïvistic directions, and suddenly I started to realise you don’t need to be able to draw perfect realistic humans to make really good comics.
First there were just a few small comics in Finland. I think NYT magazine, the wilder little sister magazine of Helsingin Sanomat, the largest newspaper in Finland, started to promote these new comic artists like Katja Tukiainen, who made lovely and colourful stories about her trip to India, or Kaisa Leka, who made a comic about her legs, which she had cut off, called “I am not these feet” (it’s a wonderful comic, definitely a must read!). I think many people didn’t quite realise they were reading comics, because comics are for children and these were not. But I think seeing these comics succeed, and especially through the autobiographical approach of these comics, I think many people got the idea that maybe they could do something similar themselves.
Also, the Internet has helped a lot, because it’s a cheap media to put your comics out to and they are there for eveyone to see. And maybe that way many great comics which might have been forgotten in a drawer, have now found their way to the public and the best of them even to print. And the digital press has brought down the price of printed comics so much that it’s relatively cheap to print a few copies of your comics yourself and sell them at comic festivals or via the Internet.
The state of superhero comics
The only sad thing from my point of view is the fact that the superhero comics are not that popular in Finland, even though comics in general are experiencing their new boom. The superhero comics are so left behind, trying to be more adult-like with having sex scenes, bigger boobs and thinner waists, and with more violence. (This burst came from the new DC relaunch and from this post. Disgusting. I hope I never have to read this kind of stuff from my Marvel comics or I’m really going to feel cheated.) I don’t know why the writers don’t seem to realise the most intreresting stuff is born from the human relations and all sorts of tensions be they born out of hate, lust, or some secret. Yeah, I suppose you can have brainless sex if you want to, but really who cares.
But really, I hope and I wish Marvel magazines won’t go down the path DC has chosen. I want to see my favourite characters treated with respect. Actually, I even want to see my least favourite characters treated with respect, because that is only right. Damn it!