26th Helsinki Comics Festival

Marvel 3/1990: Cover
Marvel 3/1990

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

Täh..? Marvel Parodiaa. Parodia-sarja 1/1993: Cover
Täh..? Marvel Parodiaa. Parodia-sarja 1/1993

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.

Teräsmies 7/1983: Cover
Teräsmies 7/1983

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.

Teräsmies 11/1983: Cover
Teräsmies 11/1983

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.

Jupu Baarien Nainen: Cover
Jupu - Baarien Nainen
A strip from Jupu Baarien Nainen, part 1
A strip from Jupu - Baarien Nainen, chosen based on the fact that I love dogs. GOOD DOG 1) Woman: "I wonder if it would be wonderful to have a boyfriend as perfect as your dog." Jupu: "Well, it could get quite taxing after a while." 2) It goes crazy every time you come back home. Man: "Fantastic! Fantastic!" Jupu: "Yeah, yeah!" 3) Then it stares at you adoringly and waits to see if you mention its name." Man: "Fantastic! Fantastic!" Jupu: "I wasn't talking about you." 4) Jupu: "Well, now I can't fit here!" Man: "snores" It sleeps on my pillow the whole night. 5) Man: "PEEERRRKELE!" (=Finnish cuss) Jupu: "Hey, behave now." It gets upset when it sees other males on the street.
A strip from Jupu Baarien Nainen, part 2
6) Every time it sees a squirrel it runs for half an hour, yells and howls. Man: "Squirrel! Squirrel!! Jupu: "Oh lord..." 7) When you get visitors it's so excited it goes under the bed to chew on a squeaky toy to relax." Jupu: "Don't mind about him. He's a bit like that." Toy: "Squeek Squeek Squeek" Man: "Hihii... Hihiii..." 8) When bored, it stuffs items under the sofa. Man: Boooriing...! Booriing...!" 9) Woman: "Well, maybe it wouldn't be a great man." Jupu: "So not, but as a dog it's the best in the world!"
July from Mummo wall calendar
July from Mummo wall calendar

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.

JP Ahonen: Villimpi Pohjola - Kypsyyskoe: Cover
JP Ahonen: Villimpi Pohjola - Kypsyyskoe
A strip from Villimpi Pohjola - Kypsyyskoe
A strip from Villimpi Pohjola - Kypsyyskoe. 1) <3 <3 <3 2) Rontti: "W-what was that?" Woman: "Probably just the dog. Don't worry." 3) W: Whatwhat? Are you cynophobic!?" 4) Rontti: "MY ARSE! Oh God oh God oh - HAAAAAHHH!!" W: "No, Peni! Tsoh tsoh!" 4) W: "Peni's just a bit over protective!" Rontti: "Take it off! Pull it off!" 5) "Pull it already" "Wait. I'm coming!" "Oh, it went deep!" 5) Minna: "Oh Jesus, there's no need to brag with your sex life to the whole buiding." Otto: "Besides, I think the guy's faking it."
Villimpi Pohjola - Kypsyyskoe: Signature
The author's signature. It happened the author was chatting with the sellers behind the desk and kindly offered to sign our copy of the book. I think he heard my husband and I laughing at one strip about talking pimples, hence the drawing. :D

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.

Aino Sutinen: Taksi Kurdishtaniin: Cover
Aino Sutinen: Taksi Kurdistaniin
Taksi Kurdishtaniin: Map from backcover
Taksi Kurdistaniin: Map from back cover, where you can see the artist's route.
Taksi Kurdishtaniin: Foreword
Taksi Kurdistaniin: Foreword. I scaled the English translation larger at the bottom of the page for easier reading. (Click to see the page larger.)
Scott McCloud: Understanding Comics - The Invisible Art: Cover
Scott McCloud: Understanding Comics - The Invisible Art

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. ;)

Afterthoughts

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.

Ralf König: Maybe ...Maybe Not
Ralf König: Maybe ...Maybe Not

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

DC vs. Marvel: Cover
Special issue: DC vs. Marvel

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.

I want to see sparkles flying between Rogue and Gambit who can’t even touch each other! Gaaah! I can’t wait to get to the ’90s in my X-Men comics!

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!

The cows attack! …and other ridiculous twists

Sarjakirja 105: Cover
Sarjakirja 105: Cover

I suppose it had to happen sooner or later: a story so silly and just plain stupid I bursted out laughing many times in disbelief in public. And at the same time it was so shambolic, or just so badly written, or relied so much on past stories, which I was totally oblivious about, I had no idea what exactly happened in the comic which goes under the name Ihmesarja 105: Kostajat.

The Plot

Well… (Sorry, I have to wipe out tears from my eyes, I’m laughing so hard I can’t see anymore.)

Ok, try to follow. I have to quote this straight from the comic book to get it absolutely right:

Sarjakirja 105: Prologue 1
Sarjakirja 105: Prologue, p. 1

“A Kree-warrior called Mar-Vell abandoned the secret  mission to attack Earth by his people, and thus he became CAPTAIN MARVEL, the cosmic protector of the Earth.

A wicked plan of the Kree managed to tele-move Mar-Vell to the NEGATIVE ZONE.

Just a few hours ago he managed to get back to Earth, where THE AVENGERS, world’s greatest superheroes, noticed that Mar-Vell had received toxic levels of nega-radiation.”

This has made him “a ticking time bomb”. The Avengers go after him, he escapes trying to get back home where…

RONAN THE ACCUSER (Fin. “Yleinen syyttäjä Ronan” -> lit. Attorney general Ronan) has usurped power from the ruler of the Kree-galaxy, SUPREME INTELLIGENCE.

But Mar-Vell’s escape is halted, when the Avengers get unexpected help from a young earthling called Rick Jones, who has a telephatic link with Mar-Vell.”

That was only the first page (this is of course a compilation of the story so far). Then the second page, something something, and then the third one:

Sarjakirja 105: Prologue 2
Sarjakirja 105: Prologue, p. 3

“In fact the plan AVATUS is already in effect: a base in Alaska is already beaming EVO-RAYS, which turn every animal and plant back to their most primitive form.”

Wasp and Yellowjacket find the place turned into a jungle, and…

“As Wasp is caught in a trap between Yellowjacket and his scientist colleagues, who all have turned into primordial humans as victims of the evo-rays.”

Then the Avengers attack the base, and the Kree leave, because their homeworld is being attacked by the Skrull, the evo-rays are stopped and everybody is returned to normal. They all make a promise not to tell no-one about what has happened, because they want to avoid chaos. Of course, the scientists do exactly that and the Avengers are blamed for keeping this information from humans and for protecting Mar-Vell. The founding members of the Avengers decide to break up the group.

Sarjakirja 105: Thor shows the Avengers the door
Thor tells the Avengers to sod off.

And finally we get to the actual story…

In the first episode Vision arrives, half dead, to the Avengers headquarters and collapses. Iron Man, Thor and Captain America are puzzled, not knowing what to do, since Vision is an android. Luckily Ant-Man comes by and spends almost the whole first episode inside Vision avoiding his “immune system” from killing him.  A very not-exciting mission in a very trippy episode in the life of the Avengers.

Sarjakirja 105: Ants' scream, it's horrible!
1) "People think only they can feel pain. / But that's because they have never heard an ant / SCREAM! / It's a sound that I will never be able to forget." 2) "Like a lost soul or an abandoned child... / ...and I don't want to hear that sound!" 3) "...EVER AGAIN!" 4) "So follow my orders, my friends, and leave this android's body ... IMMEDIATELY! / Just keeping one shy biochemist alive is a job big enough. / From here on Ant-Man travels alone!"

But wait, there is more! After being revived Vision tells how he was injured. He had wound up on a field with Scarlet Witch and Quicksilver among cows who turned into Skrulls (looking like members of the Fantastic Four) and attacked them! (Remember, dear readers, drugs are dangerous.) Vision was the only one to escape.

Sarjakirja 105: Cows attack!
Cows attack!
Sarjakirja 105: Skrull king laying down the law
Skrull king laying down the law to his embarrassing female heiress.

Then happens something I’m not quite sure about. Skrulls looking like Fantastic Four fight members of the Avengers at various locations. Scarlet Witch and Quicksilver are held captive while Super-Skrull (what a ridiculous name!) tries to force Mar-Vell to reveal him the secrets of the omni-wave! Then something something happens again while the Skrull king (or something?) tells his daughter that she is an utter disappointment for being a female. Funny thing how the skrull males look like something that might come out of Cthulhu’s ass, but the females are supermodels in human terms.

Then something, something, an angry man, something.

Sarjakirja 105: Whoah!
Whoah, somebody's in a sensitive mood! Goliath is falling down and Thor rushes to rescue him. 2nd panel: Goliath: "Pym's growth serum. I forgot I haven't taken it for days..." Thor: "Didn't I tell you not to worry. Thor has rescued you..." 3rd panel: Goliath: "LET me GO, you hippie!" Thor: "In Odin's name, what?" Goliath: "You don't need to treat me like a baby!"

Then some half-fish-man called Triton from the Inhumans pops out from the water and joins the group. He tells the Avengers the Inhumans live up on a Himalayan mountain where everybody has some superpower. Their ruler was the Back Bolt, but his brother Crazy Maximus got some weird mental powers and usurped the crown. (I shit you not, Crazy Maximus. I bet he was teased a lot in the kindergarten.) Now Black Bolt is living somewhere in San Francisco having lost his memory and Triton asks help from the Avengers. Vision’s answer: “NO!” The team divides their forces to help the Inhumans – that case solved in the next six pages.

Sarjakirja 105: Crazy Maximus and NO!
Above: The sad story of the Inhumans. Below: Vision: Talk to the hand!

Then happens something and I’m totally lost. And then the Avengers find themselves in the same room with Supreme Intelligence, which seems to be a floating head looking like the True Finns …sorry the Finns as they want to be called, chairman Timo Soini on a giant screen. He tells he has planned the whole thing to get his throne back from Ronan. He tells Rick Jones:

Sarjakirja 105: Supreme Intelligence and Timo Soini
Supreme Intelligence and Timo Soini

“Ronan thinks he has made me helpless and my once so great mental-waves can’t penetrate the shields of Kree and Skrull leaders.

That’s why I turned them towards your homeworld, Rick Jones, where I first made H. Warren Craddock [Remember that angry man? That’s the guy. -MM] persecute the Avengers and Mar-Vell.

I made you rush out from that court hearing. [??? No idea. Might have happened. -MM]

I prevented Mar-Vell from realizing Carol Danvers was a skrull untill it was too late and he was taken to the Skrull homeworld. [Ok…? -MM]

I also made the Kree-warrior kidnap you from Attilan. This is all my doing.”

Sarjakirja 105: Drugs and/or Negative Zone
Sarjakirja 105: Drugs and/or Negative Zone

Then the Supreme Intelligence makes Rick take drugs, because that’s the only thing which can explain how he suddenly finds himself from the “Nega-zone” with Annihilus. Rick feels Mar-Vell’s twisted face, shoots weird rays, breaks a brick wall (? of nega zone?), Quicksilver shoots like a cannon ball, Supreme Intelligence appears, the Avengers are loose, I’m lost, everybody turns out to be skrulls or krees, I’m not sure, Rick joins Mar-Vell becoming one with him (NOT that way!), Fury appears, and the book ends.

Sarjakirja 105: Quicksilver ball
Quicksilver is a ball
Sarjakirja 105: But how?!
Suddenly Rick Jones's memories come real and he asks: "But how?!" Well, Rick, don't look at me. I'm just as lost as you are.
Sarjakirja 105: When two become one
When two become one <3

Whaaaaat?! I mean, what the hell just happened?! I knew somebody had to have solved this puzzle, and alas! Wikipedia has the answer. And a very surprising answer, since I almost choked on my tea when I read this:

“The Kree-Skrull War is a story arc that was written by Roy Thomas, and drawn by Sal Buscema, Neal Adams, and John Buscema. The story was originally published in the Marvel Comics comic book title Avengers #89 – 97 (June 1971 – March 1972).

The “Kree-Skrull War” is notable for its cosmic scope of interstellar warfare, enormous cast of characters, use of metaphor and allegory (for instance, to Joseph McCarthy and HUAC), and the introduction of the VisionScarlet Witch romance, which became an ongoing theme for the characters (and by default the Avengers) for years to come. The “Kree-Skrull War” is considered by critics to be a highlight of its era, and is the culmination of a string of notable Thomas-Adams collaborations from this period, which began with their run on X-Men in 1969.”

(http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kree-Skrull_War,  22.9.2011)

Sarjakirja 105: Thor doesn't understand
"I think I'll never understand mortals." I know, Thor, neither do I.

Shit! If this was a highlight of its era… I mean, shit! (Pardon my French!)

The only explanation I can come up with is that nobody has any idea what happened in the story, and everybody is too embarrassed to admit it so they label the thing a piece of art and give it legendary proportions thus ensuring no-one else dares to say the story is a ridiculous monster sucking your brain with a hay straw. You know, just like in that child’s story about the king and his new clothes. Well, I’m known as the “ammattikehtaaja” (lit. professional darer) among my friends, so I’m going to say it as it is: this story is ridiculous, unbelievable even in comic terms, confusing, badly written, and without any cohesive idea. (Sorry, Mr. Thomas)

Also from the same Wikipedia page: “Writer Thomas admits he had no ‘master plan’ in writing the ‘Kree-Skrull War.'” I rest my case.

Sarjakirja 105: What now?!
Trouble With Tribbles? (Quicksilver bounces around, but every time he hits one of those aliens they double and soon Quicksilver and Scarlet Wich are about to drown in them. Mar-Vell can't believe what a mess he has gotten himself involved with. Skrull king laughs.)

The main problem with the story is there were too many storylines going on at the same time and popping up at random, like that sudden “let’s rescue Black Bolt from San Francisco!” It makes following the main story pretty darn difficult. The other problem is there are so many characters involved alongside the Avengers, including all the bad guys, I had no idea who was who and who did what.

The story was so full of ridiculous turns and twists, like that evo-ray turning men into cavemen, or those cows turning into skrulls, it just made me lose all faith in the story. Another thing is, I generally hate these space stories, because they are always so pointless. I’d rather read about superheroes on Earth, in an environment which is common to me and which I can understand. I think the best drama comes from within the heroes or from the world they live in. Usually stories, which happen somewhere far away, are so out of touch with reality they almost always lose everything that makes the characters interesting. The only exception I can think of is Dark Phoenix Saga, but most of that story happened on Earth and was drama about what happened inside the main chatracters’ heads.

Sarjakirja 105: Mister Intelligence, please, explain!
Rick: "Mister OVERINTELLIGENCE, of course. Now you better explain what this all means!" Supreme Intelligence: "I don't think we have time..." I think it's really bad if your characters demand you to explain what has just happened.

Anyway, if you want to know what happened in the comic, you have to read it yourself. It seems even Wikipedia hasn’t caught up with the whole plot, because they have listed just about as much of the story there as I have here.

Sarjakirja comic books

In Ryhmä-X 9/1985 there was an advertisement for a softcover comic book called Sarjakirja 105: Kostajat. I must confess I’m not sure what the main idea behind Sarjakirjat was, but at times they also published Marvel superhero comics. Sarjakirja 101 had Fantastic Four in it, 86 and 103 had Spider-Man‘s adventures. Most of the issues were not  superhero stories.

The issues 101 ja 105, which I have, both had four colour covers, but the insides were entirely black and white. I believe the original stories were coloured, but for black and white being a lot cheaper to print, the colours were left out and only the black parts (mostly only outlines) were printed. Funny thing is, there are a few pages (p. 85, 89, 108, and 110) in the Sarjakirja 105 which seem to have also the original colours in, but because of the one colour press the pages have turned greyscale.

Sarjakirja 105: Angry man and illegible letter
Below: The angry man. Above: An illegible letter. I think, after studying it long and hard with my Egyptologist's training, it says: "ja koska Thor, Rautamies ja Kapteeni Amerikka ovat nähneet hyväksi hajottaa Kostajat ja (sulkea?) talonne, on minun pyydettävä eroa. Uskollinen palvelijanne, Jarvis." (Engl. "and because Thor, Iron-Man and Captain America have decided to break up the Avengers and (close down?) the house, I must ask for my resignation. Your loyal servant, Jarvis.")

Anyway, the reason for these black and white comic books, which are still made today under the name Ihmesarjat (not to be mixed up with a comic magazine called Ihmesarjat which came out between 1967-1970), is that to my understanding the Finnish Marvel publisher Egmont (the previous printed publisher Semic is part of Egmont) has always had trouble keeping Marvel comic business lucrative. Finland is a small country and speaks it’s own unique language and the country is in all aspects quite expensive (wages, storage, …). The other Nordic countries have the same problems and thus the Finnish Marvel comics are printed in the same place as the other Nordic Marvel magazines.  But the thing is, since it’s very hard to keep these comics profitable, Egmont seems to be struggling to keep the balance on how many comics they can sell. There is a market that wants more, but it’s just that small a market it’s hard to make it just right. The cheapest way to get the comics out is to print them in black and white.

Coming up…

The 26th Helsinki Comic Festival was held last weekend and you are never going to believe what I found… :D