Two Swedes were among the cartoonists who participated in this year’s festival. Kolbeinn Karlsson and Sofia Olsson were eager to check out the New York scene, and Nordstjernan talked with them both.
“I’m dying to meet American female cartoonists,” Olsson said.
And Karlsson, whose book “The Troll King” was recently released in the U.S., is of course curious to hear what people over here think of it.
Both Karlsson and Olsson studied at the Kvarnby Folkhögskola, a school that houses the famous Comic School—Sweden’s center for the education of comic drawers and authors. They both said that rather than drawing, it was the wish to tell a story that drew them to the school.
“I wanted to test something new,” Olsson said. “I had studied political science and journalism. It took me two to three years to find my own style. When I began, I did mostly cartoons with a feminist angle then; now it’s more autobiographical stuff.”
Karlsson, who began his career with performance art and theater, said his motivation, too, was always the story.
“I think that drawing is not the normal entrance for most Swedish cartoonists. My own storytelling," he said, "consists mostly of images and very little text, and I work slowly and can work on it for a long period of time. I found a language and a style I could work with, that I felt comfortable with, after just one semester at the school. After that I haven’t done any drastic changes.”
Both Karlsson and Olsson agreed that there’s an innovative and rich alternative cartoon scene in Sweden that has grown bigger in the last few years. They said that most Swedish cartoonists are really alternative.
“There are almost no commercial comics in Sweden,” Karlsson explained. “I mean not even ‘Rocky’ and ‘Socker-Conny’ are really commercial.”
When Karlsson's American publisher, Top Shelf, came to Sweden some years ago, they were amazed at the talent brewing so close to the Arctic Circle. If the question ever was, “Can comics prosper in a cold climate?” The answer would be a resounding “Yes!” Karlsson and Olsson credit the Swedish evolution of comics to their school in Malmö, as well as the other comic school in Hofors, saying the schools have raised the standard for cartoonists.
But what nurtures this kind of talent? When asked what comics or cartoon artists have influenced them, Karlsson and Olsson both said “Kamratposten,” a sophisticated and well-known children’s magazine founded in 1892. They also both found “Bamse” by Rune Andréasson attractive.
“I liked very much how Andréasson drew trees,” Karlsson said.
“And the primary colors,” added Olsson. “The characters in ‘Bamse’ were also very strong and well-developed. I must say, though, that our publisher, Galago, has changed, too. It used to be sort of a boys’ club, but they have really opened up for women lately. That has added to the scene as well.”
Olsson’s own “Hetero i Hägersten” takes a close look at a young couple stuck in the borderland between carefree youth and the demands of adulthood. Their conversations range from being poetic and philosophical to being very down-to-earth.
“To me dialogue is very important,” she said. “I like how you can take an average drawing and make it really good with a clever text. I work very quickly, but then of course I go back and edit a lot.”
Karlsson said he wants to bewitch and fascinate: “I don’t feel the need to be funny. I think it’s enough to be myself, and I improvise a lot. ‘It is what it is,’ I say.”
His cartoons are quite unique—if you’ve seen them once you will not forget them—with thick ink lines and bold colors where cowboys and living root vegetables share a strange universe.
“Each cartoon strip I make is its own eco-system,” he explained. “Once I’ve created a world, it’s difficult for me to leave it.”
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