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Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Oslo Comics Expo (desperately trying to avoid a viking, troll, or "Norwegian Wood" joke.)

I'm not sure how this even began but at some point I received an email from a Norway comic convention and I thought, oh, yes, I must go. And gradually it grew into a fine collection of Canadian cartoonists--specifically Marc Bell, Pascal Girard, Jillian Tamaki, and Seth. And then they added Chris Ware! And then they added Joost Swarte! This all turned out to be the Oslo Comics Expo which is a small but really fun, really really well-run comics show. {Photo: A doll from the Folk Museum. More on that later.}

On the flight there, Pascal wastes no time in documenting his immediate surroundings (mainly a teenage boy wiping his snot on his pants.)

We arrive in Oslo and while Seth and I nap at the hotel (old men), Jillian, Marc, and Pascal explore the city a bit (Jillian lower right).

Advertising is very different in Norway. Just kidding.

Oh, Seth and I are awake and we all head off to dinner. We lucked out and found a decent place that was cheap and tasty. Oslo is very expensive!! Like $15 beer or $25 pizza expensive. Here's another thing: the sun sets at 11pm and rises at 4am and, people, that will mess you up!

We all walk around the neighborhood where the show takes place--it's described to us as the cool neighborhood off the beaten tourist path. We spot this drawing in the window of a stamp collecting store. Perhaps a Norwegian master cartoonist? Perhaps a bawdy favorite of the store owner?

We happened on the festival poster and all got a little thrill out of seeing our names lettered by the great Joost Swarte. Maybe it was a font. so what? Then he typed my name. I'm fine with that. As it turns out this was the door to the office of No Comprendo Press--the long running (20 years) Norwegian publishing house.

The next day over breakfast, we meet up with Andreas Wang (left, our very helpful liaison from the festival) and comics critic Domingos Isabelinho (second from right) from Portugal. Jillian is sleeping off a sore throat and Chris has yet to arrive.

While I head off to give my introductory talk at the Serieteket Comics Library, the rest of the crew decides to check out the sights. I have no idea what this is but I like an exuberant cartoon image painted 100 feet high as much as the next nerd. I also like the fact that this painting seems to be alluding to this next batch of pictures…

The Vigeland Sculpture Park is pretty impressive I'm told. Probably Norway's number one tourist attraction. Possible national embarrassment depending on who you ask.

Wait! What? Oh, I see, "a monolith."

And here we see a school group…hold on a second…hey, stop that!!

Now here's a…oh, come on!! Aren't there any chaperones on this class trip?

Oh, what's that, Gustav? This was your life's work?

"Comics are everywhere."

The gang visits the great Chester Brown Unfinished Masterpiece-themed bar.

Okay, so there's a lot of catch up here. I think my panel went pretty well. I talked about D+Q and Highwater and making mini-comics and editing books and calling the Moomin museum out of the blue and the digital future. I surely sounded like some sort of maniac. Norwegian journalist Erle Marie Sørheim interviewed me and could hardly get a word in edgewise. I grabbed lunch with Matthias Wivel and Domingos, both of whom I had never met before so it was a nice chance to talk about some of our favourite comics. Then back to the hotel to meet up with my fellow countrymen, grab a couple drinks, and head back to the festival area for the No Comprendo party. There's Matthias in the blue and Jippi publisher Erik Falk levelling his gaze at the camera.

Recent English transplant Sally Renshaw (far left) chats with Marc Bell (far right). This was the beginning of the end for me and Marc. Still light out. Probably 10pm. The evening ended with our new best friend Mads Eriksen, a Norwegian newspaper strip cartoonist, somewhere nearby sampling local whiskey, or scotch, or bourbon. I have no idea.

Still light out.

Friday is my "free day" (sort of). We all need to be at the opening ceremony at 5:30 so we decide to find a museum and get some Norwegian cultchah. There was a museum guard strike at a number of the museums but the Norsk Folkemuseum was open so off we went. {Above: an awesome small-in-floor-square-footage but very tall church. All wood.}

Lots of amazing carved wood. EVERYWHERE!

The crew checks it out.

Look closely. It's just a teenage girl wearing a plastic Viking helmet and Pantera t-shirt. That's all. Oh, and some of the houses had sod roofs which I guess makes insulation sense.

Interior carvings at the church.

A schoolhouse. Everytime I see an old farm community school I get this pang of nostalgia where I imagine that it was somehow a really cool way to learn. I know I'm wrong. But still.

Is this perhaps the greatest moment in comics history?

Everyone, I am here to tell you that as stilters Seth and Chris Ware were passable at best. Nobody was "reinventing raised wooden platform locomotion" on this sunny day.

Just be thankful you didn't have to hear my "proper stilting technique" speech. Come on, Pascal, those are children's stilts!!

Tried to sell us weed.

Pynchon joke.

Inside a turn of the century bank. 19th to 20th. Or whenever. MOOMIN! (this was a display case of giveaway piggy banks from the ages.)

Best design.

Seth's favorite.

At the toy museum section of the Folk Museum, Seth said (and I quote), "Tom get a picture of this and then have it destroyed post-haste."

We are serious about our sightseeing.

This is for Pascal. Dancing wooden men (women?)

Did you know that Pascal has a fascination for bears? Nor did I until this moment.

"What was the creepiest thing you saw in Norway, Tom?" This.

I am embarrassed to say that when I saw this I shouted, "Dude, that linen closet kicks ass!"

While using the facilities, Pascal discovered the evidence of a re-enactor walking away from his job.

We rushed back to the Festival for the opening ceremonies, introduced ourselves, and then popped over to the library for champagne and macaroons. I met brilliant Finnish Amanda Vähämäki (and her family) for the first time and saw old pal Jason. I wish I could remember who I was talking to when I tried to explain what a macaroon is (at her request) and I said "those are the cookies that Marcel Proust wrote that really long book about" and then I remembered it was "madeleines" and I threw down my half finished champagne and ran from the room sobbing.

At the Joost Swarte poster launch. Pretty great. I had seen some of these images going back thirty years and seeing this small beautiful show gave me a new appreciation for his work. Moments before this, Marc, Pascal, and I were walking down the street and a women stopped us and asked if we wanted to see something interesting and we were stunned into silence because, well, when does that ever happen. Turns out she was an Icelandic performance artist (imagine the kind of performance art that makes you strip naked and paint yourself red or blue and then distribute postcards around a foreign city and you have the idea and I am not making that up!!) who had just come from a show of "erotic art" and thought we would like it. OF COURSE WE WENT!

Later, Chris, Seth, Jillian, and local cartoonist Sverre Malling were interviewed by Dongery collective (more about them later) member Flu Hartberg about Drawing. I was unable to attend most of the later panels because I was either leading them or manning a table in the tent but this seemed to be a highlight for many of the people I talked to. Maybe it will show up later. There were some amazing insights into influences, composition, subjectivity. So much good stuff really.

Look, here's the thing. I go to a show and maybe I don't bring a cashbox but I bring three pairs of shoes. SHOES ARE IMPORTANT. Cobblestones, dirt, wood, grass, clay--I don't know what my playing field is gonna be.

It's a small low-key show. I like that about OCX. Any good show starts out with a small dedicated band of comics people trying to make a gathering.

Two tents and a library. The programming was tight! Marc Bell, Seth, and Chris Ware all had solo talks. I hosted a talk with the Canadians (Seth, Jillian, Pascal, and Marc) and one with just Jillian and Pascal (where I hoped to just talk about Dawson's Creek but lost my nerve.) More on these talks later.

Oh, who is that on the right passing by? Just Joost Swarte! Not only is he the guy who coined the phrase "keep on truckin'" (not true) and inventor of the Ames lettering guide (not true either) but he is an amazing cartoonist, publisher, and architect. Such a sweet lowkey guy.

Every hour dear Ingrid would poke her megaphone into the main tent and blast out the latest news about signings or panels. I'm not going to lie, I love the megaphone announcement when it's being done by anyone but a Troma employee.

ROLL CALL: This is Terje from the bookstore Tronsmo. He hosted the signings and actually had everyone's books and even bought my stock from me halfway through the show to meet the signing demand. If I heard right, his store is coming up on 40 years soon.

The inimitable Ulli Lust! People, I promised Ulli I would let you all know that her last name is not pronounced like you think it is. It's more a "Loost" thing (I think.) But more importantly the definition is a bit softer in German. It's more of a "sexual tickle" than "a burning horn dog action" kind of thing. My words.

My friends, I have read an advance of Ulli's book Today Is the Last Day of the Rest of Your Life and it is as my grandfather would say "a branburner." Seriously, he said "branburner" but he meant "barnburner" but we were all too polite to correct him.

Espen Holtestaul, the owner of the aforementioned No Comprendo Press. Who does not love a man who dedicates his life to promoting comics (love me, please)?

To many of the stalwarts of shows like SPX and MOCCA these guys may seem familiar. I am talking about the Burns and Schreiber of Norwegian comics--Bendik Kaltenborn and Flu Hartberg. Okay, Burns and Schreiber is a terrible middle-aged reference that doesn't work. Bendik and Flu are part of the Dongery collective. A six-MAN crew of scribblers who are proving that Jason is not a fluke. Great gentlemen all and high-larious cartoonists.

Here's a drawing that Pascal did on the flight on the way home. IT IS FROM ONE OF THE MOST IMPORTANT MOMENTS OF THE SHOW. So, we all (minus Chris, not Canadian) settle down for our panel which I think went pretty well. Lots of laughs despite the moderator's mumbling (that's me). Halfway through, Seth is going off on a soliloquy and all of a sudden this gentleman wearing a pith helmet rides his bike up the center aisle of the tent and rests it on the edge of the stage and then he starts dancing with a volunteer until finally a couple other volunteers show up and escort him away. Honestly, the most amazing thing I've ever witnessed at a convention. I guess he was pro-testing?? I don't know.

A few of us rushed off to Galleri Storck to see Sindre Goksøyr's show of silkscreens and a couple sculptures. Here we see the inevitable Barks European influence (Gyro Gearloose and somebody--I do not know my Barks.)

Honorary Dongery member Marc Bell poses with Sindre Goksøyr in front of Sindre's sculpture of the first panel of his latest comic.

I love that he even painted the wall to match his brushstrokes from his comic.

On the way back to the festival, we passed this rock show in a park called "Operation No Limits." The band playing sounded like a cross between Bryan Adams and, um, Madness? It seemed like a good way to get the local teens off the streets and into a park so that they could be sitting on grass in daylight while they get drunk and lose their virginity. NO LIMITS!

Marc flips through the "Book of the Show" (imho) while our new pals Martin Ernstsen and Sharmila Banerjee look on.

Not enough Jillian in this report, you say? Here she is spokemodelling the greatest snack food not available in North America (as far as I know) SMASH! (that's right, Bugles dipped in chocolate, say what?)

Chris Ware is toughing it out as the last artist signing at the show. Here you see the tent being struck as Chris sweetly chit-chats with every fan and does a series of complex signatures and drawings in each book presented to him.

Oh, I'm wrong here's Joost across the aisle keeping it real at the same time. Man, I could not pull off those yellow sneakers. This man has style.

Off to the closing party. This woman is the only person in Norway who seems to dislike having her picture taken. I suspect American heritage.

In the background is the giant pinball game I kept hearing about. I kind of thought it might be bigger. Still, it's big. I didn't play it though, okay? Because I am afraid of competitive sports. There I said it.

Jillian doodles on the tablecloth.

And Marc doodles on the tablecloth. MASTERPIECES, PEOPLE!

Getting ready to head back to the hotel, we fly out early. Saying our goodbyes to our amazing hosts and other guests. Truly a great bunch! {There's our man, Andreas, on the right.}

Our layover in Copenhagen--The Riddle of the Sphinx.

I am going to call this the end. I would like to finish of by saying thank you so much to Berit Petersheim, Andreas Wang, and Håvard Johansen who were all excellent hosts. And thanks to the wonderful volunteers. Truly a great festival.}


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