Thursday 5 November 2015

Immigrants' voices in Joensuu, Finland

The participants in the women's workshop were proud of their comics

The multicultural association ”JoMoni” organised three Grassroots Comics workshops for immigrants in May-September 2015 in Joensuu, Eastern Finland.  The project was coordinated by artist and comics tutor Sanna Hukkanen. The idea was to introduce a new channel of expression through art, to enable the participants to share their experiences with Finnish readers in order to promote cross-cultural understanding.

The first two workshops were for immigrant women, and a few Finns participated too. The third workshop took place in the North Karelia municipal education and training consortium in Niittylahti. The participants were a group of young people attending a preparatory course for immigrants (VALMA) and the theme of their comics was ”A personally important issue”. The project gained more significance since it was organised amidst the present refugee crisis and the hardened attitudes in Finland.

The majority of  the participants had no experience in drawing comics. They were, however, quick learners and in the end, proud of their own art work. The VALMA group's teacher felt that it was really important for the students to process their personal experiences in comics. At the same time they had an opportunity to experiment with a new medium, and the results, the final comics, enhanced their self esteem. Also the female participants gave positive feedback. They found comics a good tool for reflecting cultural and personal issues. They were happy to get to know each other and to have a chance to talk about the issues that were important to them. 

As the participants came from very different backgrounds their comics dealt with a broad range of subjects. Common subjects were: cross-cultural friendship and the importance of finding friends in the new environment, introduction of one's own culture to the Finns, Finnish language, girls'/women's rights and descriptions of every day life in Finland. The comics were displayed in an exhibition which was opened at the Joensuu Comics Event in October 2015 at Joensuu main library, and then sent to other libraries around North Karelia. Also a booklet was produced which will be used in JoMoni's anti-racism campaigning. 

The comics can be read at JoMoni website: 

Posted by Sanna Hukkanen
A panel from a comic dealing with Finnish language

Comic by Kyoko

Did you know? / There will be no earthquake in Finland / Tsunami won't strike / There is no war / Finland is a happy country.

Friday 28 August 2015

Riad Sattouf - L’Arabe du futur

A page from Sattouf's album. The family arrives in the father's home village in Syria.

Riad Sattouf’s (born 1978) autobiographical comic L’Arabe du Futur (The Arab of Future) was a great hit in France and has sold several hundred thousand copies by now. The second album is already out in France and an English version of the first book will be available in October 2015 (Barnes and Nobles, UK). A Finnish version (WSOY) is already in the shops.

Sattouf tells the story of his childhood in France, Libya, and Syria in the Eighties. His mother is French, his father a French-educated Syrian professor who takes up teaching jobs in Libya and Syria. From France the family moves first to Libya, then to the father's home town, Homs, in Syria. The father has great hopes for the future of the then prevailing Pan-Arabic movement and works under two dictators (Gaddafi and Hafez-al-Assad). Sattouf is very young and sticks out in both countries, as he has blond hair. 

Sattouf tells his story with both robust and gentle humour and manages to portray the life of a young boy in a strange environment in a believable way. 

Autobiographical comics like these do much more for understanding between  cultures than any regular campaign material against xenophobia and anti-racism.

Read more about the album: (in French)

Posted by Leif Packalen

The album cover

Travel comics from South Caucasus

A page from Aino Sutinen's book of travel comics
Aino Sutinen (born 1983) has published a book on her travels in Azerbaijan, Georgia, Armenia and Nagorno-Karabakh in the South Caucasus. It is in Finnish, with English subtitles on every page. 

Vaimoksi vuorille – Reppumatkasarjakuvia Etelä-Kaukasiasta 
Mountain Wife – Backpacking Comics from the South Caucasus
120 pages (Neon Tunisia, 2015)

This is a charming book. Aino Sutinen seeks out the less-trodden paths without making it into an extreme sport. She seems to easily establish rapport with people and writes about them with open curiosity and kindness. This is a refreshing attitude after several travel comics (mostly by men) where the traveller often portrays himself in terms of heroic endurance among locals.

Aino Sutinen has travelled, as it were, on our behalf and joyfully shares her experience with all of us. Read the album and enjoy!

More information:

Visit Aino Sutinen's blog with photographs from her trip:

Posted by Leif Packalen

Wednesday 5 August 2015

Nenets and Hanti comics from Northern Siberia

The school girls from Salekhard read their own comics in the Hanti and Nenets languages.
Elsa Sysser, a mother-tongue activist from Finland wrote to us some time back how she uses comics in promoting vulnerable languages. She has recently worked with a small team in Jamal, Northern Siberia. They went to schools and one class at a time, and instructed the pupils in how to make comics. Although they had only limited time at their disposal, the comics came out well. Especially the comics made by 5th graders in Jar-Salen were engaging. They were about summer on the tundra and one can see that the children know how to draw their environment - and reindeers.

In addition to giving expression to their culture by drawing, these comics use the vulnerable languages of Nenets and Hanti - the children’s mother tongues.

The comics classes will continue, and the schools have been very welcoming. Next they will try the same methods with adults.

Elsa Sysser concludes her message with a thanks to World Comics Finland for good instruction materials and inspiration. We look forward to seeing more comics from Siberia in due course.

Posted by Leif Packalen

A comic about reindeer animal husbandry
While collecting firewood the girl finds a pet rabbit

Summer activities in Jamal, Siberia 

Tuesday 4 August 2015

Two outstanding graphic memoirs on ageing and death

The subject of ageing and end-of-life care is difficult and always very personal. Two American cartoonists, Joyce Farmer and Roz Chast, have each written and drawn graphic memoirs of the last phases of their parents' lives. These two books, although in an American setting, are extremely important reads. 

The doctor telephoned to say the father has lung cancer. A scene from the album.

Joyce Farmer (b. 1938) is a pioneering feminist underground cartoonist and her 200-page book "Special Exits" is her first full-length graphic narrative. The story is about her father and stepmother, whose lives and circumstances deteriorate in a poor South L.A. neighbourhood. 

Farmer has to take charge of their lives and balances between what is practical and what the parents want. The parents' opinions are often also conflicting and Farmer has to thread carefully in the crossfire of strong wills. Both parents have their own collections of things from the past that fill the house. The stepmother manufactured dolls in her past and collected pieces of cloth etc. The father has his collections of rocks.

The parents have a cat, which in the end is taken to Farmer's house. The cat has never liked her but in the very last scene the cat cuddles up to her. That is like a reward for her efforts and all frustrations.

More about the album:

The cover of Special Exits

A page from Can’t we talk about something pleasant?

Roz Chast (born 1954), is an accomplished American cartoonist and a staff cartoonist for the New Yorker magazine. She has made a 228-page graphic memoir about the last years of her parents. It’s called “Can’t we talk about something more pleasant?” and goes through the struggles faced by adult children that come into a new position when they have to start taking care of their ageing parents. 

The memoir covers all possible emotions involved, exhaustion, despair, guilt but also love and empathy. There is an increasing number of practicalities to take care of as the parents’ health declines.

All this Chast records with admirable directness and although the story is delivered with humour the inevitable end is all the time present. The reader follows with increasing suspense if new surprising difficulties will turn up, and how will Chast be able to cope? 

Ageing and end-of-life care is a difficult subject which is normally treated with a string of positive-sounding euphemisms. Roz Chast treats the subject putting all her cartoonist’s genius at work. When you start to read the album, it is difficult to put it down.

Chast received the Heinz Award (a stunning 250.000 USD) for the book. Read more about it:

The cover of the album

Wednesday 22 July 2015

Analysis of ten grassroots comics made by female participants with disabilties in workshops in Mwanza, Tanzania

The cover of the book with a grassroot comic on secondary education for the deaf.

In 2010 Sanna Hukkanen and Sunday Ngakama conducted four grassroots comics workshops in Mwanza in collaboration with some Tanzanian NGOs that work with people with disabilities. The workshop was organised by SHIVYAWATA (an umbrella organisation) and funded by Abilis Foundation from Finland.

Adjunct professor Elina Lehtomäki of the University of Helsinki is an activist for education rights of persons with disabilities. She has written together with Sanna Hukkanen, a longtime member of World Comics Finland and an accomplished comics trainer, an article called “Tanzanian Girls and Women with (Dis)abilities Claim Their Right to Education" in the book "Inclusive Education Twenty Years After Salamanca" (Salamanca, Spain was the venue for a landmark conference on special needs education in 1994). The book was published by Peter Lang Publishing, Inc. of New York, U.S in a series called Disability Studies in Education.

Ten grassroots comics and their messages are analyzed thoroughly in the article, which concludes that the comics provide critical insights of what the girls and their families see as important in their education and learning in Tanzania.

The authors make it clear that grassroots comics can contribute with empowering tools to uncover abilities and voices, and they could therefore be used on the ground to help finding out the views and experiences of girls and women with (dis)abilities.

Posted by Leif Packalen

Monday 18 May 2015

Comics journalism on crack cocaine and Guinea Bissau by Benjamin Dix and Tayo Fatunla

Follow this comic on BBC, see link below.

Tayo Fatunla, Britain-based Nigerian Comics Artist and long-time friend, sent me this message:

“I am so proud to announce, the launch of the Digital comic which I produced in conjunction with Positive Negatives, titled HOOKED, and produced by the BBC. HOOKED begins on 18th May and will run daily on TV and online at until 22nd May.

Earlier this year, PosNeg conducted interviews around crack cocaine addiction in the small West African state of Guinea-Bissau.

Written by my new friend since January, Benjamin Dix, I was called upon as a Comic Artist to illustrate the comic. I worked with loads of pictures Benjamin submitted to me.

Guinea-Bissau has been a key centre for smuggling cocaine from South America to lucrative markets in Europe and has often been referred to as Africa's first 'narco-state'. 

HOOKED is based on reportage that tells the story of Buba, a young man growing up in the neighbourhoods of Bissau and the consequences of selling and taking drugs and how it is a struggle to opt out of it. 

All names in the comic were changed to protect identities of the many PosNeg met with.

Feel free to tweet or share on FB - Spread the news"

Tayo Fatunla

I have written about Benjamin Dix in this blog before, and about his cooperation with artist Lindsay Pollock. Dix’ approach to comics journalism is groundbreaking and the concept deserves to be spread and emulated.

Tayo Fatunla was featured in the first ever African Comics exhibition in Finland, in the Kemi Comics Festival in 1993. Tayo also visited Finland in 1999 at the “World Village” event.

Posted by Leif Packalen  

Monday 11 May 2015

Russia: Karelian language survives – in Comics!

The workshop participants at the Periodika Publishing house in Petrozavodsk

Finnish comics artist and tutor Sanna Hukkanen travelled to Petrozavodsk in the Republic of Karelia, Russia, last summer. There she visited Karjalan Rahvahan Liitto ('Karelian People's Union') – an NGO revitalising and preserving the endangered Karelian language, and realised for the first time how close it was to her own Eastern Finnish dialect. She took language courses and headed back to Petrozavodsk in April 2015 to run a grassroots comics workshop together with Karjalan Rahvahan Liitto.

The workshop took place at Periodika Publishers on the 23rd of April. The participants were journalists working in Karelian and Veps languages, Karelian-speaking day care staff and Finnish language students from Petrozavodsk State University. Most of the students had a minority language background. The theme of the comics, ‘Own Language’ was chosen by the participants. The subjects for their comics were: passing the language to the next generation, personal experience as a minority language speaker, and losing and rediscovering one’s own language. The participants’ deeply emotional relationship to the subject is clearly visible in the comics made during the workshop. Some of the comics make really good advertisements for language courses!

Drawing exercise - from stick figure to body
The participants had very little experience about comics and their expectations for the workshop were not clear. Many worried about their drawing skills. However, during the day they realised how simple it is to make comics, and how efficient tools comics can be. All participants were positively surprised about the new skills and ideas they gained. They were also motivated to continue with comics in the future. Plans were set to organise an advanced workshop next October.

At the end of the workshop the participants got a chance to brainstorm ideas for how the comics could be used. The target groups were defined to be both Russian and minority language speakers. An exhibition including all the comics was immediately put up at Periodika Publishers. Karjalan Rahvahan Liitto will distribute the exhibition to different places and events. In addition, the comics will be published as a booklet that will be distributed to schools and different Karelian language and culture events. 

Also the local media showed interest in the workshop. The comics got into TV news on the local Petrozavodsk channel SampoTV and the Karelian national TV. Also the Karelian language weekly, Oma Mua, and the Finnish language weekly Karjalan Sanomat wrote articles about the workshop, and published some of the comics too. Comics are not very popular in Russia. Basically only the well known superhero characters are familiar to the public.

The workshop was based on the grassroots comics format developed by World Comics Finland. The idea was to show how comics could be used a a tool for preserving and revitalising an endangered language. In this case the method met its goals perfectly! 

Without contemporary channels for endangered languages, they might easily die with the last people who still speak them -  the old generation. There are still about 40 000 people, who speak Karelian, and less than 2000 who speak Veps in the Karelian Republic. Most of them are old people.

The Petrozavodsk comics workshop received funding from Karjalan sivistysseura (Karelian Culture Societyand Taiteen edistämiskeskus (Art Promotion Centre Finland).

See also: (in Finnish and Karelian)

Posted by Sanna Hukkanen

Translation of one of the workshop's comics: 
Living Language
Baju baju my little girl/ I speak Karelian/ I always remember my own language/ Own language – Living language/ Mama

The training material was available both in Finnish and in Russian.

Tuesday 7 April 2015

Comics in the Palestinian Camps in Lebanon

Ms. Sirkku Kivistö of the Finnish Psychologists for Social Responsibility returned recently from a project visit to Lebanon. We had requested her to see what kind of comics the children in the camps make. The Palestinian Refugee Organisation Beit Atfal Assomoud runs different types of leisure activities for the youngsters, and making comics is one of them.

Imad Mazen Abdullah leads the comics group in 
the Family Guidance Center in Ein el-Helweh.

The comics are from the camp Ein el-Helweh (Saida), where Imad Mazen Abdullah is responsible for comics activities. Imad is a student in a vocational school and volunteers at the Family Guidance Center in his free time.

World Comics Finland and the Finnish Psychologists for Social Responsibility ran a comics training workshop jointly in Lebanon in 2005. Imad was not taking part in the training, but he has learned how to make comics from those who participated. This proves our motto: to make grassroots comics is a skill you can easily share. 

Take a look below at some of the comics Sirkku brought back with her:

(posted by Leif Packalen)

1. Yousef Alareed (13 years). The story is about the conflicts that surround the children and states that if you don’t talk to each other there will be fighting and homes will be destroyed. It ends with the words: Talk to each other, life is good, buildings are good and everyone has a friend.

2. Mostafa Zeidan (14 years). This comic depicts the introduction of a traffic police and traffic signs in a busy intersection, where traffic used to be chaotic.

3. Also by Mostafa Zeidan: Khaled, a shepherd, feels lonely and calls for his friend to come and accompany him. His friend joins him for the whole day, as weather is nice. They enjoy each other's company.

4. Amal Baroumi, 11 years, made this drawing, which depicts the lost Palestine as a tear.