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