Norway, known for its fjords, cod, oil, and expensive groceries, hosts one of the nicest comics festivals in the Nordic countries, the intimate-scale but big-thinking Oslo Comics Expo. This year’s event took place at Oslo’s comics library Serieteket and two tents built at the surrounding park at Schous Plass in the Grünerløkka borough the 8th and 9th of June.
Comic aficionados were treated with an impressive guest list which included, for example, the boundary-pushing intellect Chris Ware, Canada’s nostalgia-driven Seth, Mr. Hot Potatoe Marc Bell, Austrian Ulli Lust, Finland’s own Amanda Vähämäki, and the Dutch master Joost Swarte. In addition to international guests, a flock of Norwegian comic artists got their time in the limelight as well.
The interviews and panel discussions held on Friday and Saturday in the program tent were no less than inspirational. For example, Friday’s ”Seriemord” (engl. ”serial murder”) panel with Ware, Seth, Jillian Tamaki, and Norwegian visual artist Sverre Malling was both educational and entertaining. The discussion, led by Flu Hartberg of Norway’s fanzine factory Dongery, extended from the use of perspective to court drawings to art education to recognizing certain classic cartoonists’ line and beyond. Especially Seth with his bottle of red (”I refuse to say a word without my wine!”, the Canadian declared) was on a roll.
The good life was continued on Saturday when the British comics expert Paul Gravett interviewed Seth, whose seminal graphic novel It’s a Good Life if You Don’t Weaken has been recently published in Norwegian. It’s a terrific read, yes, but its creator also quite the showman, which was a little surprise for those who had expected the introverted character from It’s a Good Life.
Joost Swarte, the master of the clear line and in the business since the 1960′s, was celebrated with a small poster exhibition in the nearby gallery Ballhaus. The vernissage on Friday evening was intimate and warm. The OCX staff was apparently proud to get Mr. Swarte to design the festival poster.
Saturday’s last interview spot was saved for Chris Ware, the modest Midwest American who keeps on expanding the medium of comic art and surprising the readers and critics (and fellow artists as well – or as Drawn & Quarterly’s creative director Tom Devlin whispered to me: ”Other cartoonists don’t even want to mention him, he’s a league of his own”). Ware talked about, for example, his forthcoming work, Building Stories, which will include no one but several different comic books, in various sizes. We’re all expecting the unexpected, as usual.