Johanna Rojola on Finnish comics, women and France

La bande dessinée finlandaise 2013 is the third issue in the Finnish Comics Annual series. Every year the book’s editor is free to choose the contents in her/his liking. My interviewee Johanna “Roju” Rojola is an experienced comics artist who has now edited La bande dessinée finlandaise 2013, together with Kalle Hakkola. Rojola points out that, the name notwithstanding, the book does not only present comics from the year concerned. The anthology’s aim is to have a certain theme connecting its stories.
At the book launch with Riitta Uusitalo, Tiina Pystynen and Johanna Rojola.

Riitta Uusitalo, Tiina Pystynen and Johanna Rojola at the book launch.

The theme of La bande dessinée finlandaise 2013 is female comics. Rojola tells me that the idea came out of a reflection on how comics made by women have affected the artform general. At the beginning of the editing process, suitable artists were narrowed down onto a list of names. At first, a few men were also included, even if none made it onto the pages of the finished version. The anthology includes young as well as older artists. Such experienced cartoonists as Riitta Uusitalo were lone pioneers at a time when comics were largely seen as purely men’s business. Many of the pioneering women didn’t read comics in their youth, whereas the larger part of the younger generation has grown into comics culture since childhood. There are funny and tragical, short and long stories in the book. According to Rojola, a book of this magnitude needs to offer a depth of reading material. The exception to the rule are Maria Björklund’s short, wordless comics that work as interludes in the entity. In addition to comics, some works of visual art are featured, as several of the artists also work on that field. Rojola was the founder and chief editor of women’s comics zine Naarassarjat, published in the early 1990s. At first she had planned to publish a single issue, but ended up with as series – after receiving huge amounts of material! Rojola was surprised with the quantity and quality of the artwork offered. Part of La BD finlandaise’s artists originally started their careers with Naarassarjat. Rojola explains how the comics scene was different in those days. Women were mostly new on the field and were often critisised, for instance in [Finnish Comics Society’s magazine] Sarjainfo. Everyday life and gender issues were common themes in women’s comics. According to the critics those weren’t good enough themes – whereas flying around with leotards on…! Rojola points out that what the complainers may not have realised, is that they weren’t the target audience. The new female artists also soon received plenty of positive feedback to counterbalance the critics. Female authors brought new thematic choices along with them. What are the missing themes of today, wonders Rojola.
Terhi Ekebom Finnish Comics Annual

© Terhi Ekebom

Rojola has studied at a comics school in France and also resided in the country for years. She says that surprisingly many Finnish comics are published in France. However, these are largely works by men. The anthology showcases artists previously unknown in France. French comics culture is at the international top level and the country forms the second largest market area of the world, right after Japan. However, the lack of comics by women is a problem. Rojola tells me that strong gender attitudes prevailed in France at the time of her studies [in the mid-1990s]. The situation has been changing since, but female artists, like Marjane Satrapi, still seem to receive extra criticism. Men publish comics made by men, targeted for men. La BD finlandaise 2013 was created to do its part in changing all this. Text and translation: Anssi Ylirönni Photo: Aino Sutinen Published originally in Helsinki Comics Center’s blog. Johanna Rojola is a Finnish comics artist and producer. Anssi Ylirönni is a communications intern at the Comics Center.

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