Monday, 22 February 2010

[304] Turku Loves Comics / Turku rakastaa sarjakuvia

My recent trip to Finland was easily my most tourist-like. My first visit in winter, which brought with it whiter-than-white vistas, snow shovelling, and endless traipsing across the refreshing, below zero landscape. I ice-fished, I ate reindeer, and I pushed The Finnish Girl uphill in a blasted kicksled (potkukelkka).

However, this time, it was just as much about the comics as the weather. Here are some findings, packaged up in a post that handily rips off Dom Sutton's London Loves Comics blog.

Turku is a small-ish city (by UK standards) on the South-western coast of Finland. It was the country's capital for a short time, and is currently its fifth largest city in terms of population. But enough about that, what about the comics!? Since my last visit, a comics shop has opened up, so that was at the top of my to-do list.

So my first stop was the Turun Sarjakuvakauppa (quite literally, Turku's Comics Shop). It is next door to a used record store (just visible to the left of the image) called Iki Pop, which, thanks to the wonderful phonology of the Finnish language, calls up a cheeky pun on the phrase 'forever pop' and, well, justifies having a sign that features the cover of The Stooges Raw Power. I was surprised by the Sarjakuvakauppa. Not that I knew what to expect, but nonetheless I was completely lost in their stock, which is made up with mostly Finnish language comics, of the literate and diverse kind that is mostly relegated to independent or small press outlets in the UK.

I confess, I know next to nothing about the actual comics scene in Finland - apart from the love of newspaper strips (the storefront is decorated with a large graphic of strip-star Wagner, from Viivi ja Wagner) and Donald Duck (Aku Ankka) - but the American comics section was surprisingly small, carrying the usual Vertigo trades (Sandman, Preacher) and oodles of Alan Moore and Charles Burns, but with next to nothing from Marvel or mainstream DC.

The Finnish section was much larger, and had plenty of books that I couldn't even start to tell you about because of the language barrier, but what did stand out were the translated editions they had in stock. There were some DC books, such as Teräsmies - Neljä vuodenaikaa (Superman: For All Seasons), and Batman - Mustaa ja valkoista (Batman: Black & White), but there was a fantastic line-up of European books, the kind of Italian, Franco-Belgian and Dutch classics that very rarely get translated into English.

Across the road from Turun Sarjakuvakauppa is Turku City Library, a big, recently-refurbished beauty of a building. The comics section inside is a treasure trove: large, all-encompassing and featuring works in Finnish, English, French, German, and even a couple in Spanish and Chinese. Again, there were plenty of the Finnish graphic novels here, and more mainstream comics, but the stand-outs included large collections of work from Jean Giraud (Moebius) and Jean-Claude Mézières, including many books from the Blueberry series, and the Valérian et Laureline saga. Of interest for the British comics crowd, however, was a quite astounding selection of 2000 AD translated editions.

What an awesome cover. It seems that they have a good chunk of the 1980s Judge Dredd stories covered, printed chronologically in over-sized trades, with the Judge Death book jumping out of the crowd.

I'm jealous, I really am. There might be some glaring gaps in these Finnish shelves, but it's the real deal. And the ambience of the place - part Nordic minimalism, part old-world grandeur - is just lovely.

I spent the most time during my visit at the Cosmic Comic Cafe. Now, this is my kind of place. I hate most cafes, and nearly all pubs. The CCC is perfect. A bar, serving nice hot chocolate; walls covered with Tintin prints; music piped in at just the right volume to invade your ear-holes, but not loud enough to disrupt conversation. Oh, the music! Kate Bush, The Cure, Husker Du, Joy Division, Cocteau Twins, The Smiths, Smashing Pumpkins, The Beatles. Sounds like my playlist from ages 14 to 19. Joyous.

I've not mentioned the comics. They have shelves, lining the walls, stuffed with books and torn floppies, precariously piled and hastily ordered. A challenge to any enthusiast. I dug through the masses of crinkly copies of Tex Willer and Muustanaamio - Lee Falk's Phantom, published in an anthology-style issue that features back-up reprint strips like The Spirit - to find the following:

Some are more notable than others.

- Morris and Goscinny, Lucky Luke: Palkkionmetsästäjä (Bounty Hunter). A Finnish edition of the Lucky Luke book Chasseur de primes, featuring the Lee Van Cleef-inspired character Elliot Belt. This one's not currently available in the UK, thanks to a slow reprinting schedule - and as this is the 39th book in the series, we shouldn't expect it any time soon.

- Boselli and Casertano, Dylan Dog: L'isoladei Cani (Isle of Dogs). An Italian Dylan Dog from 2000, playfully talking about East London regeneration, and opening with the caption 'La "Docklands Light Railway"...'. I always thought that area had a spooky name.

- Viz, The Butcher's Dustbin: A Dog's Dinner of Old Tripe from Issues 122-131. There you go. The only British-English comic they had was Viz. And not just one. They had four volumes of these toilet humour reprints!

- Tove Jansson, Muumi Peikko Vol.5. A fifth volume of Finnish language reprints of Tove Jansson's English language Moomin comic strip that started in the 1950s. This book came out in 1990, over fifteen before trendy Canadian publishers Drawn & Quarterly reminded all those Anglophonic hipsters of how odd and enchanting Jansson's creations are.

- Kaisa Leka, Your Name is Krishangi. Leka's name came up a few times throughout the trip, and she seems to be one of the major figures of the Finnish comics community (not to mention a Green Party politician). Her work even appears in English. This book is interesting, taking the cutesy autobiographical style of American Elf and dunking it into a vat of Buddhist mysticism.

- Shokki Special. I've saved the most intriguing find for last. This Shokki Special seems to be a 1972-1973 Finnish language reprint of material from the Warren publishing company, mainly Creepy, but the lack of any actual details and publishing information leaves this a little open. Definitely exhibits some of that Creepy/Eerie charm, though. Check the back cover!

Grotesque, and brilliant.

That's all I have for the time being. Next time I visit, who knows what I'll find.


Dom Sutton said...

Great stuff! I love the look of that Warren style book and the sound of that cafe!

Karhuherra said...

Thanks for a nice read on our local scene. Interesting to see foreigner's take on things.

A Finnish published about 30 books of Judge Dredd stories back in the eighties and nineties, they were a treat. And the main library in Turku is great for a comics reader - really great selection of European "art" comics, and all those Blueberries (which have been translated to date).

Sarjakuvakauppa doesn't sell that mucj Marvel-type stuff, but we also have another small store in town, which has been selling superhero comics for enthusiasts for few decades.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for your great review of our little shop of comics :)

We did have more DC/Marvel-comics, but like the old saying goes, "the fast will drop anvils on the head of the slow just for the heck of it", meaning they were sold out quite quickly.

But since then we have learned what people want, and we should have a new (bigger) batch of Dc/Marvel comics coming in a few weeks.

So should you visit Turku again, I believe we can provide a better coverage of that area :)

Mike Leader said...

Thank you for the comments, Karhuherra and termostaattori!

You'll have to tell me about this smaller store - I thought that the Sarjakuvakauppa was the first comics-only shop in the city.

My obsession with Marvel/DC is chiefly because they're easy to spot and identify in different languages. My knowledge of European comics is a bit thin, so I mostly didn't know what I was looking at.

I'm visiting Turku again in early August. If I have the time, I'll pop in and maybe you could educate me. :)

Thanks again!

Anonymous said...

If I may be so bold to speak on behalf of Karhuherra: I believe Karhuherra refers to Alfa Antikva, which has e.g. larger selection of English comics than our shop.

You should visit it, for it is a really good comic shop, which also sells used music and literature, in English even.

And should you visit our store in August, I just might be there selling ;)

I have actually always wanted to say "I've got your comics right here, buddy! See here, in the corner? Please browse them freely " ;)