Convention Report: Raptus, Norway, 2003

John Cooper at the Raptus convention in Bergen in 2003.

John Cooper at the Raptus convention in Bergen in 2003.

Here’s a quick report on my trip to Raptus 2003 in Bergen, Norway. This feature is an overview of the Norwegian comics scene itself rather than a report on the Festival itself which was great fun and included UK comics artists sushc as Mike Collins, Lew Stringer, Dave Windett, John Armstrong, John Cooper and Barrie Mitchell as guests. Pat Mills and Carlos Ezquerra and one of my all-time favourite creators, Will Eisner, were also at the event.

Thanks to Arild Wareness and the rest of the Raptus team for inviting me.

Jenni Scott has written a report on the convention which appears on the Silver Bullets web site.

The Raptus 2003 Comics Festival, part funded by the Norwegian government, proved a busy event attracting some 5000 fans from across Scandinavia and beyond. Guests included Will Eisner, Pat Mills, John Cooper and many European artists. I helped arrange some of the guests on Raptus behalf as an unofficial UK liasion. Jenni Scott has written a more detailed report on the event appears on the Silver Bullets site, but the information below is about the Norwegian Comics scene. This information is based in part on UK Comics Festival organiser Kev Sutherland’s comments on the event on the Comics2000 yahoo group and my own observations and feedback from Norwegian creators and the convention organisers.

The number off new publishers and magazines hitting the Norwegian news stand is staggering. This autumn four new magazines will launch from mainstream publishers, their launch supported by government subsidies for new comics publishers, responding to concerns at the amount of reprint on the news stands and also to promote Norwegian creators. A committee meets regularly to decide which new creators and strips should get a break. This funding also extends to assisting with the production of albums and graphic novels, all of which means Norwegian comic creators don’t have to rely solely on the free market and have been supported in their building of a popular audience. The numbers off smaller publishers and underground magazines is also rising. Major newspapers — Norway has one of the most literate and well read populations in Europe — use their columns to give reviews of comics, and both mainstream and underground strips get publicity. A typical newsagents has a healthy collection of comics — not just cartoon-based, like the UK. Disney’s Donald Duck dominates of course — he is the most popular comics character, with over 100,000 sales of his top comic. While there are many import titles, there are many home-grown titles such as Nemi (now published in the UK in Metro)

John Cooper's portrait of Johnny Red, drawn for the 2003 Raptus Festival program.

John Cooper’s portrait of Johnny Red, drawn for the 2003 Raptus Festival program.

Thus on newsagents shelves you have Disney titles; Fox Kids; plus newspaper strip anthology compilations such as Glen Larson’s far Side, adventure magazines such as Conan, Agent X-9 (leading with Modesty Blaise reprints) and The Phantom (published by Egmont and edited by Ulf Granberg, who also edits Lew Stringer’s strip Suburban Satanists. While Fantomen does reprint some of the old Phantom newspaper strips (along with Tom Strong), the lead 30-page strip is usually originated. These strips are reprinted in English by Australia’s Frew Comics).

There’s also: Cosmic(an Image compilation), Marvel characters (Spider-Man, X-Men – Marvel characters have started to be published in Norway in the same compilation format as Panini UK, but on better stock), plus Nemi, Pondus (a newspaper strip anthology) – lots of those on sale, Rex Rudi (a band who have their own comic strip – ever seen Norwegian rockabilly?) and Gorilla.

Although I can’t read Norwegian these are vibrant and fun, the Norwegian titles — all characters creator-owned — are very MTV generation, vibrant and basically fun with a sassy look to them, far more self-assured than any humour comic currently published in Britain. They are published on good quality stock. They retail for around 35 kroner, about £3.50 – £4.00. (Norwegian prices are about three times as much as UK). The Nemi magazine is also using some reprint such as Lenore (little dead girl zombie who accidentally kills a lot of people). It was Nemi that led the resurgence in originated comics sales in Norway, with 70,000 sales in Norway alone. This is pretty impressive when you consider the population of Norway is just five million… The strip is now running, uncredited, in Metro, across the UK.

UK cartoonist Lew Stringer’s Suburban Satanists is published in the Egmont title Herman Hedning. Herman is the lead strip; a sort of troll character. The comic is published as both a Swedish and Norwegian language edition.

Essentially, you have maybe a few more comics titles than a big UK newsagents but dedicated shelf space is far more in even small newsagents, such as railway stations. There’s also a diversity of content and very few promotional gifts on covers (in fact, Norwegian creators held up their hands in horror at the very idea). Most publishing is on better paper stock and of a high quality.

On the magazines front, there is a huge amount of reprint going on from Emap, IPC etc. with the same title (Digital Camera, Elle, Mojo etc.) but in Norwegian. The same happens elsewhere in Europe of course, I saw the same kind of thing in Italy.

Bergen’s only comics and games store, Avalon, was also an experience. The layout and stock is similar to, say, Forbidden Planet, but the layout is more spacious. In fact all the shops I visited seemed to have more space except those in the older quarter. Maybe they don’t have rates like we do, since they’re also able to include a small cafe area.

US imports are plentiful as well as a section for homegrown comics and magazines, foreign graphic novesl and a section of SF (US) books. Not much underground comics in evidence though there was a small press section. Seems to be a big market in comics stores for English language titles. Farscape Books spotted on sale, and SFX. Sadly, no sign of Dreamwatch.

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