Finnish cartoonists visit the UK to talk about their Freedom of Information comic

Siiri Viljakka and Lauri Tuomi-Nikula

Art: Siiri Viljakka and Lauri Tuomi-Nikula

Think Freedom of Information is a bit of a dry topic? Not when you mix it with some exuberant inky comic art, it’s not!

Two Finnish cartoonists, Siiri Viljakka and Lauri Tuomi-Nikula, are visiting the UK to speak about their comic Last Words, a 60-page graphic novel (that’s been published in both English and Finnish) which imagines one of the founding fathers of Freedom of Information, Anders Chydenius, returning from the grave to see how his ideas are surviving in the modern world.

Last Words – The Return of Anders Chydenius - English

Thanks to a fund raiser to bring Siiri and Lauri to the UK organised by illustrator Myfanwy Nixon, they’ll be be speaking at four informal meet-ups in London, Brighton and Hastings — and entry is free. (The fund raiser is still open, to raise a bit extra just to cover any fluctuations in flights and train prices, and if there’s still some left over, it will be used it to fund food and drink at the events).

“I have an interesting job with a charity named mySociety,” says Myfanwy of the visit’s origins on her web site. “One of the areas in which we work is Freedom of Information – that’s the concept that we all have the right to ask for information from the authorities that govern us.

“Now, for those people outside a small group of enthusiasts — many of whom I work with or know through my job — the phrase ‘Freedom of Information’ is almost guaranteed to provoke a blank stare, and possibly even a sudden desire to nap.

But there is an interesting side to FOI. Several, in fact. I tried to capture some of that in the sketch diary I created when we ran an FOI conference at work.

A page from Last Words – The Return of Anders Chydenius

A page from Last Words – The Return of Anders Chydenius

“One interesting aspect of FOI is that someone had to invent it. And that person was Anders Chydenius, a Finnish priest, and he did it exactly 250 years ago. Which is why I found myself Googling to see how other countries were celebrating this landmark year — we at mySociety wanted to mark the anniversary, so I was looking around for ideas.

“And what did I find? A comic book, that’s what I found.”

Incredibly, despite his achievements, no well-known publication has been made about the central ideas of Anders Chydenius (1729-1803), a politician from the Finnish town of Kokkola, an enlightened thinker and politician who struggled against secret and unaccountable government power, as he urged for the freedom of press and information and right of access to public records law.

Last Words – The Return of Anders Chydenius addresses this lack, revealing Chydenius’ role as a leading advocate for freedom of speech and personal freedom in the 18th century.

Thanks to him, the world’s first Freedom of the Press Act, eliminating press censorship, was implemented in Sweden, which led to the birth of free press, added pressure for transparent governance and helped the formation of democracy and civil society as Nordic ideals.

Discovering the work after much emailing, Myfanwy launched an appeal for funds to bring the two cartoonists to the UK, which quickly met target, aided by the creators’ own “cartoon appeal“, rather than the usual video that accompanies such projects.

“Siiri and Lauri’s visit was, in part, made possible by Dan Berry’s fantastic ‘Make It Then Tell Everybody‘ podcast,” says Myfanwy, and was also backed by a generous donation from the Hastings 1066 Country Cartoon Festival.

• If you’d like to hear Siiri and Lauri speaking about comics, FOI, and how the two can interact, you can register now at no cost. 

At the Monday, Wednesday and Thursday events, the talk will focus mainly on comics with a side order of FOI. At Citizen Beta on Tuesday, it will be the other way around, with Siiri and Lauri fitting in among other speakers on the topic of FOI and civic technologies – full details here. So take your pick, depending on how you prefer your arts/civic rights balance!

• The book will be on sale at the event. The only places we can find online to buy Last Words at the moment is this Finnish web site and here on booky.fi

• Find Siiri Viljakka on Tumblr | follow Siiri on Twitter @siiriviljakka

• You can still donate to support this project; please do so here: www.gofundme.com/FinnishComicFOI

• More about Last Words here (in English) on the Finnish site celebrating the 250th anniversary of press freedom: www.painovapaus250.fi/en/news/last-words

There’s also a Facebook page about the project (in Finnish)

Lauri Tuomi-Nikula and Siiri Viljakka

Lauri Tuomi-Nikula and Siiri Viljakka.

The founder of downthetubes, which he established in 1998. John works as a comics and magazine editor, writer, and on promotional work for the Lakes International Comic Art Festival. Working in British comics publishing since the 1980s, his credits include editor of titles such as Doctor Who Magazine, Star Trek Explorer (previously known as Star Trek Magazine) and more. He also edited the comics anthology STRIP Magazine and edited several audio comics for ROK Comics. He has also edited several comic collections, including volumes of “Charley’s War and “Dan Dare”. He’s the writer of "Pilgrim: Secrets and Lies" for B7 Comics; “Crucible”, a creator-owned project with 2000AD artist Smuzz; and “Death Duty” and “Skow Dogs” with Dave Hailwood.



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