A Look Abroad: An Interview with Danish Comic Creator, Halfdan Pisket

I wrote this for Sequential Planet. It’s a piece of an interview I conducted with Halfdan Pisket last summer while in Denmark. I hope you enjoy it.

 

Here at Sequential Planet, we focus on the newest and biggest comic book releases the market has on offer. But what about the comics you don’t hear about? That was my mission while in Copenhagen, Denmark, last summer.

This idea didn’t occur to me until I was on the streets of Copenhagen, in the heart of the city, the Indre By district, just a block or so from Ørsteds Park. That’s when I saw a comic book shop. Comics. Danish Comics. What would I find on those shelves? Inside the shop, Fantask, were the standard releases. Marvel, DC, etc. There wasn’t anything uniquely Danish that I could see on the main shelves. That being said, the variety was impressive for such a small shop. Not only did they have comics, but a healthy display of fantasy and science fiction novels, as well as a manga section, and D&D/Pathfinder corner. A well-curated shop, to be sure–but almost everything was in English. I approach the woman behind the register, tentatively.

“Hi,” I say. “I’m visiting and love comics and would love a Danish comic as a souvenir, do you have any suggestions?”

She did. She guides me to a small section of Danish graphic novels and floppies. “But you don’t speak Danish, do you?” she asks me. I do not, I tell her. “This one,” she picks up a wide thin book, “this one has no words in it, but it is beautiful and he is local. This shop is even in the book.” I take it and flip through it. It is beautiful. It’s not a comic, but it’s not just a picture book either. It’s inks and watercolor and each couple of pages is its own story. The artist’s name is on the back. Adam O.

“He’s local?” I ask the woman. She tells me he is.

That night, I look up Adam O. and his book Kakofonia on Google. I find his email and ask him, politely, for an interview. I explain I’m trying to find the pulse of the Danish comics scene. Within the hour he emails me back. He doesn’t live in Denmark, but in Sweden, and he doesn’t make comics much anymore–though he knows someone I should talk to. Halfdan Pisket. He tells me this is the man I should see. This is the most famous Danish cartoonist/comic creator. He includes Halfdan’s email. I am thankful.

Halfdan Pisket’s graphic novel trilogy is not translated into English yet. It presents me with a difficult task. How do I interview someone about their writing and story when I can’t read it? But also, this is exactly what I wanted. I wanted to hear about what I didn’t already know about. Isn’t this perfect?

On the morning we meet, the sky is blue, the sun is shining, it’s mid-August–the people of Copenhagen are beautiful. Halfdan lives a mere 10-minute bike ride from where I’m staying and he comes down to let me into his building. His apartment is nice and modest and clearly an artist lives here. He has some bookshelves lined with comics and graphic novels. Some are ones I recognize. Elf Quest, Black Hole, but there are others I don’t know. He pours me a cup of coffee and we sit on his balcony overlooking the street. Every once in awhile a car drives by, but there is little traffic here. Most people ride bicycles.

When I tell him my idea, this concept of bringing the Danish Comic scene back with me, in a way, to the United States, he cracks a half-smile on his thin, lightly stubbled face.

“But it is funny,” he says, “because I grew up reading translated American comics. And when you are a kid, it’s superhero comics, it was X-Men and Spawn and later I read Frank Miller’s Dark Knight and after that, I thought, I could read more of something like this. . . It wasn’t until I started making comics, myself, in Danish, that I realized there were other people doing it. That was when I started reading Danish Comics.”

Before I go any further, I should note the profound impact Pisket’s work has had in the realm of Danish Literature, but also on a continental stage. Dansker (Translated Dane, in Danish), won the Politics Literature Prize in 2016, the Ping Prize in 2017, and in 2019, just before I met with him, the Dansker trilogy won Best Series at the third-largest comic book festival in the world, the French Angouleme Festival. Back in 2015, Pisket was also awarded the largest art grant in Denmark worth 850,000 Danish Krone (around 130,000 USD), the first graphic novelist ever to be awarded the grant.

Read the full feature at Sequentialplanet.com

Comic Review: Outer Darkness #11

Outer Darkness #11

Image Comics

Writer: John Layman

Artist: Afu Chan

Captain Rigg and the crew of The Charon return in the latest issue of Outer Darkness. While the run has stalled out the last few issues, this newest installment breathes new life into a unique world. It’s wonderful when you stick with a comic, and it rewards you with an unforeseen twist.

Story:

In a story that lends itself so well to the episodic nature of comics, it’s a piece of irony when that aspect of the comic is the very thing that makes the run feel stale. The premise of Out Darkness is sound. It’s about a ragtag collection of hardened soldiers, wizards, and warriors, scouring the cosmos for lost souls. It easy then, for self-contained issues–beginning, middle, and end. Within this structure, the larger narrative sense is lost. Until now. For the first time in the series, Captain Rigg faces the true consequences of his actions. He knows he’s on the chopping block, but he won’t go down quietly. This issue gives readers a look at just how far Captain Rigg will go to get what he wants. It takes the series in a bold, new direction.

Outer Darkness #11

Check out my full review at sequentialplanet.com

“Joker”

It takes a certain commitment to go see Joker. Not because it’s a bad film but because viewers ask themselves a question: Do I want to spend two hours of my life watching a less good Joker than Heath Ledger? The answer is both yes, and no. Yes, because the film is like no comic book movie ever made, and No, because Joaquin Phoenix’s portrayal of the Joker is as unrecognizable from Ledger’s Joker, as Ledger’s was from Nicholson’s. (omission: let’s all try to forget Jared Letto’s).

Simply put, there is no “living up to” needed in this film because this film is so vastly removed from the comic-book-movie genre that there’s nothing to live up to.

Before I went, I’d heard the film was “polarizing,” in its acclaim. Either you liked it, or you didn’t. There weren’t many “it was fine” verdicts out there. When we look back on what made Ledger’s performance so great, it was his mannerisms, his witticism, his always having a plan–even if he said he didn’t. Every turn of The Dark Knigh, showcased a criminal mastermind one step ahead of. . . well, everyone. With this in mind, I couldn’t help but grin as was in the theater last night. I couldn’t help but imagine a bunch of moviegoers expecting and excited to see how Joker became said mastermind. If that is what you’re hoping for, you’ll be sorely disappointed.

Joker is a film. It’s not a movie. It’s not a blockbuster. It’s a surprising artistic endeavor from a director who I had little faith in (The Hangover films were… never mind). Furthermore, to take the risk a produce a piece such as this is a risk, especially when viewers hear “Joker” and think Superhero, or at the very least Supervillain. There are no fast and cut action scenes. There’s not a great clip to the narrative in which things happen to keep the audience enthralled. There are no triumphs for the titular characters. There is nothing to overcome and or redeem. There are long slow shots of a lone figure in the rain, walking a dirty street, standing in an elevator, smoking a cigarette. Everything about this film is slow. Plodding. Painful. It is awkward and weighted. It is the life of the left-behinds.

In many ways, Joker feels like a film from another era. It’s all affected, of course, as all good films are, but beyond the obvious tributes to films in the later 70s and early 80s, just the long slowness of the movie is an existential exploration of what a comic-book movie can be. There’s a spectacular scene near the middle of the film right after a life-changing event, and looking back on it, it may be my favorite scene of all, when Joker finally comes out a bit and the audience is reminded that this isn’t just a devastating look into a depressing and bleak world, no. It’s about someone who’s insane but driven insane by a system that doesn’t and can’t acknowledge his experiences as valuable or even worth noting. There’s a great breakdown of the scene here. It’s something I thought I’d never see in a comic-book movie. A man broken so thoroughly that I wasn’t just waiting for the next plot twist or fight scene or quip. Instead, I was feeling broken. Beaten. Done. I wanted to move. To dance, like Joaquin Pheonix, because in a moment like that it made sense to dance or die–and obviously the Joker can’t die. So this slow sad dance is all that is, was, and can be of the Joker before Joker exists.

A special word should be noted on the score of this film. It’s one of the best, atmospheric scores I’ve ever heard. Akin to Annihilation’s score in terms of setting mood and tone, but I wager that Joker’s score is even more existential and nihilistic.

In the end, I really loved it. I did.

It’s the first comic-book movie that was also a film. It took risks. It didn’t dumb down anything. It was high brow art with pop-culture source material and I love that shit. It’s the first comic-inspired, superhero-inspired film that made me question my own life. That shines a light on our societal issues and asks, “Who are we listening to and why?” “Who matters and why?” “Who are we and why?”

I don’t know the answers to any of those questions. Nobody does. The Joker certainly doesn’t, but he’ll ask the questions with a smile and a laugh.

Joker is in theaters now, and how it’s painful to watch–at times, or even often–I’d not deny yourself this viewing experience. It’s a surprise and a risk. One that’s touching and welcome.