Finland report part 3: Helsinki and studying comics in Europe

OK, I just lost 3 hours worth of writing on this post, so this is gonna be the fast-n-dirty version.

The Three Posts of the Conference (on teaching comics in Finland in March 2011):

  1. Day one: Nordic comics schools and Scott McCloud
  2. Day two: Comics degree program reports
  3. Day three: What we know about Finland (comics, cartoonists, Moomin) and studying in Europe (ways to approach studying comics abroad).
  4. Finland in March. Don't walk out on that ice!

Studying comics abroad

Muthesius Kunsthochschule

Somehow, all the times I’ve been in Europe for the sake of comics, and all the times I’ve tried to talk my students into traveling and getting involved in the international comics scene, it never occurred to me to talk to students about studying abroad.

  1. There are great programs out there, and they may have radically different approaches to the art form.
  2. For many of them, English is the lingua franca (for example, Markus Huber of Muthesius Kunsthochschule says one need not know German, and Johan Höjer of the University of Gävle says that Swedish would be a plus, but you don’t need it…who knew?).
  3. Being exposed to other points of view, ways of working, and arts systems will make any artist stronger and better.
  4. Bonus for Americans: even if you’re paying full freight on tuition, it’s likely to be a hell of a lot cheaper than US schools, even in situations (Britain) where fees are going up radically and unconscionably. Warning to non-Americans: the inverse is also true.
  5. Europeans already know this, but the Erasmus Programme (supporting academic exchange between EU countries) sounds like the best thing since sliced bread. This is obviously one route to broadening your horizons.

Markus Huber, Dan Berry, Thierry Van Hasselt, and me at the Q & A portion of day 2. By Joonas Sildre

At some point, we plan to put together a clearing house of info on comics teachers, classes, and programs here on Stay tuned for more.

Finnish comics and cartoonists

My host for the International Comics Seminar was Sarjakuvakeskus, the Comics Center (that’s a direct translation) of Helsinki, Finland. It’s a project of the 40-year-old Finnish Comics Society, a non-profit, non-governmental organization that also runs a comics festival, hands out awards, and maintains a comics library.

Joonas, Peeter, and Markus at the Comics Center cafe

Unknown cartoonist, Mari Ahokoivu, Johanna Rojola in the lounge area of the Comics Center

The Comics Center workshop area

The tail end of the reception for the Finnish Comics Annual. Yes, that's me checking my email on the couch (photo by Dan Berry)

Dane-about-town Matthias Wivel wrote up a very useful report on the Finnish scene where he attempts to answer these questions:

I have long wondered what makes Finland such a regional epicenter of inspiring experimental comics, increasingly making waves internationally these days. What, for example, makes it different from the other Scandinavian countries, in which interesting work is also being produced, but not as consistently and across as diverse an expressive field? The conditions of production are comparable if not identical, and yet Finland has maintained the lead for at least a decade-and-a-half.

Evidence that he’s right on first principles can be found in two brand-new English-language publications.

Smoke Signal/Kuti special issue flip anthology published by Desert Island in Brooklyn in collaboration with Kuti Kuti.

and the Finnish Comics Annual 2012 published by The Finnish Comics Society and Huuda Huuda.

Info about Finnish comics artists (some of them at any rate) here.

Finnish fun

Mission one: acquire Moomin gear for small children. Check! Johanna brought us to a great flea market: the real Helsinki was on display, and we found lots of great stuff.

photo collage by Dan Berry

Dan, Markus, Thierry, and I went searching for a Finnish dinner. Failing that, we arrived at an “Argentinian” steak house. And ate reindeer. Uh, last time I was in Buenos Aires, that was not on the menu. (Tasty, though!)

We then went wandering, looking for film director Aki Kaurismäki’s “secret” bar. We found it: Kafe Moskova turns out to be a part of a larger entertainment complex of some kind, and it’s not clear if it’s actually Kaurismäki’s place or is simply inspired by his films. But it was a genuinely cool joint, worth checking out.

photo collage by Dan Berry

A last Moomin thought, from the airport:

And now for my final trick:


Yes! I totally spelled that without even peeking!


5 Comments to Finland report part 3: Helsinki and studying comics in Europe

  • by Antti Vainio

    On April 15, 2011 at 11:29 am

    You we’re not ripped of in Kaurismäki bar, he designed every bit of it himself and as far as I know he’s still co-owner. So that was not an imitation of Finnish imitation of a cold war commie bloc bar. Authentic imitation. I hope I made myself clear.

  • by Jessica

    On April 15, 2011 at 11:43 am

    Awesome! It was completely cool enough to have been designed by him but their website is very unclear on the point. (and to clarify the above comment for those who didn’t follow, the theme of the bar is a cold-war-era communist bloc place, complete with iron-curtain-approved beer. Though if real bars in the communist bloc were that nice, I doubt they would have been as motivated in 1989 as they were.

  • by JussiP

    On April 22, 2011 at 12:46 pm

    That unknown cartoonist is Anni Nykänen, who draws the popular Mummo (“Grandma”) comic.

  • by Camilla BJ

    On August 5, 2013 at 9:52 am

    Hey! Interesting to read about! Just wondering, how can one use the Erasmus programme to study comics? I`m not a student at the moment, but wil lsurely enroll to get the opportunity ;)

  • by Jessica

    On August 6, 2013 at 5:32 am


    As an American, thus (unfortunately) not eligible for Erasmus programs, I have no idea how this works. But I’m sure you can just ask your local higher education office about it. I know there Erasmus students at a number of the programs I heard about.

    good luck!

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