Helsinki Comics Festival

Just back from Helsinki and a very magical festival. Very well organized, great volunteers, just the right size to be intimate yet lots going on. We were spoiled rotten really. Every night an event in town was planned for the whole cast and crew. Joe Ollmann has already beaten me to the blog posting about how great it was to meet up again with old friends: Howard Chackowicz, Philippe Girard, and of course Joe. North America was the featured “country” at the festival this year and we had a long table of Canadian cartoonists, Go Team Canada! So I got to make new Canadian friends: John Martz, Michael Deforge, and Julie Delporte. But also part of our bumbling around Helsinki crew were honorary Canadians Lilli Carré (she even has the French name) and her husband Alexander Stewart. So great to talk to Americans Bill Kartalopoulos and Matt Madden at length as well. I met my boys Joe and Howard at the airport and we got lost trying to find the festival. It was two tents set up in Lasipalatsi Square, in the commercial district, but surrounded by cafes, bars, shopping, and the train station. The hotels were also close and like ATMs, just punch in your number, no key, and like little boxes. Welcome to Europe.

So after saying Hi to everyone we got down to selling. I had a Swedish contingent on my right, Lilli on my left, and Nobrow from the UK behind me. There were of course lots of Finnish publishers but also German, Polish, Latvian, Russian, Spanish, Italian, the list goes on. Truly an international festival. And one great thing was everyone in Finland speaks perfect English! And I mean perfect, and I mean everyone. So sales were really very good. 


Here is everyone saying hello to each other.

phil signsjoe and matt

Matt Madden and Joe Ollmann meet at the Conundrum table. We love bringing folks together.


Here’s Lilli meeting Howard. Turns out she is a big fan of the CBC show Wiretap which Howard contributes to. See what I mean about her Canadian status?


Austrian Ulli Lust was there signing her book which is just out in Finnish. Turns out there is a Finnish version of almost everything you can think of. And of course this…


Moomin! But also this:

strange mag

And here is the Huuda Hudda table led by Tommi Musturi (in green). This is definately my favourite Finnish publisher.


That night the festival hosted a Comic Battle in the Dubrovnic bar. Team Canada (Julie and Michael) took on Team Finland. But first there was a improv band playing while a Finnish catoonist drew.

dubrovnik band

Then it was on! The two teams went head to head while a huge dude dressed as a wrestler shouted in many languages. 

comicbattledubrovnik all battledubrovnikmichael

In the end Team Canada did us proud. Victory never tasted so sweet.

Saturday was packed. The highlight for me was meeting one of my heros and a guest of the fest, Joost Swarte. Saw his panel but also chatted briefly. He bought Nog a Dod and So I’ve Been Told. Here he is checking out Deforge’s comics.

gang at mBar

There was a terrace next door so caught these folks lounging when they should have been selling! Joe, Phil, Julie, Matt, Michael.

lilli bill

Here’s Lilli’s talk moderated by Bill. And here is Lilli and Joe signing…

joe and lilli

Alexander Stewart organized an animation presentation in the “Black Box” and Lilli had art up. 


One of the festival organizers Maura Manninen with her manga.


And here is the Kus crew from Latvia. Good people.


Matt did a presentation on Oubapo and had audience participation. Here he is taking phone grabs of what was produced to get it on screen. That’s thinking on your feet.

matt madden
david b

David B signs. The line up for Patrick McDonnell was huge.

line for mutts

At some point in the day I managed to squeeze in a Conundrum presentation which was full. The history of Conundrum in 30 slides in 30 minutes. That evening we were taxied to another part of town to the Helsinki Comics Centre. Very impressive place, made more impressive by the free food and booze and the Joost Swarte exhibition. Did I just go to Small Press Heaven?

comic centre
comic centre library

Here’s Phil with the Russian contingent. Notice the Swarte prints.

comic centrephilcomic centre phil russians

Here’s the man himself and an amazing mural.

comic centre mural
comic centre jooste

After a harrowing bus ride the Canadian contingent ended up at a Russian vodka bar where we proceeded to desecrate the tablecloth. These guys never stop drawing. Deforge would even draw in his sketchbook as he walked down the street!

moskovadeforgemoscowfinalmoscow lillimoscow fullmoscow drawing

And here is Joe’s take on the evening. So true…

moskow joesketch

And later…

fuk u

The Sunday was more casual but still surprisingly full right until the end. The Canadian Comics Now panel happened. Bill did an amazing job as moderator. I guess he should be considered an honorary Canadian too. 

canadian comics panel

Left to right: Philippe Girard, Howard Chackowicz, Julie Delporte, Bill Kartalopoulos, Joe Ollmann, Michael Deforge, and John Martz. After the panel books flew off the table.


Then we went as a group to make sure we caught the Canadian exhibition of art at Gallery Nunes.

exhibitextdeforge exhibitexhibitphilexhibitjoeexhibit

There was also an original Seth breakdown from George Sprott.


Later that night we walked the design district and ate traditional Finnish herring. The festival ended for us at a country and western bar drinking Jalloviina. Kiitos Helsinki!


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