This week's installment of Weekend Reading is going international, with a look at four books from Top Shelf Productions' "Swedish Invasion" line.
Launched just last month, the four books were originally published in Sweden but now arrive here in the U.S. fully translated and featuring an eclectic mix of stories by creators who might not be well-known commodities here, but have earned a big following in their homeland and the surrounding regions.
From a rapper's quest to sleep, smoke and crash his way across the country to a trippy adventure with naked, hairy forest-dwellers, the Swedish Invasion has begun.
"120 Days Of Simon" by Simon Gardenfors (w/a), Top Shelf: My favorite of the four books, "120 Days of Simon" is the autobiographical tale of a popular Swedish hip-hop musician's journey across the country at the whim of his fans. He opens up his website to anyone willing to provide him with a meal and a place to sleep, and causes no small amount of controversy as he indulges in all manner of sex, drugs, and questionable decisions throughout the 120-day experiment.
It's easy to see why Gardenfors' adventure earned him a death threat and cost him a few friendships, as the wildly entertaining story doesn't shy away from recounting some of his more illicit experiences. The simple art of the comic is a perfect fit for the story, taking the edge off some stories and making the whole thing seem more like a crazy adventure and less like a confessional.
"120 Days of Simon" is a clever use of the medium and easily my favorite of the Swedish Invasion bunch.
"Hey Princess" by Mats Jonsson (w/a) - Top Shelf: Jonsson's autobiographical "Hey Princess" is one of those stories that could just as easily play out in the U.S., featuring the author's account of growing up, moving to the big city, and struggling to find success, love and his own indie niche in the world. Peppered with references to comics, music and movies both unique to Sweden and popular abroad (including a particularly funny experience with an MTV reality show), Jonsson's book is accessible enough for U.S. readers to wrap their heads around, but also provides a great introduction to some projects I was less familiar with and was prompted to track down.
Both in narrative tone and art, "Hey Princess" reminded me a lot of Jeffrey Brown's autobiographical comics, as the author is just as keen on depicting his most awkward moments and terrible mistakes as he is the personal victories. It's a great coming-of-age story that should resonate with any indie-minded readers familiar with mid-'90s culture.
"The Troll King" by Kolbeinn Karlsson (w/a), Top Shelf: While the other three books in Top Shelf's "Swedish Invasion" line are set in a real-world environment, Karlsson's "Troll King" is a surreal, fictional faerie tale about magical forest creatures and their hairy, naked, psychedelic adventures.
To be honest, I'm really at a loss to describe "Troll King." All I can come up with is the list of descriptors I've already mentioned, as well as whatever terms are most apt to describe a scene in which the aforementioned creatures painfully poop out a pair of babies. There's also a large carrot with genitals.
It's not that "Troll King" is a bad book — it's just clearly not for me. I don't really understand what happened in the story, but I'd be lying if I said I wasn't hypnotized by the images on each page. If anything in the above synopsis appeals to you, I'm pretty sure you'll enjoy the heck out of "Troll King" — and then maybe you can explain it to me, too.
"Second Thoughts" by Niklas Asker (w/a), Top Shelf: The shortest of the four books, "Second Thoughts" explores the ripple effect of a chance encounter in an airport, and how the two individuals lives' spin out of the moment, and then back into it. Asker's detailed art gives te story an intense, dramatic feel, and he makes clever use of the narrative's timeline to connect the characters' lives.
"Second Thoughts" isn't a coming-of-age story or a crazy adventure, it's just a very real snapshot of two people's lives, with a beginning, an end, and an interesting story between the two that stands on its own.
All four "Swedish Invasion" books are available now from Top Shelf. Let us know what you think of these books or suggest others in the comment section or on Twitter!