Sunday, October 20, 2013

Munch by Steffen Kverneland

Two drunks are visiting the Munch museum in Tøyen, Oslo, the capital of Norway. They are constantly joking about everything, such as the security gates at the entrance of the museum, resembling airport security. A panel later August Strindberg is quoted saying "Everyone who visits an exposition and takes a good look at the audience, must see that some people act awkwardly in a certain way." And later "When two of these people meet they will behave horrible." That is certainly true for these two visitors, that stop at a variety of Munch's creations, arm in arm doddering through the museum, talking about how they see auras, pea heads and green beards in Munch's paintings. All the while slashing writers that wrote biographies about Munch, calling them nerds. They are Steffen Kverneland (the creator of this book) and his friend Lars Fiske, another comics creator. Kverneland would do all of it differently if he would do a graphic novel about Munch. He would only use quotes and that's it, apart from the pages that feature Fiske and himself. "Genius, let the sources speak for themselves" Fiske says, as he sips some vodka (I don't think it's water) from the flask, after which Kverneland stated that it would only take him a year at most to finish it.

One of Munch' (left) 'getting drunk with his buddies' scenes
So that was in 2005....  Now in 2013, about seven years later, Munch - the graphic novel - is fully realised and what a beauty! Just flicking through this 280 page book will have you understand that even though you know drunks always overestimate what they can achieve, this book is even an accomplishment to realise in seven years. Just look at the many different art styles and the last two pages that are full of sources Kverneland used as quotes in the book, just like he cockily said in the introduction pages. So overestimating or not he did come through.

But wait a minute! Who on earth is Edvard Munch anyway? And why should this dude have his own autobiographical  graphic novel? And should I care about him? And what if I don't even like paintings? Museums are boring! Let me address a couple of these questions you might have and start with the fact that museums are not boring! Especially not after a few drinks like Kverneland and Fiske have demonstrated in this book 8D

Well Edvard Munch is world-famous for this painting The Scream. But the eccentric Norwegian artist has many more achievements attached to his name. At the peak of the belle époque, Munch, together with a host of other revolutionary artists awoke the sleepy bourgeois that had become the owners of the art world at the time. Munch' drive really showed in his paintings that are a mixture of autobiography, symbolism, and dangerous women. He always painted what he remembered and never what he saw. Think about that for a second.... Quite a unique concept or not?

Munch' life was full of alcohol, friendships and women, which served as a great inspiration for his paintings and makes for an interesting and exciting read for us. You could say that the alcohol sometimes distorted his memory of events and that the alcohol fueled his somewhat insane, insubordinate and self-destructive personality. His controversial work was loved by many, but loathed by even many more, leading to exhibitions being cancelled even before they started.

"I don't paint what I see, but what I saw"
It's not all insanity in this book though. Kverneland did a lot of research that shows in the number of sources he used and quoted from, such as the aforementioned Strindberg, which is a true achievement in itself! Correspondence between Munch and his aunt show a different side of him than his alcohol fueled nightly escapades. I loved the artwork too. The characters are portrayed in quite a cartoony way, but that really brings these characters and their emotions to life and shows Kverneland's obvious sense of humour, or lack thereof I suppose. Munch' artwork was very diverse and so is Kverneland's. The way in which he adapts his skills to the stage where Munch's life and paintings fare are a reflection of the chameleon-like ability Kverneland has.

It is beyond me why an announcement has not been made for an English translation of this book. I've probably read close to about 80 newly published books (including some reprints) this year and this is certainly top 5!! On the Norwegian publisher's (No Comprendo Press) website it is mentioned that the rights for the English speaking parts of the world have been sold, so fingers crossed for this to become a reality sooner rather than later.

Kverneland's book seems to be following a trend over here in Europe in which graphic novel creators write biographies about a painter's life. Of course this is not the case here, because Kverneland started this seven years ago but still... This year alone, besides Munch saw the release of Herr Merz (by Kverneland's buddy Lars Fiske) and Typex' Rembrandt (published in English by SelfMadeHero). Also the third volume of Angoulême winner Pablo (Picasso) was published by Dargaud in France. Munch however is by far the most unique and thorough biography that I've read and certainly deserves that English translation. Very highly recommended.

Review based on the Dutch translation by Oog & Blik - De Bezige Bij | €34.90 | ISBN13: 9789054923848


  1. Just ordered this because the art was so striking. I love Kverneland draws his figures.

    1. Awesome! But that makes me wonder what language you decided to go for seeing that it's only in Norwegian, German and Dutch at the moment...