From the increased cultural offering in Helsinki, the annual Helsinki Comics Festival, the 27th of its kind, is a true gem. The festival has for some years now been located conveniently in the center area, most happenings taking place at Lasipalatsinaukio and its surroundings.What’s especially great about it is the variety of comics represented: In the same tent you can find books from big and small publishers, hear major cartoonists talk and meet people who self-publish their works, have comic blogs or make miniature magazines and sell them at the festival.
The Festival offers a huge selection of events: workshops, lectures, exhibitions, interviews and so forth. One of the guests of honor was Benoît Sokal, from Belgium, the theme country for the Festival this year. Sokal is best known from his legendary comic series of Inspector Canardo (Ankardo in Finnish). Canardo is an anthropomorphic duck, who gets involved in all sorts of episodes, sometimes because of his career as a private investigator, sometimes just being at the wrong place at the wrong time.
Sokal said in his interview on September 9th that various works have influenced the character of Canardo. One can clearly see the effect of Agatha Christie's investigators and Raymond Chandler’s Philip Marlowe in him. Sokal claimed that most references have not been intentional – Canardo has become the character he is due to the fact that Sokal has read a great deal of literature. This shows in the reason why Inspector Canardo’s adventures are so enjoyable: the stories are good.
The balance between story and pictures in comics is and has been an ongoing topic of discussion in the world of comics and it also came up in the Helsinki Comics Festival. The Festival arranges an open competition for never-before-published miniature comic magazines and one thing that the judges wanted to point out for the audience and the competitors in the awards ceremony was the lack good stories in the competing material. As many who read a lot of comics, I too am very aware of this problem: being great at drawing doesn’t automatically make you a great storyteller.
But Benoît Sokal is both: his drawing skills are unsurpassed, but what’s truly great in his sometimes anarchistic series of Canardo’s adventures are the characters and the storylines. Canardo travels to distant (although imaginary) corners of the world, such as Amerzonia and is involved with crumbling governments, sinking islands and the rough steppes of Russia. The characters he meets vary from freedom fighters to autistic killers and cruel warlords. And one shouldn’t forget the legendary femme fatales in Canardo’s life! Not to mention Canardo himself who partly understands that he is a character in a detective story and thus acts accordingly. He is not a traditional hero, sometimes resembling Hugo Pratt’s Corto Maltese. Sometimes the modern times are seen as something that poorly suit traditional heroes but Canardo is an example of the adapted and changed hero – he understand that most often there are no happy endings, but he still holds on to his heart of a hero and the mind (and liver) of a good detective. The truth always comes out and the mysteries get solved, although that doesn’t necessary lead to anything special. Canardo does not represent the blue collared system nor is he the knight in shining armor.
Oh and if you missed this year’s Festival, don’t worry! Next year it will be organized 6-8th of September and the main themes will be North-American comics and children’s comics. Before that, I recommend you get to know Sarjakuvakeskus which offers a wide range of courses and exhibitions during the year. Canardo is published in Finland through Jalava and you can get the graphic novels from public libraries and major bookshops.