Monday, September 5, 2016

Centrala: Ida Neverdahl & Oystein Runde

Moscow, by Ida Neverdahl & Oystein Runde. Moscow is the kind of project that's not unusual for a European publisher but is almost unheard of in the US. Some projects from certain publishers have just been to send a cartoonist to a new city for a while and write about that. In the case of this book, initially funded by government grants from Norway (and published in English by Polish publisher Centrala), two cartoonists who work in different styles and who had never met came together to create a jam comic about their experiences. The result is a pure delight, as both Neverdahl and Runde had an unusual synergy as collaborators despite their differences in style and ages. It helped that both had a sarcastic but not cruel sense of humor that was predicated on self-effacement.

Indeed, Runde opens up the book talking to a cartoonist friend who invited him on the trip to a comics festival in Moscow, after letting him know he was their third choice. Neverdahl's young age (she was just nineteen) and talent are emphasized as a running gag. Right away, the reader gets a clear understanding of just how different their styles were in terms of subject matter and visual style, yet there were surprising similarities in terms of the cruel streak of humor that permeated both of their works. There were some long excerpts of both of their works at the beginning of the book (folded into their plane ride to Russia), with Runde's comic being a gritty, dense and dark story about a warrior trying to outwit his executioners that ends with a truly grisly scene. Neverdahl's comic about her "horrible" job cuddling cute red pandas looks a bit like Julia Wertz crossed with Joey Allison Sayers, and her wit is every bit as dark as those two cartoonists.

The melancholy Neverdahl and the ebullient Runde made a great team, as he brought her out of her funk and she him someone to bounce off of. The book goes deep into Russian politics (Vladimir Putin is a constant topic of conversation), especially when the artists decide to attend a May Day demonstration that packed in Fascists, LGBT demonstrators (an especially brave act in Putin's toxically homophobic Russia), Anti-Fascists, Leftists of various stripes and old-school Stalinists into one fairly small area. While all of these groups had differences with each other, they all hated Putin even more. Runde's observations were amusing but reality-based, while Neverdahl's thoughts drifted into absurd reveries, like imagining the OMON (the Russian SWAT team, essentially) as unicorns.

There are some genuinely funny comics about the festival they attended (many of them about people falling in love with Ida and even giving her drawings they made of her) and a hilarious, extended fantasy sequence involving Putin. What's interesting about this book is just how fluid it all is. The artists had a knack of knowing when to stop and let the other "drive" for a while, and that variety made a travelogue into something special. It helped that the artists went somewhere interesting and were bold enough to try borderline-dangerous activities, but in the end it was the imagination and enthusiasm that the artists had for this project and each other's company that made this book such a fun experience. Of the books I've seen so far from Centrala, Moscow is the one that I think would go over best with American alt-comics fans.

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