We laugh the Weirdness Backwards out of the Book
By Carsten Andersen. Translated by Thomas E. Kennedy.
I am sure Oscar K would say that children ought to be taken seriously and that therefore they should have the world thrown right in their faces. Raw and undiluted reality. The Full Monty.
And that is what they get, the youngsters, and are fortunate for it.
The author’s sublime partnership with illustrator Dorte Karrebæk creates a special universe inside of which both children and adults can have the pleasure of moving around, even if the moral is not always clear on occasions when the universe closes up again because the story is over. Well, one thing is certain. They have had fun, and if they want, they can also, when they’re done reading – or along the way – exchange a few profundities about existence and its troubles. Here they are served with realities – the worst ones, with a wry smile or even a song..
Take Børnenes bedemand ('The Children’s Undertaker'), for example. Be honest about it: who has ever had the courage and imagination to write and draw their way directly into the backroom of a mortician like Mr. Joergensen who hopes every day that the phone won’t ring because that would mean he has to put another child into a coffin? An undertaker who in addition goes around singing his choir’s barbershop harmonies to the dead children as he potters about, dreaming of little Miss Ene. One day the police bring a dead street child in to him. It turns out to be a girl, Dinah. A sad fate. No one to accompany her to her burial. Until a dog suddenly leads the way through the town to three freezing children hiding under a bridge. Dinah is their big sister, and she is accompanied by her siblings on her last journey, as they hear Mr. Joergensen sing, "Dinah, is there anyone finer?" while the deceased has a smile on her lips.
One can’t help smiling, either, when Oscar K and Dorte Karrebæk collaborate on their books about De tre ('The Three') – i.e., the two literally hard dogs Carlo and Simba and the cat Gerda Røvlund. One day the two dogs pick up a cat, but their skill in taking care of the exhausted Gerda doesn’t go far. They go to work on on Gerda until they themselves are caught in the spinach. In volume II, Carlo has been bitten in half by a giant dog so Gerda has to play surgeon, operating while the blood flows. The politically incorrect high jinks continue in the next volume in which Gerda makes dinner out of the dogs’ pet, and the story ends when love-sick Carlo suddenly becomes a single father of five because the mother would rather take her chances as a beauty queen.
Is this fun? Yes, mostly. Silly? Not infrequently! But are you shocked? Not really. The craziest and most burlesque incidents are served up in a manner so that at one and the same time you glimpse both the diabolical element and the cuteness in these figures which, for all their absurdity, can seem quite human.
Another book by Oscar K and Dorte Karrebæk is Hurtige Henning historier ('Quick Henning Stories') Here both drawings and stories are served in an edible fashion for those who don’t have an appetite for stories in which the clown is allowed to run completely free. It’s a story about a white boy, Henning, and Fatima, who wears a burka. Both are super clever in school, for the principal reason that they have a bunch of siblings who can stand in for them in the subjects they themselves are not so good at. And they have more in common than just good grades. A youthful romance also bubbles up across the cultural precipice.
In Little Miss Nobody, Oscar K moves up to a class of older readers and into a new genre in which he and illustrator Rasmus Bregnhøi explore the graphic novel in a noir story about the blind Salvation Army girl Lilith and the boy Schniff who has run away from a home for boys. With a sure hand the author and illustrator send their main characters around the lowest level of society where superior forces manage to light small candles for the struggle of good against evil. Full marks to This story in which Bregnhøl’s lines are every bit as raw and black-and-white as conditions on the streets where Miss Nobody and Schniff fight their way forward.