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Portrait of a writer

Jakob Martin Strid

By Marianne Eskebæk Larsen, 2007

Jakob Martin Strid began his career as a cartoonist with the newspaper Socialist Weekend, but had his breakthrough with the general public with a daily strip entitled “Strid” in the Copenhagen daily, Politiken. The strip’s main character’s diminutive body and large head with spiky hair is a cartoon version of himself. His satirical talent quickly won Strid a position as a controversial cartoonist, as influential cultural personalities, commentators and politicians were subjected to crooked cucumbers and Star Wars analogies. Despite its left-wing sympathies, the satirical strip spared neither the self-image of cultural radicals nor the Autonom music culture. The consciously child-like political satire has its adversary in the form of anarchistically charming Strid clones, the artist’s alter-egos in miniature, and the adventurous excursions on the back of a lion over the desert with a nod to Narnia and The Never-ending Story. All of it drawn with a naivistic stroke which is reminiscent of the Danish cartoonist Claus Deleuran. Strid found himself in political turmoil when the Strid figure held a defense speech for the German terrorist group Rote Armee Fraktion. Despite the fact that it is clear the figure is both a mouthpiece and a self-caricature, the public debate dragged the author unequivocally to account for the fiction.

The anti-authoritarian, humorous, and poetic blend continued in Strid’s children’s books, though in a form that was less harsh. There the political satire was transformed to an anarchistic, humorous tale with great sympathy for the foreigner and the outsider. The picture book Mustafa’s Kiosk (1999) was Strid’s breakthrough as an author of children’s books, and the crazy fabulist rhymes about Autonom socks and the joy of sliding in snot can be seen as a belief in the revolutionary potential of children. Less radical but still rhymed is My Grandmother’s False Teeth (2006). The brush stroke here has become rounder and the children have large, cute eyes, in contrast to the adults in Mustafa’s Kiosk who have gigantic noses and smiles that nearly split their faces. Both books have an untraditional format, the one long, the other broad, but they also distinguish themselves from the masses in their content. Many have compared the books to the rhymed classic Halfdan’s ABC (1967) by Halfdan Rasmussen and Ib Spang Olsen, which is especially due to several of the poems’ nonsense style. The mooring to the real world is cut loose as in the rhyme about the fish factory in which fish are made of fish meal and yeast and the fishermen teach fish to swim before they are let out into the waters of Kattegat (Mustafa’s Kiosk).

With the picture book Little Frog (2005), Jakob Martin Strid won a picture book competition sponsored by the largest Danish publishing house, Gyldendal. The book is about a rebellious frog who causes many accidents, but finally wins his place in the family and ends as a recognized artist. A tribute to the bad child in the tradition of Pippi and Emil, but perhaps also – for the adult reader – an allegory about the culture industry’s ability to adopt every avant-garde trend. At the same time, Strid’s stories are not without a moral, as in the mad stories of The Bald Man (2002) where a military build-up and materialism are undone by, respectively, a large bear and an overgrown spot as ever more subtle socialization of the child reader takes place. In Journey to the Earth (1999), we read about the space creature Flop, who lands on the earth and has many unfortunate experiences. The concluding lines of verse are: “Let us hope that the next one who shows up/Is treated better than poor Flop.” The story’s theme is taken from the immigration debate and expresses, as the quote shows, the hope of greater tolerance. Not without irony since Flop looks like a potato, our national vegetable.

The poetic thoughtfulness found in Strid’s books is often rooted in the illustrations with their visual side stories and quiet humor, as in the picture story Dimitri 9mm (2001). The reader is invited to marvel at the world and its variations, and very characteristically for Strid, magic arises from the concrete, for example in the rhyme about the garbage at the bottom of the ocean, where the Sea King’s daughter sets up silver dragons, sewn together out of ocean foam and moonlight thread (Mustafa’s Kiosk). Magic is never far away. It is that side of his talent that is cultivated in Strid’s latest comic strip series Decimal 0.4 (2007) where we follow Strid’s alter ego through changing landscapes on a kind of dream voyage. The book has been called by the critic Lars Bukdahl a Claus Deleuranian Little Nemo (the comic series classic of the same title by Winsor McCay). Whether the reader is looking for Nemo or rebellious frogs, Jakob Martin Strid blends gross provocations with mad humor and gentle poetry – with no problem.

Translated by Thomas E. Kennedy

 
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