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Frantic as a cardiograph scratching out the lines, Day 278: Suuri Kurpitsa #20

Every day this year, I will be examining the first pages of random comics. This month (for a while) I will be showing pages chosen by you, the readers. Today’s page is from Suuri Kurpitsa #20, which was published in 1988. This page was suggested by AS, who comments here on the blog quite often. Enjoy!

That language can't be real, can it?

Years ago in my college days, I took a class on the development of English. I became fascinated by language and while I haven’t studied linguistics too closely, I remain fascinated by languages. So I’m naturally fascinated by Finnish, which is one of the few languages spoken in Europe that isn’t part of the Indo-European language group. I know Basque, Hungarian, and Estonian (the latter two are related to Finnish) are three others, and I’m sure someone can tell me others. Indo-European variations are interesting enough, but when you add other language groups into it, it just becomes amazing to think about. But that won’t help us with this page!

AS, who’s Finnish, sent me this first page, which looks nothing like the Katzenjammer Kids that I remember. I’m really curious about the back story behind this strip, because I wonder exactly what’s going on, not on the page, but with the publication of this in the first place. Anyway, this is written by Pauli Kallio and drawn by Sami Toivonen, so that’s that. Let’s consider it, shall we, keeping in mind I have no idea what is being said on the page.

So it seems obvious that in Panel 1, the kid on the left is coming up to hang out with his friends. The one on the right, leading us toward the next panel, seems awfully smug, doesn’t he? He’s carrying a rock, too, so he can’t be up to any good. The boys hurl rocks at the power lines, as boys do, and then in Panel 3 they come upon a clearing in the woods where there’s … some kind of hole? In Panel 4, we see that it’s a well of some sort, and there’s a cat standing next to it watching our three friends. Panel 5 is where knowing the language might help. The boy says something to the other one, but you’ll notice that the two boys without striped shirts on look very similar, so I’m not entirely sure if the boy speaking is the dude in Panel 1 who appears to be the leader or if it’s the follower who ran up in Panel 1. It seems like it ought to be the ringleader, but I’m not completely sure. Then, it appears that the other boy – maybe? – picks up the cat and chucks it in the well. Because both boys are wearing similar clothing and have similar hair cuts and because Toivonen isn’t the most detailed artist, it’s tough to tell. The boy’s hair in Panel 6 looks like the style of the boy who’s running up in Panel 1, but it seems like he wouldn’t do that on his own. Notice in Panel 5, he’s looking down, possibly at the well or possibly at the cat. This is why not knowing what’s being said in Panels 5-7 is frustrating. I’m not going to BabelFish this sucker, because it’s more fun to try to decipher it without knowing, but because the two kids look very much alike, I’m honestly not sure. Obviously, the boy with the striped shirt does not take kindly to the cat getting chucked down the well, but whom does he attack and hurl down himself? It appears to be the boy in the center, the ringleader, but if that kid’s the ringleader, why would the boy with the striped shirt rebel so easily? And because it seems like the “ringleader” didn’t throw the cat down the well but the other boy did, why does the boy with the striped shirt chuck the “ringleader” into the well? So perhaps the kid in the first panel, who looks all smug and confident, isn’t the ringleader. I’m still unsure about who throws the cat in and whom the striped boy chucks into the well. I assume knowing Finnish would help in that regard. It’s not too hard to figure out what happens, of course, and if Kallio doesn’t identify the boys, then it’s on Toivonen to distinguish the two boys who look alike. I imagine the hand reaching for the rock is the other boy, about to take his revenge against Striped-Shirt Kid. Things do not look like they’re going to end well.

It’s interesting how easily it is to read a comics page in a different language, because visually, the tricks are the same. The reason I can’t figure this page out completely is not, I don’t think, because I don’t know Finnish, it’s because Toivonen makes two of the three characters look too similar. Obviously, this is a problem for even the more accomplished artists – if you lined up every John Byrne male character and didn’t let anyone look at their hair color, you’d be hard-pressed to tell them apart – but when you don’t understand the language, that becomes a sticking point. It’s an interesting exercise for comic book artists – if you look at your work without any words and people can’t tell the characters apart, perhaps you need to change something.

This was pretty keen. I hope AS stops by and gives us the translation so I can ease my worried mind!

Next: A comic I wish would return. I really, really do! Luckily, there are many other comics out there, as you can plainly see in the archives!

5 Comments

From other stories by the writer Pauli Kallio, we actually find out that the two blond boys are brothers.

The texts:
Panel 1: “I was ten years old or below”
Panel 2: “We were spending a regular summer day”
Panel 4: “Cat!”
Panel 5: “Let’s throw that cat in the well!”
“I didn’t say anything…”
Panel 6: “…because I didn’t think Erkki would do as he said”
Panel 7: “Or because I didn’t dare”

The last row would get a bit easier if you saw the next page too, there it becomes more clear it is a fantasy sequence, the dark boy has a rebellious and violent impulse to throw the other boy into the well, but it’s all in his head (it is curious that he is drawn a bit differently within the fantasy sequence). That’s actually a trick Kallio has used quite a lot, dedicating most of the page to the actual story but also having another strip below somehow commenting on the main feature…influence has apparently picked from older newspaper comic strips like Krazy Kat.

Suuri Kurpitsa was an anthology comic book with several contributors, edited by Pauli Kallio (and is nowadays a publishing house stylistically similar to Drawn & Quarterly), and incidentally the name translates as “The Great Pumpkin” (yes, a Peanuts reference, these classic comic strips just keep on coming up). So most of the stuff it printed was short stories, this one included.
And as I mentioned, I am not actually sure if this was the first page of that issue, but it was the first comic page of albums of short stories for both artist Sami Toivonen and writer Kallio so someone likes this as a first page…
Kallio has done a bunch of loosely autobiographical stories and the dark boy here is the writer himself (but I don’t know if this story is true or not) and the older of two blond brothers comes off as a bit of a bully.

Whatelse whatelse…I was actually fascinated by the panel grid here, it is very exact when the text boxes are drawn with rather loose hand…

Thanks, AS; that makes the last sequence even more interesting — do you know if it’s the boy in stripes (Kallio) or the smaller blond that picks up the rock? If it’s a fantasy sequence, I can see Kallio doing it to complete the revenge he wishes against the big bully.

I also can’t help but notice that it is Kallio’s rock that goes higher than even the big boy’s, knocking the top of the telephone pole. The privileges of writing your memoir, I suppose…

Nice and interesting comics you propose AS

The last 3 panels have lighter borders.. wich is a neat point to show us , we are in the stripped boy mind…

The art style reminds me of moebius.. (treatment, use of short straws for shadows, not the figures )

AS: Thanks for the translation; it was helpful! I noticed when I was researching the comic that if you “translate” the page (as is offered when you get to pages that aren’t in English) that it came out as “great pumpkin.” Occasionally those translations are really wildly off, so I wasn’t sure if that was right or not!

ollieno: Good point about the panel borders. I missed that!

Becca, the boy picking the stone is Kallio. The other boy is basically just a hanger-on in the whole story, kid brother tagging along.

ollieno, yeah, the panel grid and borders are used in interesting ways here. And I presume Toivonen had read Moebius, some of his other work seem to be picking influences from there too (he was very young artist at this point, 17 or 18 years old, and was experimenting a fair deal…)

Greg, autotranslators are tricky and there comes the problem of different language groups…e.g. Spanish to English still often provides understandable sentences but Finnish to English or vice versa is often hilariously bad.

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