Katariina Vuori & Veera Vuori: Flower Food

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Fairies eat flowers, but you can do it too! Surprisingly many common flowers are edible, and not only edible but delicious. Flower Food presents 104 edible flowers, which you can use to spice up your salads, pasta sauces and drinks. Flowers are beautiful, and so is this book. It breaths the summer and all the fragrances lingering in the garden on a sunny afternoon.

Kukkaisruokaa

Author: Katariina Vuori & Veera Vuori
Publisher: Like 2016
Category: Non-Fiction
Original language: Finnish
Rating: 5/5

People have probably eaten flowers as long as our history goes. There have been periods when they’ve been more popular and now we seem to have entered an era of flower food again. All top-notch restaurants have edible flowers on their plates, even edible moss.

Flower Food

The recipes in the book are clever, but easy to follow through and look amazing. If there is a book, that one needs to really feel in her hands, this is it. Just browsing through the pages makes you happy and longing for the next flowery meal.

Flower Food also reminded me about the importance of the visual effect in food. We don’t eat just because of the taste, but also because the food looks desirable. Flower Food gives an image of a light and joyful way of treating the taste buds – so different from some previous guidebooks on the subject.

Flower sandwiches

I’m happy reminiscing the summer days with this book, dreaming about the next summer and the delights my garden will provide me with.

Susan

Photos taken of the book pages.

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Minna Ovaskainen & Viljami Ovaskainen: Pets – the Big Pet Book

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If it was up to me, I’d have a house full of animals. And quite full it is already. That doesn’t stop me from dreaming about new pets. Pets is a beautiful and profound guidebook to drool over fantastic photos of animals and in the process learn all the ins and outs of the common household pets and even some less common ones. I was very happy to find chinchillas, iguanas, alpacas and ducks all presented in the same book along with dozens of other animals big and small.

Lemmikit - suuri lemmikki- ja kotieläinkirja

Author: Minna Ovaskainen & Viljami Ovaskainen
Publisher: readme.fi 2017
Category: Non-Fiction
Original language: Finnish
Rating: 4/5

One thing is absolutely essential in a book like this and that’s obviously the illustration. Pets handles this with flying colours. The photos are excellent, beautiful and informative. Viljami Ovaskainen has made the layout of the book and has done it perfectly. These kinds of guidebooks are often the works of large international publishing houses, translations sold all over the world. This book has been authored (and even designed) by two Finnish writers. Quite a feat and an excellent result!

The vast photo material has been collected from numerous sources and no doubt has taken at least the same amount of time as the writing process itself. Illustrations and the amount of work they require are often overlooked in a book, but they certainly shouldn’t be. This book is elegant and attractive and presents each one of the species to its best.

Minna and Viljami Ovaskainen live in the countryside in the Eastern Finland. Viljami Ovaskainen works as a freelance graphic designer and has written and designed several guidebooks on nature subjects before. This background is evident in the Pets.

Anyone who loves animals would love this book – to find necessary information or just to enjoy the photos.

Susan

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Comics Festival in Helsinki 2nd to 3rd September 2017

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Helsinki Comics Festival had moved to a new location this year in Suvilahti and despite the bit “out of city centre” place, proved very successful. There were about 11 000 visitors in the spacious halls of Suvilahti. This year’s theme was Latin America, which was present in the guest speakers and exhibitions alike.

Helsinki Comic Festival 2017
Aino Sutinen interviewed Sarah Glidden and Sole Otero at Tiivistämö at the Helsinki Comic Festival 2017. Photo: Susan Wilander.

But my main interest focused on one pre-event program high point: a presentation with comic artist agent Nicolas Grivel and a Finnish comics promoter Kirsi Kinnunen. Their event took place on 1st September and the afternoon was fully packed with valuable advice for the comic artists aspiring to conquer the whole wide world and beyond.

Nicolas Grivel told about his work as an agent. Grivel has a long experience in both the French and international markets. France is still the Place for the comic artists, as about 4000 titles are being published there annually.

Japan has a very large home market too, but it is difficult for a translated comic book to enter that market. The format in Japan is very different from what is the norm in Europe or North America. The US market has its challenges too. The number of titles published is incredibly small compared to the potential size of the market. In the US the publishing houses interested in comics can be counted with one hand, while in France there are about 40-50 publishers publishing comics regularly.

20-page sample

Nicolas Grivel urged all Finnish comic artists dreaming about the foreign markets to have a 20-page sample translation made and to go to the publishers with that in hand. He encouraged all not to shy away from Angoulême, as the French publishers are genuinely interested in finding new talents. Another option is of course to work with an agent like Grivel. He is interested in selling foreign rights for comic books that have already been published in Finnish or working with a WIP and finding the first publisher together with the artist. Nicolas Grivel is always on the look-out to find new artists, who perhaps don’t fit into their home markets (he mentioned especially some artists in Russia and China) but would do great in France or US.

Promoting Finnish Comics in France

Kirsi Kinnunen has been promoting Finnish comics in France for decades besides her own translating job (and of course translating Finnish comics in French). It all started when some Finnish artists she knew asked her to sell their work in France, knowing Kirsi had connections in the country. She began visiting Angoulême with samples of Finnish comics and she has helped several Finnish artists own their way of getting published there.

The Finnish comics scene has been built up in France from a scratch in the past 20 years and now about six new Finnish titles are being published in France annually.

Kirsi Kinnunen meets about 20 publishers every year in Angoulême, both French and international. She said she keeps presenting the Finnish comics to international publishers even though they are not very likely to publish, because no-one else is doing this promotion. Well, there’s a tip, if ever, for the new and coming Finnish comic artist agents! (Is there any?)

The Finns arrived in France on the beginning of the 21st century, which was the perfect timing, as the French publishers were just starting to look for new kind of comics and different artists to renew the market.

Find the Right Publisher

Both Nicolas Grivel and Kirsi Kinnunen stressed the importance of doing your homework before contacting a publisher. It is important to find a publisher, who is interested in your style and themes and even more important to find the right person inside a publishing house as one editor might have very different views from another editor.

WIP or a published book?

Nicolas Grivel told that it is easier to sell foreign rights of published books than get an advance to a work in progress. Despite this, both Grivel and Kinnunen told they’d be interested to work more with artists already beginning from the first steps of the creation process. Kinnunen also reminded that there is a good chance for a foreign publisher to get a publishing grant to publish a comic book in Finland – so it is possible for a Finnish artist to enter the Finnish markets from the outside too.

15% for the Agent

Nicolas Grivel told that agents usually take 10-20% commission. His fee is 15%. When considering which publishers to contact it is good to remember that a large publishing house may give you a big advance, but you’ll be just one of maybe ten books published per month and there’ll hardly be much marketing input for your book. In book stores the new books are removed within two weeks, if there’s not enough sales. A smaller publisher may pay a smaller advance, but is more inclined to market the book. Thus, it is worthwhile to reflect on which would be a better option in long term and perhaps aim at publishing both with a big publisher and a small publisher with different titles to  receive income both now and in the future.

Grivel’s advice may feel utopian for many Finnish comic artists, who are accustomed to no sales reality. Kirsi Kinnunen said that many French artists admire the Finns for their courage to make the kind of comics they wish. But this is perhaps mainly due to the non-existing Finnish comic markets. The French artist has to keep in mind the commercial point of view in a whole different way than a Finnish artist.

Out of Sight, Out of Mind

This takes us to the fact that if you wish to stay in the French market, you should publish at least every 2 to 3 years, preferably more often. This might be a problem to a Finnish artist not being able to work full time on comics due to lack of sales income.

Careful with the Contract

In Finland, a publishing contract can be just one page long. In France, it is usually 20 pages. It is normal for the publisher to reserve a right to make decisions on e.g. the cover and title and often this can be a good thing. The publisher has knowledge of the local market and knows what will sell there. But if the artist is adamant in keeping her/his right to decide on these issues, she/he should take care to make sure it is stated in the contract.

Before launching into a creative disagreement with a publisher, it is good to realize though, that an artist with a reputation of being “difficult” is not a very popular choice when it comes to buying new titles for the publisher.

The Web will Save Us

Johanna Rojola from the audience told that there are a number of Finnish comic artists now making a living with web comics. This is a new and coming option that would deserve more attention also at the Helsinki Comic Festival. Some Finnish web comics can be found at NetSarli.

Susan

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Digital Stories – the New Normal in the Text Book Publishing

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Today’s children are called diginatives for a good reason. However, it’s taken some time for the text book publishers and schools alike to jump on the wagon. The Finnish Illustration Association organized a seminar on 8th September, the International Literacy Day, to tackle the subject of digital stories and what they mean to the illustrators.

AR in a children’s book

A Bear Called Mur is a children’s book by Kaisa Happonen and Anne Vasko, both seasoned professionals in childrens’ culture. Kaisa Happonen told in the seminar about the creation process of this book and how her background in the most popular Finnish childrens’ program Pikku Kakkonen helped in making this new kind of illustrated book a reality.

A Bear Called Mur is originally a traditional illustrated childrens’ book, but it was relaunched as an augmented reality project after an application was created, with which it is possible for the child to step in to the world of Mur.

Kaisa Happonen stressed in her presentation the importance of testing, when building up an application. A digital interactive narrative requires new style of script writing (mind map) and it is almost impossible for the creator to anticipate all the different ways a user may react to the story without prior testing. This is especially important when creating narratives for children, as an adult creator is too distanced from the patterns of thought that steer childrens’ interests and actions. There is also a very real danger of falling in love with one’s own ideas, even though they might not receive any interest in the potential audience.

Kaisa Happonen told she’d been greatly influenced by Stuart Brown’s writing in the Play: How it Shapes the Brain, Opens Imagination.

Fast and Furious

Text book publishing is an industry pressed by deadlines. Maria Kiiso from Sanoma Pro told about the creation of the new English language text book series Go for it! There is a huge team working with each book series, starting from the teachers, who plan the contents, to the native speaker actors, who create the audios and everything in between from graphic design to marketing. Illustrators are important pieces in this puzzle, as text books include numerous illustrations.

Go for it! first part of the series was created in five months with some 10 – 15 illustrations per month. This kind of pace requires economic working methods from the illustrator and a possibility to concentrate full time to one project – not self-evident in the Finnish freelancer dominated illustrator scene.

Go for it! brings the AR world to the text books by enabling the elementary school students to e.g. watch videos connected to the book series by pointing their mobile phones to certain pictures in the book. Sanoma Pro has created its own AR application Arttu for this end.

It is interesting to see how long it takes – if it ever makes it before some new technology emerges – before the AR books hit the desks in the majority of the schools. Experience form my childrens’ schools tell that text books are reused for years. My daughter just recently wondered why her physics book talks about incandescent lamps, although they have not been used for quite some time anymore. Well, a quick look confirmed the book was published ten years ago…

From Street Art to Rovio

The last presenter of the day was Ossi Pirkonen, a multitalented illustrator, whose credits include street art projects, logos, character design and collaboration with Rovio, ice hockey emojis, cd covers aso. He told about his experiences on working on the illustrations for the text book series Vaikuttaja (Influencer, a history and social studies series). His illustration style in this book series is very relaxed and conceptual and had received good feed back as being modern.

An anecdote about the creation of the MC for the illustrations was a good reminder of how difficult it is sometimes for the illustrator to see beyond his own work. Ossi Pirkonen had created a dozen different suggestions for the main character with little response from the publisher, until he finally presented the one suggestion he didn’t think he’d even show to them. In the end, this MC was selected and afterwards it is evident that it was the best choice.

Susan

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Niccolo Machiavelli: The Prince

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There are probably not too many people, at least under the influence of the Western culture, who wouldn’t have heard of Machiavelli or Machiavellianism. The latter has come to signify unscrupulous politicians just as Niccolo Machiavelli describes them in his book the Prince. He is often criticized of endorsing immoral behaviour, and even of teaching tyrants how to remain in power. It is possible that tyrants may learn lessons from the Prince, but I wouldn’t say Machiavelli endorses excessive cruelty in his book.

Niccolo Machiavelli: the Prince

Author: Niccolo Machiavelli
Publisher: WSOY 1997
Category: Non-Fiction
Original language: Italian
Rating: 4/5

Helmet Reading Challenge 2017, number 34: A book about the times when you were not born yet.

Niccolo Machiavelli wrote the Prince for Lorenzo de’ Medici and in fact it is an incredibly long job application and cv put together, because Machiavelli hoped that de’ Medici could provide him with a job. It certainly wasn’t easy to find a good position in the 16th century, if anything can be concluded from the effort Niccolo Machiavelli was putting in.

The Prince is essentially a guidebook for any leader, who wishes to conquer a country, remain in power and make his reign succeed. Machiavelli doesn’t go around bushes as he explains how to behave and conduct oneself or what kind of deals to make to reach one’s goals. As he walks the reader through the successes and failures, good practices and pitfalls of being a result oriented prince, he may appear unscrupulous. But he doesn’t suggest immoral politics or actions per se. I see it more like a perfectly tailored job application.

Machiavelli urges the Prince to select the best possible employees – smart and loyal – and to encourage trade, entrepreneurship and improvements in his country. He tells the Prince how to secure his position in the lead. Quite understandable in his time, when Italy was the stage of constant warfare between different city states and Rome, led by the pope,  and trying to bring large parts of Italy under his possession. Every prince was no doubt mostly concerned of the secret of remaining in power.

Machiavelli’s the Prince is fascinating reading, because it brings alive a time so far back in the history. Although many things have changed since then, it is uncanny how some things seem to never change. Machiavelli describes e.g. how for the Turkish sultan, it is imperial to remain in good terms with the army, because the safety and power of Turkey is in the hands of the army. Machiavelli also tells that the situation is similar in Egypt, except that there the leader is selected by election.

Susan

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