Comics Festival in Helsinki 2nd to 3rd September 2017



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.



Digital Stories – the New Normal in the Text Book Publishing



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.



Fear of Water



I’ve been drawing all my life and drawing comics most of my life. My stories are often born on the quirky oddities of everyday life, something funny or weird.

Fear of Water by Susan Wilander

Fear of Water came from the very uncomfortable feeling I’ve so often had swimming in the sea or a lake where the bottom is invisible. Although my reason tells me there’s nothing to worry, the monsters of the imagination create a force that seems to drag me under the surface…

Fear of Water under the surface by Susan Wilander

In Fear of Water this experience comes to a creature, who’s supposed to be at home in even the murkiest of waters. And the question really is, whether it is any safer on the dry land for him?

Fear of Water fish by Susan Wilander

This is my first Kindle e-comic. It was a pleasant surprise to create the e-comic with Kindle Comic Creator. It is easy to use and it offers plenty of options on how to build the e-comic. Fear of Water is available at Amazon.



Want to Publish Books from Finland? You’re in for a Treat!



Finnish literature is taking a big step forward in the international publishing scene. There are several new authors, who’ve signed plenty of foreign rights deals, even movie options have been sold to Hollywood. This is quite an achievement from such a small language and such a different publishing market from many other countries.

Finnish Literature and Agents by Read, Write and Publish

FILI helps foreign publishers

Behind every successful author, there’s a determined agent and publisher. But that’s not all. Besides excellent literature, the new Finnish success has benefited from the back up of the Finnish Literature Exchange (FILI), an export organization awarding grants to more than 300 different projects every year totalling in 600 000 euros. Typically these grants go to translation and publishing costs of foreign prints of Finnish books. If you’re considering to translate and publish a Finnish book, check with FILI – they might give you a grant!

Our Dear Neighbours Again!

Despite the recent surge of Finnish literature out to the world, we’re still far behind our neighbours in the west. As the Finnish literature exports was valued to appr. 2,3 million euros in 2015, the Swedish exports were in the region of 15 million euros already in the 2010. The Swedes have been rolling on the crime wave, but the Finns have found the YA fiction boom. Such authors as Salla Simukka (Snow White Trilogy) are paving the way for a new kind of northern literature.

The authors need help in telling the world about their books. Finland has long been a lonely wolf in the world filled with literary agents – there hasn’t been any. In the domestic markets Finnish authors can still send in their unsolicited manuscripts to all publishers. Traditionally foreign rights sales have been taken care of by the publishing houses, but now there are a few independent literary agents working in the field. This market is still very small as is evident from the value of the exports.

New Agents Wanted

However, potential is there. FILI arranged yesterday a seminar to plant the seeds of a new literary agent career into the minds of interested participants. While the Swedes are talking about hundreds of titles being exported every year, the Finns still move in dozens. More agents are needed to bring the market on the level it deserves.

Besides the fiction, non-fiction could prove an interesting field in this perspective. Non-fiction books are seldom translated from Finnish into other languages (while the opposite is very common). Publishers outside Finland are happy to take in good ideas for non-fiction titles, but produce them later on by themselves. This can be prevented by offering content that cannot be reproduced by anyone other than the original author.



ABC of the Perfect Article



The story of all stories, the one that will give you the Pulitzer prize? Or just make an editor buy your idea? Get the ABC of the perfect article.

ABC of the Perfect Article

A – Amazing Idea

It’s as simple as that. A perfect story begins with a perfect idea. Anything less of amazing is not acceptable. Because, if you don’t love it, why would anybody else? An amazing idea will also help you in your work. It will naturally lend the form for the story and it makes it easy to write the article. An amazing idea answers the question How? instead of What? If you can put your idea in one sentence, you’re very close to perfection – you’ve distilled the essential.

B – Bad Idea

You know the idea is not quite what it should be, but what part of it is lacking? A somewhat less perfect idea is not current, there’s no style or clear narrator in it. This often results from a freelancer trying to sell the same piece of writing to too many channels without customizing it.

The idea must resonate with the reader. And if you are a freelancer selling articles, your first reader to please is the editor of the publication you’re targeting.

C – Clarity is everything

A good story has a clear style, there’s no ambiguity of whose voice it is we’re listening to, the focus is well-defined and the article gives an answer to one main question.

Easy to say, harder to accomplish

So, how do you get this perfect, amazing idea and article? It all begins with planning. Make a list of sources to get ideas: friends, social media, sports group, small ads on a notice board – an amazing idea can come to you anywhere, but most likely somewhere else than your desk. Be active!

When you have the idea, figure out the perfect focus and scope for your article. It is possible to make an interesting story about almost anything when you choose the right angle. Think out of the box!

Plan the structure of the article before you launch for the materials. What do you need for the story? Research? Interviews? Graphics?

When you have your materials, decide which elements work best in which part of the story. Make a skeleton of your article with the subtitles. This helps you find out if you need to rearrange the elements or whether the story is not flowing, even before writing it.

Decide the beginning and the end first. Then you know what you’ll need for the middle. The beginning is often the cutting point for a reader: to continue or not to continue. Thus, the beginning must wake up your reader, make him intrigued. The beginning also tells to the reader what to expect: what is the style, genre, topic… These promises must be redeemed in the article.

If you have time, let the article rest awhile before making the final polishes. You’ll then have fresh eyes to contemplate whether you’ve accomplish what you wanted. Another option is to have a second opinion. Get someone else read the article and comment it.