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CULTURE

Library brings Nordic comics to the world

With a collection of over 9000 volumes, Stockholm's Serieteket is a unusual example of cultural innovation in Scandinavia: it is a library dedicated exclusively to the world's graphic novels, comic books and Nordic comic book creators.

In 2004, over 130,000 visitors visited Serieteket, which is located in Stockholm’s multi-faceted Kulturhuset, a building that houses a theater, several exhibition spaces, a children’s library, and an impressive youth center called Lava among other things. In the center of Serieteket’s large, airy space, librarians sit behind a lighted, neon-green console. It could easily fit onto the brig of a modern Starship Enterprise.

“Many foreign visitors mistake the library for a bookstore and want to buy the comics,” smiles Kristiina Kolehmainen, head of Serieteket, “but all they need is a library card.”

Originally founded as a project in 1996 to keep budding Swedish comic book artists off the street and off unemployment rolls, Serieteket has grown into a cultural institution with funding from the Stockholm municipal government, the Nordic book fund and other government entities. It embodies the values of citizen advocacy and influence in public spheres, but is just as importantly, the brainchild of Kristiina Kolehmainen.

Serieteket simply incorporates pop culture into public institutions, and redefines what a library can be.

Musing over the origins, Kristiina Kolehmainen, a fiery redhead, says, “Looking back to 1995, I didn’t like the idea that libraries were just something closed. No, libraries are for users.”

Reflecting that sentiment, Serieteket has traditionally provided a venue for exhibitions, seminars and comic book workshops. However, a new focus is underway: enter the Serieteket going international and debuting on the Internet.

“We’re working on this portal Nordicomics.net,” a mammoth project, which is being roughly based on Powells website, a famous alternative bookstore based in Portland, Oregon. The portal will become the site where anything and everything to do with comics appears first. It is an attempt to showcase the respective Nordic library systems’ comic book collections, and make them accessible to the public at large.

Additionally, Kolehmainen says “we have started a competition for the best Nordic fanzine, which took place for the first time this year as part of our comic festival.” From quite humble beginnings, Serieteket is helping to bring Scandinavian comic book artists to the world, and is hoping to bring the world to Stockholm.

Musing on what makes Swedish, Finnish, Danish, Norwegian and Icelandic comics uniquely Nordic, Kolehmainen takes Ulf Lundkvist’s Assar, a walking sausage, as an example.

“His storytelling is very Nordic, it’s ironic, but at the same time self-deprecating. He’s able to work in Swedish political events in his work, yet Assar remains THE dork of dorks… with very low self-esteem. I think that is quite Nordic.”

Joakim Pirinen, whose intense, graphic style characterizes his work, fits into this “Nordic” category as well whereas the younger generation of comic artists, such as Martin Kellerman, the creator of Rocky, appears to be more influenced by American comics. Still, regional differences do exist: Norway has a long tradition of newspaper strip comics and Danish and Finnish comics are very much in tune with international trends.

Always setting her standards high, Kolehmainen would “really like to see the portal become a success and see the festival become the biggest comic event (in Europe) with the best guests of all the Nordic and European festivals here at Kulturhuset.” Serieteket has already hosted an impressive number of internationally and regionally well-known comic book creators.

These include Joe Sacco, known for his ground-breaking comic journalism in Palestine, Safe Area Gorzazde and even published in the latest Granta issue; many of the Nordic countries artists such as Pirinen, Kellerman, Lundkvist and others, and just recently, Gilbert Shelton of Furry Freak Brother’s Fame.

“I don’t see our festival becoming like France’s Angouleme but rather by focusing on the fanzines and alternative things all the time, that will ensure our festival does not become a mainstream one” says Kristiina Kolehmainen. If Serieteket’s diverse and varied collection reveals anything, it is pretty safe to say Serieteket’s festival will be anything but mainstream.

Howard Suhr Perez

This is the first in a series of features on Nordic comics by Howard Suhr Perez

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CULTURE

‘Don’t wear bright colours’: Eight tips on how to dress like a Swede

Swedes have an international reputation for dressing well, with Scandi style a popular trend outside Sweden. The Local asked Swedes and foreigners living in Sweden to try and figure out the best tips and tricks for how to dress like a Swede.

'Don't wear bright colours': Eight tips on how to dress like a Swede

Black is best

When asking several Swedes their top-tips on how to dress like a Swede, many agreed – wear black.

Young professional Tove advises to keep it “all black, minimalist”. Uppsala newspaper columnist Moa agrees: “Wear a lot of black clothes and DON’T wear sneakers or ‘comfortable’ shoes, like running shoes, with dresses.”

Black is a neutral colour and, in general, if you get the neutral colours right you have got a long way in following the Swedish style. 

Neutral colours and a lot of knitwear is a good starting point. Photo: FilippaK/imagebank.sweden.se

Stay neutral 

Sweden might be saying goodbye to hundreds of years of neutrality by joining Nato, but Swedish fashion maintains its strong neutral stance when it comes to colour combinations.

Generally speaking, in autumn and winter Swedes tend to wear darker colours, as Sharon put it: “lots of beige, grey, black and ivory knits or wool. Jeans black or any shade of blue. Black tights with white sneakers for skirts and dresses”.

“Swedes in general will wear black and navy together which I’ve not seen before,” she added.

However, as the weather gets warmer, things change, as half-British half-Swedish Erik explained: “in summer/late spring Swedes change shape and personality,” adding a bit more colour to their wardrobe.

“Lots of colours yet still somewhat monochrome,” he said.

Most Swedes don’t wear a tie at work. Photo: Fredrik Sandberg/TT

Follow the news trend, drop the tie

Nils, a reporter and presenter for public broadcaster SVT in western Sweden, does not always wear a tie in front of the camera – and he said his colleagues on national news don’t wear ties either.

“It’s not a must,” he said.

A blue shirt, no tie, top button open, beige chinos and a grey dinner jacket is the look he chose when presenting the evening news a few weeks ago.

Nils Arnell presenting the news on SVT Nyheter Väst. Photo: Nils Arnell/SVT

On a day to day basis Nils, who stressed that he’s “not a fashion expert”, gave the following advice: “As long as you manage to dress in a neat style, you can get away with quite a lot.”

“A white t-shirt and an overshirt work well in most situations and look stylish.”

Stay classy, even in class

Engineering student Erik (not the same Erik quoted previously) recently returned to Sweden from a one-year exchange at Birmingham University, where he noticed a big difference in student style between the two countries.

“The first thing that comes to mind is that on university campus there are so many people wearing work-out clothes, at least where I was”, he said.

“In Sweden, it’s more common to wear jeans than tracksuit bottoms, compared to the UK”. 

It’s also common to see a difference in styles even between departments at Swedish universities. The law and economics departments, for example, tend to wear more formal attire with a higher number of students wearing shirts and polos than, say, social sciences or engineering students.

Many students seem to wear a toned-down version of what they might be expected to wear in their future workplace.

When in doubt, think Jantelagen!

Equality and conformity are important concepts when it comes to many aspects of day-to-day life in Sweden, including the clothes you wear.

This doesn’t mean you have to do exactly the same as everyone else, but more that being too flashy or over-the-top can be frowned upon.

This can be traced back to Jantelagen, “the law of Jante”, a set of 10 rules taken from a satirical novel written by Danish author Aksel Sandemose in the 1930s, which spells out the unwritten cultural codes that have long defined Scandinavia.

Jantelagen discourages individual success and sets average as the goal. It manifests itself in Swedish culture not only with a ‘we are all equal’ ethos but even more so a ‘don’t think you are better than anyone, ever’ mindset.

And this is seen in Swedes’ attitude to clothing, too. Flashy, expensive clothing with obvious logos or brands designed to show off your wealth breaks the first rule of Jantelagen: “You’re not to think you are anything special”.

‘Stealth wealth’

This doesn’t mean that Swedes don’t wear expensive clothes, though. They’re just not in-your-face expensive.

Felix, a podcaster from Stockholm describes it as “stealth wealth”, saying that Swedes would have no problem buying and wearing “a black jacket without any tags for 10,000kr”. 

Despite living in Sweden his whole life, he said that it’s not always easy to get the style right.

“I’m struggling myself,” he admitted.

He suggested taking a look at fashion blogger and journalist Martin Hansson for inspiration on how to dress. 

“Do NOT use bright colours,” Felix added.

Birkenstocks with socks. Photo: Carl-Olof Zimmerman/TT

Footwear

Most of those we asked said that Swedes are a fan of white trainers, most commonly Stan Smiths or Vagabonds.

With the shoes being popular all year round for men and women, this can cause issues at house parties – as Swedes take off their shoes when they come inside.

This inevitably results in confused guests at the end of the night trying to figure out just which pair of white trainers belongs to them – and trying to find one missing shoe the next day because someone accidentally walked away with one of yours is more common than you might think. 

Vans trainers are also popular amongst more alternative crowds (black of course). At work, dress shoes are popular in the winter and loafers or ballerinas in the summer.

In the summer months, you’re likely to see Birkenstock sandals on men and women. Most Swedes wear Birkenstocks without socks – unless they’re off to do their laundry in their building’s tvättstuga.

Birkenstocks are also popular as indoor shoes all-year-round, both at home and at work. It is common to have a “no outdoor shoes” policy in gyms, schools and some offices. This is to avoid bringing a lot of dirt indoors, especially in the winter months when there is snow, rain, grit and salt on the streets.

H&M’s then-CEO Rolf Eriksen wears colourful socks at a press conference in 2006. Photo: Björn Larsson Ask/SvD/SCANPIX/TT

Don’t forget the socks!

As you often take your shoes off indoors in Sweden, your socks are visible.

This has led to an unexpected trend for colourful socks with interesting patterns, which are a great way to break the monotone of neutral colours and conformity by expressing your personality – in a lagom way, of course.

A pair of colourful socks or a playful pattern will get you noticed and likely be a conversation starter at a dinner party.

What’s your best advice for dressing like a Swede? Let us know!

This article is based on the responses we received from Swedes and foreigners in Sweden on what they think you should wear if you want to follow Swedish fashion trends.

If you have any tips of your own which you think we’ve left out, let us know! You can comment on this article, send us an email at [email protected], or get in touch with us on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram: @thelocalsweden

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