If you didn't have the subtitle on its front cover, you might readily assume that From the Shadows of the Northern Lights (Galago, distributed by Top Shelf) was a collection of North American alt comics. Marcus Nyblom's gloopy industrial nightmare image has more than a whiff of that old underground comix primitive Rory Hayes to it, while Sara Grenér's back shows the punkish influence of Gary Panter.
Inside, the book tackles themes and subjects not unfamiliar to devotees of American alternatives: autobiographical stories, dour animal funnies, surreal visual exercises, stories of alienation and disaffected youth. At least three pieces in the collection center on young adults going out nights for a "good time" – showing, if nothing else, that a dull party is a dull party no matter where it's being hosted.
But if Northern Lights has the over-familiar look and feel of English-language alt comics, its individual contributors bring enough energy and enthusiasm to their work to keep you reading. (Perhaps we should think of these folks as the graphic art equivalent of the Hives?)
Among the highpoints are Anneli Furmark's "A Private Place," a realistic (if your idea of realism incorporates M.K. Brown, that is) depiction of an unsuccessful artist holed up in a rustic country house; Fabian Göranson's "Monkey," which takes us into the mind of a hallucinating party chimp; Tom Karlsson's "Tell me About the Mountain," a disturbing surreal narrative centering on a grotesque pregnancy that could've come out of a Junji Ito horror manga; and Simon Gärdenfors' "Heliogabalus," which contrasts its merry art style with its real-life anti-hero's history of atrocities.
A few of the collection's artists come across as overly primitive – a common affliction in anthologies of this type – though in at least one instance, the cartoonist uses his childlike drawing style to mitigate what would otherwise be an unflinchingly harsh tale (Henrik Bromander's "The World Wager"). In general, the shorter pieces come across less intense, even when they also flirt with darker themes: Joakim Pirinen's "The Bear Family," for instance, centers on an incest joke that wouldn't have been out of place in the old Zap! Comix days.
Per editor Johannes Klenell, Galago – home to most of the artists repped in Northern Lights – debuted in Sweden over thirty years ago as an outlet for its young artists' political satire. With time, it appears, the political focus shifted to a broader more counter-cultural lens, which is what we get in this new anthology. Though I suspect much of it'll be too dated and/or regionalist to make much sense to American reader, I'd still love to see a collection of that earlier Galago work. The book's front cover, I can't help noticing, has a big ol' Volume One on it. Perhaps we can look a little further back for Volume Two?