Dunce by Jens K Styve
At times like these we need to be transported. Somewhere far away maybe, somewhere exotic. I have to say that the Norwegian city of Tromsø in the Arctic Circle might not be the first place to spring to mind. But with the Northern Lights dancing in the sky around the snow engulfed mountains it seems like a perfect place to go. Distant. Isolated.
But not empty, certainly not. Up here, beyond the wall there is a cartoonist with a dunce’s cap. I imagine Jens K Styve does not feel very exotic though. His work deals with the daily experiences of the dunce as he negotiates family and work life.
The Dunce cartoon was created for a daily newspaper in Norway and has run ever since. The strips are very relatable and often very funny. OK maybe I don’t have much experience of digging a cabin out of the snow, but parent-teacher meetings, mobile phone addiction and grumpy workmates I can certainly relate to.
As the strip develops so too do the personalities of the characters within become more distinct. Some appear as fish or birds. This leads to some great jokes when a cat comes on to the scene. Like the best of Peanuts or Calvin and Hobbes, the characters in Dunce are not saccharine and come with very little in the way of moral lessons. Rather the strip revels in the ridiculousness of daily life. Self-awareness of our own flaws and those of others is central to the humour in Dunce. At the same time it tells a warm and human story.
The art style of Dunce has a dynamic cartoon energy but with a soft and fluid line. Colours are more muted and pastel shaded. Stylistically Dunce reminded me of the work of James Kochalka who also successfully blended an energetic cartoon style with a diary-style telling of everyday life.
For this review I read five volumes of the compiled Dunce strip, which made for a very pleasant way to spend an afternoon. I really did lose myself in the books and felt a small pang of sadness when I came to the end. I will certainly be looking for more tales of everyday life in the arctic circle. I think we could all benefit from a daily dose of Dunce right now.