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Munch Munch Munch

Munch back

Steffen Kverneland


Page 45 Review by Jonathan

"Munch is the perfect comic book character! Almost everything he created was autobiographical, so I can use his letters, diaries, notes, drawings, graphic works and even his paintings. He called some of his diaries 'literary journals', so they should be taken with a pinch of salt. But what the hell, it's great stuff!"
"Yeah, it'll actually be Munch on Munch! And all of the diaries are pretty much literary dramatisations."
"Will you keep the spelling mistakes or outdated language?"
"Yup, everything stays! The language will be totally uneven with lots of the sources and historical periods all jumbled together. But a quote is a quote! My contribution will be my subjective perception of Munch, and that'll mostly be determined by the visual interpretations of, and what will be included or not. It's going to be a monumental puzzle to figure out. I've read kilometres of books on Munch and there's more to come."
"It'll take years to draw everything!"
"Huh! A year at the most!"

'...Seven years later...'

Ha, I really did enjoy the prefacing six-page autobiographical introduction explaining just how Steffen Kvernland convinced himself over a very boozy lunch that it would be a great idea to do a graphic biography of Munch. Little did he suspect what he was letting himself in for! I'll say this for him, though: he stuck the course over those seven long years and ended up producing a masterpiece.

Speaking of liquid heavy repasts, Edvard Munch was undoubtedly, besides being a great artist, a true hellraiser, surrounded as he was for most of his early career by a coterie of artists and intellectuals who were, of course, all massive pissheads. So by the time he reached his mid-forties, with his most celebrated works long behind him, his lifestyle of hard drinking and love of brawling was close to tipping him over the edge, necessitating some chill-out time in rehab.

However, I love the fact that as part of his ongoing treatment his doctor advised Munch "to only socialize with good friends and avoid drinking in public." After that episode he became extremely reclusive, but still immensely prodigious, even if none of the output achieved the recognition of early paintings such as The Scream series. It was as though, to quote the final two pages of this work...

"Munch had become a monk whose life was devoted to art.
"Art was his religion."

Quite so. What is so impressive about this work is just how comprehensive it is. Yes, Munch was undoubtedly a real character, but it's delightful to read a graphic biography by someone who is a true aficionado on their subject. Not only does Kvernland have an encyclopaedic knowledge of Munch, both the man and his art, but you can tell he has a real passion for him. It's this enthusiasm, combined with a compelling art style that makes this such a pleasure to read, or indeed just look at.

The stroke of genius, though, is making Munch himself the main narrator. Mainly it's a wiser, more sanguine Munch looking back at his capricious, youthful self, but it imbues the book with a sense of truthfulness that might otherwise give way to mild disbelief at the appalling antics and emotional eruptions Munch was prone to. It allows Kvernland to walk us through Munch's careening career and louche life without passing comment, but merely act as our educated museum guide, adding in some judicious hard facts.

The art though was a revelation. I can see exactly why it took him seven years. Munch famously advocated painting not what he saw, but what he felt, and you can see Kvernland has adopted this process to a degree. The artist's early life is portrayed in really quite jocular caricature, entirely befitting Munch's absurd behaviour, with vibrant colours and dashes of cubist flourish. Also, Munch's haunted eyes occasionally minded me of a Richard Sala creation! The elder Munch, in his rare 'on camera' appearances, is portrayed much more statesmen-like in black and white, Victorian plumbago-style portraits.

Sitting alongside PABLO and VINCENT as part of Self Made Hero's Art Masters range, this exquisite picture of a most peculiar man and highly talented artist should help inform new generations that The Scream was first and foremost a series of paintings and not merely an internet meme...