Strindberg illustrated: Fabian Göranson's graphic-novel version of 'Inferno'

A survey of Strindberg-inspired graphic novels and similar works, by Ruth Urbom

August Strindberg is not merely a giant of Swedish literary history. To Swedish comic artists and illustrators, he continues to provide creative inspiration for new works that appeal to 21st-century readers.

In the 1980s Per Demervall published Röda rummet ('The Red Room'), a two-volume graphic novel based on Strindberg's classic title. Demervall and Ola Skogäng returned to the same source material in 2012 to produce Döda rummet ('The Dead Room'), set in a dystopian future Stockholm. Their Matrix-meets-Blade Runner reboot – featuring a cryogenically frozen August Strindberg – was launched on 14 May 2012 at 4.30 pm, precisely a hundred years after the author's death.

To commemorate the Strindberg centenary in 2012, a special exhibition entitled Livet är inget för amatörer ('Life is Not for Amateurs', a quote attributed to Strindberg) was unveiled at the Angoulême international comics festival in January. After its launch in France, the exhibition travelled to Germany and Sweden.

In addition to Demervall's titles, the exhibition included a wide range of works by contemporary Swedish comic artists and illustrators who presented their own interpretations of Strindberg's works and themes, from Matilda Ruta's striking paper-cut collages to Anneli Furmark's tale of a literature student who bumps into Strindberg in modern-day Stockholm and takes the author to task for all the anger he has caused her in her study of his works. A list of links to the personal websites of the artists featured in the Strindberg comics exhibition can be found below.

Bild & Bubbla, the quarterly journal of the Swedish Comics Association, produced a special issue (No. 190) featuring brief presentations of the artists included in the travelling exhibition, with English and French translations to introduce their work to international readers.

The print version of this article is followed by an extract from Fabian Göranson's take on Strindberg's Inferno, a novel which was originally written in French and published in Swedish translation in 1897. Strindberg maintained that the work was an autobiographical account of a period of inner turmoil he underwent while living in Paris and Austria, dabbling in alchemy and the occult. In this extract, Strindberg's friend Edvard, whom he refers to in the novel as a Danish painter, is a fictionalised version of the Norwegian artist Edvard Munch.

In an interview published in issue 183 of Bild & Bubbla, Göranson explained that he chose to interpret the novel as a tragicomic account of Strindberg's crisis. Göranson employs techniques familiar from comics and graphic novels to portray emotional and metaphorical aspects of the original text visually on the page.

For translators of graphic novels, the limited space available in speech bubbles and text boxes presents an additional challenge that influences the choice of wording in the translation. This challenge is not unlike that faced by translation subtitlers for film and television, where on-screen space is also limited.

Links to Strindberg-related works by Swedish comic artists

(links last checked in August 2012)

Röda rummet ('The Red Room') by Per Demervall | Per Demervall's website
Döda rummet ('The Dead Room') by Per Demervall and Ola Skogäng | Ola Skogäng's website
Inferno by Fabian Göranson, published by Kolik förlag, 2010 | Fabian Göranson's website
Odjuret ('The Beast') by Loka Kanarp | Loka Kanarp's website
Strindberg klockan fyra på natten ('Strindberg at Four in the Morning') by Matilda Ruta  | Matilda Ruta's website
Fröken August ('Miss August') by Malin Biller | Malin Biller's website
Fröken Märkvärdig & Strindgren ('Miss Remarkable & Strindgren') by Joanna Rubin Dranger | Joanna Rubin Dranger's website
Ett liv och ett liv ('A Life and a Life') by Joanna Hellgren | Joanna Hellgren's website
Strindberg för dig som har bråttom ('Strindberg for people in a hurry') by Henrik Lange, published by Kartago, 2012 | Henrik Lange's agent
Kejsarinnan Juno Bonaparte – Kerstin Strindberg ('Empress Juno Bonaparte – Kerstin Strindberg') by Kolbeinn Karlsson | Kolbeinn Karlsson's website
August & jag ('August & Me') by Anneli Furmark, published by Galago, 2009 | Anneli Furmark's website
Strindberg och döden ('Strindberg and Death') by Knut Larsson  | Knut Larsson's website

Website of Seriefrämjandet, the Swedish Comics Association: (in Swedish)

Website of Bild & Bubbla, quarterly journal of Swedish comics: (in Swedish)

Back issues of Bild & Bubbla are available to order online from: www.serieaffä