Icelandic Cartoonist Reveals His Grim Sense Of Humor, And Here Are Some Cartoons To Prove It
Nordic humor is often seen as a little bit too dark for the rest of the world. Especially if you think about Iceland, the most sparsely populated country in Europe covered with glaciers and still erupting volcanoes. As Hugleikur Dagsson, a famed local cartoonist has said, “Iceland is very cold, very bleak and very expensive,” and his funny and twisted sketches really showcase this.
As the artist states on his website, he has been “breathing air and making jokes” ever since he was born. The writer and comedian has published around 20 books, including Is This Some Kind of Joke? and I Hate Dolphins and The Popular Hits series. His eyebrow-raising sense of comedy is not everyone’s cup of tea but if you find it amusing, this is just the place to be.
Besides creating cartoons and publishing books, Dagsson has also written three plays and animated a TV show. Also, he still finds the time to do stand-up comedy and participate in occasional art projects. He joins all of his talents to create cartoons full of biting wit and some of the most controversial topics out there.
Bored Panda reached out to the artist to talk a bit more about his inspiration, the way Icelanders see the world, and what his new projects are. When asked about his sense of humor and why it is so often identified with Iceland, Dagsson said that Icelanders, like all other nations, are pretty much molded by their landscape, weather, and language. “Therefore, we are harsh, unpredictable, and weird. As is our sense of humor,” he said.
“Also, we’ve always been a bit desperate as a nation. We are constantly looking for validation from the rest of the world and I feel like that seeps into our comedy,” he explained. For Dagsson, humor is a coping mechanism: “I use comedy to cope with my own problems and the world’s problems alike. It’s very therapeutic to point at the horrors of life and laugh.”
The artist hilariously shows some of the most taboo-busting cartoons we’ve ever seen. And according to him, the inspiration for them comes from desperation. “If I don’t get ideas, I have to get a real job. Luckily, when you’ve been working as an artist for a long time, everything you think about becomes a potential project,” he explained. For example, sometimes he listens to the most popular songs, hears the lyrics, and immediately thinks of the perfect way to ruin the song. Suddenly, this one idea turned into 150 pop song cartoons.
The pandemic also had an effect on the artist and on his work. “During the pandemic, I embraced my inner introvert and just started writing and drawing more than usual,” he said. “The timelessness of the lockdown made me think of all sorts of fun things. The one I’m most proud of is a card game called FCK CDL KLL which I created in a cabin in north Iceland. It sounds silly but is actually a very smart game. A real thinker.”
When asked about his new projects, Hugleikur Dagsson mentioned that he just released a 2022 calendar and it features his favorite cartoons from the last 2-3 years. And there are even more exciting things on the horizon: “I’m working on a graphic novel, with my friend Árni Jón. It’s called Killionaire and is about a Punisher-type superhuman that only carries off billionaires.”
He’s also dabbling in the NFT game. “I don’t really understand it, yet somehow I’m selling them. Oh, and putting out my first 3D printed collectibles this Christmas!” Lastly, the one piece of advice that the artist would like to give you, dear Pandas, is a mantra that he has learned from Conan O’Brien: “Work hard, be kind and amazing things will happen.”
The artist has been drawing basic doodles of people since he was a child. Dagsson told The Telegraph that his childhood does not have any connection to the style of his humor: “My upbringing was normal and boring. My father was a journalist and mother a librarian.”
Even though his drawings may seem cruel, violent and insulting for some people, they are actually filled with absurdity and irony. “I never set out to shock, only to make people laugh. Anything goes, just so long as it’s funny,” he said. Dagsson mentions that his homeland might bear some responsibility for his art style because the humor there is as dark and bleak as the landscape. However, he was brought up “on dark American comics, like Frank Miller’s. So it’s not just an Iceland thing.”
The idea to draw black and white doodles evolved by accident, when one day he realized that he didn’t have enough material for a group show at the Iceland Academy of the Arts. So he sat down with just a simple pen and a piece of paper and started drawing. Within an hour, he had already finished 30 stick-figure cartoons. “I could philosophize about my lifelong love of minimalism, but my style really came from a last-minute panic at college,” he explained.
Let’s not forget that he is not only a cartoon artist but also a stand-up comedian. When asked about the difference between these two activities, Dagsson told The White Space: “In the cartoons, my characters do the talking. On stage, I’m the one doing the talking. I can hide behind my cartoons but on stage, all eyes are on me.” So he can’t be as grim there but he tries to be as dark as he can get away with.
Thinking about the fact that his work is usually identified with the sense of humor people have in Iceland could be connected to the reputation that the Nordic people have. It gets pretty dark and cold up there, as the author said himself: “During the winter in Iceland there are only three hours of daylight. During the summer in Iceland, there is no darkness.”
Gálgahúmor is an Icelandic term meaning “gallow humor” and it is very typical of Scandinavia. “We’re known for being dark and depressing. I suppose our comedy can be seen like that too,” Swedish producer Gudrun Giddings told the BBC. Characteristics of the Nothern countries play a big part in holding people back because they are extremely humble and reserved.
At the same time, they tend to be quite pessimistic. According to Finnish actor and director Peter Franzén: “We spend a lot of time in the far North, in the dark, surrounded by trees, alone. This can end up expressing itself in craziness.” And it’s probably one of the biggest explanations for their black humor. Their cultural heritage, like Old Icelandic Sagas and the tales of the Vikings, also has an effect on the way they see the world.
As the film director, Grímur Hákonarson said, “It’s very simple and humanistic but at the same time most people will recognize the themes. We have to make fun out of our own misery or we wouldn’t survive.”