Tuesday, March 13, 2007

67 hours in Norway; 66 hours of rain

Make no mistake, it rains a lot in Bergen. The Norwegian city sits among the fiords, surrounded by seven mountains, so it's effectively one big rain shadow. It rained every day I was there. Not just 'oh dear, my hair is getting damp' rain but proper 'I'm soaked to the bloody skin' rain. Apparently it once rained 82 days in succession. The locals were unfeasibly proud of this. Indeed, they seemed upset it didn't last another week so they could claim a record for having three months of consecutive rainy days. Apparently Bergen is in dispute with a place in New Zealand for the title of the world's rainiest settlement. So, yes, the rain did make an impression on me.

Happily, all that rain doesn't seem to have dampened local creativity. I fly over on Friday to lead the writing segment of Comic Coure, an ongoing project aimed at enabling Norwegian writer-artists. Each year they create an anthology graphic novel of stories based around a chosen theme, published in conjunction with the Raptus Comics Festival in September. This year it's Adventure, and I was invited over to help the creators with their stories. Next month a professional comics artist will work with them on how best to tell those stories in sequential strip art.

I wasn't sure what to expect before I arrived but was knocked out the level of imagination and enthusiasm everyone on the course showed. Some couldn't make it for both days of the course, some could only make it for one session, but all of them were eager to learn and improve. Circumstances prevented two people making it to the course venue, but that was no barrier. Thanks to Skype and the internet, I worked with them in one-to-one breakout sessions. When my voice was in danger of giving out, the creators broke into teams and helped each other.

It was a lively, productive atmosphere and all the creators supported one another. They were crafting highly individual and idiosyncratic stories, and all of them were at different levels of expertise and experience, but nobody passed judgement or considered themselves too good for their peers. I loved the fact it was a wide mix of ages and nearly half those involved were women - not something you see in British comics! By the end of the two days, I felt like I'd been sucked dry, so hungry were the participants to learn. My mother was a teacher for thirty years - no wonder she was so tired after each working week!

Besides the rain, my impressions of Norway and Bergen were all positive, even if a lot of things there are stunningly expensive - 400 millilitre glass of local lager on tap was about five British pounds. The people were friendly and spoke English readily [just as well, since the only two Norwegian phrases I can say are thank you and horsecock]. Thanks to the rain, leading the course and my lack of umbrella, I didn't get to see that much of the city. I had hoped to go up the hills in the scenic train, but there didn't seem much point with the hills being permanently enshrouded by rain clouds. Still, I looking forward to going back in September for the comics festival - and to see how each of the creators' stories turns out. Must remember to pack an umbrella next time...

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