• Posted on November 29, 2011

The Foreign Bookshelf

Along with the giddy anticipation of visiting great Scandinavian art museums and the fulfillment of a life-long dream of being in the same country that whelped ABBA, the prospect of foreign bookstores and the treasures therein was giving me the vapours weeks before my departure. Different cultural sensibilities, the promise of exciting new European illustrators…sometimes I feel like I’ve picked the shelves of my local bookstores clean, and trolling online can be hit or miss, especially when distraction arrives in the guise of a headline announcing the demise of Demi and Ashton’s marriage.

Sowa at Christmas

As expected, the WH Smith in Heathrow did not have any tasty items, but the small bookstore in the Frankfurt airport netted my first score-a Michael Sowa Christmas book, Der Karpfenstreit (The Carp Dispute.) The text was in German, but the illustrations were deliciously odd, more than enough reason to part with my Euros. Sitting in a cafe, drinking a cappuccino and waiting for my connection, I wanted to reach out to the older couple sitting at the same long table with me. “Look what I found!” Instead, I pulled out The Snowman by Jo Nesbø, and proceeded to read about bonhommicide in Oslo. Must remember, not everyone has a passion for picture books.

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  • Posted on December 17, 2010

Little King December

In this strange and beautiful book, an unnamed man relates the story of December II, the little pot-bellied king who visits the man from time to time, when the mood strikes. In King December’s world, you are big, and then you become small, and most curiously, you are born knowing everything you will ever know. As one would imagine in such a relationship, there are many things to ponder, on both sides, although surprisingly the presence of the miniature royal is never really questioned. “I’m only here because you wished it.” Well, maybe.

For many reasons, Little King December defies categorization. It is not a Christmas book exactly, but it belongs to the sugar plum month of December, from which the King’s own royal name derives, as sure as the ghost stories of Charles Dickens and Van Allsburg’s The Polar Express. The melancholic aching for things lost is the stuff of adulthood, but Little King December is distinctly childlike in its wide-eyed embrace of the whimsical and the wondrous. Familiar territory, in other words, for the absurdist German painter, Michael Sowa, the not so little King of Quirk.

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  • Posted on April 04, 2010

Ich bin ein der Esterhazy

When I was in Newcastle in 1993, I encountered the art of Michael Sowa for the first time in the card section of a local shop. The card was a reproduction of an image from Esterhazy: The Rabbit Prince, but I was unaware of this fact. It was simply a picture of a rabbit in front of a mirror in black and yellow leopard skin boxer shorts, several sizes too big. The illustration was completely charming, so I picked it up, and all of the other cards by this artist. Soon after I got back to Canada, Esterhazy hit the bookstore shelves, and I fell in love. And now, 17 years later, I am happy to report Michael Sowa has not left me, or disappointed me, or broken my heart in any way. On the contrary, my love has only deepened. He is, and I say this without any equivocation, my favourite artist.

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