In Praise of Claus Deleuran September 20, 2008Posted by Nina Rosenstand in Culture, Nina Rosenstand's Posts.
Tags: Claus Deleuran, comic strip, Denmark, satire, world history
Who was Claus Deleuran? A man you should all have had the privilege of watching as he was moving toward the pinnacle of his career. He was an artist, a humorist, and a sweet, kind satirist, and I was lucky enough to get his comic strips cut out and mailed to me from family in Denmark every Sunday, then to get the volumes of his compiled strips for Christmas, and finally to get to correspond with him as I was writing my own books.
He died in 1996, at the dreadfully young age of 49, from a cerebral hemorrhage, in the middle of his life’s project: Creating a comic strip in full color of the entire history of the world with primary focus on Denmark (because he was Danish, and published his strip in the Danish tabloid newspaper Ekstrabladet), so those who don’t really have a thirst for reading history books would get not only some knowledge of history, but would get to share his bubbling enthusiasm for weird facts and sweeping connections. Talk about the Danish penchant for satire—in his folksy style he managed to poke fun at all illustrious historical characters and traditions, but in an absolutely endearing way (of course you have to have a mindset that accepts satire as a legitimate option in order to appreciate his art. Offensive? Probably, yes, to some, at times. But what satire isn’t?). Reportedly he had a past as a professional satirist, but gave it up because he “didn’t like being mean.” He viewed himself as a curious child, and the series truly reads as if it was created by an intellectually highly advanced pre-teen. He had the innocence of a Hans Christian Andersen, and the same love of telling stories, but reflecting our complex modern world.
Every year these strips would be compiled in hardbound volumes, which soon became collector’s items. Danish comic book fans found themselves becoming knowledgeable about world history and cultural philosophy. Historians found themselves laughing at stories that, when told by themselves, would put their students to sleep. I remember him doing a “sidebar” in one of his subplots (probably while telling the story of the Vikings) to explore the origin of the red elf cap, and tracing it back to a piece of clothing from the southern Russian steppes, with hilarious drawings. So now we, the readers, were wiser, and we had fun along the way. His project was to carry his majestic oeuvre up to modern times, but being as meticulous as he was, and being sidetracked by all kinds of funny factoids, he hadn’t reached much further than the Middle Ages. He thought he had time—as we all do. But that’s where the volumes end. And tucked inside the last volume on my shelf is a letter he wrote to me, with more funny factoids and ideas—a letter that’s very precious to me, the personal thoughts of a man with an amazingly philosophical grasp on what matters in life: Expand your horizon, learn to appreciate the humor and the depth in the mundane, and enjoy yourself while you can. And then he had the ability to share it with others.
So why am I telling you all this? Because Deleuran’s art is having a second life now: An early comic book of his, The Journey to Saturn, has been transcribed into an animated feature film which will premiere in Denmark next week, and the trailer is available on this website. With a bit of luck we’ll get to see the film locally, but thanks to the Internet you can get acquainted with a corner of the mind of Deleuran, as it has been interpreted by the animators. The story has been updated to appeal to a post-9/11 audience, and looks to me to be a tad more political than Deleuran might have wanted it to be, but he would probably have approved of its high-tech irreverent raunchiness…