Being a comic strip reader in this millennium is a lonely experience. I remember when I was a kid, laughing at Calvin and Hobbes and knowing everybody in the country was laughing along with me. My favorite American newspaper comic strip running today is Lio, and I can’t tell anyone “ha ha, did you see what Lio did today?” because they won’t know what I’m talking about. There’s no doubt in my mind that if everybody still read newspapers, Lio would be a superstar getting plush dolls and animated TV cartoons. But the world has changed in ways I don’t appreciate. When Lio got started, my local paper ran a poll to fill an open strip slot with Lio as a candidate. It literally lost to something about old people in a nursing home.
A few years ago I discovered a Norwegian comic strip named Nemi, about a zany inhibitionless slacker goth (who shares the same last name with Inigo Montoya on purpose). It’s quite popular in its home country, but the only outlet that translates it into English is a British newspaper. This newspaper puts the strip online, but only the latest five (though you can see more by changing the numbers in the image addresses — ssh, it’s a secret). It’s nearly impossible to find any trace of it in the United States. If being a fan of Lio wasn’t lonely enough, imagine being a fan of Nemi!
And how can you not be a fan of Nemi Montoya? She’s hysterical. Her character design is one of the most appealing I’ve ever seen, punctuated with the most expressive face. Nemi makes observations on life every weekday with her best friend Cyan, always bizarre, but sometimes insightful. It’s true that Nemi occasionally has a way of grating on the nerves, pushing her narrow musical tastes or her extreme views on animal rights in exchange of a joke. But as a male, red-meat-eating Christian Prude, I’m the exact opposite of the target audience for a strip like this and I love it. Everyone would love it. Sarah Palin would love it. (Okay, Sarah Palin wouldn’t like it at all, but who cares.)
Amazingly, at about the time I discovered Nemi, they began printing hardcovers of the British version. Even more amazingly, one or two copies of those hardcovers somehow got a limited US distribution and landed on the “graphic novels” shelf of my Barnes & Noble. Four Nemi books are out now, but the fourth did not arrive at the B&N shelf on time. In fact, it still hasn’t. I feared the publisher had stopped at three books, but Internet research brought up the cover image of a fourth one — and the entire Internet provided no way to buy it with dollars at all. Amazon.com doesn’t even carry it in their own stock. We’re talking Amazon here, which is supposed to have every book in the world. I think I could buy the Dead Sea Scrolls through their site. But no Nemi!
I ended up having to buy it directly from the UK through a third-party. It took an extremely long time to arrive and I feared it was lost. But it finally showed up a month and a half after I bought it, filled with bumps caused by transit trauma, but better than nothing. No one’s going to do this unless they really really like Nemi. I’m reviewing a book you may never have the chance to buy, but I’m reviewing it anyway, dangit. I’m doing it for her. Nemi is awesome. How awesome is Nemi?
Nemi IV costs fifteen pounds. And what do you get? You get six weeks older and deeper in debt. But you also get hysterical moments like these:
This had me on the floor. It’s just Nemi biting a complete stranger and asking “how does it feel.” It’s so random and weird I couldn’t stop laughing. It was only after the seventh time I looked at it again that I noticed the large steak he was eating. Knowing it’s an anti-meat joke kinda dampens it now, but it was sure funny before.
The material in Nemi IV encompasses the year 2005, but not all of it. For some incomprehensible reason, a VERY important series of strips — involving Cyan discovering her boyfriend is cheating on her — is not included (read some roughly translated dialogue from this series here). The entire volume references this event throughout, but when Nemi III left off at the end of 2004 Cyan was fine. There’s a nasty hole here. If I was certain Fantagraphics or IDW was going to announce “The Complete Nemi” in heavy hardcovers tomorrow, this might not worry me as much. But that’s not gonna happen. This is all we’re going to get and it’s disappointing Titan Books couldn’t handle the job more meticulously, given how hard it is to find archives for this strip any other way.
Another disappointment is the absence of a longer comic-book-style Nemi story, like what had been included in the previous three collections. I don’t know the reason for it — maybe Lise Myhre just doesn’t draw them anymore. You do, however, get the usual stunning gallery of demented Nemi pinups, most of which were covers for the Norwegian Nemi magazine. That magazine also prints foreign translations of some American comics, and the above image of Nemi as a genie retained the faces of Roman Dirge’s Lenore and “Frank” from Liberty Meadows. Oops. I wonder if I should tell Frank Cho that’s in the book without his permission. Nah, he’ll find out eventually….
Nemi is a big star in Norway, and has a cult following in England, but virtually no one has heard of her anywhere else. That’s a crying shame. It’s a very good strip with a very good lead, and I must let everyone know. If you don’t read Nemi, you’re missing out. The quote from Tori Amos on the back of the cover says, “No matter who you are, where you are from….there is a little Nemi in all of us.” Search yourself…you know she’s lurking in there somewhere.
And she’s shouting a la Jay Sherman, “Buy my BOOK! Buy my BOOK! Buy my BOOK!”