Finnish Nightmares

by Karoliina Korhonen

Cover image

Publisher: Atena
Copyright: 2018
ISBN: 952-300-222-8
Format: Hardcover
Pages: 87

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Meet Matti. A typical Finn who appreciates peace, quiet and personal space. If you feel somewhat uncomfortable when reading this book, you just might have a tiny Matti living in you.

Finnish Nightmares is a hardcover collection of mostly single-panel strips from the on-line comic of the same name. They're simple line drawings, mostly in black and white with small, strategic use of color, portraying various situations that make Matti, a stereotypical Finn, uncomfortable (and a few at the end, in the Finnish Daydreams chapter, that make him happy).

This is partly about Finnish culture and a lot about introversion and shyness. Many of these cartoons will be ruefully familiar to those of us who are made uncomfortable by social interactions with strangers. A few made me curious enough about Finnish customs to do a bit of Google research, particularly the heippalappu, an anonymous note left in an apartment hallway for the neighbors, which has no name in English and is generally decried as "passive aggressive." A Google search for heippalappu returns tons of photographs of notes, all in Finnish that I can't read, and now I'm fascinated.

I have seen US jokes and cartoons along similar lines, but in US culture I think it's more common for those to either poke some fun at the introverted person or to represent introverted people trying to navigate a world that's not designed for them. Finnish Nightmares instead presents the introverted position as the social norm that other people may be violating, which is a subtle but important shift. Matti's feelings are supported and shown as typical, and the things that make him uncomfortable are things that maybe the other person should not be doing. Speaking as someone who likes lots of quiet and personal space, it makes Finland seem very attractive.

I am very much the target audience for this book. "When you want to leave your apartment but your neighbor is in the hallway" is something I have actually done, but I've never heard anyone else mention. Likewise "when the weather is horrible, but the only shelter is occupied" (and I appreciated the long list of public transport awkwardness). I think my favorite in the whole book is "when someone's doing something 'wrong' and staring at them intensely won't make them stop."

This was a gift from a friend (who, yes, is a Finn), so I read the English version published in Finland. That edition doesn't appear to be available at the moment from US Amazon, but it looks like it will be coming out in both hardcover and Kindle in August of 2019 from Ten Speed Press. It's a thin and short collection, just an hour or two of browsing at most, but it put a smile on my face and was an excellent gift.

Rating: 7 out of 10

Reviewed: 2019-05-27

Last modified and spun 2019-05-28