Festival organizers: Arild Wærness, Frode Haaland, Øyvind Naterstad, Anette Wold Hansen, Stian Pedersen, Øystein Nordvok. Festival guests: Lene Ask, Evie Blake, Emily Carroll, Kate Craig, Terhi Ekebom, Isabel Greenberg, Ida Kristine Larmo, Yishan Li, Lucie Lomova, Ida Margrethe Neverdahl, Sarah Oleksyk, Emma Rios, Gail Simone, Steffen Kverneland, Howard Chaykin, Mike Perkins, Arild Midthun, Knut Nærum, Magne Taraldsen, Paul Gravett, Mike Collins, Kim Holm, Anna Voronkova and Berliac. Special guest: Trude Drevland, the mayor of Bergen.

If someone had told me just two weeks ago that Bergen, a small coastal city in Norway would have become one of my favorite places on earth I probably would have said: “are you f-ing kidding me?” And now, shortly after my return from the six-day visit to Bergen all I want to do is go back. I have to admit that I knew close to nothing about Bergen, or Norway, or the entire Scandinavia for that matter; as far as I was concerned it was all Ikea, Abba and Swedish meatballs.  Boy was I mistaken.

I was told that to truly experience Norway one should visit smaller places, like Bergen for instance. For starters, the city is breathtakingly beautiful, set within the fjords, with cobblestone streets and charming architecture, surrounded by seven mountains covered with lush evergreens. The first thing one immediately notices about the streets of Bergen is its people, who do not seem to rush to places but stroll, and appear relaxed. I found the people I met to be friendly but not fake-friendly, hospitable and welcoming.

Norwegians seem proud of their history but do not come across as nationalistic in the least; they enjoy boasting about their free healthcare, virtually free university education and the lack of homelessness. Listening to Kazima (young lady who moderated one of the panel discussions I participated in) boast about paying a measly tuition of $90 per semester I understood how my American friends feel whenever I approach the subject of our free healthcare. Let me take this opportunity and apologize to my friends south of the border – I feel for you. Another thing I loved about Norways is their attitude toward religion – it is considered impolite to talk about it. I think I may have found me a new home.

This year’s installment of Raptus took place at the Literature House in the heart of old Bergen. The majority of guests were women creators since this year Norway celebrates one hundred years of women being allowed to vote. There were panel discussions, presentations, talks, workshops, concerts, cosplay competitions and booths selling comics and collectibles. In short, everything you would expect to find at any comic con worldwide but smaller and more intimate. My first engagement was a panel discussion on the theme of female voices in comics with Lene Ask, Terhi Ekebom and Sarah Oleksyk, all incredibly talented artists and all-around fabulous people. My second engagement was the presentation of my work and talk with Paul Gravett, the king of comics criticism. I have met Paul before and was very much looking forward to seeing him again, and meeting his lovely partner Peter Stanbury.

The highlight of my stay in Bergen was making friends with a bunch of good people but will have to single out the ones I had the most pints and the most laughs with: Mike Perkins, Mike Collins, Howard Chaykin, Magnus Aspli and Laszlo Seber (one of the participants of the workshop organized by Howard and Perkins). Not in my wildest dreams would I have anticipated such fun, mostly thanks to Chaykin, who happens to be one of the funniest people I have ever met, and the very same guy who came up with the “cheap blonde” bit. Truth to tell, I am not even sure if the “cheap blonde” bit applied to me, but I took it and ran with it for the remainder of my stay anyway, since it sounded a bit classier than “Howard’s prison bitch”.

The sign I am holding in these pictures was made by Mike Perkins for Ana Voronkova to hold up in the audience during my talk with Gravett. Anna chickened out but handed the sign over to me when the talk ended; for the rest of the day I walked around with it, posing with it, showing it to people, anything to get attention.

Many thanks to Arild who was the most gracious host and one of the most beautiful people I have been fortunate to meet. Many thanks to Arild’s partner May whose smile made us all feel welcomed, and whose bar/coffee shop Bar Barista provided a home away from home for many of us during our stay in Bergen. And many, many thanks to the rest of the organizers and volunteers. If I have missed anyone please forgive me. I hope to see you again real soon.

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