Norwegian Cartoonist in Vietnam

One of Scandinavia’s most successful writers and cartoonists, Øyvind Sveen, 36, is doing fine combining private life with his Vietnamese wife and their seven months old daughter Annika, and a professional life together with his partner Ivan Emberland, in a small “boring” complex sub-urban Saigon in South Vietnam.

The two guys have been together since they were fourteen. Mostly in Norway, but during the last two years while Øyvind has been in Vietnam, his partner Ivan has lived at the other side of the planet, namely in Brazil. Thanks to Skype, the two of them work literally together doing at least two pages of cartoons almost every day.

“My wife Sang and I met each other while we both were backpacking in Vietnam. She had been living in Singapore for many years, so you can say we were equal in our desire to discover this fantastic land”, Øyvind explains a late morning in his house in the suburb Tru Duc, an hour on a bike from the centre of Saigon.

His wife is in Singapore to take care of her real estate business, so the Norwegian cartoonist, illustrator and writer take care of their little daughter with the help of a housemaid.

“We have lived a little more than four years in Vietnam. It’s a good place to live. Both Sang and I were happy to be here, so we decided to buy this house”, says Øyvind, while he is waving his hand toward the fantastic and rather unusual view from his working desk in his office.

Banana palm trees, coconut palms and bushes fill up the neighbouring land.

“It was a little funny and strange when we went here for the first time to check up on the complex. All the houses in the centre were sold. Vietnamese people seem to like the security of being close to other people. But that was fine for us. Then we could have a little privacy, and a wonderful view, as longs as it may last, until someone makes a similar complex at the other side of the fence”, Øyvind is laughing.

After the first visit to the complex he did not hesitate at all before he sold his condo in Oslo, and for the same money was able to buy this wonderful house.

While he is running down to the nearest fridge after some refreshments, I am looking around in the office. The room is dominated by a huge poster on the wall opposite his desk showing Øyvind and a Norwegian photographer standing on some ice in Svalbard with a snow scooter in the background.

When he returns, I ask about the picture. Without going into details he explains that the picture is from an assignment he had as a writer.

Back in our chairs again Øyvind explains that he has had a pen in his hand as long as he can remember. And no, there are absolutely no creative people among his parents or forefathers.

“I have no explanation about how I became what I am. I was just making my drawings without thinking of it. And it all got a little serious when I was fourteen, when Ivan and I started to do things together”

As they grew up, the two guys carried on with their cooperation. They even took the same education at the same time at Westerdals School of Communication in Oslo.

And almost ever since they have been doing a monthly football magazine and six comic books with more than 5000 pages together.

The biggest hit for Øyvind and his partner is the tale of the worst football team in Scandinavia. This is published in a variety of formats, from newspaper strips to monthly magazine episodes and thick books.

“In Norway the team is known as “Sleivdal IL”, while its named “Slarvhult BK” in Sweden. In Finland, they lose every game under the name of “FC Hutivaara”. In all three countries our stories are published by the football magazine Boing”.

The other Boing cartoon is the more realistically drawn series “Dennis Kickstart”. This is about the young local boy who experiences every boy’s dream when he sparkles during a test match and gets picked up by a top team in the English Premier League. We follow his career and personal life as it hits its highs and lows.

But Øyvind and Ivan also has a third project – “Hinsidige Bar & Grill”. It’s the pair’s third main project. Roughly translated to “Beyond Bar & Grill”, this is a satire strip where mythological creatures discuss, and sometimes cause, current affairs.

Combined, “Hinsidige Bar & Grill” and “Sleivdal IL” have been published in more than 20 Norwegian papers and magazines.

At this phase of the interview it could be interesting to hear about the sources to all the ideas and episodes.

“I have always played football, even in the Vietnam expat league, so some of the football cartoon stuff comes from personal experiences, failures and dreams on the pitch. We also pick up stuff everywhere, like funny things people say, we get inspired by travelling, reading books, and an almost constant change in scenery for our daily lives help feed our fantasy. I get restless and creatively empty if everything around me stays the same for too long. Maybe that’s the good thing with Vietnam – the constant changes. Because Vietnamese art, architecture and creative achievements are mostly rubbish, so inspiration must be found in other areas.

When Øyvind started his cartoons he had the same age as his readers. He gets older. Is there any reason for concerns?

“Yes. I think so. At least I fear the generation gap a bit. I’m old enough to already disagree with current popular trends in movies and music, which might be dangerous. But I try staying in touch with the audience. And hopefully we will keep our readers: With our cartoons, my colleague Ivan and I have always aimed at targeting on two levels at once. Funny drawings and slapstick humour for the younger ones, but also political satire, radical environmental messages and hidden links that just a very few will get, for the older readers. We actually try to show some teeth between the lines, and sneak our own opinions into young minds”.

And despite Øyvind loves his stuff and its audience, he can easily see him self start writing and maybe drawing something closer to his own life.

To draw, or maybe only write, for an older audience is certainly appealing. Who doesn’t have a dream of one day publishing the perfect novel? One day.

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