From the jury's explanatory statement:
The picture book or comic strip Mulegutten (Mule Boy) is a modern version of the folk tale Risen som ikke hadde noe hjerte på seg (The Giant Who Had No Heart in His Body). It is said that Asbjørnsen and Moe’s folk tales are among the most predictable stories that a Norwegian artist might attempt to interpret. This may be the case, but Torseter’s interpretation is anything but predictable.
The author gives us a quick introduction (with the six brothers and their wives being turned to stone by the troll, their anxious father and everything else that our hero has to deal with at home) and starts the story with a leap across half a page and a ‘ Farewell, father!’ from Mule Boy, sailing through the air on his somewhat morose horse (‘I have very little desire to come on this trip’). It continues on through a barren mountain landscape, deep forest and into the troll’s dark cave where his heart can be found and the princess won. Mulegutten differs from most of what Torseter has done previously. The epic thread is strongly emphasised, much in the manner of a folk tale, whereas his subsequent books have had a somewhat less rigid structure. Here there is also a lot more text than Torseter tends to include, and most of it is presented in speech bubbles, like in a comic strip. The epic undertones provide a fixed framework for Torseter’s lively and imaginative style. It is in this way that a saxophone-playing octopus does not seem out of place in this folk tale universe.
Torseter frees himself from the folk tale language when he lets Mule Boy, in the dead of night and during an extremely important hunt for the giant’s heart (which is supposedly in a cupboard somewhere in the cave), suddenly says: ‘I need the loo.’ This is how Torseter gives himself an excuse to draw the very first outhouse in Norwegian folk tale history, across two to three pages, and in doing so if possible, he strengthens the reader’s connection with the story’s little brother hero.
Torseter has several different illustrative styles. Mulegutten is an example of his sketch work: the lines are sometimes mere suggestions, and he is not afraid to let the bare bones and development be seen. In Mulegutten, the sketch style works remarkably well and the story strikes a good balance between whimsy and drive. He is happy to use an entire page or spread for one comic strip box, and everything deserves the space it is given. The wealth of details inside the cave and out in the landscape opens the popular folk tale up. The illustrations carry the story just as much as the literary original or the text he provides. And it is in this way that Torseter has made trolls into trolls again.
Because we must not forget the troll. The fear. An almost indistinct, obscure troll. Something more would be required to create a modern troll. It has been said of Torseter’s troll that it is ‘a cavalcade of wild biology, undefined flesh and palpable ill will that makes it the force of nature a troll should be. The troll is absolutely hideous, and it is as if the drawings consciously falter when it is to be rendered, such that the troll’s appearance is never made entirely known to the reader’. And there, in the indistinct and obscure, is the magic of fear. And the troll is the nastiest troll you have ever encountered.
Mulegutten himself, who we have met in Torseter’s previous publications, is drawn in simple, clean pencil strokes. The world around him is rich in detail and growing wild. There is so much out there for those who dare seek it. That Mule Boy is also a modern hero also becomes more distinct with every read: here there is conscience, doubt and loyalty in a credible folk tale character.
About the author:
As an illustrator and author, Øyvind Torseter has in recent years delivered one success after another. But we might nevertheless question whether this is one of his strongest books. A unanimous jury are pleased that the troll has become a troll once more.
Mulegutten is sold in Denmark, Germany, Spain, Switzerland and the USA.