There might not be more of an unlikeable protagonist in the history of the autobiographical graphic novel (a niche genre) than Simon Gärdenfors in The 120 Days of Simon (Top Shelf Productions). During his odyssey across the Swedish countryside the couch-surfing sex-crazed consumer of hallucinatory drugs mild and wild and unrepentant drinker is by every definition a sinner. But, Gärdenfors is also a Swedish rapper, cartoonist and TV personality who may be known outside his homeland by followers of Scandinavian hip-hop (another niche genre) as one-half of the duo Las Palmas. It doesn’t matter whether or not you’re familiar with Gärdenfors upon opening the pages of The 120 Days of Simon, by the end of his autobiographical graphic novel, you will be perhaps more intimate with Gärdenfors than you’re comfortable with.
The 120 Days of Simon begins with this Scandic modern-day and carefree Ulysses deciding to travel around Sweden over a period of four months with two self-imposed restrictions: 1) a limit of two nights in the same location, and 2) he can only return to his apartment in Stockholm at the end of his journey. It’s a monumental stretch to compare Gärdenfors to Ulysses, but to compare his book to the similarly titled depravity The 120 Days of Sodom by the Marquis de Sade, which I’m sure Gärdenfors is hinting at, requires an even greater extension of the imagination. (Though hedonism, sexual exploitation, etc., are common themes in both books.)
Gärdenfors sets off on his journey with a list containing addresses of some fans and followers on whose couches he will sleep. Just before he leaves the capital, he meets a woman, also a cartoonist, who just may be his Penelope. But the development of true love doesn’t quell his behaviour. The mishaps and sexual conquests begin, continue and eventually come to an end.
Gärdenfors’ one-dimensional black and white illustrations hearken back to a romanticized era when a man wore a three-piece suit and fedora, and a woman was acceptably wearing an apron and safely ensconced in the home. The innocence of these drawings contrasts with Gärdenfors’ free-for-all attitude, and visually amplify the humour: a Simple Simon, he is not.
At times, the narrative might make you squirm—Gärdenfors’ choices remind me of the story scenarios in which the character says “yes” to everything that comes his or her way—but mostly The 120 Days of Simon is silly fun. It’s not profound, and if read backwards, doesn’t contain a Satanic message.
Published in ArcticaMag.ca 13/11/2012