Kolingen by Albert Engstrom

Albert Engström was one of the leading Swedish authors and cartoonists during the early 20th century. He is considered one of the pioneers of the modern Swedish comic strip, together with Oskar Andersson. He published his cartoons in magazines like Söndags-Nisse and his own magazine, Strix. His best-known character was the tramp 'Kolingen' (1897), who is generally seen as the oldest recurring Swedish comic character.

Early life and career
He was born in 1869 as Albert Laurentius Johannes Engström Born in Lönneberga, Kalmar County. He spent a large part of his childhood in Hult, a small station community near Eksjö, where his father worked as a stationmaster. By 1888 he wrote his first poems and prose in the local papers Eksjötidningen and Smålands Allehanda. In the following year, he went to study Latin and Greek at Uppsala University, where he became close friends with Bruno Liljefors. He broke off his studies after four terms and returned home. In 1892-1893, he was one of painter Carl Larsson's pupils at Valand School of Fine Arts in Gothenburg. He additionally took lessons in etching from Axel Tallberg, and quickly developed into an extraordinarily skillful and productive artist.

He returned to Gothenburg in August 1893, and his old home in the Örgrytevägen. One of his first paid assignments were a couple of large mural paintings in the city's Ölhallen Weise beer hall. He gained most fame with his work as a cartoonist for humour magazines. Engström was on the editorial staff of the comedy magazine Söndags-Nisse between 1894 and 1896, and then launched his own magazine Strix on 11 March 1897. Most early Swedish cartoonists published their work in these types of magazines, which contained prose, cartoons and comics. The magazines were mostly read in shaving parlours, and their heyday ended when the safety razor emerged in the 1920s. Strix quickly became one of the country's leading humor magazines, and was edited by Engström until 1924. Besides his own work, Strix also contained contributions by Carl Larsson, Bruno Liljefors and Oskar Andersson, who had replaced Engström as the regular cartoonist in Söndags-Nisse. Strix merged with Söndags-Nisse in 1924. The joint venture continued to appear under the title Söndags Nisse-Strix until 1955, and was revived from 1998 to 2006 as Nya Söndagsnisse-Strix, which served as a supplement to Grönköpings Veckoblad.

Of all the magazine's contributors, Albert Engström stood out for his social commentary. His satirical cartoons and caricatures ridiculed people in power, including priests, politicians, policemen and officers. His best-known character was 'Kolingen' who debuted in Strix on 20 May 1897, making him the oldest Swedish comic character. Kolingen was an alcoholic tramp who often made observatory, derogatory remarks about the upper class. Yet he often made a fool out of himself too, due to his heavy drinking habits. Kolingen was so popular that he inspired four silent slapstick comedy films in 1908, 1912 and 1923. Another recurring character created by Engström was called 'Bobban'. Several of his characters sayings became part of the Swedish language. The artist for instance coined the term "Grönköping" as a caption for some of his drawings. It became slang for a fictional Swedish town, which is generally referred to when discussing Swedish society in an ironic and humorous way. The phrase gave its name to Grönköpings Veckoblad ("Grönköping's Weekly"), one of the longest running satirical magazines in the country (since 1902). The word "kolingen" also became a Swedish eponym for "tramp". 

Drawing for an advertising poster for Carnegie Porter beer (around 1910).

Albert Engström made his debut as a writer with 'En Bok' ("A Book") in 1905. He wrote many other books in the years that followed, some of which were also translated to English. The artist spent a lot of time on Gotska Sandön, and has written one of the most comprehensive works about this uninhabited Swedish island. He additionally made many watercolor paintings of the Roslagen coastal area from his atelier on a cliff in Grisslehamn. Engström was elected to the Academy of Fine Arts in 1919 and became a member of the Swedish Academy in 1922. Between 1925 and 1935 he was a drawing professor at the Academy of Fine Arts in Stockholm. Engström and his friend Bruno Liljefors received an honorary doctorate in Philosophy from Uppsala University in 1927. He was furthermore a member of the Svea Orden, one of Sweden's oldest secret societies, from 1917.

Final years, death and legacy
The artist/writer was forced to stop working in 1938, when his vision declined. Albert Engström passed away at the age of 71 in a Stockholm hospital on 16 November 1940. The Albert Engström Society was founded in 1981 to preserve his artistic legacy. The society is one of the largest literary societies in Sweden, with over 1700 members. It maintains museums dedicated to Albert Engström's work in both Eksjö and Grisslehamn, and also awards the annual Albert Engström Prize to people who have either spread the artist's legacy, or have produced work in his spirit.

Self-portrait on a 1917 issue of Strix.


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