We Want Comics: The Eurovision Song Contest

By | January 1st, 2021
Posted in Columns | % Comments

Before we bid 2020 a final farewell, we share some of our favorite writing from the past year.  We wish all of you a happy and healthy New Year, with the hope for brighter days in 2021.  

Welcome back to We Want Comics, a column exploring intellectual properties, whether they’re movies, TV shows, novels or video games, that we want adapted into comic books.

Music is no stranger to this column. We’ve offered up the comic possibilities for Janelle Monae, Weird Al, My Chemical Romance, Elton John, U2, and a collection of other musical acts we want to see jump from audio to visual forms.  This time, we’re not focusing on a singular artist, but six decades of musical history thanks to a worldwide cultural phenomenon that (with a little help from Will Ferrell and Netflix) might just finally break through in America: the Eurovision Song Contest.

(Note: there will be some spoilers for Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga throughout, so tread carefully!)

If the movie didn’t give you the quick and dirty history lesson, here’s one for you.  Eurovision (also called ESC) started in 1956 in Lugano, Switzerland as a way to bring a war-torn Europe together, by having each country send a performer with a song to be performed live on both TV and radio, with votes cast for a winner. Initially the votes were cast by a jury of European music industry professionals, now it’s a combination of jury votes and public televotes tallied together in a system which makes the U.S. Electoral College easy to understand by comparison.  The catch is that citizens cannot vote for their own country’s songs. So the UK can’t vote for the UK’s entry, French citizens can’t vote for France’s entry, and so forth.

Over the years, the contest itself evolves with the times: from new entrants thanks to geopolitical changes to the inclusion of the public vote to changes in performance standards. (One of those is a result of COVID-19: the 2021 contest will allow pre-recorded backing vocals for the first time.) The idea of “Europe” also is fast and loose: entrants include Israel, several former Soviet republics in Central Asia, and Australia.  (That’s not a typo. Australians love ESC so much they begged to be included, which governing body European Broadcasting Union granted in 2015.) And because sometimes the song can’t sell itself, you get to witness some interesting performances, everything from a Russian figure skating champ on roller skates to a flaming piano to a hamster wheel. (Although the real life Eurovision hamster wheel did not cause any accidents.)

The Eurovision Song Contest winner often receives a trophy, and their country wins the right to host the competition next year.  For some countries, this is a wonderful moment to show themselves off to the world.  Others find it more of a financial burden, like the fictional Iceland did in the Netflix movie.  And for the performers, it can lead to international fame. Is Mamma Mia your Waterloo?  Well, ABBA won ESC in 1974. Does your heart still go on for Celine Dion?  She won for Switzerland in 1988.  Still love all the things that bad girls t.A.T.u said?  They represented Russia in 2003.

This year would have been the 65th ESC, with Netherlands hosting thanks to Duncan Lawrence’s win last year with “Arcade.” As with many large events, the competition was cancelled due to COVID-19, and (fingers crossed) the Dutch will have their opportunity to properly host next year.

But what better opportunity to celebrate 65 years of musical highs and lows than with a commemorative graphic anthology looking at some of the more memorable performances from those six decades. Throw Fire Starter’s Lars and Sigrit as narrators, perhaps telling the history of Eurovision and their own place in it to their young child and you have an excellent extension of the movie with a narrative bridge to hold it all together.

Sixty-five years of songs is a lot of music, and not everything can be included.  So what I’ve tried to do for my fictional Eurovision tribute graphic novel is pick some of the most visually striking performances for inclusion, with a few sentimental favorites as well.  Inevitably, this will skew more towards performances from the last 20 years when they became more spectacle with the song, but the early days of the contest do provide some of their own iconic moments.

Continued below

Time to dust off your violin and find some new additions for your playlist so you don’t have to listen to “Ja Ja Ding Dong” again (but you will, you know you will).

Lys Assia – Refrain (Switzerland, 1956)

There would be no Eurovision if it wasn’t for Lys Assia, who was the first winner way back in 1956.  With video quality of the performance limited due to the era (the video above was the best I could find), a comic can breathe new life and color into this classic, as well as provide an opportunity for translation from the song from its original French.  I love Stanley “Artgerm” Lau’s Golden Age style cover from “Detective Comics” #1000, and he could bring that blend of classic art with a modern twist to this powerhouse.

ABBA – Waterloo (Sweden, 1974)

Early Eurovision performances didn’t have much in the way of spectacle to them, but who can pass up a chance to recreate on the page some of these glorious off the wall 70s fashions?  It’s part futuristic (take a look at those silver thigh high boots), part camp, with a lot of bling in between.  This was also the first of six wins for Sweden in the competition, and you certainly can’t talk about Eurovision without mentioning ABBA.

Dschinghis KhanDschinghis Khan (West Germany, 1979)

So many things that you didn’t expect to get the disco touch did get the disco touch in the late 70s: the Star Wars theme, “There’s No Business Like Show Business,”  the I Love Lucy there.  So why not a song about Genghis Khan?  Find yourself an artist who doesn’t take themselves too seriously for this one, and you’ll have a hit. Surprisingly, this took fourth place.

Bucks Fizz – Making Your Mind Up (United Kingdom, 1981)

The song itself isn’t all that memorable, but the tight choreography (and what happens at around 1:33) will be the vehicle for any artist that knows how to compose a fight scene so as not to overwhelm a panel.

Herreys – Diggiloo Diggiley (Sweden, 1984)

The inspiration for Iceland’s earworm “Ja Ja Ding Dong,” this is what happens when you put IKEA and yacht rock in a blender. I’m not totally sure what’s going on here either, but I can’t. get. it. out. of. my. head.

Riverdance (Eurovision 1994, Dublin, Ireland)

Sometimes the interval acts (the entertainment between the songs and the reveal of the results, done to allow time to tabulate the voting) become even more famous than the performances.  Europeans who watched the 1994 contest in Dublin probably don’t remember who won that year (unless you lived in Ireland, since the host country took the crown), but everyone remembers that it was the first time now internationally famous dance troupe Riverdance showed off its high stepping to the world.

Lordi – Hard Rock Hallelujah (Finland, 2006)

While Eurovision’s acts trend towards pop, Finnish metal band Lordi pulled off the upset with “Hard Rock Hallelujah” in 2006 – – if the costumes and masks didn’t scare you first.  Every time I watch this video, I get a Hellboy sort of vibe, so why not call in Mike Mignola to illustrate these supermonsters?

Verka Serduchka – Dancing Lasha Tumbai (Ukraine, 2007)

Immediately when I saw this, I thought “Greg Capullo.” “Dark Nights: Death Metal” is still in my head, and it may not be the heavy metal tone of that series, it’s certainly got that “Death Metal” camp to it.

Dustin the Turkey – Ireland Douze Pointe (Ireland, 2008)

Eurovision sometimes is its best when it’s making fun of itself, which it’s done as far back as 1980 with Belgium’s “Euro-vision.” And over the years, viewers have wondered if some countries send deliberately off the wall acts in order to tamp down their chances of winning so as not to have to host next year. Dustin the Turkey may be one of them. I have to recommend one of my favorite chicken artists to take on this one, Jay Fosgitt.  Between his love of poultry and experience with the Muppets, he’ll make this a hit.

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Cezar – It’s My Life (Romania 2013)

I have no doubt this was part of the inspiration for Dan Stevens’s “Lion of Love,”  From the vampire look that I can best describe as a Twilight vampire gone astray from a Pride parade who also discovered My Chemical Romance and dubstep at the same time, and the black and red contrasts, Mirka Andolfo would have fun drawing this one.

Pollapönk – No Prejudice (Iceland, 2014)

We must pay tribute to the home of Lars and Sigrit, and I couldn’t think of a better entry than this children’s punk band that’s full of candy colors and a song with an anti-discrimination message at its heart.  This is one where I would go for bringing the official music video to the page in lieu of the live performance — it’s practically a comic in itself with the band playing tolerance superheroes complete with comic book animation.

Conchita Wurst – Rise Like a Phoenix (Austria, 2014)

If you’re wondering who the bearded lady was in the song-along sequence that brought together 12 iconic Eurovision contestants, that was none other than Conchita Wurst, who won in 2014 representing Austria.  The song itself is a powerful anthem of death and rebirth with a classic James Bond-esque tone, and the visuals of red and gold bring a phoenix to life on stage.  This one requires a fluid, loose, sketchbook style that doesn’t sacrifice detail, and Emil Ferris of “My Favorite Thing is Monsters” fame comes immediately to mind.

Heroes – Måns Zelmerlöw (Sweden, 2015)

This one’s a no brainer: it has a cartoon in it! Mans performs with a Kilroy-esque stick figure who interacts with him, flies around on screen, and morphs into a marching army of stick figures.  There’s also some high quality interactive animation throughout that’s also become a staple of Eurovision performances since.

Love Love Peace Peace (Eurovision 2016 in Malmo, Sweden)

Remember when I said earlier Eurovision is best when it makes fun of itself? The interval act from 2016’s contest in Malmö, Sweden, gives you all the ingredients you need to make that perfect hit.  More tricks in the hamster wheel!

Francesco Gabbani – Occidentali’s Karma (Italy, 2017)

I really, really, really, wanted this song to win.  It was catchy but still intellectual look at the superficial life of Western culture with some fun and colorful animation, the singer was rather hot, and there’s A BREAKDANCING GORILLA.  Alas, this came in sixth place, with the winner that year being Salvador Sobral from Portugal (who you see in Fire Saga as a street piano player, while his song “Amar pelos dois” plays in the background).

Elina Nechayeva – La Forza (Estonia, 2018)

Another one of the singers that appeared in the song-along sequence, Elina Nechayeva was not only remembered for her beautiful operatic performance, but her dress which featured projections related to the themes of the song. Who wouldn’t have fun drawing this?

DoReDoS – My Lucky Day (Moldova, 2018)

When you watch this performance alongside the behind the scenes mechanics to pull it off, it’s basically a nine panel grid love story.  In other words, it’s “Sex Criminals” in musical form.  Well, minus the sex and the criminals, but you get the idea.

With sixty-five years of songs, as I said at the start, there’s a lot that just didn’t make my cut.  As such, here’s a little honorable mention section of personal favorites.

What’s your favorite Eurovision moment that would be perfect for a graphic novel retelling? Let us know in the comments!

//TAGS | We Want Comics

Kate Kosturski

Kate Kosturski is your Multiversity social media manager, a librarian by day and a comics geek...well, by day too (and by night). Kate's writing has also been featured at PanelxPanel, Women Write About Comics, and Geeks OUT. She spends her free time spending too much money on Funko POP figures and LEGO, playing with yarn, and rooting for the hapless New York Mets. Follow her on Twitter at @librarian_kate.


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