What happened to Fjodor? – A blog conversation with Pål H. Christiansen and Felix Janosa
by Annette Schwindt
When I met Pål in 2007, the second volume of his children’s book series about the naughty fish Fjodor was published in Norway. Three years later I managed to interest the German publishing company Terzio in the growing series. Terzio started with great enthusiasm to produce a series modelled after the legendary Ritter Rost. They shortened the Norwegian stories a bit and Ritter Rost’s composer Felix Janosa himself added the songs.
All of us three (Pål, Felix and I) had great hopes for this project but it got stuck and was given up completely after the series had been sold to Carlsen. So there were only three volumes of the five Norwegian ones published in Germany. Pål and Felix didn’t give up on the project though…
As Fjodor is still one of my favourite projects, I’ve asked Pål and Felix to join me in this blog conversation in order to talk about the naughty fish’s journey so far and about his future. Thank you two for agreeing to this.
What was your reaction when Carlsen declared then end of Fjodor?
Well, this didn’t come as a surprise. It pretty soon came clear that Carlsen was mostly interested in Ritter Rost when they bought Terzio. At first I thought this would be a really big opportunity for the naughty cod in Germany, but nothing much happened really with the books after Carlsen took over and the third volume was published.
So the big disappointment was when I realized that the great work done by Felix and the people in Terzio with my Fjodor universe wouldn’t reach a greater audience, because nobody was there to do the job.
I am happy about the three musical books published, though. I think they are of high quality, and so did the reviewers that wrote about them. And several other things happened in Germany afterwards, like a wonderful puppet theatre staging by Sven Stäcker at Landestheater Schleswig Holstein and some musical versions here and there.
Felix had a number of appearances with Sven’s Fjodor doll, even one together with Till Demtröder in Hamburg. Some of the Fjodor songs were also on rotation on German radio in a period. But in the recent years Fjodor has been lying in a respirator and we have just been waiting for Carlsen to let go of the poor fish.
The publishing company thinking that this rather quiet material could be transferred the same way we were already used to with Ritter Rost, was a problem too. But in Fjodor there are no crazy Commedia Dell’Arte characters who have accidentally fallen into the 20st century. So when I restricted myself to just one speaker it wasn’t for budget reasons only but also from the narrator’s perspective. The same speaker also accompanied the story of Palle and his family with songs. So this was more of an artistic than a commercial project.
I was very disappointed too, I still am. As I said in the beginning, Fjodor has always been one of my favourite projects and I love Felix’ songs. So it was hard for me to understand why someone could reduce this lovely universe to financial aspects only. I’ve seen how kids react to Ritter Rost and I hoped for Fjodor to become a friend for them in just the same way.
I think the most important aspect – beside the already mentioned reasons – was Terzio starting this project in a time of their own reorganization and they had’nt reflected long enough about form and design of these musical books. When the product was finished, not even the people at Terzio liked the visual part completely anymore.
Yes, in my opinion the original illustrations of Fjodor have been a problem from the start. You could see that the illustrator didn’t feel anything for the characters. Fjodor looks more like a monster there and this is definitely not the purpose of the stories. And there were not as much illustrations as in Ritter Rost. Luckily now there are the new illustrations made by Morten N. Pedersen. He has done such a great job, you can really see how much he loves the characters. But at the time Fjodor came to Terzio you were not in contact with him, were you, Pål?
Actually Terzio wanted the original illustrator to make more illustrations for the German books, but they couldn’t pay much for additional illustrations, so in the end they had to use the elements already at hand. That was a pity of course.
My connection with Morten N. Pedersen started up already in the beginning of 2009, a couple of years before the two first Fjodorbooks were published in Germany. I met him through filmmaker Knut Jordfald, who wanted to make a cartoon out of Fjodor. Morten is both an animator and author/illustrator of children’s books. We worked for a while with some ideas and tried to raise money for the project. Unfortunately we didn’t succeed with this, but Morten made this little piece of animation that shows Fjodor in action:
Later in 2009 I involved Morten in my idea for what has become the Mons and Mona-concept, which we developed together. Morten and I work very well together and I was happy when my publisher Cappelen Damm wanted to use him to re-illustrate Fjodor when “Sommeren med Fjodor” was made in 2016. “Sommeren med Fjodor” is a collection of all five Norwegian Fjodor stories with a new frame story that had never been published before.
I remember we talked about the idea of Fjodor as a cartoon in Germany, Felix. Since then there have been a couple of Ritter Rost-movies being made. What is your experience with this and how do you think Fjodor would do on the screen?
Oh, can we talk about something else? No, seriously: In case of Ritter Rost, Jörg Hilbert and I have witnessed how a visual realisation for tv and cinema can affront the whole fan community. That’s why I’m not enthusiastic about a commercial tv-version. Although it might be worth another try to negotiate with the “Sendung mit der Maus” in WDR Germany. Supposedly they do not underlie those primary financial aspects, at least it is said so… we think… we hope so.
Oh yes, the clips of Ritter Rost featured in the Maus programme were exactly like you would imagine them after reading the books. There I have heard from the Ritter for the first time with Paolo mit dem Pizzablitz. Die Sendung mit der Maus would certainly be a good start for Fjodor!
But you have developed already something new from Felix’ music. Though not in Germany. Would you like to tell about it, Pål?
Yes. The plan has been to import Felix’ Fjodormusic to Norway and now we really starting getting somewhere. The first step was using a few songs in the small childrens play “Fjodor flytter inn” (Fjodor moves in) by Ola G. Strømme that premiered about a year ago. It had two actors and a Fjodor doll, and it was great fun:
The second step just happened when all five original Norwegian Fjodorbooks were published as audiobooks for downloading with Felix’ introsong and five different other songs in Norwegian in them.
Espen Beranek Holm, a celebrity in Norway and a well known musician, comedian, actor and former pop star, did the whole production, both reading and singing on top of Felix’ original music. Espen did a great job, I think.
I hope you are as happy as me with the result, Felix? I got so inspired that I started translating all the rest of your songs to Norwegian. I hope we can make some more steps with your music up here in the year to come.
Yes, Espen has done a great job – and he made it his own. He is very expressive, as far as I can tell, because I don’t speak a word of Norwegian of course. And you translating also the rest of the songs into Norwegian – awesome!
Well, then I’m relieved to hear that your cooperation hasn’t been abandoned but it’s going on to be productive. Anything else would be a pity for the naughty Fjodor. I’m looking forward to see what else you two will come up with.
By the way, I’ve learned my little bit of Norwegian by reading the original Fjodor books, Felix. 😉
Thank you both for this conversation and ha det, as the Norwegians say. 😉
- Fjodor songs on Soundcloud
- Wie Fjodor nach Deutschland kam
- Audiobooks Download
- Blog conversation with Morten N. Pedersen
About the participants of this conversation
Pål H. Christiansen is a Norwegian writer, journalist and publisher. He has written several books for children and some novels for grown ups. In Germany: Fjodor flippt aus, Fjodor im freien Fall, Fjodor und der große Knall, Die Ordnung der Worte, Hummel & Honig. – www.phc.no
Felix Janosa is a composer, pianist and cabaret artist. His most famous compositions are the numerous songs for the musical series of Ritter Rost. He’s also writing musicals, opera and orchestra pieces for grown ups. – www.janosa.de
Annette Schwindt is a communication catalyst which means she is either writing herself or helping others with their communication. She’s helping others to develop and write their books, she’s a consultant and coach in digital media. Annette is working with Pål since 2007. – www.annetteschwindt.de