Jakob Martin Strid

Morten Holtum
Jakob Martin Strid: Den fantastiske bus. Picture book, Gyldendal, 2023. Nominated for the 2024 Nordic Council Children and Young People’s Literature Prize.


With 18,500 horsepower, Den fantastiske bus (“The Fantastic Bus”, not translated into English) drives right into the heart of the reader with its epic tale about the importance of imagination and community. Jakob Martin Strid has spent 15 years on his 2.5 kilo and 40 centimetres wide masterpiece about Taku, a small grey male bear cub, who along with others from the harbour in the town of Anhstarr City, tries to save Timo. Timo has become ill from the pollution in the city, and in the hope that the SAFFRON LILY can cure him, the animals decide to build a giant bus and drive to the legendary land of Balanka, where saffron lilies grow in abundance. 


It’s a magical experience to flick through the drawings of the bus, as they finally manage to get it to fly. All of a sudden, time seems to stand still in the otherwise breathtaking road trip of a story about the Northern Lights, the North Pole, tundra, The Last Land with abandoned nuclear power plants, and the repulsive octopus dictator who forces children to surrender their birthday gifts. But then something else happens. Page after page, the bus soars high into the blue sky until it eventually disappears from the illustrations. The focus then zooms in on a lost pegboard and scattered pegs, as if they were satellites in the vast expanse of space, before letting the bus crash head-on into the reader’s mind once more. It’s undoubtedly a stunning and nothing short of sublime masterpiece to dare to tell such a tale. There’s no let up before another reality crops up that can both evoke laughter and sting the eyes a little every now and then.  


The real protagonist in this work is the bus itself. We follow it as it clatters and rumbles along until, as mentioned, it takes flight. First on the earth, then into the sky. We go through various cross-sections of the bus, as tea is drunk from the samovar, readings are done aloud, and cables are soldered. The atmosphere is warm and calm, and for an adult reader, almost nostalgic, as if we were sitting in the back seat of the car, back when we were kids, dreaming about a new world with our eyes wide-open ... 


Jakob Martin Strid never tries to conceal his sources of inspiration. His homage to the Japanese animation master Hayao Miyazaki and especially Howl’s Moving Castle is evident here. And in typical Strid style, the underlying tone is anarchistic, humanistic, and anti-capitalist. The homemade houses of the flock are to be torn down because new development is planned, but ultimately, the community triumphs. “We live in Balanka now, and all is well” as we read twice at the end. And then a big joint can be smoked! A journey without air passenger duty is truly accomplished. The journey here is simply about getting on the bus and joining in all the imaginative adventures, which Strid handles with precision and sensibility. There is no one else like Strid. He is entirely his own and proves time and time again – especially with this masterpiece – that he has a unique style and hope for everyone, both children and adults, for a new way of seeing and being in the world. It’s huge and impossible to argue against. Let Strid’s world take over a part of our otherwise mundane outlook. Better today than tomorrow. Because you never know when the bus will run again.