Łukasz Chmielewski: A Polish comics artist at a book festival in Ramallah – that sounds surprising. How did you find yourself there?
Maciej Pałka: In the beginning I also found it surprising, but I changed my mind when I talked to the French illustrator Nicolas Wilde, who went to Afghanistan. For two years, he adapted all kinds of signs and messages into drawings at an army base so that they would become understandable for the local people. A comics illustrator can find a job just about anywhere. I continually conduct workshops in comic drawing, for all kinds of levels of advancement, with participants ranging from preschoolers to seniors. Thanks to the initiative of the EUNIC association, seven comics artists from France, Germany, Denmark, Lithuania, Serbia and Poland were invited to take part in the Ramallah fair.
What were you supposed to do?
There were debates on children's illustration, on creating graphic novels and on comic book journalism. I conducted practical activities, in other words, workshops on comic book drawing, on creating zines and on presenting the process of making a comic – from the writing of the script, through the storyboard, the book design and the drawing, to the basics of printing and reproduction preparations. Thomas Thorhauge from Denmark already described his own impression on the Danish comics portal, and, although we took part in the same events, I was much more optimistic in my reception than he was. The city is filled with people, and a lot is being built. On the other hand, a strong example of what I encountered there is given by graffiti that I saw on a wall, close to the Kalandia check-point. Somebody drew a huge sign saying "One Wall - Two Prisons", but someone else repainted it to say "One Wall - One Prison".
Did the workshops in Palestine differ from those in Poland?
They were a new offer – no one has ever conducted such workshops there. But the results were impossible to distinguish from the works created during similar workshop sessions in Poland. About eighty children and adolescents came to the sessions at the all-girls' school and at the public library. Another eighty came to my presentation during the fair.
Guy Delisle, who lived in the Arabian Jerusalem for a year, and also wrote a comic book about it, the Jerusalem Chronicles, searched in vain for a second Marjanne Satrapi. Did you, perhaps, find such a person there?
I met children who had read both Persepolis, and the Jerusalem Chronicles. I gave them a couple of tools, thanks to which we are perhaps one little step closer. I conducted training in methodology for the teachers. I hope that they will make use of it, because we agreed that comic books are an expansive as well as a very attractive form. The talks with the teachers were also helpful in understanding the local context. These workshops were, above all, fun for the children. They knew many comics, they asked concrete questions, they usually prepared either the lines of texts or the drawings in advance. They really enjoyed creating zines, and I brought a whole bag of them from Poland. I hope that they will draw comics, because it is a good medium for telling stories – also about what is happening in Palestine. Comics like that exist, but they are usually created by people from the outside. What is interesting, during the panel on graphics stories, somebody in the audience said that Palestinians don't need to draw more books like that, because they are exhausted by this kind of reality that surrounds them on a daily basis. Maybe the solution would be a non-political comic book that would still say a lot about the Palestinian culture, or about the specificity of this region?
What kinds of comics were created during your classes?
The theme was autobiographical comics. Kids would write stories about school, about their talks with friends (their chats on Facebook, for example), as well as their impressions after seeing Spiderman 2. They would recount their dreams, and in some cases, they also invented stories about aliens or pirates. We also created mini-books, in the style of little zines. Very cool pieces were created which I intend to publish in digital form. I was surprised that I could mix the boards created in Ramallah with those from workshops in Lublin, and you wouldn't be able to tell the difference. Children are the same everywhere.
In October, the very first Palestinian festival of comic books is scheduled to take place. Are you going?
I am going to be present at least virtually, because, for this occasion, I am supposed to create a little novella about my impressions of Ramallah.
The talk was conducted by Łukasz Chmielewski in April, 2014
Translated by Paulina Schlosser, 28/04/2014
Maciej Pałka is the author of historic comics entitled Sztukmistrz z Lublina? and Lublin.Location.2.0, which promoted the Lubelszczyzna region at the CeBIT 2013 fair. He runs a comics studio at the Brama Grodzka - Teatr NN Centre in Lublin. Various comics with his drawings have been published in the Gazeta Wyborcza daily, as well as numerous comics magazines.