Comics in 2013: The Empire Unfolds
#language & literature
small, Comics in 2013: The Empire Unfolds, Marcin Podolec, "Fugazi Music Club", photo: press materials, fugazi.jpg
Despite pessimistic forecasts, 2013 turned out to be a very good year for comics. Comic fans relished in over 130 new publications, spurring not only the growth of the book market but also the art market.
Polish readers have a bone to pick with comics. For years they have protested against the high prices of issues. Meanwhile publishers have been complaining about distribution and small press runs, while creators have bemoaned the fact that their jobs can only be a hobby. Nevertheless, 2013 was a successful year for comics. A number of top shelf albums arrived at bookshops for the first time - over 130 albums, including zines and other difficult to find publications, by Polish authors made their appearance on the market. That constitutes almost 30 percent of all comics released in Poland.
Considering that Poland is not a comic book mogul and has a lot of catching up to do with countries like France or the U.S. in the sphere of publishing, those are quite decent figures. The presence of Polish comics in non-industry related media is on the rise, and creators are being noticed by art galleries and juries who reside over cultural awards. Not to mention that Tomasz Kołodziejczak and Przemek Truściński, both science fiction and fantasy writers, received the Cross of Merit from the Polish President (Polish: Krzyż Zasługi, a civil state award dating back to 1923 which recognises services to the state). What unfortunately keeps the press run low and the prices high is the poor readership.
The year's most noteworthy albums are a series of independent projects illustrated in many diverse styles. Noir (by Wojciech Stefaniec, Łukasz Bogacz), People Who Don't Get Their Hands Dirty / Ludzie, którzy nie brudzą sobie rąk (by Stefaniec) and Psychopoland (by Piotr Białczak, Chmielu) are forerunners in the coming-of-age drama and crime categories.
Piotr Białczak, Chmielu, "Psychopoland", photo: press materials
Przemek Truściński's monumental anthology Trust. Album deserves special attention, while Shrew of Destiny. Mink of Doom / Ryjówka przeznaczenia. Norka zagłady by Tomasz Samojlik is a leader in the children's category.
Fugazi Music Club by Marcin Podolec, the story of the legendary Warsaw club, is a fantastic coming-of-age, biogrpahical comic book. Maczużnik (by Michał Rzecznik, Daniel Gutowski) is an aesthetic pearl about love. Anther intriguing poetic miniature about the same uplifting and destroying feeling is Returns / Powroty by Katarzyny Kaczor. Its graphic design is a hole in one, proving Kaczor a name worth remembering.
The zine Bart (by Filip Wiśniowski, XNDR, Father Rene), in which the author playfully and cunningly (though sometimes with a pinch of vulgarity) challenges contemporary art without sparing the likes of Murakami, Hopper and Truściński, is Polish counterculture par excellence. Among the finest fantasy comic book albums is Revolution in Outer Space / Rewolucja w kosmosie (by Mateusz Skutnik, Szymon Holcman). This doesn't come as a surprise seeing that Skutnik has been raising the bar for Polish comics for years now. Another great pick is the slightly grotesque and surrealistic album A Moment Like a Flame / Chwila jak płomień by Roman Lipczyński and Paweł Garwol.
The standards of historical comics are set by the Sławomir Zajączkowski, Krzysztof Wyrzykowski duo and their Coup on Kutschera / Zamach na Kutschera [editor's translation]. Engaging and glamorous at the same time, the comic makes a case for factual stories that can be based on real events. This top-notch category has another jewel: the Jan Hardy series whose author Jakub Kijuc made a pop-culture and superhero comic about fictional Excommunicated Soldiers who fight for a free Poland with communism.
Agata Wawryniuk, "Polish-English Phrasebook", photo: press materials
Impressively, Radio Three Talent nominated Agata Wawryniuk's graphic novel Polish-English Phrasebook / Rozmówki polsko-angielskie broke innumerous award records and was named Best Comic Book of 2012 at Poland's most important industry events including the Łódź International Festival of Comics & Games and the Warsaw Comic Book Festival. Perhaps the biggest surprise of the year was the Nike nomination (Poland’s annual literary award) for Maciej Sieńczyk’s Adventures on a Deserted Island / Przygody na bezludnej wyspie. It is the first time that a comic book was chosen to run against other genres for Poland's paramount literary award, putting it on par with works such as Spiegelman's Maus.
Although it is a bit early to speak about a renaissance of comic books for children, the first crocus blossoms are breaking through the snow. This is mostly in thanks to Tomasz Samojlik, who brought out as many as four comics in 2013, two of which were premiers. A scholar at the Research Institute for Mammals of the Polish Academy of Sciences (PAN) in Białowieża National Park, the author's famed protagonists are the smallest and the biggest of the mammals that inhabit Poland - a shrew and a bison, respectively. Further in this revival comic book publishers Kultura Gniewu and Centrala set up special publishing cycles entirely devoted to the youngest readers, while Egmont organised a contest for a series for children. Braced to see if one will discover the new Szarlota Pawel or Papcio Chmiel?
In another big step for the industry, Polish comics have been expanding beyond their home turf. Following in the footsteps of Grzegorz Rosiński (illustrator of the series Thorgal), Ardian Syaf and Mark Irwin, Szymon Kudrański is credited for creating the art for the 18th issue of Green Lantern. Thanks to artist Piotr Kowalski, the Hulk brought the 'American nightmare' to Paris in the four-issue Marvel Knights: Hulk. Another notable project is Dennis Wojda's 566 Frames published by Borderline Press and released in the U.K and Agata Bara's Le verger.
Dennis Wojda, "566 frames", photo: press materials
Polish comics have now begun expanding beyond the book market to the art market. Przemek Truściński had exhibitions in BWA Wrocław, Jelenia Góra and in Gallery Zderzak, while the opening of the first Polish comic book exhibition area in the CK Zamek in Poznan (called Cheap East gallery) further paved the way for future comic artists. The Fantastic Vehicles of Professor Talent / Fantastyczne pojazdy profesora Talenta, an event a the Szczecin Museum of Technology and Communication Zajezdnia Sztuki, showed the reconstructed vehicles from the popular comic book about Tytus, Romek and A’tomek by Henryk Chmielewski. It was an astonishingly accomplished exhibition. Finally, no comic book fan could keep his cool in the fact of the exhibition Tadeusz Baranowski. Return / Tadeusz Baranowski. Powrót at Warsaw's Soho Factory, an event that marked the transition of one of the masters of Polish comics from illustration into painting.
fugazi music club
przemysław trust truściński
Critical to the perception of comics as a lawful art was the Polish Comics and its Creators / Komiks polski i jego twórcy exhibition in the Szczeciń Orient Gallery, and the launch of the artkomiks.pl, a website selling original covers, splashes, sketches and interior pages. Although the originals were in circulation before, they were hard to find even at conventions. The plurality, formalisation and access to these undertakings is a novelty which will help curators and critics alike be more welcoming towards comics. The use of the comic book genre by well known artists - Ubu by Franciszka Themerson, Graphic Stories / Opowieści graficzne and Mrożek in Images / Mrożek w obrazach by Julian Antoniszczak - contributes to the popularisation of the underrated genre.
The release of Jerzy Szyłak's scientific work Comic in the Clutches of Mediocrity / Komiks w szponach miernoty, was an unprecedented event that unfortunately didn’t make the headlines. With this work the professor speaks out against the Cosmological Symposia organised since 10 years during the Łódź International Festival of Comics & Games and against the term and concept instigated by Kuba Woynarowski "story-art" to describe artistic comics.
Szyłak accuses the sympasia of being pseudo scientific and charges Woynarski's concepts of describing a reality that doesn't exist. His work has a rich bibliography to back up his arguments and it would be a shame if the publication would not somehow influence the community of students and scholars and comic book critics.
What does 2014 have in store for us? As we await the effects of the Shelf with Comics / Półka z komiksem campaign (sklep.gildia.pl), offering book stores to help with setting up a comic book shelf with thematically relevant choices, we hope that will serve as a remedy to the small sales and high prices.
Author: Łukasz Chmielewski, translated by Mai Jones 11.12.2013