Sebastian Frąckiewicz: Where did the idea for "Upside Down" originate?
Zosia Dzierżawska: It's another instalment in the publisher's series in which Italian illustrators and comic book authors tell Topipittori about their childhoods. My comic book is a dialogue with those Italian autobiographers. The illustrations for the album are almost complete. A testa in giù (Upside Down) is a working title. All that remains to be done is the translation from English to Italian. I got the proposition a couple of years ago after I graduated from a postgraduate school in illustration in Milan. One of my teachers recommended me to the publisher. For a long time afterwards I was consumed with working out the form, I was gathering materials – because de facto it's the first comic book that I did by myself from A to Z; until now I was making illustrations to scripts by Monika Powalisz.
The story is set in Poland at the end of the 80s. Are there any similarities to Marzena Sowa's "Marzi," published in several countries, that also illustrates the martial law period in Poland?
Comparisons are unavoidable. But rather than duplicate, the two publications can complement each other. Compared to Marzi, I think my story has less impetus, it's far more casual and is less clearly outlined. It belongs to the long-drawn-out-story type and relates the story of a family in this, and no other, historical reality. I explained a few things from the historical context which aren't as obvious to a foreign reader.
What can we expect from your portrayal of the 80s?
The comic book is illustrated in shades of grey but that doesn't mean it's drab. At some point I even wanted to call it Picaresqua because of the accumulation of the character's jaunty antics in the midst of not-so-jaunty circumstances.
Do you plan on bringing out the album in Poland?
Some publishers have shown interest in it, but I'm being cautious. In its original version the comic isn't really meant for the Polish market, it was written for a different reader.
Is it difficult to publish a comic about Poland in Italy? What are Italian publishers interested in?
Topipittori is a small publishing house, it's not representative of the whole Italian market. I think that the most interesting things are happening in Italian independent comics right now. Publishing houses like Canicola, Delebile, Teiera Autoproduzioni, and Retina look for interesting artists and bring out really interesting things. When it comes to the size of the comic book market, of course Italy is still not France. What we're seeing here is more of a rather prosperous niche.
You work in Milan, but you publish in Poland more often now. Was there a breakthrough moment?
This year in Bologna, my works were qualified to the international Illustrators Exhibition. Thanks to this recognition, Polish publishers took notice of my work. But I was already receiving regular propositions from publishers in Poland who found me through the internet.
A while ago you worked with Monika Powalisz on an album entitled "Serce ze śniegu" (Heart of Snow). What happened to the project?
When I started working on the comic book for Topipittori, we had to put the work on hold - but I hope to get back to it at full speed.
What's the everyday life of an illustrator in Italy like?
The independent comic book industry is doing very well in Italy, but mass production publishing houses aren't necessarily all about quality. There are differences regarding cultural financing between Poland and Italy - when I explain to my Italian friends how Złote pszczoły (Golden Bees) was made, they are shocked that the state gives money for comics. In Italy on the other hand, there are more private collectors and sponsorships than in Poland. A big plus is the incredible amount of illustration events. The central event around which a community is formed is in Bologna – because here I feel that I am part of a community. That gives me a lot of energy, because being a comic book illustrator is a profession that isolates one from the world. But the standards of work are comparable, in any case I have stopped complaining about what is happening in Poland.
Interview by: Sebastian Frąckiewicz
Translator: Mai Jones 20/04/2014