28 March 2021
How do we talk about Kraków through speech bubbles? We chat about comics with Artur Wabik, member of the board of the Kraków Comic Book Association which co-organises the Kraków Comic Book Festival (26-28 March 2021).
Anna Mazur: Tell us about the early days of comic books in Kraków.
Artur Wabik: The first important author working in the genre was Artur Bartels; he moved to Kraków in 1875 and wrote early comic strips here. His work is only starting to come to light, since it was only discovered last year that this pioneer of comics – one of the form’s first authors in Europe – had lived in our city. In 1946, we saw the launch of the long-running comic strip about the adventures of Professor Filutek, drawn by cult Warsaw-based artist Zbigniew Lengren for the “Przekrój” weekly, published in Kraków.
Are there many comics set in Kraków?
There are, and I am the co-author of a few! Last year we published a comic for kids and teenagers set in Wawel, illustrated by Marcin Wierzchowski. Before that, Marcin Szurma and I published I Am City. Kraków – the book doesn’t follow a classic comic narrative, instead comprising illustrations showing the city developing over the ages. I also worked with Mateusz Kołek as part of the Jewish Culture Festival to prepare a short social comic O_KAZ, showing how the Kazimierz district has gone from being fashionable, revitalised and finally gentrified. A few years ago, Bartosz and Tomasz Minkiewicz wrote a humorous comic book guide to Kraków. And of course there is Rafał Szłapa and his arch-Cracovian protagonist Bler, whose story now covers seven volumes. You’d be hard-pressed not to reach for local topics when you live here!
Where did the idea of hosting a comic book festival in Kraków come from?
It is an extension of the festival activities of the now-defunct Kraków Comic Club and its underground magazine, and the subsequent Kraków Comic Book Association, founded in 2012. The first festival was held exactly ten years ago in collaboration with the Regional Public Library in Kraków. It seemed natural that since we are involved with comics, we should create an event bringing together artists and fans from Kraków and all over Poland – and I’m delighted to say we succeeded. The largest festival so far was held in 2019, attracting two and a half thousand people. It’s the perfect balance, making the event bustling yet intimate.
Tell us about guests at this year’s festival.
We welcomed some great guests from Poland and abroad. One of the main attractions of this year’s event was the meeting with David Vandermeulen, co-writer of Sapiens: Graphic Novel based on Yuval Noah Harari’s international bestseller. He was one of three guests from the Wallonia-Brussels region, appearing at the festival thanks to our long-term partnership with Bureau Wallonie-Bruxelles in Poland. This year we also hosted Max de Radique, a newcomer to the Polish market, and Stephen Desberg, known to Polish readers from his series The Scorpion. Fun fact: the latest volume in the cycle is partially set in Kraków, following the author’s appearance at the festival a few years ago. The book will be published in Poland in the autumn. We also welcomed Tom Gauld, Scottish author of comic strips published in “The New Yorker”, “The New York Times” and “New Scientist”. Our final guests from abroad were the artist Lucas Varela and author Diego Agrimbau, creators of the graphic novel Human. Born in Argentina and now living in France, Varela is a descendant of Polish immigrants to Argentina; he is a popular guest at the festival. We also met Polish comic book authors Aleksandra Szmida, Wanda Hagedorn, Marcin Podolec, Rafał Szłapa, Łukasz Ryłka, Marek Turek, Igor Jarek and Judyta Sosna. We also hosted a discussion panel on environmental issues with Paweł Kicman, Aleksandra Herzyk, Karolina Plewińska and Tomasz Grządziela – authors of the anthology The Last Tree. All events were held online.
What is the role of authors of comics in the era of the pandemic?
Just like other artists, authors of comic books have been channelling their frustration with the lockdown and other restrictions into their creativity. Jan Mazur’s My Irish Quarantine and Ernesto Gonzales’ drawings from the series Kapitan Bzyk explore the realities of life during the pandemic. Tomasz Trzaskalik’s online comic Quarantine continues to show a Cracovian perspective on the pandemic. There are 360 instalments, and there are plenty more to come! As we are all gradually learning to coexist with the coronavirus, this particular creative impulse might be coming to an end. Authors are learning to follow the rhythm of the realities of the pandemic and they no longer see it as something extraordinary. The situation is ongoing, of course, but the time when new publications focused on the pandemic alone is surely passing. During the darkest times of last year, comics brought us humour and mocked reality to bring us some relief. Art is a tool which helps us explain the world and quell fears. In the right hands, it can almost perform miracles.
The text published in the 1/2021 issue of the “Kraków Culture” quarterly.