A few days before the festival our guest from Poland, comics writer Bartosz Sztybor was kind enough to answer some questions via e-mail. Thanks to Aneta Kaczmarek for her assistance.
Antal Bayer: Your special edition comic book for the festival is a very pleasant surprise. Are the three stories included brand new, or have they appeared somewhere before?
Bartosz Sztybor: These three stories were made before the Budapest Festival, but only one of them appeared in a comic book (an anthology of my and Piotr Nowacki's works, a book called "Tainted"). The other two were made for short stories competitions and this will be the first time that they appear in print. So that pleasant surprise is also a pleasant surprise for me.
AB: Somehow I have the impression that you especially like silent comics. Why? Is it because of the special challenge?
BS: That's true, I'm a really big fan of silent comics. I love the works by Thomas Ott, Nicolas Presl and - last but not least - my idol, Jason. Silent comics are universal and they can be understood all over the world. That's one of the reasons why I like to write silent comics.
But another reason is that - as you said - it's really a big challenge. You have to show everything in pictures and do it very precisely. It's easy to show too much, but it's also very possible that you'll show a bit too little and nobody will understand what you wanted to tell. The narration must be clear and the drawings have to show every single emotion. So yes, it's a challenge, but also a bridge between different cultures. I have been showing my silent comics to people from Europe, United States and even South America and everyone could understand them.
Writing silent comics is also really great practice for learning good storytelling. When you read the best comic books - even the ones with dialogues - you can stop reading the words and you will know what the story is about. Images have great power.
AB: I saw on the Centrala publishing house’s site another of your comics, It’s Not About That . Could you tell us a few words about this? Is that a very different use of the silent medium?
BS: It's Not About That is my latest graphic novel that I made with Piotr Nowacki (art) and Łukasz Mazur (colors), my really good friends, with whom we have done and will do a lot of projects together. The comic book is a story about a robot who is something like a house maid. He works hard and his owners don't treat him well, so he's waiting very eagerly for his retirement. But then he discovers something awful and from that moment everything changes... I don't want to tell more because the story has a few twists and a really surprising ending. (Note: An English language review can be found here.)
Maybe it's not a different use of the silent medium, but I wrote it as a tribute to Michael Haneke's movies. Maybe not a straight tribute, but I really like how he plays with the medium, the storytelling and the viewers. I wanted to do the same thing. Something like starting with a children's story and ending with a horror story.
AB: You create comics for both children and grown-ups. Do you have a preference? I also see that you write a couple of series for different newspapers. Again, what do you prefer, writing single stories or series of stories, strips, with the same characters?
BS: Once one of my friends told me that I don't have a distinctive style. That I should choose and start writing only one kind of stories. And then everyone could see after one panel that I wrote that. But I couldn't. I read a lot and watch a lot of films and I have many ideas for different kind of stories. That's why I don't have one kind of genre that I really like. I like to write tales for children and noir stories, but I also like to mix genres (science-fiction with pirates, for example).
And the same thing applies to series. I like to write graphic novels, to create characters and then say goodbye to them and never see them again. But I also like to create characters for whom I have so many adventures in my mind that I must create a few albums or short stories.
I like diversity because writing a good one-page comic is just as hard as writing an 8-page or a 64-page comic. Each one is a challenge and a great exercise that needs different skills. What's more, every story has its own range. To tell a particular story, you only need one page, and for another, 100. I just love to write everything
AB: How do you see the current comics scene in Poland, and do you have contacts outside the Polish scene? Do you see yourself as deeply embedded in Polish comics, or rather as someone who tries to reach out in all sorts of directions?
BS: The Polish comics scene is good. Not very good, but good. We don't have such a big market as Italy, Germany or Spain (not to mention France), but we have a few publishers, a lot of foreign and Polish comics published every year, two big comics' festivals and many great artists. But of course it's hard to make a living from just comic books. That's why I'm doing some works for Polish publishers and magazines, but I'm also doing some things for foreign publishers. And I'm trying to do more and bigger things for the US and French markets. Besides Piotr Nowacki and a few other artists from Poland, I'm also working with people from other countries. So, I'm trying to experiment and do new things, which includes writing outside comics (like for TV, movies or books). As I said before, I just love to write and I think that every story has its medium.
AB: Thank you for the interview and see you soon in Budapest!