In April 2018 I went on a research trip to Poland, funded by SGSAH. A major exhibition of comics art, Comics Now!, has just opened at the National Museum in Krakow, and it is the first exhibition of its kind and scale in a national institution in Poland. It was therefore incredibly important to make connections with the people involved in organising the exhibition, as well as seeing the exhibition in person. The visit also coincided with KFK – Krakowski Festiwal Komiksu (Cracow’s Comics Festival). Thanks to this there were also lots of opportunities for networking not only with the exhibition organisers, but also artists, journalists, and guests.
I took part in a number of activities. Firstly, I participated in a comics workshop run by Krzysztof Gawronkiewicz, who is one of the most well known comics artist in Poland that emerged post fall of communism. He has had a retrospective exhibition of all of his work to date in 2017. I sadly missed it at the time, but did not want to miss an opportunity to speak to him in person about the experience. The workshop itself was very informative and also allowed me to meet Wojciech Jama in person. He is one of the curators of the Comics Now! exhibition, and a collector. All of the works in the exhibition come from his personal collection. I arranged for an interview with Gawronkiewicz and Jama the next day, which has been recorded and I am now in the process of transcribing.
During the festival I also partook in an event called “Comics Battle”, which I went to out of curiosity (and ultimately won!). The event was ran by Artur Wabik, who is another one of the curators of the exhibition. This allowed me to meet him before the interview, which I had arranged for later in the week. Here are some photos (credit to: Krakowskie Stowarzyszenie Komiksowe).
On the next day I attended the talk by one of the guest speakers, Willem DeGraeve, who is the director of the Stripmuseum in Belgium, one of the first and largest institutions solely dedicated to comics as an art form. This was invaluable for two reasons: firstly, his talk gave an in depth insight into comics culture in Belgium, and secondly I got to speak to him after the talk. I have established a connection with him and will be arranging a visit to the Stripmuseum, hopefully within the next year.
On the last day of my stay I met up with Artur Wabik and Willem DeGraeve, and met Tomasz Trzaskalik – the last of the three curators of the Comics Now! exhibition. Tomasz Trzaskalik is an architect and was mostly responsible for arranging the exhibition. This was a more casual meeting, but there was a lot of interesting discussion regarding the exhibition, but also comics exhibiting in general. This gave me invaluable insights into exhibiting comics that had not been previously available to me.
The exhibition itself was brilliantly arranged and attending has certainly been a great experience. It is definitely much better for me to see the exhibition in person and be able to evaluate it. There were several elements of it that were particularly worth noting. The exhibition has used several methods of displaying work, and had a few different types of exhibits. There were printed versions of comics, and that included rare collected works by comics pioneer Rodolphe Topffer. A large part of work on display were original artworks. This included inked pages, but also sketches and color layer – which was frequently created on a separate sheet of paper or acetate. These were displayed side-by-side. There were also displays of the original work next to printed versions, and a couple of displays also included the printing plates. There was a lot of focus on showing the process. Aside from that, artefacts linked to comics were also exhibited. This included anything from merchandise such as figures and toys to video games based on the characters and artist made sculptures. The most interesting part of the exhibition was most certainly the especially built displays – based on the spaces depicted in the comics. A lot of these included life size cut-out characters and rooms, where one could have photos taken either with their favorite characters and in the environments they know from the comics. Particularly good example of this was the studio of Papcio Chmiel, who is the author of Tytus, Romek i A’Tomek, one of the most popular comics series. Papcio Chmiel features in the comics themselves, and a cartoon version of his studio appears in the comics.
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