Oct. 28, 2021

Comic – what is it like?

The comic book tradition in Poland links to the development of the press after regaining independence in 1918. The printed stories were targeted at a mass audience, playfully referring to social and political issues. Between the years 1948-53, an antiimperialist campaign hit Poland, due to which comic books associated with the American pop culture were heavily criticized by the authorities. This “light" medium was seen as a threat considering its libertarian character, and at that time, there was an attempt at its complete elimination. As a result, a negative narration appeared, bringing comics down to a symbol of bad taste and “trash". 

Researchers who did not support the then Polish authorities considered comics as a crucial element of social changes and saw potential in their simple and resonant form. The first series of comic albums appeared in the second half of the '60s while maintaining formal and ideological compliance with the printing requirements. Gierek's rule in the '70s  brought about a certain openness for the genre, although comic books still had dangerous associations to their name. To point towards an example, for that reason, a publishing house referred to “Kapitan Żbik" as “colorful notebooks" – and not comic books. 

With the political contraindications fading away, new comic book series started appearing in Poland. In 1974, the National Publishing Agency (“Krajowa Agencja Wydawnicza") was established. Its head, Dobrosław Kobielski, saw the financial benefit in publishing a comic book periodically. Yet, the ministerial staff continued to be against this libertarian medium. To ensure the supply of paper, considering its constant shortage, Kobielski came to an agreement with Janusz Wieczorek – the head of the Office of the Council of Ministers and the chairman of the Council for the Protection of Struggle and Martyrdom Sites. They agreed that 10% of the price of a new magazine (which cost 20 zł) would be allocated towards the (back then) newly built Children's Health Centre. The editor-in-chief of the “Relax" newspaper was Henryk Kurta, an expert on francophone matters. Grzegorz Rosiński filled the position of artistic manager. He had connections with western publishers but most importantly understood how the comic world developed worldwide. The intention was that “Relax" would take inspiration from the French weekly “Pilote". It was targeted at readers of all ages and was supposed to represent an openness towards western pop culture. The first issue appeared in July 1976, and inside it, you could find the comics drawn by Rosiński, Polch, Kobyliński, Christa, Baranowski, and Pawłowski. 

The publishing of the magazine was a great success. It was read mostly by children and teenagers, and therefore, with time, the freedom of loose morals in writing was abandoned. “Relax" never acquired a central European character. The fragments of “Thorgal" printed in the magazine were its most important part, and Rosiński collaborated with a Belgian publisher house to work on them – previously they were published in the “Tintin" magazine. Apart from Rosiński, among the artists who have long been associated with “Relax" are Christa, Wróblewski, Parzydło, and Szyszko.  Problems related to the supply of paper, political scene changes, and the reluctance of the KAW decision-makers led to the cessation of the magazine's publication in 1981. 

The history of the comic book is complex. Today, however, the genre develops independently from ideological requirements worldwide – as evidenced when looking at the awards won by Polish creators. For more than 30 years, events in the praise and honor of the art of comics have been held – bringing together creators, fans, and enthusiasts. In the “Comics. The Battle of the Words" auction's offer, one can find the works of an unwavering authorship status by Papcio Chmiel, Janusz Christa, Tadeusz Baranowski, Grzegorz Rosiński, Bogusław Polch, and Mieczysław Wiśniewski. 

The trend for the collecting of original comic art developing in Poland concerns the masters of the genre but also the contemporary creators such as Janek Koza, Jacek Frąś, Adam Kmiołek, Igor Wolski, Krzysztof Budziejewski, and Nikodem Cabała. 

Due to their artistic, literary, and historic qualities, the comic market develops and gains significance. A single piece of original comic art can be a collector's item wanted all over the world. Artzins (alternative in character magazines, popular in the 80's and 90's in Poland) created by the group “Ładnie" – Rafał Bujanowski, Wilhelm Sasnal, Marek Firek, Marcin Maciejowski, and Józef Tomczyk “Kurosawa" – show a direct link between contemporary critical painting and comic art. This visual-literary genre has a libertarian – even revolutionary – potential. Possibly that is the reason why great comics are also appreciated at literary competitions.