Adam Radon is the Director and key organizer of the most important Comics Festival in Poland. He was a guest at the 2017 edition of the Napoli ComiCon, where he cocurated an exhibition of polish historical comics. Here’s a little chat with him in which we talked about the landscape of polish comics and its most important artists.
NDA: Please introduce yourself and the exhibition here in Naples.
AR: I’m Adam Radon, and I’m the Director of the International Polish Festival of Comics (and Games) in Łodź. I have been its director for around 27 years, from the first edition until today.
I had the pleasure to present to the audience of the Napoli Comicon an exposition of 20 polish artists, [featuring] 20 comic works about a very difficult time in polish history, the first years after WWII.
NDA: How old are these stories? When were they created?
AR: The comics [exhibited] are from the last ten years but they cover one topic: the situation in Poland when the German occupation had finished and when in our country, and those around it, there was a Soviet occupation. It was a very very difficult time for all the countries in Eastern Europe.
Those [in the exhibition] are stories about polish soldiers still fighting after the war, [this time] against the Soviet occupation. This [became] a very popular topic in Poland since the Russian occupation ended in 1989.
NDA: These stories couldn’t be published before 1989, right?
AR: Before that date the communists in Poland had full control of all kind of activity of young people, of artists, of artists, of writers, of comic writers. The communists were very afraid of comics. They recognized that comics were a very useful tool for critics of the situation, and politics. They feared comics like fire. But they also thought of comics like of the american bomb, a culture bomb.
NDA: Were there any comics in Poland during the communist regime?
NDA: What kind of comics?
AR: There were authors, very intelligent ones, which looked for the possibility of publishing comics in that [difficult] situation. The perfect way was to make comics for children, without any political analogy or association. One such example is “Tytus, Romek i A’Tomek”, [which is] one of the most popular polish comics [ever]. It had three protagonists, two guys and one ape. The guys were scouts and wanted to make the ape behave like a man but the ape kept behaving as an ape. It was a very funny and popular comic. In each story they tried to find a way to make the ape into a human.
NDA: Was this published in magazine or as books?
AR: It was initially published in magazines and later in books.
NDA: When was it published?
AR: The first book came out in 1966 [but it started to be serialized in a magazine in 1957, according to the Wikipedia entry]. The author is Henryk Jerzy Chmielewski who in July of this years will be 94 years old. He’s still [alive and] active. He’s an amazing author and an amazing man who has a lot of fans in Poland. All polish citizens know his characters Tytus, Romek and A’Tomek.
[…] There are of course other [comics] titles from the communist era. […] The Communists also tried to do propaganda comics. As an example if they made a [TV] series about polish (?) tankists, soldiers during WWII they also made a comics version. Just like when in the West they make a movie and there are also games, comics and so on. But those propaganda comics were also popular, because in our bookshops and [newsstand] kiosks we only had grey newspapers.
Everything was in full control of a special institution for propaganda and people bought anything that was colorful. The most popular [comics] authors like Henryk Jerzy Chmielewski, like Grzegorz Rosinsky, like Tadeusz Baranowski, like Marek Szysko. They made adventure stories, withouth any government political influences…
NDA: What can you tell me about Grzegorz Rosinsky’s comics way back when he was still in Poland? His son, Piotr, has told me that Rosinsky made some comics in Poland, before he left in the early 80s.
AR: Yes. I remember a beautiful and very important serial about the first years of Polish history from the early Middle Ages, about Polish legends, [such as the] Cracow dragon, about the Piast (?) Wrodzey (House?), or the first farmers (?) of Poland.
NDA: And these were all safe issues for comics stories?
AR: Yes. For them [the censors] it wasn’t a problem [if you told about] the Old History of Poland, but… only if you didn’t write or draw anything about the history between Poland and Russia. You see? [laughter] That was really funny, because they tried to convince us that Poland had always been friends with Russia in all of those [comics] historic tales…
NDA: So as in other eastern-bloc countries the Russians were the saviours, the b…
AR: Brothers, yes, yes, exactly! It was a very hard friendship.
[…] This is the time for new legends. We have a great history […] but we also have contemporary history.
NDA: It’s been almost 30 years since the fall of the Wall. What can you tell me about the more recent [comics] production?
AR: There’s been an explosio, in Poland. A comics bomb. […]
Of course in the first years after the end of the communist regime it was a very difficult time not only for comic artists but for all kind of artists. The old system had ended and the beginning of the 90s we tried to develop a new system. Freedom for media, freedom for publishers, freedom for authors and a lot of independence.
The start of the festival in Łodź was very important moment for Polish comics.
NDA: What year was that?
AR: That was in 1991. in the first year there were two editions.
NDA: Which do you think are the most important authors in the last 20-25 years of Polish Comics?
AR: Oh, this is a very difficult question for a Comics Festival Director. [laughter]
NDA: Are you also a comics author?
AR: Yes, yes, I am but for me this is only a hobby. In the first editions [of the Łodź Festival] I started a contest and later I stayed on as a director and organizer.
NDA: Do you write or draw?
AR: I draw. I went to the Academy of Arts in Łodź and for me drawing is a form of… it’s like an “otherworld”, beacuse my job is in a office full of people and documents. I’m a manager. When I need a break I draw, but not for others, just for myself.
Maybe some day I will put out a book of my own, but for now everybody knows me as the director of a festival, [something] like a manager of Polish artists, and an organizer of Polish exhibitions everywhere in the world. [We did] about forty expositions in other countries. We try to bring these expositions to [other] comic conventions.
NDA: Some of the Polish artists exhibited here at the Napoli ComiCon have a style similar to that of french artists. How come?
AR: Yes. That’s because the first influence, the first wave of comics after 1989 was from Europe. […] This was the biggest role of Grzegorz Rosinsky. Working in the West, in Belgium, he made the Thorgal serial, and that was the most popular series of comics in the history of Poland coming from the West. It’s not easy because he still felt like a polish citizen but he worked in Belgium and so that, [Thorgal] was something like an import. Thorgal is one of the most popular polish comics, and it is also known in all of Europe. This is very important because Tytus, Romek i A’Tomek was an endemic title, only for polish readers.
NDA: What are some other popular polish artists and books/series right now?
AR: [In Poland] we have a lot of titles but no [comics] magazines: that’s now on the Internet. To make an example in the Festival’s contest there are about 300 artists every year. And for me it’s very difficult to say who is my favorite because I’m the director of the festival.
NDA: OK. Tell me a bit about Polish publishers, then.
AR: The biggest [comics] publisher on the market is Egmont [a large danish publishing group]. This is [the] polish [branch of] Egmont, of course, […] and it also publishes work by polish authors. This is very important.
Egmont Poland has a very wise manager, very professional, who also remembers the legacy of polish comics. Egmont has done reprints of the biggest polish titles from the communist era but they’re also working with young polish authors. They also have licenses.
And then there also typical polish publishers such as Daja Kulturagnevo (?), Timotisic Pulnice (?), Taurus Media and many, many others. And this is important: every year in my festival we have ??? new polish publishers. This is very good news for me. When we started in 1991, nobody was publishing comics in Poland. […] We now have between twenty and thirty publishers in Poland. These are comics publishers, not book publishers. It’s a very good number and it’s also a result of the festival and our work. We united the market in Łodź and now we’re doing a second festival in Warsaw.
NDA: When does the Łodź Festival of Comics take place?
AR: Starting from this year  it’s taking place in mid-September. It’s a very good moment because people are coming back after their vacations and there’s [still] a nice weather in Poland and [so] it’s very comfortable for our visitors and our guests. This is also a very good moment because in Europe we don’t have any other big festivals.
Note: thanks to Mr. Radon and also to the very nice Comicon staff for facilitating the interview. The pictures of Mr. Radon and the Komiks Festiwal logo are from the official website. All of the other pictures are by Nicola D’Agostino.