Jakub Topor was born in 1988. He graduated from the Academy of Fine Arts in Łódź, Poland. He has been creating comics since childhood, either just for himself or family and friends, but it was not until 2016 that he made his official debut with Compatriots, demonstrating a kind of humor that would become a hallmark of Topor’s work. Most recently Jakub has published Nacjolove (Timof, Nationalist Love, Europe Comics), his most important work so far, nominated for the Graphic Novel of the Year award at the Comics Festival in Łódź. The story of the romance of two nationalists shamelessly puts a cat among the pigeons. Some received it very warmly, to the author’s delight, while others—to the author’s even greater delight—absolutely despised it. In addition to comics, he is an illustrator and graphic designer. Jakub has three pet snakes, three geckos, a Hermann’s tortoise, and some other animals that would take too long to list here.
What led you to the world of comics? How did you become a comics creator?
My earliest comic book inspirations were Donald Duck comics. They were published in a rather trendy magazine in Poland. As a child, I tried to create similar stories, also with anthropomorphized animals. My next step was making comic books in school notebooks, drawn for my classmates, and involving them in various storylines. For quite a long time, I stayed at the stage of simply creating comics for friends or just for fun, and it wasn’t until five years ago that I published my first standalone comic book, Rodacy (Countrymen).
What or who is your biggest inspiration?
That’s like asking for one favorite song. I can’t point to one, single idol. I’m not even limited to being inspired by the art of comics itself. My idols are all kinds of artists whose view of the world–or means of expression–I consider similar to mine or that I want to aspire to. I could give you lots of names: Art Spiegelman, Marek Raczkowski, Don Rosa, Wojciech Smarzowski, Peter Brueghel, Simon Hanselmann, Charles Bukowski, Kazik Staszewski and his band KULT, Tomasz Leśniak, Coen brothers, Vicar, Bartosz Walaszek… and of course Roland Topor (there is no evidence that we are related, but I can’t rule it out).
Tell us about Nationalist Love. What’s the story behind the book? How did it come about?
The story began with a spontaneous drawing of the cover, depicting a soldier lovingly embracing a hooded boy with nationalist sympathies. It’s a play on popular jokes in which nationalists, loudly and officially expressing hatred for sexual minorities, actually belong to those minorities themselves. Later it turned into an idea for a bigger story.
What’s the message behind Nationalist Love? Does it criticize the socio-political situation in Poland?
This comic is not a story typically about Poland. Indeed, it contains a lot of Polish elements – because those are the ones I know best. Polish people have many issues that we can’t be proud of – and a long road ahead in correcting them. But most problems depicted here are global problems. Until recently, a racist and misogynistic idiot was the president of one of the largest countries on Earth… it’s a shame for the modern world. So I decided to show some of these phenomena in comics in a grotesque way because that’s my way of telling stories and expressing emotions. At the same time, I try to understand why these people act the way they do. Does the environment influence them, or does it mask their flaws? The characters in the story, young men raised in a small town, do not know how to talk to women, so they insult them. They hate foreigners because they are afraid of the unknown. They are ashamed of their own sexuality because the environment has imposed a particular model on them.
How was your graphic novel received by readers and critics in Poland?
There were many opinions, and almost all of them were extreme. From admiration to hatred, I’ve achieved my goal of creating a particular discourse around these issues and the comic book itself. However, it should be noted that the negative opinions usually came from people who have not read the comic and judged it only after a few pages. Some people are disgusted either by the drawing style or dialogues, so they make categorical judgments about the whole thing. For them, perhaps real art consists only of Michelangelo’s sculptures, Mozart’s music, or Zbigniew Herbert’s poetry.
Why have you chosen to make all the characters grotesque? All of them seem to be full of vices.
Because we are full of vices, it’s natural. It’s worth dropping the curtain sometimes and looking at people without illusions, even in a slightly exaggerated form. Moreover, I find “ugly” and “mean” people to be more interesting, even if I hate them–or rather the things they do–in real life.
The subject matter is dark, yet the colors you have used are so vibrant. Tell us a bit about that and about the art techniques you used.
I like to create intensely and quickly, so I’ve used “quick” tools, drawing pens and various types of markers. I love the use of angry colors paired with depressing blackness. I think that a striking effect suits the somewhat brutal story that’s being told here.
How do you describe the relationship between Byro and Zapsky? Is it sexual frustration, is it love?
It’s the effect of hidden frustrations and a surge of passion. Curiosity that later turns into fear and some kind of attachment. In time there could also be love, but the comic does not give them a happy ending.
Which part was more challenging? Writing the story or drawing it?
Writing went hand in hand with drawing. It was a very spontaneous project, in which the script was created day by day (although the most important moments of the story I had in my head from the very beginning). The script will always be a more difficult task for me because I’m primarily an illustrator.
What projects are you working on now?
I’ve started a few projects, but they are in such early stages of development that I don’t see the point of talking about them. At least not yet. But you can be sure that “Nationalist Love” was not my last word, so… see you soon!