Will the Belarusian affairs help two Polish students pursue their ambitions in the world of comics? Why do the girls consider Belarus to be the least known country in Europe? Belsat.eu has asked the authors of Trumian Show and The Wreath about the thriller going on in the country which they are getting to know on the Internet.
Patrycja Pustelnik (aka Arttricia) studies Computer Graphics in the town of Bielsko-Biała. Agata Hop (aka Hop Hop) is a student at the Academy of Fine Arts in Warsaw. The both girls have been drawing comics since childhood; they feel up to turning their passion into a career.
A step towards their dream is the comic strip Trumian Show, the story of Belarusian girl Alena who has a special gift. It combines colourful East Slavic folklore, the nastiness of the USSR and Tarantinian sense of humour. Now the authors are working on The Wreath, a series about Alena’s youth.
How did it happen that you tell your readers about Belarus? Why couldn’t the story be laid, for example, in Silesia?
Patrycja Pustelnik: Even before Trumian I had created a series with Alena as a character. I wanted her to come from some Slavic country that is close to Poland. Then my friend proposed: “Let it be Belarus, because it is a country about which no one knows anything.” The character’s Belarusian origin seemed to be a bright idea; it is a well-known fact that villains appearing in American comics usually come from Russia.
But hardly anyone writes about Belarus. In Polish books and textbooks it is a very ‘gray’ country. On the back of it, I paid heed to the fate of Belarusians and decided that I would shape my Alena as a strong character, because Belarus is a country that needs to be spoken about.
And what is Belarus like in your comics?
PP: I focused on the period of Soviet Belarus, but I also tried to touch on its folklore. The fact that the Belarusians have not shied away from their roots and do care about their national heritage appeals to me. On the other hand, I read the reports showing that many of them no longer know the meaning of the symbols they wear. I also learned that they have a big issue with their native language: Russian is dominant there, and Belarusian is rarely used, which aroused my interest as well.
Agata Hop: The culture of Belarus is inspiring. When attending the art liceum, I got to know that the best of Slavic traditions and sculptures from the Early Slavonic period had been preserved there. Additionally, Belarus has a secret in itself, because we cannot learn much about it, since there is little information in Poland, and it is difficult to get it from Belarusians.
PP: The representatives of the young generation are not able to provide yielding information. I asked my friend Dziana about Belarusian history and culture, but she moved to Poland [as a kid] and she hardly knows much. It was not until I discovered Belsat TV that I found a source of information in the Polish language.
So, your interest came out of the blue. Or are you connected to Belarus in some other way?
AH: I might have Belarusian roots because my grandfather comes from the village of Krynki in Podlasie and he has relatives living in the east. But I have not had an opportunity to dig and delve yet; I should have looked in the parish books.
Have you ever been to Belarus?
AH: I was at the Polish-Belarusian border, but not in Belarus. If there is a good chance, I would love to visit it.
PP: I would love to go there too. Photos [of Belarus] would be of use, and taking a trip to the country is always better than just reading about it.
Why is your comic novel so macabre?
AH: Patrycja started making Trumian by herself, I joined later. Its concept came from our interest in the dark thriller genre and black humour. We gained much inspiration from Stephen King and Quentin Tarantino.
PP: I was very inspired by them and Trumian turned to be a mix of their styles. That is why our Alena is so gloomy at first. Then, in The Wreath, she is shown as a small and frightened girl.
What can you, the authors, say about your character?
PP: She is definitely a very eccentric character. I wanted her physiognomy to be a combination of Clint Eastwood and Monica Bellucci. She is strong and mysterious, but introverted at the same time. She barricades herself behind the wall of sarcasm, which was caused by a trauma from the past. Therefore, when defending herself, she resorts to smart attacks.
Why does such a beautiful woman kill?
PP: She kills because she has set a goal to punish those who hurt her or put a scare into the innocent. She does not kill good people, just murderers and supervillains.
AH: She is the avenger type, a Belarusian Punisher in a skirt. She has her own principles.
It means she has her own definition of morality?
AH: She is not an amoral person, she just tries to save people from the evil that happened to her, which we will show in The Wreath.
PP: Alena is neither good nor bad. She is gray. She does not do well, but she does not do bad things either. Everything she does stems from the deeds her father committed. That is how her gift which helps her to act emerged.
AH: In general, the idea of dividing people into the good and the bad is quite interesting. We have recently discussed the topic, suggesting that most of us are gray, a little bit like this and a little bit like that. Some of us do more good, others go rogue, but there are no one hundred percent ‘pure’ people. Even the best people commit crimes, and sometimes degenerate persons are recognised as heroes.
PP: Alena kills those who hurt others. Our character does not tolerate Communists; since childhood she has had a dislike of Russians, she is a patriot.
A year ago you released Trumian Show. Now you are working on The Wreath, the story of your character’s becoming herself. When will it come out and what stage are you at now?
PP: It is to be finished by the end of the summer.
AH: Creating a storyboard is underway. We have already written the script of several chapters. The very process of creating a comic script is quite long and labourious.
Will it appear in a printed form or online?
AH: Now web comics are carrying the day, because one can publish them by themselves, a publishing house need not to be involved. One does not have to invest in paper and printing either. Printed comics are now something exclusive, e.g. collectors’ items, but they still exist.
PP: We publish them on the Internet. As authors of web comics, we gain a wider group of readers by default, it is easier to reach out to our audience. Thanks to the Webtoon platform, we can find the readers from all over the world, that is why [posting on] the platform is our priority. It is due to web comics that one can stand out today and even make money on it.
Do you know any Belarusian authors of comics?
AH: Not on Webtoon. There is one Russian author, but the majority are Americans, Koreans, and Japanese people.
PP: People from Europe are just beginning to show their works there, but they also draw in styles that come from America or Asia. They lack ideas of how to write about their country in an attractive way, so they just copy what is booming in popularity, i.e. American and Japanese comics. As a result, few European cartoonists are recognisable and associated with Europe.
AH: There are also authors from Poland who are trying to promote Slavicness or Polishness. But as time goes on, they give up and start releasing comics that are more understandable for the West or Asia.
And your show of originality is a thriller about Belarus?
AH: – Yes, we aimed at creating a comic book with a plot full of twists, turns and a bit of gloom; we wanted it to be partly set in the Soviet times.
PP: This work includes two series: The Wreath that tells the story of Alena’s childhood in the Belarusian village. We have a lot of popular beliefs and folklore. The second series (which was created first) is Trumian Show featuring grown-up Alena. Now I am focusing on The Wreath; it is also dark, but its tone differs from that of Trumian.
You are seeking to present your comic book abroad. Does this mean it will be translated?
PP: Indeed, the translation would come for us now. We would like to have The Wreath translated primarily into Belarusian, because its action tales place in Belarus. <…> We have not been looking for a translator in Belarus yet. By now, we have taken strides to have the comics issued in Polish and English. We did not include a translation into Belarusian into our budget, because we do not earn on the comics. But if there were some Belarusian [volunteer] eager to translate our comic book, we would be happy to accept their help.
We want the project to be seen by as many people as possible, because Belarus is a country that is worthy of a comic strip about it. We wish people could perceive it as a state with its own traditions and customs, not as a gray country under Russian influence. Let’s provide them with the opportunity to find out where Belarus is and what makes it different.
Do you think that your dark story bolsters the image of Belarus?
PP: The gray Trumian Show does not, because it is a quirky comic novel for picky readers. But The Wreath will be able to contribute to the country’s positive image. We intentionally placed it at the beginning of our story as we believe that its atmosphere will be the best promotion of Belarus.
The works by Patrycja Pustelnik and Agata Hop on Instagram: HopTricia
Piotr Jaworski, belsat.eu / abridged for the English version by MS
Click here to read the full interview (Polish language)