In-Focus: Kristyna Baczynski on making comics
Kristyna Baczynski is an illustrator, comic book artist and designer who grew up in The Pennines of Yorkshire, to a family from The Carpathians of Ukraine.
Since being named Thought Bubble’s first Artist in Residence, Baczynski’s work has appeared in anthologies such as Nelson, Solipsistic Pop, Paper Science, Thought Bubble Anthology 2011 & 2012 and music monthly The Stool Pigeon as well as producing a number of self published mini-comics.
Whether it’s a tale about a bear stuck down a hole or a man whisked into space on his lunch break, her immaculate art style is a treat for the eyes and fits so much loving detail into even the simplest of tales.
In this special in-focus feature, Kristyna shares her creative process and offers pro advice for making great comics.
I studied Graphic Arts & Design at Leeds Metropolitan University, graduating in 2008. I specialised in illustration and animation, and my short cartoon ‘Java Jive’ won the Northern Design Award that year, which led to my first design job as a storyboard artist and greetings card designer. That job really tempered my skills and was like a whole new degree in itself. Alongside this I was freelancing and self-publishing at evenings and weekends, which eventually took over my day-job, and I left to go full-time freelance in 2012.
Can you share your creative process; how do you get started with a comic?
When starting a comic I’ll have a story in mind, which is usually based around a personal experience that is wrapped up in some fantastical premise. Character development, narrative plot points, key moments, environments and emotional landmarks start to develop alongside each other.
From here I start selecting the best bits to redraw and begin sequencing the main moments. This could just be the finale, or another fragment that I work outwards from. Once the bare bones of the story are in place, I’ll write a page-by-page script that includes the editorial text as well as a description of the action, feelings and visuals.
You can be a writer, typographer, designer, illustrator and storyteller all at once.
How did you get your first comic commission?
The first ever comics show I attended was Thought Bubble in 2009. From this event spiralled a wave of collaborations and publications that led to a great deal more work and recognition. My first published comic was featured in issue 2 of Solipsistic Pop, edited by Tom Humberstone. I met Tom at that first Thought Bubble, and have contributed to every issue of Solipsistic Pop since.
What do you enjoy most about working in the comic format? How does the working process vary to other illustration work?
Comics are a medium which embrace the auteur approach like no other. You can be a writer, typographer, designer, illustrator and storyteller all at once. Just as with film, animation and literature, the author dictates and creates a world for their audience to experience.
Comics are richly visual, displaying craft, penmanship, design, colour and can therefore affect and inform their audience in a huge array of ways. Comics are experienced – you hear the words read in your own mind, you fill in the gaps between panels with your own connections and are involved in the story.
Making a comic is different from making an illustration; it’s carefully constructing a series of illustrations which work together, rather than just a single image.
There is a lot more work in comics – they are a delicate art – but I feel the audience gets more from them. You can really involve your reader, transport them somewhere you’ve created and explore characters and worlds in great depth.
I love working in both disciplines, as it allows for storytelling and character to permeate into applied illustration and design and this then feeds back into my comics, looking at panels and pages as illustrative design compositions too.
What do you think makes a strong, engaging and entertaining comic?
A good mix of storytelling and illustration. Comics that tell stories in an inventive way are particularly engaging, and exciting to make too. The ideal balance is when a comic tells a great story and looks phenomenal at the same time.
I love comics that look beautiful or unusual, transport me somewhere and pass on a feeling or two. I’m always blown away when the colour palette (full colour, limited or even just black and white) is used as a dynamic part of the narrative – evolving colour tones, bold use of spot inks or inventive use of halftones and blacks. Great comics have pages that work as entire compositions, as well as individual panels.
The ideal balance is when a comic tells a great story and looks phenomenal at the same time.
Can comics be quite lucrative or should illustrators view it as an ‘add-on’ revenue to other work?
In basic terms there is a lot more work required to make a comic than an illustration, but I feel there is much more worth in making comics than commercial gain. An audience responds much differently to a comic that to an image; they spend more time and invest themselves in the characters and story.
Therefore, I feel like my comics and sequential work has led to greater recognition as a creator and artist, raising my profile and gaining me more interest, and this in turn has led to more illustration work from clients. The characters and design I put into my illustration work are an extension of the in-depth world created in my comics.
Comics shows can be very worthwhile, and subsequently often lead to design and illustration work. Even if a show was not-so-successful on the day itself, weeks or months down the line a client might approach me, after they picked up one of my comics or zines and thought of my work for their project.
Have you self published a comic or graphic novel? How does this compare to working with a publisher?
Yes, self-publishing a comic is extremely enjoyable and fulfilling. Working for yourself is a unique challenge. As well as undertaking all the creative roles and printing preparation, you must also take on the role of editor.
Being critical can feel disheartening when you begin picking out all the negative and weak ideas in your comic, but the ability to act as editor and change and improve those weak parts for the better is an essential skill I’ve learnt from self-publishing. It takes bravery to step back, rip apart an idea and put it back together, but it is a sure-fire way to make huge creative leaps forward.
It takes bravery to step back, rip apart an idea and put it back together.
Working with a publisher is slightly different, but often you have some self-publishing under your belt before anyone asks you to make a comic with them. The critical skills and ability to revise ideas and stories are key to working with a publisher. I’ve found it very beneficial to work with a new person, as the critical feedback and suggestions often come from a new perspective and widen your own view of your work.
Overall the difference between self-publishing and publisher comics is very similar to the age-old divide between personal projects and client work. Each teaches you different skills and processes that benefit mutually.
5 key tips to make incredible comics
1. Decide the printing method, size, page count and binding of your comic right at the start. Having to re-work and recolour drawn pages to fit a printer’s specifications is a horribly stressful and time-consuming task that it’s good to avoid.
2.Write a script. Even if your comic is wordless, just write a sentence to summarise what happens on each page. Being concise and clear now, will lead to a clear and satisfying narrative for your reader.
3.Thumbnail your pages. Break down your script into images on the page. Deciding on a grid to use as a guide is beneficial, as you can meaningfully divide your narrative into panels over the grid. For example, give more space for important events/moments or use lots of small panels to create a fast montage.
4.Make your comic about something you like to draw. If you like spend time drawing lots of detailed foliage, then set your comic in a jungle. If not, then maybe your story takes place in a desert landscape. You will inevitably have to draw the same things multiple times, so basing the key elements of you comic on your drawing interests is often a good way to ensure you enjoy the process.
5.Don’t make comics by looking at other comics. When looking for drawing references and inspiration, avoid looking at only other contemporary creators. Base your work on real-life experiences and things you have really seen. Look at unusual, historical and varied visual references.