Rocketing from Avery Hill to a Retrograde Orbit in Kristyna Baczynski’s new graphic Novel

artist spotlight, comic, Comic spotlight, First Impressions, interview

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Over three years ago, and twice as many old fashioned’s, I found myself so completely  moved and drawn in by Kristyna Baczynski’s comic “Vessel” that I somehow ended up writing close to a thousand words about it. Diving deep and gently dissecting it.

A little excessive maybe for a comic comprising eight pages? Well, you can imagine the strange mix of excitement and trepidation I was feeling this week as the Leeds based creator announced her first full length graphic novel to be released by Avery Hill Publishing this September to nicely coincide with her home cities celebration of comics, Thought Bubble. You can expect a full review here around about this time 2019. Maybe.

“It’s something I’ve wanted to do for a long time, for years really. Alongside my other freelance commitments and part-time jobs, making a longer comic book could never quite fit into that scenario” said Baczynski of her previous work on her shorter self published comics, including the poignant and touching “Hand Me Down”, nominated for best Graphic Short in the 2016 Eisners. Having quit her lecturing job to go into comics and illustrations full time, Retrograde Orbit will mark her first foray into full length graphic novels and the first to be picked up by a major publisher. “Avery Hill had always been interested in and supportive of my work so we decided to finally get the ball rolling together” Baczynski commented on the subject of her new home with the publisher, who also announced new books from B.Mure and Tillie Walden to be released this autumn, “Avery Hill wanted the ball to be science fiction, so that was a nudge that started things off”.

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While another of her stories, the quietly sweet and hauntingly introspective “A Measure of Space” featured sci-fi elements with it’s cosmic disaster, Retrograde Orbit already feels like it’s fully embracing the genre, set on a mining planet at the edge of the solar system and the experiences of Flint as she grapples with her own notions of home and the possibilities of leaving it. Her unique composition and panel layout is something I talked about endlessly before and Retrograde Orbits structure clearly sets out to firmly launch her latest works sci-fi premise beyond just the, admittedly gorgeous, looking futuristic set dressings  “The mechanics of the story are based on the cycle of planets in a solar system, so that took some time to get right. I’m also trying to avoid sci-fi exposition. As much as I love Geordie LaForge and his technobabble, I wanted the science fiction world to be an immersive setting, a narrative metaphor, instead of something that needs explaining all the time”

Coming out in September it should come as no shock that Retrograde Orbit’s launch will coincide with this years Thought Bubble which as well as being a genuinely welcoming and uplifting showcase of comics talent, has also snagged a fair few exclusive releases for their comics celebrations in past years. “Thought Bubble 2018 will be my tenth show. That’s wild. So, we decided to pitch the release date for then” shared Baczynski when asked about the seemingly cosmic connection of convention and release dates “I absolutely love Thought Bubble; it’s my hometown show, they have always been supporters of my work and raise the profile of my home city. Not to mention all my comics friends visiting for a weekend every year. It’s the best. I’m so excited to share the book with them in September.”

A big thank you goes out to Kristyna for taking time out of her busy schedule to talk to me. You can find more of her work here and learn more about Retrograde Orbit over at Avery Hill.

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Artist Spotlight: Kristyna Baczynski’s ‘Vessel’

artist spotlight

Being of modest means, in the past I have shamefully bought comics due to page count alone. Quantity counts when strapped for cash and I’d usually choose comics with a bit more meat on their bones. Although I’m slowly collecting Hellblazer trades they’d always be at the top of my list when they came out due to their huge wodge of pages and densely written style that would take me a few weeks to chew through. Recently being a little bit more financially relaxed and delving deeper into the small press and independent scene I’m discovering more often that the best comics can be both beautiful and brief.

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Vessel is an independent comic from Leeds artist Kristyna Baczynski. It stars an unnamed protagonist who completes her education and finds herself immediately stuck in an all too familiar procession of banal and ultimately interchangeable jobs. Baczynski captures the feeling of quiet mundanity here perfectly in a series of repeated patterns, her character stood in the same pose and expression in each and every one, with only the hats name badges changing. She finally realises after what could be years of these jobs that her own inaction, that she has to make her life happen as she rushes out into the world. While the subject matter is as well travelled as her heroine by the end of the comic, Baczynski’s unique voice and artistic style ensures she still has something fresh to say on the matter. It’s powerful and deeply affecting, especially to someone like myself who might be realising that life doesn’t happen on it’s own.

Baczynski’s artwork in general is stunning and he unique style and strong playful lines are used to great effect in Vessel. Her pages are both expansive and intricate when needed and filled with delightful little details and flourishes. One element in particular is her use of water to illustrate and express some of her themes. Referring to the title, our protagonist imagines herself as a vessel filling up with knowledge. Eventually the central character finds her own meaning, filling her life up with all the desperate pieces around her to make a whole.The second instance is drawing her character with waves moving around her, brilliantly expressing the idea of life happening and time moving around you, waiting for something to happen rather than living in the now.

Before her travels her life is restricted to single pages and panels before opening up to widescreen, cinematic double spreads. At the start of her escapades, on the first double page spread, our adventurer stands elated, poised and thrust forward at the edge of a cliff. As she leans forward your eye is deliberately drawn across the page to the wide open landscape. It gives the comic a strong feeling of action and forward momentum, conducive to a story about travel and adventure.

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It’s definitely worth noting the clever and effective colouring she employs in Vessel, using a limited palette throughout. The pages are all blue until her epiphany and setting off into the world, when colour is literally added to her life. Subsequent pages limit themselves to three colours per double spread until the very last one showing the traveller with her collection of trinkets which combines all of the colours from the previous pages. It perfectly illustrates the accumulation of her encounters.The physical objects show a patchwork of experiences made manifest in “a collage of passport stamps, trinkets and anecdotes”. Baczynski deftly condenses a sense of a lifetime of travel and experiences into such a short comic, with the last few pages showing objects from her travels, skilfully hinting about unseen adventures.Care has been taken to ensure that Vessel itself could join those prized possessions, being risograph printed on thick glossy card stock, and hand stapled.

Showing it to my partner he enjoyed it and liked the artwork but wasn’t quite as taken with the romanticism of travel or the thought of leaving it all behind as I was. While it’s extensively about travel, I think it prevented him from seeing the much larger point this story makes. The beautiful and touching message at the heart of this comic, of having a rich, full life well lived. I think, giving it another shot, he’d really appreciate what Baczynski depicts here, of being able to look back as this messy, cluttered life and feel content. While the travel and exotic locations give the comic it’s quick pace and momentum, as well as showing of the artists skills, allowing her to draw far flung vistas and even alien looking worlds, it also visually emphasises a point of encouraging us to get out there and open ourselves up to new and enriching experiences. As the protagonist tells us “This might be wisdom, I don’t quite know”.

More of Kristyana Baczynski’s work can be found on her website while Vessel and other comics can be purchased from her Etsy site