COMIC CREATOR INTERVIEW with Sztehlo: Independent creators vs the virus
We are deep into lockdown now and we all have an idea of how this is affecting local business both in and out of the comic industry. We know that shops are still “open” as much as they can be, ensuring that we all get any books. What about the creators though? Now I’m sure most of the creators that work on the big books are doing ok for now, despite officially being told #pencilsdown , but what about smaller creators, ones who publish themselves. How has this affected their lives and their content?
I was lucky enough to sit down and chat (over the phone) with creator Sztehlo about his experience with creating comics and the situation we are currently living through.
So here is some background into who Sztehlo is: born as Andrew Sztehlo, he dropped his first name when writing. Growing up and having difficulty reading, he says that “comics became the gateway into reading.” Fond memories of going to the library and taking out The Long Halloween and swooning over Tim Sale’s artwork (anyone who has read The Long Halloween can see the influences of the noir style on Sztehlo’s designs). The dark gothic art style really appealed to him from a young age. Being someone who lived abroad, he had limited access to comics. So he talks about when he returned, he used to bring a suitcase to Close Encounters (a local comic shop), and fill it up with recommendations, spending the pocket money he’d saved up.
Looking into his influences, other than Sale, he discusses people like Becky Cloonan (who has the recognition of being the first woman to ever write a Punisher series), Daniel Clowes (Ghost World, 1997), and Mike Mignola (Hellboy), saying that these people opened up a whole other world, showing what comics can do. These people got him interested in comics after a hiatus from the industry.
With people having free time, we talk about how he’s spending his time. He explains that school has “opened up” to some extent, so he’s able to do his admin job. Working as a librarian he can help guide young people with recommendations, just like what happened to him. He talks about how they are an inspiration to him, with their resilience and passion. It becomes clear at this point that he cares about the generation. A mentor, exactly what a good teacher can do.
With this free time he is also working on his first graphic novel. Spending Monday – Friday daytime on his day job (through lockdown), then afternoons with comics as he’s got lots of projects on the go. With this free time he goes on to say he’s become more introspective: “Thinking about our relationship with the world and the people that we know and love, which is good for an artist as it’s the bread and butter of our trade...which brings truth and authenticity to my artwork.” He has also been keeping a journal on Instagram, cataloging what we are all seeing in the world as well as what he’s experiencing.
We talk about how this situation has affected his comics, and he says that he started writing a script, probably the funniest thing he’s written, generally light-hearted. Before this, he describes his artwork being based around darkness and trauma: “The world we live in has darkened in a drastic way; we are being forced to question ourself and our lives...and I need relief from that.” I believe this is a sentiment that we all share; we all need a break from the now-bleak normal lives we live. So he wrote this as a way to cope.
It’s obvious that just because someone draws or writes comics, doesn’t mean they aren’t struggling. Big name writers and artist maybe comfortable, but for others, this lockdown doesn’t mean everything stops. They are still pushing to create.
One last question I had, is one that I think can cause a debate: Digital or Physical? “Physical...always, I love beautiful books...my Hellboy library editions…these are books that I cherish...the emotional connection I have to them is enriched by the fact that I have them in my hand.” This answer is one I totally agree with. As a collector I love to have something to hold, to show for the money I’ve spent. However, having said that, I am now also able to enjoy comics through the digital medium. Marvel and DC have put out digital books for free to keep us entertained during the lockdown. So too has Sztehlo. His book We Are Here As On A Darkling Plain has been released free of charge (link below). It’s a collection of classic poems that he has illustrated.
The book is fantastic, and you can see all the influences from Clowes to Sale. There is also his first Tales From The Border book on his site, which is a collection of short stories.
So during this time when we are all locked down, there are people still hard at work within the comic industry. I would recommend checking out his books, and if people are struggling to find unique gift ideas, he is also accepting commission pieces. All links to contact him are below.
Instagram - https://instagram.com/ajsztehlo?igshid=f333zo210gup
Free comic - https://gumroad.com/sztehlo
Facebook - https://www.facebook.com/andrew.sztehlo
Website - https://talesfromtheborder.com
Twitter - https://twitter.com/ajsztehlo