Painting and animation were the first twin passions of Janek Koza, born 1970, while studying and working at the Fine Art Academy in Wroclaw, the Silesian capital in southwest Poland. The deliberately unslick, hand-made marks of his more than 100 cartoon films quiver with a nervous fragility on their smudged paper surfaces. He started in 1993 with Erotic Confessions shown on local television and at festivals worldwide. A decade later, these vignettes of vulnerable couples formed the basis for him to branch out into comics. Koza insists none of his work is autobiographical: “They are only stories influenced by reality around me. I prefer to be an observer.”
His output is part of a boom recently in alternative comics in Poland, boosted by the proactive annual festival in October in David Lynch’s turf Lódz; and one-person publisher Kultura Gniewu translating today’s international stars and introducing homegrown talents like Koza. Last year for them he created Everything is Wrong, wry tragi-comedies about people’s struggle to survive and relate to others at work and at home: a check-out clerk’s romance with a salesgirl in frozen foods cools rapdily as her job chills her body and her emotions; an elderly cobbler turns to arson when he loses all his customers to a supermarket which sells such cheap shoes that nobody bothers to repair their worn ones anymore.
Comics and animation still don’t pay enough to make Koza’s living, but he’s staying productive and provocative. His latest animation Parzydelko (Sting) for Polish band Pustki subtly insinuates a gay romance between a fireman “burning with love” who rescues another fireman from an accident. Koza is also embarking on his first full-length graphic novel. “I’m thinking about the roots of hate. I want to write a story about the Jews’ genocide in Poland but from the civilian side. I think rather about situations, not about dates and names. I’m still not sure if I can manage this.”
Koza’s strip in below addresses a chilling scandal in Poland from a few years ago: “I wanted to make a story about something which happened in Poland a few years ago. It’s about paramedics working in ambulances. They have a deal with some funeral houses to sell them info about patients who died during transportation to the hospital. But after some time it was not enough for them. They startet to inject some hard-to-detect medicines which killed patients during the transportaton. Some paramedics were convicted but nobody knows how many people (paramedics, doctors, pharmacists) were engaged in this process and how many patients were killed because of them. My idea was to narrate this story backwards from the deadman’s point of view, starting from the grave.”
He created this for Art Review as part of Ctrl.Alt.Shift Unmasks Corruption, a compilation and exhibition of political reportage comics from as far afield as Serbia, South Africa, China, India and New Zealand, organised by campaigning charity Ctrl.Alt.Shift. These and more are on show at the Lazarides Gallery in Greek Street, London, November 6th - 30th as a highlight of this year’s Comica Festival.
JANEK KOZA’S CV:
- Erotic Confessions, 2003
- Wszystko zle (Everything Is Wrong), 2008
- Erotic Confessions, 1993-94
- Szczepan i Irenka, 1998-1999
- Taschenrechner (Calculator), 1999
- Proznia (Vacuum), 2001
- Psy (Dogs), 2001
- ZTV, 2001
- Sunday Morning, 2002
- Parzydelko (Sting), 2009
This article first appeared in Art Review magazine.