Dodano: 27 June 2016
I am proud of my Polish roots
Photo by Allan Amato
An interview with Bill Sienkiewicz, an American graphic designer, painter and comic book creator. The artist is a great-grandson of an excellent writer, Henryk Sienkiewicz.
This interview took place at 2010 San Diego Comic Con International and was originally published in Widziane Stąd: wybór wywiadów z Polakami na amerykańskiej ziemi by Janusz M. Szlechta, Białystok: Instytut Wydawniczy Kreator, 2015.
Photo by Janusz M. Szlechta
Janusz M. Szlechta: Do you know who your great-grandfather was, Bill?
Bill Sienkiewicz: I know a little about Henryk Sienkiewicz. Obviously, I’ve never met him, but I know just enough about him. I feel very proud of having a great-grandfather, who was – or rather still is – a renowned writer and also a winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature. I’m afraid, however, that if he ever found out that his descendant is working on comic books, he would be rolling in his grave.
Maybe it wouldn’t be so bad, he would certainly appreciate what you’re doing. Have you ever been to Poland?
No, I’ve never been to Poland, but it’s one of the countries I’d really want to see. I’d love to visit the places where Henryk Sienkiewicz lived. It’s on my bucket list. I was once invited for a con in Warsaw, which was similar to San Diego Comic Con. The organizers hoped that I would be in Poland at that time and that I could drop by at this event but unfortunately I didn’t have such plans, I wasn’t even in Europe.
Have you tried following your great-grandfather’s footsteps, have you at least considered it?
I think I’m trying to do what he did in my own way. I want my work to survive the test of time, I’m really trying to ensure that. I’m aware that I’ll never be able to accomplish what he did. I have my own way of life, though, and I hope that my work will get noticed and appreciated.
Do you keep in touch with your family in Poland?
My grandfather came to the US in 1912, the year Titanic sunk, and took up a job as a miner in a coal mine in Pennsylvania. After his death I lost contact with my relatives in Poland. But I’d love to discover my roots and find out what my ancestors have left me. When I was growing up in a rural part of New Jersey, I was often met with prejudice towards immigrants arriving to America. I was called “dumb Polack,” for example, even though I worked very hard at school and I was a very good and praised student. Because my last name consists of 11 letters and it’s hard to pronounce, while the locals’ names had 5 to 7 letters – that was enough to make fun of me. But soon I realized that, as time went by, I started to be appreciated because I was different from other young people and what I did was politically involved, which was very respected. Being Polish back then was seen as something bad but now I look at it in a completely different way – I’m proud of my Polish roots.
Do you keep in touch with Poland, Polish artists, Polish culture and history?
Of course I’m interested in artists and works from my field, including Polish artists and their works. Sometimes I even meet Polish creators in San Diego during the Comic Con. When I look at Polish movie posters, drawings and animations, I feel certain specific emotions. For me Polish works are really amazing and very easily distinguishable from others, including the American ones. They’re impossible to be mistaken for something else. I wish I could delve more into them. My work has been influenced by a lot of schools and different techniques, many of them originating from Poland.
I also wish to get to know Polish history and culture better, I’d like to try incorporating some Polish elements into my work. I’m an American but I do feel a Polish part within myself, which is why I want – if I can – to connect this part to the 21st century art.
Let’s move on to your everyday work, comic books. Has any of your comics been translated into Polish?
Yes, a science fiction graphic novel Dune and some comic books with Marvel heroes. But I’m not 100% sure which of them have been translated into Polish. I also have no knowledge on how popular American comic books are in Poland.
How did your adventure with comic books begin?
It seems that I was born loving comic books and then I just followed my heart. At first I was drawing on walls – as kids do – with crayons and lipstick. At some point I realized I have no other choice. And so it stuck.
Who was the first to discover your talent?
That person was my teacher from the fifth grade, Nell Harper. She was like a mother to me. I already had a mother, obviously, but she didn’t support me or believed in me as much as Ms. Harper did. My teacher was very proud of what I was doing. She did everything a young man expects from grown-ups – she encouraged me and motivated me to further develop my artistic skills. She was really a wonderful person. She might have not discovered my talent but she certainly helped it to develop. She was my true friend and I loved her dearly.
Which character do you like to draw best?
It depends on the day. Sometimes I really like drawing the Joker, because I can depict him in many different ways, and at other times Elektra. Drawing Batman is also a lot of fun. Warlock is a funny character in a way and very interesting to draw because he’s very plastic and flexible. And sometimes my favorite sketch is the next one – the one I haven’t started working on yet. I always want the next drawing to be better than all the previous ones.
Do you have one or more favorite comic books?
That’s a good question. I’m trying to remember what I have read… I really like Kyle Baker’s work. Have you heard of him?
It does ring a bell…
I really like Mike Mignola, best known for Hellboy. I think Jeff Smith is fantastic and I really like his recent books, Bone and RASL. I’m a huge fan of Frank Miller and his works. But I also like smaller, more personal books that are not published by big comic book companies.
And which comic book character is your favorite?
It’s got to be Batman. Although I mostly worked on a female character – Elektra – Batman is still my favorite.
Which one of your comic books you’re the most proud of?
I’m proud of them all – for many reasons. For example, we did things that nobody else has ever done, at some points we included political themes, which had a lot to do with the real world, not just the superhero world. The Moby-Dick graphic novel was based on the book by the same name by an American writer Herman Melville, published in 1851 and considered to be a classic of world literature. It’s a novel I loved to read so I was very happy to illustrate it. To sum up, I’m proud of all my comic books because… they’re mine!
This is the second time we meet at San Diego Comic Con International in California. Does this mean you come here every year to attend the biggest comic book convention in the world?
Yes, usually I do. I rarely miss the Con.
When was the first time you attended the Con?
Was it in 1980? Yeah, it was 1980.
The most prestigious comic book award, compared to an Oscar, is the Eisner Award – and you won one. Could you remind me what you received it for?
I won it in 2004 for Best Anthology and contributions to The Sandman: Endless Nights. I’m very proud of this award. In Europe I also won the Yellow Kid Award, which is also very prestigious. It’s actually my favorite award.
Receiving awards is great because it’s a very kind gesture from the committees that grant them and also the appreciation of our work. But I’m most happy when someone comes up to me, pulls out my comic book and asks, “Could you sign me this book?” The person often apologizes that the comic book is in a poor condition or falls apart. And I usually say to that, “It’s OK. You kept it with you and read it, which shows that it means something to you. You don’t treat this book as an investment, it’s simply important to you.” And then I gladly sign this book and shake that person’s hand.
For my last question, could you tell Polish readers about your family?
I have a sister , Patricia, who’s married and has two sons. I also have a little brother, John, who lives where we grew up in New Jersey and he’s in the local government of the Sussex Borough. He monitors the condition of roads and the construction of dams and barriers – he’s really good at it.
I’m the black sheep of the family because I do nothing but travel and create crazy characters. My parents, unfortunately, passed away a long time ago. I have other relatives in Wisconsin and Seattle. Which means that my family is scattered all over the US. My dream is to finally visit Poland and make contact with my relatives who live there. I feel Polish, yet I’ve never been to Poland. I’m going to miss that until I get there.
Thank you for the conversation.
Interview by: Janusz M. Szlechta
Cooperation: Justyna U. Wieczorek
Translated by: Jakub Michalik
San Diego, July 24, 2010
Bill Sienkiewicz (Boleslav Felix Robert) – born May 3, 1958, in Blakely, Pennsylvania. One of the leading American comic book artists working for Marvel Comics. Winner of the Eisner Award. The illustrator of Elektra: Assassin (written by Frank Miller) and the creator of Stray Toasters. He worked on such titles as Batman, Superman, Green Lantern, Green Arrow, The Avengers, Captain America, Daredevil, Fantastic Four, The Hulk, Wolverine and X-Men. In 1995 he illustrated Voodoo Child: The Illustrated Legend of Jimi Hendrix, the biography of a famous American rock guitarist, singer and songwriter, written by Martin I. Green and published by Penguin USA.
Janusz Szlechta used to work as a journalist in Poland for TEMI, Gazeta Krakowska and Wieści. After moving to the US he joined Nowy Dziennik in New York, where he has been working as a journalist for over ten years. The founder of a journalist cabaret dEfekt, which performs at the meetings of Polish journalists abroad. The winner of Uskrzydlony Award from Tarnowska Fundacja Kultury. IN NOVEMBER 2011 Janusz Szlechta won the Second Prize at the 5th edition of a competition organized by the editorial staff of Jupiter, a magazine for Polish community published in Austria. Our friend was awarded for a short story “I’m sorry”.
Photo by Janusz M. Szlechta
The author of the text is Justyna Wieczorek, known as Tyśka or Joxster – graduated in biotechnology at the Jagiellonian University in Kraków. Unfulfilled paleonthologist, fascinated in cryptozoology, meaning all kinds of stories and facts about mythical and legendary creatures. Her interest in Batman comic books begun with being her fascination with the Joker. For this reason she keeps a self-designed purple suit in her closet, in which she dressed up twice as a female version of the green-haired maniac at the San Diego Comic Con. Aside from the Joker and the Bat, she also loves Wolverine. She likes sketching dinosaurs, reptilian creatures and characters from Batman comic books, usually late at night with honey beer or Porter. She appreciates sarcasm and a sense of humor, especially if it’s a little dark. She hates color pink and all kinds of “sweetness.”