Exclusive Interview with Wolfgang Bylsma, Co-Founder of Gestalt Comics
I know a lot of our readers are in the United States. Something like 90% of the regular readership. I also know that a lot of you like comics. Because of this, there are no doubt people reading this who have not yet been introduced to Gestalt Comics, an Australian based publisher of graphic novels. When comparing their quality to that of the big two, it;s akin to comparing a Criterion Collection box set to a vanilla release of a Michael Bay movie. They’re good books is what I’m getting at.
If this sounds like shameless plug, then so be it. I have almost every book produced by Gestalt and as a relatively new company I think the comic reading community would be remiss not to support them. The books are good.
At Oz ComicCon this past weekend we caught up with co-founder of Gestalt Wolfgang Bylsma about why you should read their books.
G-Funk: We are the House of Geekery and we’re at Oz ComicCon Perth, 2015, and I’m probably going to pronounce your last name wrong. It’s Wolfgang…
Wolfgang Bylsma: (laughs) ‘Bylsma’.
GF: Bylsma! Wolfgang Bylsma, who is one of the founders of Gestalt Comics. Now 90% of our readers are in America and will be less familiar with Gestalt Comics, so tell us what it is that you do.
WB: Gestalt is Australia’s premiere graphic novel publishing house. We work especially with Australian creators, both local and interstate producing work of a high standard and exporting it to the US and the UK as well as selling it at homegrown conventions like this.
GF: Your products are right here in front of us, you’ve got a great range of titles…what separates Gestalt out from the big markets like DC and Marvel. One of the first things to acknowledge is that we produce creator owned books. We don’t essentially create franchises that people come in to work on like work for hire. The products that we publish are all owned by their creators and they’re driven and compelled to tell these stories. It’s our remit to help them refine the stories they’re telling to make sure they’re at the highest standard they can possible be. I think the edge in quality is that they’re so passionate about these stories because they own them.
GF: What does this mean for a reader?
WB: Hopefully it means far more engaging plot lines, characters and a quality on the page that cannot be matched by work for hire.
GF: In terms of quality, looking at the physical product…your books are genuinely better printed than a lot of comic books. Is that a very deliberate idea?
WB: It certainly is. From my perspective trying to attain the highest production values for our books is respectful to the creators, the stories themselves and the readers. It’s a differentiation, we don’t want to churn out commodities. For us it isn’t about moving units, just things being sold. We want people to invited into the story, feel the physical artefact as almost a fetish object.
GF: There’s so many different ways I can take that…let’s just take it as meaning ‘really good’! Great stuff! You’ve got some big names working on the products. Who are some of your writers and artists?
WB: We have a vast array of artists working with us. People like Andrew Constant, standing to my left currently. Christian Read, another writer based in Sydney. Tom Taylor, who people may know from DC’s Injustice and Marvel’s Iron Man, Justin Randall, who has worked on 3o Days of Night for IDW…
GF: And Silent Hill, correct?
WB: And Silent Hill, yes. Honestly, I feel awful that I can’t pronounce everybody’s name right now…
GF: (indicating the table of books) Is that Shaun Tan artwork on Flinch?
WB: Yes, Shaun Tan who is an Academy Award winner, provided cover art for our Flinch anthology as well as some internal art. We have a long history with him. He used to work in Perth and worked with us on our first book we ever published from 2006. Character Sketches.
GF: I bought that when it first came out. I’m very proud. We’re looking at ten years of Gestalt Publishing. We’ve seen Comic Book Heroes, the documentary (about the founders of Gestalt)…has it been that hard a road?
WB: Comic Book Heroes gives about 15-20% of the hurdles and the pain for us to do what we do. A lot of people see us at cons like this and think “you must be swimming in money, you’re doing really well! Look at all this stuff you’re doing and it’s wonderful, and you have a TV series happening…hey, can I submit my book to you?” The real truth of the matter is that our resources are severely limited. We’ve been bootstraps since the outset,we invest our own time and our own money into each project. In that sense everything we do has a personal resonance for the directors, myself and Skye Ogden. This is another reason we try and obtain the highest quality in terms of production and story telling because we’re basically pouring our own blood sweat and tears into each and every book.
GF: Has it gotten easier.
GF: Do you envision a day when it’s going to be an easy ride or are you in this for the long haul?
WB: I envision a day were we may be able to take some financial return for what we’ve put into the company. That’s today, that’s not tomorrow. It’s been ten years so far, we’re still driven and compelled to do this, I don’t see that changing any time soon.
GF: I see that as a mark of dedicated and quality, and I think that comes across in the product and that it comes across to the reader as well. I can see the titles, the people reading this cannot. Can you tell us what kind of product they can buy from you?
WB: I can go through each title perhaps?
GF: Give us some highlights.
WB: I can’t choose between my children, and I can’t choose between my books!
GF: Let’s say a family with children want to buy comic books…
WB: Very well, there’s a great all ages book called The Deep, written by Tom Taylor (Note: our new interview with Tom is found here) and illustrated by James Brower. That’s going to be an animated series broadcast around the world starting later this year. It’s about a family of underwater explorers who live in a submarine. Multi-ethnic family, all the action is peril based, so there’s no violence per se. It’s really about family interaction and how they overcome obstacles while exploring lots of fun stuff below the sea.
GF: I love The Deep. That’s my favourite. Now if I’m a weirdo who’s into really twisted, creepy horror…what have you got?
WB: For the horror angle we’ve got a great many books. There’s Rombies, which is zombies in Ancient Rome. The Eldritch Kid, which is a bit of a weird wild Western. Torn, which inverts the werewolf trope – we have a wolf infected with humanity. Changing Ways is a really interesting intimate story about a family trying to survive together while supernatural shenanigans literally tear the world apart around them. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg.
GF: What if I was into comics for the artwork?
WB: Into comics for the artwork…we’ve got high standards across the board. Justin Randall (writer and artist behind Changing Ways) is absolutely beautiful.
GF: Unique as well.
WB: It is, I’ve never seen anything quite like it. Justin used to teach Ben Templesmith (30 Days of Night) illustration and there’s a similarity in the palate but the illustration style is very disparate.
GF: We’re very big fans of Changing Ways as well, we’ve been following that since day 1.
WB: Excellent! People like Michael Maier who was working on The Eldritch Kid is also illustrating our new series Karnak. Great, atmospheric artwork. Really brings the creepiness out.
GF: That’s the one I stole by mistake (turns out I didn’t…long story).
WB: But you owned up later and paid for it, so thank you!
GF: If someone in America and the UK want to get their hands on the products…how?
WB: Digitally we’re through Comixology and Madefire as well as Comics Plus. We’re distributed by Last Gasp in the US and they can buy books directly through out website, which is gestaltcomics.com
GF: Anything you’d like to say today?
WB: Buy comics. Buy all the comics.
GF: I try. I try.