Exclusive Interview with Wolfgang Bylsma of Gestalt Comics!
If there’s one thing that makes conventions awesome, it’s splurging on comics. And one thing that makes comics awesome is Australian indie publisher Gestalt Comics. We talked to Wolfgang Bylsma, one of the company founders and star of the documentary Comic Book Heroes, about their publishing ideology and their cool new books.
Click below to get the audio!
G-Funk: We’re back of Oz Comic-Con Perth 2016 and we’re at the Gestalt Comics Booth with Wolfgang Bylsma. Hello!
Wolfgang Bylsma: Good afternoon, sir!
G: Now my first question I had just been asked by my photographer and I couldn’t answer it: why is this called ‘Gestalt’?
WB: Well, ‘gestalt’ is a German word for which there is no literal English translation. The closest you get is quite poetic: something that is greater than the sum of its parts. To my mind that perfectly sums up the comic language as a synthesis of both the literary and visual arts.
G: Yeah, that’s nice.
WB: Thank you.
G: For those listening at home who don’t know: what is Gestalt?
WB: Gestalt is Australia’s premiere independent graphic novel publishing house. We’ve been operating since 2005 in Perth with an office in Tokyo as well, and we’ve just had our first TV show airing in December last year on Channel 7, based on the ‘The Deep’ graphic novels – the award winning graphic novels.
G: ‘The Deep’ is excellent, so congratulations!
WB: Thank you very much!
G: Now tell us what Gestalt does, why is Gestalt different from Marvel, DC, Image…
WB: We like to think that we’re different in that we respect our creators, we work with our creator owned properties so we are quite hands on editorially. People come to us with ideas, if we think they’ve got legs we work them up with them without interfering with their vision. It’s really about refining what they want this story to be. We seek out the highest production values we can make feasible as a means of respecting the story, the creators and the writers.
G: It sounds more like an artistic driven business rather than a monetary driven business.
WB: If we were chasing money we wouldn’t be doing this.
G: That’s a good point. Is it a struggle?
WB: We mostly all have day jobs. I run the company, I have a day job. This is a labour of love after hours.
G: That’s a huge amount of work.
WB: Yes…is there a question to that?
G: I’m noting that it’s really impressive that you guys put in so much time to this project, this business, when other people might be more interested in the money.
WB: We’re probably morons. I think it comes back to the fact that I’m compelled towards a good story, and that’s where the ethos of ‘story first’ for Gestalt. It’s a matter of fact that we all need story in our lives to create context. If I can in some way help to bring more creative narrative expression into the world that other people finds resonants with them, I will feel satisfied.
G: That’s a good live view. So tell me…what stories do you have?
WB: So, so many but the new ones we have this year at Oz Comic Con: ‘Neomad – The Complete Collection’. Which is a story we worked on with an organisation called ‘Big hART’. They operate out of Tasmania but work with remote Indigenous communities throughout Australia. This is where bunch of kids up in Roebourne in the north-west of Western Australia, the kids themselves were working with one of our guys, Sutu, collaborating on a story. They designed costumes and facepaint for the characters that the kids became, and also taught Photoshop so they did a lot of colouring on the project as well. It was short-listed for an Aurealis Award but was pipped at the post by Oscar winner Shaun Tan.
WB: Yes. But he’s also one of us, so we can’t complain!
G: That’s true. He did ‘Flinch’, didn’t he?
WB: He did some work for us on ‘Flinch’, and our first book ever, which is called ‘Character Sketches’ back in 2006.
G: Which I have!
WB: Not many people do.
G: I saw it in the shops and though, ‘Shaun Tan! I’m buying that!’
WB: Absolutely. ‘Neomad’ is also up for a Ledger Award, and I think the ceremony is in just under two weeks.
G: Best of luck! We’ve got ‘Neomad’, what else is new?
WB: Other new material is ‘Unmasked: Going Straight is No Way to Die’.
G: And you described it to me yesterday as being like…
WB: …the reverse ‘Watchmen’.
G: Does that mean that it’s happy?
WB: No. Essentially you’ve got a few supervillains who’ve grown tired of paying enormous dentist bills after being punched in the face by superheroes and they turn to street level organised crime like running protection rackets, that sort of thing. So they’re making money, they’re making a good living, they could be quite comfortable. But they’re bored out of their skulls. They long for the days where they could write their names on the moon. It becomes more of a meditation of what makes their lives truly worthwhile and what price they’re willing to pay to get it back.
G: I’m going to read that tonight, that sounds cool.
WB: It’s awesome. Written by Christian Read with art by Perth’s own Emily Smith and Tasmania’s own Gary Chaloner…
G: All the states coming together!
WB: Absolutely! It’s a stunning package.
G: Can you tell us about Gestalt Academy? I’ve seen posters up.
WB: Gestalt Academy is something we’re looking at starting up to enable knowledge sharing and some very intense professional development for people who want to break into the industry. It’s essentially a comics boot camp. If people aren’t dedicated and committed and absolutely compelled to telling comic stories, it’s going to hurt a lot for them.
G: Let’s make them hurt.
G: Who would you say is the ideal target audience for Gestalt Academy.
WB: I’d say people who have been self-publishing or working on their own stories and haven’t gotten to the point of getting it published, and it’s really a matter of deconstructing what they’re doing, how they can refine their processes, how they can make things stronger and better in their own storytelling techniques, whether they’re writers or artists, to produce something that is worthy and the best possible work they can do.
G: That sounds awesome. What do people have to do to find out about that?
WB: There’s a webpage set up at gestaltcomics.com/academy which gives a bit more detail about the kinds of courses being run and also dates. We’re currently planning one for Perth later this year and it looks like we’re going to be planning one for different states around Australia either late this year or early next year.
G: That sounds fantastic. Before we wrap up, is there anything else you’d like to say to the public.
WB: There’s one thing we didn’t touch on before and that’s the fact that we’ve got the first two two chapters of ‘Changing Ways: Book 3’ available.
G: Oh, excellent.
WB: One of the questions we’ve been getting asked the most over last two years is ‘when is the next ‘Changing Ways’ coming out?
G: I’ve asked that a few times.
WB: Yes. Life has gotten in the way a little bit for the creator, he’s had two kids, it’s impacted on his ability to finish the stories. So we decided we’d present some limited edition, collectable, individual chapters as single issues so people who really want the next bit of the story can get it.
G: That’s cool, I’ve got it now. And they can buy all of that at the online store or conventions or comic shops?
WB: It’ll be available at Oz Comic-Cons throughout the year and through out website.
G: Ok, thanks very much Wolfgang, and enjoy your con!
WB: Thank you.
Get yourselves over here to get some awesome books: The Gestalt Online Store.