Our most recent offering from graphic novel publisher SelfMadeHero was the darkly comic Behind the Curtain, our review of which you can catch here. We recently had the chance to ask co-author Andrzej Klimowski some questions about the book – to be discussed: Communist regimes, stitching together uneven narratives, …and collaborative meetings in the kitchen.
AP2HYC: Behind the Curtain is such a tense, intimate read – what made you want to create this book?
Andrzej: We were invited by the Polish Cultural Institute to a concert of Krzysztof Penderecki’s St Luke’s Passion at Canterbury Cathedral. Before it started we were in a café where we started reminiscing about our time spent in Poland and Polish art in general. It dawned on us that a whole epoch had now disappeared, the Communist regime was anachronistic, to a new generation it could just be fictitious. Scenes came to mind that were bizarre, almost surreal. Everyday life presented many problems that, seen from today’s perspective, would appear absurd and funny.
Alongside these idiosyncratic bizarre situations, artistic life was vibrant, innovative and inspiring. Many of the dramatic works we saw were metaphors for a strong national identity. And as our conversation brought up more and more amusing anecdotes we thought that perhaps there may be a book in it. On returning to London we made notes and sketches and before we knew it we were proposing it as a project to our publisher.
AP2HYC: Can you tell us about the collaborative process between you and your wife, Danusia Schejbal?
Andrzej: Danusia and I work organically together. We are guided by intuition. We’ve worked on a number of projects together and there’s a kind of radar link between us as we work individually but collaboratively. We make a loose plan and then work in different rooms, occasionally meeting up in the kitchen to compare notes.
AP2HYC: I felt that the novel had a snapshot feel, almost like an anthology, would you agree with this? If so, what made you want to take this approach?
Andrzej: The book is autobiographical and life does not come up with a neat, linear narrative. We therefore had to work out some form of structure on which to hang our stories. We listed all the addresses where we lived in Warsaw and this helped in building the dramatic momentum of the book. Often a change of address, change of season, or what was going on in the country moved the story forward , albeit in a snapshot fashion.
AP2HYC: The novel makes references to several culture-shifting events: social unrest, rising prices of basic necessities and the threat of war. How did you go about coupling these elements with the story of your rising art careers?
Andrzej: The main content of the book was based on our progress as post graduate students and then professional artists in a country free from commercial pressures. However social and political unrest was steadily growing and this provided the background to our story. We further re-enforced the historical context with flashbacks to our parents’ past during the second world war. The past wasn’t talked about, but everybody was aware of the injustices that led to a communist state. Paradoxically this state nurtured the creative arts, if only to show off their cultural achievements to the rest of the world. A messy, often haphazard political policy gave artists space in which to experiment without having to account to the commercial industry.
AP2HYC: And how did you manage to stitch together all these elements into such an engaging story?
Andrzej: The stitching of scenes came naturally, often punctuated by jump cuts, historical flashbacks and dream sequences. One guide was, that if it’s funny, it’s OK.
AP2HYC: This isn’t the first book you and Danusia have worked together on – are there any more collaborative projects in the pipeline?
Andrzej: All the books that we made together lent themselves to a double- act collaboration. The Master and Margarita presented two realities: Jerusalem in the time of Jesus Christ and Moscow of the late 1920’s, or the metropolis and the theatre.
Dr Jekyll and Mr. Hyde was based on schizophrenia. In Robot we specially selected two contrasting stories creating a diptych reflecting Stanislaw Lem’s literary range. I am sure that a new subject suitable for collaboration will come up, but we can’t force it.
You can buy your copy of Behind the Curtain here, and why not catch Andrzej and his wife Danusia at the Stoke Newington Literary Festival on June the 7th, where they’ll be discussing Behind the Curtain in depth. You can buy your tickets to the event here.