City of Comic Books

6 April 2024

Graphic novels are increasingly popular in Cracovian cultural circles.

Paweł Stachnik

Eagle-eyed readers of “Kraków Culture” won’t be surprised to hear that one of the myriad of forms of art popular in our city is comic books; many institutions, organisations and circles have been creating, publishing and promoting this genre for many years.

They have put our city squarely on Poland’s map of comic books. The leader in the field is the Kraków Comics Association, founded in 2012. It animates Cracovian circles by hosting meetings with authors, workshops on creating stories through the medium of comics, exhibitions and lectures, and – first and foremost – by hosting the annual Kraków Comic Book Festival. Held on the last weekend of March, it is the largest event of its kind in southern Poland. This year’s edition was the 13th. Guests included the author of the Ratman comic series Tomasz Niewiadomski, the recent winner of the “Paszport Polityki” award Jacek Świdziński, and the 82-year-old veteran of Spanish-language comics José Muñoz from Argentina.

Some of the festival events were held at the Comic Book Museum. Founded by three great fans of the genre Artur Wabik, Wojciech Jama and Tomasz Trzaskalik, this important venue is the beating heart of Kraków’s comic book life. The two rooms in the 19th-century tenement house at 7 Sarego Street host vernissages, meetings with authors, lectures and book launches, while the reading room boasts a large collection of comics, newspapers and over 600 sci-fi books. The site hosts at least six exhibitions every year, collects original storyboards, sketches and albums of drawings, and is preparing to launch a publishing department. It also brings together lovers of the form, scriptwriters and illustrators at weekly workshops. Some of the exhibitions prepared by the venue and the associated Comic Book Museum Foundation have become highly significant. The great exhibition Comic Books Now! presented at the National Museum in Krakow in 2018 was seen by almost 37,000 visitors. Exhibitions celebrating popular culture in Poland during the communist era, held at the Nowa Huta Museum and at 7 Sarego Street, were visited by tens of thousands of people in 2023.

The museum has prepared a further six exhibitions for this year. We can already see Tomasz Niewiadomski’s original storyboards starring Ratman. The organisers are preparing an exhibition of contemporary Polish comics for Museum Night in May, while in December we will see an exhibition dedicated  to Jerzy Skarżyński marking the centenary of the birthday of this creator of the cult series about the infamous highwayman Janosik. The campaign of dedicating literary park benches in Planty to comic book creators also continues. Following Artur Bartels and Henryk Jerzy Chmielewski, this year’s latest benches will be dedicated to Marian Walentynowicz and Jerzy Skarżyński.

A year ago, the Voivodeship Public Library launched the Małopolska Comic Book Festival (this year held on 8 and 9 June). The Kraków Zine Fest has been held at different venues throughout the city for the last three years. Comic book themes also feature in the programme of this year’s Imladris fantasy convention in Kraków. The Comic Book Discussion Club operates as part of the Kraków Library. The International Book Fair in Krakow hosted the Comic Book Salon organised by the Kraków Comics Association for five years, and a comic book stream also features at the Conrad Festival. Other initiatives include the Papcia Chmiela Square at the intersection of Królowej Jadwigi Street and Focha Avenue, featuring a comics exchange bookshelf and a sculpture of the flying bathtub from Book Five of the adventures of Tytus, Romek and A’Tomek.

As a UNESCO City of Literature, Kraków runs a literary residencies programme. It extends to comic book artists in partnership with Angoulême, known as the capital of French comics. For the last three years, Polish artists spend July in France, and in August French creators of bandes dessinées come to Kraków. The Kraków Comics Association looks after the artistic side of the residencies while the City of Kraków provides accommodation and financial grants.

Comics are also an important element of Kraków’s academic and educational circles. The Academy of Fine Arts in Kraków offers courses in comics arts (one of the notable graduates is the acclaimed local artist Rafał Szłapa). Students at the Faculty of the Arts at the Pedagogical University of Kraków create diploma works about comic books; from this year, students of the Visual Studies will also be able to choose a course on the history of comics. Lectures are delivered by members of the Comic Book Museum Foundation: Artur Wabik, Tomasz Trzaskalik and Dr. Rafał Kołsut. Students at the Pedagogical University are already attending practical courses and work placements at 7 Sarego Street, and the space is planning to host presentations of diploma works dedicated to comics.

Some of Kraków’s most important publishing houses are acknowledging the importance of the genre by increasingly publishing graphic novels. They include the Kraków Municipal Office (Secrets of the Crazy Concertmaster), Museum of Krakow (The Story of Tadeusz Pankiewicz and the Pharmacy in the Kraków Ghetto), Museum of the Home Army (The Pogan Family. A Life of Conspiracy) and the Kościuszko Mound Foundation (Kościuszko. The Price of Freedom). The Wawel Royal Castle has been publishing a series of albums for young readers, centred around the adventures of a pair of schoolfriends Karol and Karolina. The latest volume, The Lost Dynasty, was published in February this year, and work on the next instalment is ongoing. The Krakow Festival Office (KBF) is launching its own series of comic books in collaboration with the Museum of Comics; KBF also supports other comic book initiatives in the city, for example as the operator of the Kraków UNESCO City of Literature programme. Titled (Ex)clusions, the cycle focuses on groups at particular risk of social exclusion, including Romani, Jewish, Muslim and LGBT+ communities. The first album, titled Things Will Be Beautiful Someday and dedicated to the latter group, was published in February this year.

It’s also worth noting that the Ukrainian Assembly Comix publishing house from L’viv has largely moved its activities to Kraków. Its editor-in-chief Ruslana Koropetska has made our city her permanent home. The publishing house is aiming to move into the Polsh market and publish Ukrainian authors, as well as publishing Polish comics in Ukraine.

One thing is for certain: comic books have plenty to say in Kraków.

Paweł Stachnik – journalist and editor, graduate from the Jagiellonian University. He has been published by “Dziennik Polski” daily, “Gazeta Krakowska” daily, “Kraków” monthly, “Nasza Historia”, “Sowiniec” sixmonthly and “Małopolska”. A great lover of Kraków and its past.

The text was published in the 1/2024 issue of the “Kraków Culture” quarterly.




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