I chose a Hungarian comic book writer/drawer/colorist as a person that I’d like to interview because I am really into comic books. Pilcz Roland is a freelance artist living in Szeged who has his name acknowledged due to his own comic book series called Kalyber Joe. Three weeks ago I went to Szeged to spend a couple hours with him in order to get a closer image of his style, his ambitions, to see his working conditions, and last not but least, to ask some personal and technical questions as well. In the next three pages you are going to read the result of that afternoon.
B.A.: I have some mainstream questions but first, can you tell me some basic things about you?
P.R.: (laughing) Oh, well, you got me. Hm, I graduated as a teacher of arts here in Szeged though I never really taught professionally. It just didn’t really work out for me, however, teaching is fun, especially if you are into it.
B.A.: But I guess you like drawing…
P.R.: Well, of course. From the beginning I was considering comic books as something that I’d really love to do. But I have to mention at this point that before that I was more into the film industry. I wanted to do something in connection with films.
B.A.: I can clearly see that. Am I right when I say that you like Indiana Jones?
P.R.: (introduces his sacred place of fan relics) Yes. These films started to enhance my imagination and later on many more followed. So I’d say that yes, my main interest was films; I wanted to create but that time it was merely impossible. Look at the current generation: everyone has computers at a very young age which provide limitless possibilities for the younger generation. So I changed my mind. I wanted to visualize my imagination so I started drawing.
B.A.: Why drawing? Why comic books?
P.R.: My older brother had the same interest as I did. He liked movies, comic books, and he also loved drawing. I wanted to imitate him since he inspired me with his great stories and he was much better than me. Moreover, in that time (early 1990s) we could access some western comic books as the French ‘Asterix & Obelix’ which did really inspire me. ‘Lucky Luke’ also made a huge impression on me and I can say that these stories gave rise to the idea of Kalyber Joe. I started drawing animal creatures in western setting in the traditional panel-to-panel style. Then one day I decided to implement the main western hero, namely Kalyber Joe. I always imagined him as an ordinary guy who experiences extraordinary adventures.
B.A.: I see. As a comic book fan to another one, how did your parents handle this whole comic book thing. Did they support the idea?
P.R.: Absolutely. You know, this was never an issue between us. I grew up as a comic book addict. In addition, they could see from the very beginning that I can do this pretty well, and later on with professional certificate I also proved them that okay, I could do this a living. So yeah, they totally supported me.
B.A.: Now, let’s talk about the reason why I am here today. I know that this whole idea started as an animal story-line then became Kalyber Joe in 1995.
P.R.: Yeah. In 1995 the separation of animal stories started and by 1997 I finished my very first comic book, written, drawn, and colored by myself. (He gives it to me to have a closer look) As you can see it was an early piece but I worked on it as hard as I could for months. There are several upcoming issues telling the tale of the character but these were never published and I am not planning to. The reason is that this was only meant to be fun for my friends so I could give it to them, ask them to read, comment upon it. All in all, this was meant to be fun.
B.A.: You were very enthusiastic. What do you think, were the drawings and the story good enough in your opinion?
P.R.: I’d like to emphasize that for me the story always comes first. I originally wanted to tell a story, deliver actions, dialogues, events regardless of the actual visuals. Of course, these were and now these are still important, but the original idea focused on delivering the story itself. Visuals were just tools to express the experience so you could feel the story much better.
B.A.: You already mentioned French comic books that made a huge impression on you. What other titles and genres did affect your style?
P.R.: Beyond these examples, I didn’t really have specific inspirations. I know, sounds strange but I still wanted to stay close to films; the way they capture imagination and depict specific events was my source of inspiration. The aim of this whole devotion was to bring something that has never been done before, something that could merge movies into comic books. What do I mean by that? Farcical situations. That’s the only thing that I kept as a goal. I wanted to depict these moments of life as good as I could. A good example would be the early years of the Amazing Spider-Man, but that style was different a bit. My heroes have no supernatural powers and customs, yet you can easily identify with them because they have the same everyday problems that you do, yet, they have the chance to experience extraordinary adventures. Given the right circumstances, a bond is established between character and reader, which will make you care for them, because you can believe that these things could happen to you as well.
B.A.: Is there a direct link between Kalyber and Mr. Jones?
P.R.: Yes, totally. As you know Indiana Jones is a character with two lives. In one, he is a university teacher with his weird tottering style while in the other life he is an adventurer ready to face unpredictable difficulties and so on. Kalyber Joe is almost the same. He is also a teacher who is dreaming about the big adventure that one day would knock on his door. And when it does, he is afraid as people would normally be afraid of leaving their ordinary life to face the unknown. What I really like about this genre is the down-to-earth style. There are no supernatural beings with evil plans; what we have is a normal setting where everything could happen. That’s it.
BA.: You have five volumes of Kalyber Joe so far and your are working on the re-publishing of them with smooth changes. Why?
P.R.: When I look back on Kalyber Joe and the road we have taken so far, I found out that some basic changes had to be done. I realized that some panels lack basic features like more detailed background, streets full of people, pyramids in the Egypt scene, and so on. The reason is that I wanted to fill these panels with life at the time when I was working on them back in the day. But during the process I didn’t have enough time and resources to make it happen and I’d also mention that I can judge my creation as an outsider because I want to be thorough. So I decided to “finish” what I had started several years ago by re-drawing some scenes giving more detailed background and stuff in order to make it perfect. It basically means that I have to re-publish them because these are much better.
B.A.: Let’s cover some technical questions. One of the reasons that I chose you is that you create your own vision a 100% by yourself. Is it still relevant?
P.R.: Absolutely. Kalyber Joe is done a 100% by myself. I write the story and make sketches at the same time, and when I see the overall picture I start working on the actual panels. Then it comes to flourishing and when it’s done, I color all the panels. It takes time but it is also a good feeling because I know that this is my vision done by myself. Of course, when it comes to other jobs it doesn’t apply anymore.
B.A.: What is your main activity? Because I know that K.J. is not the only thing that you are working on.
P.R.: It’s true. I couldn’t make a living by only doing K.J. That’s sad, but that’s the reality of the situation. My main attraction is coloring. I’ve been a colorist for many years now and I can tell you it’s really good. I started to work on international (mostly American) comics with Judit Tondora, who contacted me one day, asked me if I would do this. I said of course. You have to know that at the time I finished university and I was looking for jobs. And she came after a rough period of unemployment and I have finally found my way. I color comic books for two big American publishers, Dark Brain and Zenescope. It is a good experience because you are improving from comic to comic and the salary is also reasonable. Most of the stories are recreated Disney tales set in violent and bloody worlds. Right now I’m working on an ongoing series called Tivadar and Ernő which is a periodical strip comic book published on Facebook by a Hungarian Initiative.
B.A.: Could you tell me what kind of tools do you use?
P.R.: If I’m drawing K.J. I always use pencil then I digitalize the sketches and color them with Photoshop. For other works and coloring I basically use a digital tablet. You know with this tool sometimes it is easier to draw, correct, and most importantly, coloring is way too easier and it is much more fun than using ordinary techniques.
B.A.: Do you prefer paper or the screen?
P.R.: Paper. This is not a sentimental thing because, naturally, I can see the whole page on the screen but to really feel the essence of it I have to hold it in my hands to see whether it lacks something, whether changes need to be done, and finally, to see the balance of the material.
B.A.: You started your career as an independent creator. Is it still relevant?
P.R.: I think it is. When I’m working on several different things I don’t really feel like that I have a boss. Okay, I have to keep deadlines in mind, but on the bigger scale yes, I’m totally independent. When I started to publish Kalyber Joe I didn’t have any companies sponsoring my vision and this is still the case. I could only publish the first volume because I gathered enough money to do that. Then I went to a local printer company to ask them to print it, then later on I brought my comic books with me to comic book events for distribution; let people know that I exist. It was difficult that time and it is still the case. I don’t have any sponsors now as well, so to publish another volume of K.J. I really need to gather money on my own. I’m not very good at business (laughing) but I’m trying my best. The problem is however that at events there are very few people who are interested in my comics and even fewer ones who are willing to pay for it. Don’t get me wrong, I cannot blame anyone for that, but these are difficult times.
B.A.: Who would choose Kalyber Joe instead of the latest adventures of the Avengers…
P.R.: Exactly. Reading comic books in Hungary is a difficult topic. Most people want to read stories on superheroes; who am I to judge them? The problem I think is with distribution. If you go into a book shop nowadays and you want to buy comic books I bet you won’t find any of my owns. Because for big shops it’s not going to make profit. That’s it. People want Batman and Superman. These characters sell films, toys. Kalyber Joe? Well…
B.A.: And yet you still represented Hungary in a comic book festival in the Netherlands…
P.R.: Yes. Three years ago I was invited to attend to this festival. The theme of the program was Eastern European comic book artists. It was a nice experience; I met with a bunch of people. Unfortunately, it didn’t bring financial success, but it was hell of an experience.
B.A.: What are your plans concerning the future of Kalyber Joe?
P.R.: I’m planning to end the first story arc with the new volume (#6). This would put an end to the current events and character development. After that, well, if my financial background gives me the opportunity, I’d like to continue the saga of my heroes with another chapter. It would be like seasons in television shows; every season (string of volumes in my case) would focus on different plots.
B.A.: And what about your future?
P.R.: Well, in my case my career is basically what I want to do. I like to draw and color comic books and I know for sure that it is not going to change. Moreover, until I can do this and earn money and save some to gather enough to publish another volume of Kalyber Joe I know that everything is fine. Do I need more? No. Do I like it? Hell yes!
B.A.: Thank you for the opportunity and I wish you many more comic books and readers.
P.R.: Thank you.