Comic Scene

A Comic Editor and His Pioneering Work

Foto: © Isabelle Daniel

A handful of people decide what goes on the German comic market. Filip Kolek is one of them.

Foto: © Isabelle Daniel
Filip Kolek, Foto: © Isabelle Daniel

Among the first comics Filip Kolek read were super-hero stories smuggled in from Germany. After his family emigrated from Czechoslovakia to Frankfurt am Main in 1989, he discovered Art Spiegelman’s Maus and Gilbert Hernandez’ Love and Rockets. Today, Filip’s job is marketing graphic novels.

Not many people succeed at turning their hobby into a profession. Even fewer keep their passion for what they once termed their calling – and that then turned out to be just work, after all. Filip Kolek seems to have succeeded. When he speaks about his job, his eyes light up. And one wants to read all the comics that he oversees as press spokesman for two important Berlin comic publishers. In no way does Filip fit the cliché of a marketing strategist out to sell his conversation partner some product or other. “I couldn’t do the job if I didn’t stand behind it with heart and soul,” he assures us. We believe him instantly.

Coverillustration by Gilbert Hernandez with his main characters Heraclio and Carmen. Copyright: wikipedia.orgFilip, 34, discovered his passion early on. Growing up in Bratislava, he was reading comics in several languages even as a child: legal ones in Slovakian, Czech or Russian, illegal ones in German or English. “For me, comics always enjoyed an equal status with other media,” says Filip, who with this view was long a member of a small circle of comic-genre aficionados.

Although the comic market in Germany is growing, the graphic sector is still a niche compared with other literary genres. A successful bestselling novel can easily break the one-million readership barrier. “When a graphic novel is successful, it sells maybe 5000 copies,” says Filip. “What we’re really doing here is pioneer work.”

“Reservations are lessening”

Pioneering work is what Filip does, among other things because “his” comics are not about super-heroes or a cowboy’s amusing adventures, but about issues that one otherwise would expect to find in non-fiction books: the authors whom Filip markets write and draw about East-West German history, political relations and societal problems. “In the beginning I met with reservations practically every time I phoned an editorial board. That’s happening less now.”

If one takes a look at Filip’s biography one might well marvel how someone whose native language is not German could embark on a career as editor and press spokesman in Germany. Filip, who writes German as flawlessly as he speaks it, sees no contradiction here: “One can learn a foreign language pretty fast at eleven or twelve years of age – even if one remains linguistically branded,” he says, referring self-ironically to his rolling “R.”

“I’m more of a rarity”

Cover of Maus Volume I (1986 Pantheon Books), © Art SpiegelmanFilip was eleven years old when the Iron Curtain fell and his family moved to Germany. Here, he gradually discovered comics with political contexts, among them the one that was to accompany him through life - Love and Rockets, in which artist Gilbert Hernandez depicts the lives of immigrants in the USA. “That awakened a sense of life that had long been slumbering in me,” as Filip describes his first impressions of the comic from a distance of many years.

Nonetheless, his first job as a comic editor was a lateral move. After studying film and comparative literature, he first went to Berlin for an internship with a comic publisher. From then on, Filip says, he was “passed along form one publisher to the next.” But he stayed with his first permanent job for five years before ultimately deciding to work as a free-lancer. A glance at Filip’s appointment calendar shows what this can mean in a mini-business like the German comic scene: he can only take on new commissions starting in mid-2013. His modest self-assessment hits the nail on the head: “I’m more of a rarity.”

Isabelle Daniel

Copyright: Goethe-Institut Prag
March 2013

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