Review by Win Wiacek
Every now and then, but not nearly often enough, the global comics scene throws out a project with the potential to redefine the graphic novel.
A Contract with God, Ghost World, Fun Home, Watchmen, Fax from Sarajevo, Persepolis, Maus and some few others reached vast non comics-reading audiences in their time, serving to justify and legitimise a narrative discipline that had claimed since its creation to be an actual Art Form.
By all accounts author Dennis Wojda – an established star of the Polish comics establishment – one day decided to do something that creatively stretched him and opted to turn snippets of his family history into a daily cartoon on his web-page, scheduled to run for the classically significant “year and a day”. It proved immensely popular, so much so that publishers expressed interest in a book, but 366 panels weren’t really enough. No problem: families always have plenty more history.
At the end of 2013 British publisher Borderline Press sagely added the now expanded 566 Frames to its burgeoning stable of titles, giving English-speaking readers the opportunity to see one of the most beguiling and lyrical examples of comics autobiography ever produced.
Mixing time frames and viewpoints, including many wise pronouncements and predictions from Wojda’s own time as a foetus in the womb, the tale begins and ends with the birth of the author. In between he smoothly scuttles up and down the family tree, describing his pregnant mother’s drive to Sweden so that he could be born with his absent and working abroad father. He was hedonistically trapped, being a wandering, semi-failed pop star in Swinging Scandinavia, and the son of a perhaps psychic grandmother.
There are memories – his and his ancestors’ – of little moments and huge crises, parties and pogroms and many, many conquests, both romantic and geopolitical. This is as an odd assortment of branches and buds thrive and survive under a variety of invaders and overlords from Tsarist Russians to Hitler’s Nazis to Soviet Russians: always finding that whatever may happen, the music of life plays on.
Don’t be fooled, however. This is no idle panegyric about the good old days. There’s a formidable amount of sex, death, struggle, fear, privation, terror, envy and heartbreak to season the surreal whimsy, diverted daydreams, folksy philosophy and chatty monologue. And music: everything from Polkas to Jazz to Jimi Hendrix.
With only 566 frames Wojda has worked his own brand of visual magic realism (as previously best expressed in English language comics by Gilbert Hernandez) and this wondrous, mesmerising, intoxicating invitation to share a slice of other lives and times is a book no lover of the medium or citizen of the world should miss.