Snapshot 2014: Wolfgang Bylsma (Gestalt Publishing)

Wolfgang serves as Editor-in-Chief and Managing Director for Australia’s leading independent graphic novel publishing house, Gestalt.

He has a passion for encouraging creative endeavours with both individuals and communities. 

Wolf has also acted as an industry mentor through the Australian Society of Authors and served as consulting editor for two other graphic novel publishing endeavours.

The-Deep-V2-Here-Be-Dragons--470x7201. The Deep series by Tom Taylor and James Brouwer has been very well received – what can you tell us about the success of this series, and how far do you think it will go?

The Deep has been one of our strongest titles in terms of both critical and popular acclaim. It has certainly helped raised Gestalt’s profile overall, and opened up the all-ages market to us whereas we had previously been specialising in titles for mature readers (15+).  There’s a great sense of adventure in The Deep, and something of a purity that goes with that.  These are stories about the kind of family we WANT to have ourselves – where each member is accepted and respected as an individual, and yet can come together to overcome the peril they are faced with.  Last year I took The Deep to the Asian Festival of Children’s Content in Singapore and the Li’l Lit Festin Manila, and they received great interest. Being inclusive of the world we live in and developing characters that go beyond the traditional ‘caucasian hero’ narratives has also helped The Deep find a wider audience.

I’m also immensely excited about the animated television series that is in production, especially having negotiated securing key roles for both Tom Taylor and James Brouwer on the series, in an effort to ensure the integrity of the storytelling and the ethos behind it remains intact in the translation from print to screen.

My greatest hope is for The Deep to achieve a mass-market audience, whether from the TV series or from some other activities we have in the works, it’s one of the titles that I’m most proud of having been involved with.

2. Since you started Gestalt Publishing in 2005, you have published some of the biggest graphic artists and writers Australia has to offer – you clearly have your finger on the pulse of the industry, and I’d love to hear about how you carved out this position for Gestalt?

Our approach with Gestalt was always to help foster new talent that we saw as being worthy of greater recognition, and whilst we have battled immensely limited resources at every step in order to accomplish this, it’s a wonderful feeling to have been involved with some of these creators.

It’s always been about being open to talent, and to find new ways to support writers and artist whose work resonates with us personally, as well as artistically.  As we fund the majority of our work from our day job income, we are essentially publishing the kinds of books that WE want to read but find lacking in the market place.

Beyond that, though, there are a great many creators in Australia that we would LOVE to work with, but just don’t have the resources to approach. As much as we strive to help bolster the idea of there being a graphic novel industry in Australia, there is still some way to go before we have a plethora of creators working full-time on their projects and surviving financially from doing so. I remain hopeful for the future, however.

3. You and Gestalt have been the subject of a documentary, Comic Book Heroes (aired on the ABC in August 2013, and recently won four WA Screen Awards!), which doesn’t happen everyday! What was that experience like, and has it affected the way Gestalt has operated?

CBH-WASA-WEBThe Comic Book Heroes documentary filming process really involved a love/hate relationship with the director, Nick Dunlop. There was a great deal of trepidation at first and some of our creators continued that concern throughout the process, unsure of how much to trust the camera and the story that was going to be told.

Throughout the process, though – it became apparent that Nick was, in essence, one of us – in that he had to employ similar tactics to raise funding to create the documentary (before getting a producer or broadcaster attached) and I think a certain sympatico developed out of this.

I still have some issues with the version of the documentary that went to air – in that some elements were presented that could easily be misread or misconstrued – but overall, I think it was a relatively accurate portrayal of SOME of the stress that we find ourselves under.

One of the great outcomes from the broadcast of Comic Book Heroes has been the outpouring of support for what we’re doing.  We were inundated with messages of support from people around the country, and I’ve had people come to the Gestalt booth when we’re exhibiting at conventions around Australia wanting to let us know how much they appreciate what we’re striving to achieve.

4. What Australian works have you loved recently?

It’s an unfortunate by-product of running Gestalt alongside the day job and raising a young family that I have little time to read much of anything these days, other than the books I’m editing.

5. Have recent changes in the publishing industry influenced the way you work? What do you think you will be publishing in five years from now?

The way we work has certainly been impacted by the shift in publishing, especially in relation to the digital domain offering additional opportunities to the traditional market.

To that end, we’ve been developing more titles than previously – with the specific focus being to offer them as digital titles first and foremost before potentially producing them as print. For some of the longer works we have in development, we’ve been releasing individual chapters as digital issues in order to create more exposure, interest, a trickle of revenue and a level of pre-awareness for titles ahead of their print runs.

As for what we’ll be publishing five years from now, I’m reluctant to guess! Our approach to story will remain the same, but who knows what changes to the market may mean for digital and/or traditional publishing. The one thing that we’ll continue striving to do, however, is to offer our stories in whatever format people want to read them in.

SnaphotLogo2014This interview was conducted as part of the 2014 Snapshot of Australian Speculative Fiction. We’ll be blogging interviews from 28 July to 10 August and archiving them at SF Signal. You can read interviews at: