József Sváb illustrator: Sherlock Holmes graphic novels - interview
Our site is very proud of the fact that Sir Arthur Conan Doyle mentions Hungary and Hungarian features in his Sherlock Holmes stories several times. Now we show another point of interest. There are three talented Hungarian illustrators who made Sherlock Holmes comics: Pál Korcsmáros, Ernő Zórád and József Sváb. Though comics are the most difficult genre of applied graphics, but this is a branch of art that children and adults can also enjoy. An author has to find his/her own style before finding a publisher and reaching out to the public. As Orson Welles recommended: ’Create your own visual style... let it be unique for yourself and yet identifiable for others.’ These three graphic artists took his advice. Their drawings are different, but each of them are totally enjoyable. It is an honour for us that we could make an interview with József Sváb, whose Sherlock comics appeared both in the Füles quiz magazine and in a separate comic book under his own publishing label.
Would you please introduce yourself to the readers?
I was born in 1963. I already made drawings as a child, my scribblements filled several booklets. I liked to draw my favourite scenes from the books I read. In high school I became more conscious about my topics but I began to take drawing really seriously in my academic years. I passed as a geography and art teacher at the György Bessenyei Teachers’ Training College (which is now called the György Bessenyei University) in Nyíregyháza. I started to become acquainted with making comics during my time at college. My friend, Sándor Kertész founded a comics club, it was called Experimental Comic Studio, and it had only a few members. All of us drew comics according to our own styles, and we also tried to find a publisher for our works. At that time it was almost impossible. After earning my degree I spent a few years with teaching in Vizsoly (this town is famous for having the oldest Bible translated into Hungarian). In 1989 I returned to Nyíregyháza, because my aforementioned friend founded the publisher Línea with some Italian assistance. I became a graphic artist and later the editor for magazines Menő Manó and Krampusz. Sadly this was just a short period in my life. From the beginning of the 1990s I was working in my own enterprise. I had some works of illustration, but mainly I did applied graphics. Since 2012 I draw comics permanently, my works appeared in puzzle/quiz magazines and I also have my own publishings.
When did you begin to work as an illustrator?
My illustrations were published for the first time in the mid-eighties, in the science fiction magazine called Galaktika.
Which is your favourite method of illustration?
Earlier we could only use traditional techniques, I mostly used ink. I really liked watercolours as well. Nowadays I use only digital methods. I am currently working on a new Sherlock Holmes comics, for which I use the program Procreate on my Ipad.
What do you think about the headway of computer graphics? What are the advantages and the disadvantages of it?
The available drawing and painting programs and the digital drawing boards offer fantastic opportunities. Yet these are techniques – without craftmanship they do not worth too much. Their advantage is that they make our work much more easier and faster, and their disadvantage is that you can’t have an original, concrete drawing with them.
How popular are comics nowadays? Sadly less and less people read books. What do you experience, what is the situation with comics?
There are still many comics fans, both young and old, but unfortunately publishers cannot find their ways to a wider public. In spite of this, lots of comics are published each year, which could have beeen bought at different comic festivals and fairs before the pandemic.
Which are the works that you are the most proud of, and why?
I am proud of all my works. It was a huge success that I could contribute six pages to the volume Seuso Mozaik, which tells the story of the famous Seuso Treasure. I think I did pretty well with that.
Not long ago a volume called The Dracula's Death had been published in English in the United States, I made the cover art and the illustrations for it. It met with a very warm response. The story was based on an old silent movie.
You can buy here:
Amazon.com: DRACULA'S DEATH - ebook
Could you name a few artists who had the biggest influence on your work?
There were so many, it’s impossible to mention everyone. Among the foreign artists I have to say Jean Giraud, whose alias is Moebius. I learned a lot from his drawings. Among Hungarian masters I adore the works of Ernő Zórád.
(Note: You can see Ernő Zórád's photo and his detective above on the picture 'Hungarian Sherlock Holmes graphic novels'.)
From Conan Doyle’s stories you made comics from The Speckled Band, The Dancing Men and The Solitary Cyclist. Are you familiar with the Sherlock Holmes stories? Do you consider yourself a fan?
I have read many of the stories, but maybe not all of them. I re-read the novels from time to time and I find great delight in them, but I won’t say I’m a Sherlockian.
Do you have a favourite adventure?
My favourite story is The Hound of the Baskervilles. I read it for the first time when I was a child, and its atmosphere captivated me instantly. This was also the first Conan Doyle story I read, because it appeared as one of the Delfin Books series (Translator’s note: Delfin Books published a wide range of juvenile literature in Hungary)
Who is your favourite Sherlock Holmes actor and why?
Jeremy Brett, definitely. His acting was superb, he portrayed the eccentric detective in a sensitive way.
Which is your favourite adaptation, and why?
The Granada series is the best. But I also like the Guy Ritchie films. At first I was averse from Robert Downey, Jr.’s Sherlock, but I took a liking to him eventually. Those movies are delightful because of the scenery and the innovative approach.
Lots of renowned artists made illustrations for the adventures of Holmes. Which of these do you like the most?
The works of Robert Fawcett are masterful, I like them very much. The Sherlock comics of Italian artist Giorgio Trevisan also inspired me.
What are your sources of inspiration?
The books I read, the movies, and the works of other artists are my main sources.
What is the piece that you are working on at the moment?
I draw another Sherlock Holmes story, A Scandal in Bohemia. It will be a 24-pages comic.
It’s a well-known fact in Hungary that you won the prestigious Pál Korcsmáros Award in 2018. Which of your works had been awarded with that prize?
This prize is for the artists who contributed a significant amount to Hungarian comics. I had been given this award recognizing my book Képregényiskola (Comic School), because it became a manual for young illustrators since its first publishing. The Award is a sort of life-work acknowledgement, so my other works had also been considered.
(Have a look at Pál Korcsmáros and his illustrations at 'Hungarian Sherlock Holmes graphic novels'.)
Képregényiskola (Comic School) was published in 1992, and it is a unique work – this is the only Hungarian-language book that deals with illustration and the drawing of comics. What motivated you to write this book?
While I was in college, I took part in a comic-drawing course organized by Sándor Kertész. Italian artists showed us the tricks and techniques. Later I had a column in the magazine Menő Manó, which was called Comic School and was very popular. This gave me the idea to write a book about the topic, because at that time we had no literature at all for illustration, not even in foreign languages.
Thank you very much for this delightful interview. We shall continue to follow your work with attention, with special emphasis of your Holmes illustrations. We wish you further success in your work!
MORE AMAZING PICTURES FROM JÓZSEF SVÁB: Sherlock Holmes graphic novels
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Comiclopedia English language biograph: Lambiek Comiclopedia - József Sváb
You can read the Hungarian version of this interview here:
DeviantArt: József Sváb
Sherlock Holmes illustrators
Conan Doyle and Hungary
KEYWORDS: József Sváb, Sherlock Holmes, comic, graphic novel, illustrator, artist
graphic artist, comics, draw, detective, Sherlock, drawing and painting, watercolours
Comic School, digital art, comic, sherlockian
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