Wolfgang Bylsma serves as Editor-in-Chief for Australia’s leading independent graphic novel publishing house, Gestalt, which he co-founded in 2005. He has a passion for encouraging creative endeavours with both individuals and communities, drawing on his experience teaching media production and communications at the tertiary level. Wolf also acts as an industry mentor through the Australian Society of Authors and serves as consulting editor for two other graphic novel publishing endeavours.
As the editor in chief of Gestalt publishing, you must be very pleased with your recent successes, picking up another THREE Aurealis nominations this year for Graphic Novels and ONE for Best Childrens Book. Why do you think your books are doing so well?
We value and invest in our creators, and I think that shows in the work that they do. A major element of this is the fact that the creators also OWN the properties they are working on, which is something of a rarity in the greater comics world. This ownership and (hopefully) the respect they receive from Gestalt helps to inspire the creators into producing their best work, knowing that they aren’t simply grinding time churning out pages as ‘work-for-hire’.
I also like to think that our titles are successful because we respect the intelligence of our audience. We’re not targeting titles/genres to fit perceived markets. We’re crafting stories that echo beyond their pagecounts. I hold strong to the belief that sophisticated readers appreciate this approach and engage with our books more deeply because of it.
In addition to this, and on a slightly more personal note, I think an element of it also comes down to the fact that I’m never happy with anything we do, which is far more aspirational than it may sound. With every title we choose to develop and publish, I’m constantly striving to ensure both the content and the production values are as superb as can be. And with each title, I always manage to find some glimmer of disappointment, or some element that I’ll know to scrutinise more closely with the NEXT book. With this mindset, I think I’m constantly raising the bar for myself and challenging myself to improve as an editor and designer.
Your involvement in spec fic goes back a long way – we first met at Murdoch in the early days of the Faster than Light radio show… so what inspired you to start Gestalt?
Oh, those weren’t early days of Faster Than Light. I came onboard as producer of the radio show about halfway through its lifespan after it began in 1977, and was proud to helm the mixing desk from 1996 to 2012, taking the show to National broadcast in 1999 before becoming an early adopter of podcasting shortly thereafter. But I digress.
It was a connection to my previous live(s) in stand-up comedy, teaching at Murdoch University, holding a part-time job in a video library and a period of self-employment that all culminated in inspiring Gestalt. There’s a much longer story there, and I dare say that it may prove too long for this snapshot. Suffice to say, a chance meeting with Skye Ogden (Art Director of Gestalt) and a previous student who spoke alluringly of “arts funding” spurred me on to found the company with Skye. Both he and I had been involved in graphic design and editorial comics for over a decade, and the desire to do something worthwhile, something that I felt passionate about helped provide the impetus as I grew closer to the age of 30 (and something of a pre-emptive mid-life crisis). Both Skye and I had encountered a great many people who felt stuck in the same quagmire of “wanting to make great comics” but feeling tied down by lack of opportunity, the need to get a day job to support themselves and/or their families. So we decided to do something about it.
Where to from here for Gestalt Publishing? What new publications are you looking forward to putting out?
We’ve just signed new distributors in Australia, USA and UK so I’m very much looking forward to getting our books available for more people in more places.
In terms of upcoming publications, we have some superb titles currently on the boards including the second volumes in the CHANGING WAYS, THE DEEP and WALLED CITY series, and I must say I’m excited to be developing a couple of titles with emerging talents such as Andrew Constant (his unique take on werewolves in the TORN graphic novel having been one of the finalist in this year’s Aurealis awards) and Emily Smith whose work on UNMASKED is just breathtaking. We have a couple of new titles coming from Christian Read a little later that I cannot yet reveal, and a slew of others including a project written by Kevin J. Anderson and a couple of titles featuring legendary Australian graphic novelist, Gary Chaloner. And that just feels like the tip of the iceberg…
What Australian works have you loved recently?
I have precious little time to read anything beyond scripts and submissions, unfortunately. The last Australian work I read that I absolutely loved would have to be Terry Dowling’s “Basic Black” which dates back to 2009, yet I’ve only just managed to read it! This would have to be the biggest downside to my role with Gestalt. There are many favoured authors like this whose works pile-up awaiting a lull or ‘holiday’ from work, but that has yet to eventuate and doesn’t look to be happening anytime soon.