ISTANBUL - While visiting Turkey to attend his first exhibition in the country, legendary comic book creator and director Enki Bilal shares his thoughts on comics and cinema, Europe and Turkey.
Bilal was in town to attend his first exhibition in Turkey, which will be on view at the Yapı Kredi Culture Center until May 2. This is Bilal’s fourth visit to Turkey; his last one was 16 or 17 years ago. I asked him what changes have struck him the most. "There are clear differences. Istanbul changes a lot; there is modernism here, but it also stays true to its roots," Bilal said. "It is like Japan in some ways. I do not know if anyone has compared Istanbul to Tokyo before, but I see it that way."
Since Bilal published his first comic books back in 1972, both comics and their readers have changed a lot. "I respect the readers, but I do not choose my stories and projects according to their understanding," he said, explaining that although he has tried to guide readers through his work, he believes that if you focus on the reader too much, your creativity will end and you will be unable to produce new things. "With them or without them, both they and I are developing in some sense," Bilal said.
The American way
With the exception of the legendary magazine Heavy Metal, Bilal has not worked with big companies in the American comics industry, like Marvel or DC. But this is not for any lack of offers. Bilal said he believes European comics are not well understood in the United States, that they remain marginal there. "Smart and interesting comics stay in the shadows there. The main problem with America is they fit everything into confined frameworks and I am against that," he said.
Although many comic book creators dream of going to America, and consider it the pinnacle of their careers, Bilal said the cultural level of the American consumer is not that high. "Of course, metropolises like New York do not fit in with what I have just said, but the majority of America is not New York either," he said.
Bilal said he perceives differences between American, European and Japanese comics. "There are three important and different types of comics, but they complete each other," he said. In his opinion, the writer is more important in Europe, the construction of the story comes first for Americans and the Japanese focus on the manga style. "All three scenes produce determined and quality work," he said.
A permeable sense of time is one of Bilal’s signatures; in his work, it is often possible to see a flying New York cab or a lady in a futuristic dress next to a 1930s-model car. This may be a way to help readers identify with the story, or Bilal’s way of visually rephrasing the idiom, "The more things change, the more they stay the same."
"Instead of just focusing on the future, I want to offer all three [past, present and future] on the timeline together," Bilal said, adding that he is very surprised to see how much the people of modern societies fear the future despite the forward movement and creativity of our times.
The three graphic novels that make up "The Nicopol Trilogy," arguably Bilal’s defining work, were adapted into the movie "The Immortal," which he directed. Although the film received mixed reviews, most critics agreed that the animation did not do justice to his great story. Even Bilal does not object to this, saying, "I found the animation techniques on ’The Immortal’ dated even before the movie came out. Maybe it was a mistake and I am responsible for not stopping the release of the movie, but I am not responsible for the technical work." Despite this, Bilal is still proud of the film and compares it favorably to perfectly executed animations that have little else to offer. "Mine stays in your mind because of the story," he said. "I like it that way." Though a new film is in the works, he said it is too early to talk about it.
’Wikipedia is insane’
There is also a computer game in the works based on the trilogy, "Nicopol: Secrets of the Immortals," which Bilal described as an intelligent game for intelligent people but that it might not have reached its potential due to too much perfectionism. "I have just sold the rights, I do not know anything about the world of electronic gaming," he said. This was surprising because Wikipedia reported that he was working as the art director of another computer game but Bilal said that is completely untrue. "Wikipedia is full of mistakes. They even gave my real name as Enes Bilalovic. My full name is Enes Enki Bilal, not Bilalovic. Wikipedia is insane!"
’The EU cannot be the ideal’
Because Bilal is a French citizen born in Belgrade before the collapse of Yugoslavia, his opinion of the European Union as an idea and in practice. "The EU cannot be the ideal," he said. "It is an economic necessity, a financial necessity, a political necessity and might be an answer for security necessities as well, but it is in the construction stage right now and should be finished."
He said he is worried about the way things are being done. "I do not believe 100 percent that the people who form the countries think of the EU as a necessity," he said, adding that he does not find the politicians convincing on the matter. He said instead of instructing the public about the EU’s importance, they are alienating people from the concept.
Did the tragedy of Yugoslavia in the late 1990s help form this opinion? "Unfortunately, yes," Bilal said, adding that he holds Europe responsible for the slaughter in his homeland because they had the means to stop it, but did not. "The worst part is that no lesson has been learned and those things still happen in other parts of the world. They can still happen again in Yugoslavia at any moment." When asked what he thinks about Turkey joining the EU, Bilal said: "Turkey has an exotic side, it might add a serious dynamic to the EU, and the EU to Turkey."