REVIEW: Blood Anthology Has a Beating Heart

A hand with roots that look like blood or water drops with silhouettes of humans

When a new comic appears in my mailbox, it’s hard to resist. And while I tried to wait, Krew was no exception. The texture of the book was the first thing that captured me. The physical feel of it combined with the design. KREW in two different shades of glossy red that stood out from the matte-esque cover, with BLOOD in black at the center. The book called me to read it and it would not wait.

Krew / Blood Anthology

Beaty Sosnowskiej, Natalii Kulki, Marii Kadyszewskiej, Anny Krztoń, Olgi Wróbel, Agi Gójskiej, Zavki, Marty Zabłockiej, and Katarzyny Kowalczyk (Illustrations and writing); Magdalena Wielgołaska, Magda Kożyczkowska, and Daniel Chmielewski (Translators); Beata Iwicka and Magda Kożyczkowska (Proofreaders); Karolina Sosnowska (Cover); Michał Słomka (Editorial and publishing)
January 5, 2021 (Bilingual Edition)

The cover of KREW or Blood red on red with Blood in black
The cover of the Krew Bilingual edition

Krew is Polish for blood, the central theme of this anthology. Though translated into English, the book inhabits a Polish cultural space. It is complicated, messy, and difficult to review. Because in translation, graphic and textual, much of what the book is, is up for interpretation

For me the pieces are powerful. The limitation of color to black and white with red give the illustrations definition and focus. To open it is to find an image that is worth exploring and sitting with, like page 4 of “Ohm” by Marty Zabłockiej.

This full page black and white image depicts a person with long hair and a cup against a backdrop of skyscrapers. It depicts the first peaceful sip of morning beverage. The calm preparedness before the chaos of the day begins.

It is also the sort of book that I can see my father cutting images out of to decorate his space, particularly images like the fifth one in “Bonds” by Agi Gójskiej. That page depicts an elder using black and red lines, evocative of rootlets and arteries. It’s an elder looking at you to remind you of the things you’ve forgotten to do. Perhaps a little judgey but mostly omnipotent.

Overall though, I found this book, and reviewing it, challenging. As someone of Polish descent who is learning the language, I was drawn to the Polish paragraphs. However, I don’t know enough to read it in the original. So, I read the English translations and asked my dad questions to make sure my critiques made sense.

The introduction identifies this as a HERstory (in English and Polish) and talks about only inviting “female graphic artists”. That sentence in Polish used “rysowniczki,” a word I didn’t know. Unfortunately, google translate didn’t answer my question so I asked my dad how these graphic artists became gendered, which was through the suffix.

I wanted to figure this out because the combination of blood with “females” made me scared that I was in TERF territory. Thankfully, this anthology avoids this, sometimes narrowly, because this work isn’t directly about gender. The work is personal and reflects these rysowniczki’s stories about their relationship to a “culture of blood”. Within this framework it is gendered due to their creators. However, the use of biology-related imagery focuses on plants, roots, arteries, cells, and of course blood, to depict ideas of relationship, kinship, and inheritance.

Most of the stories focus on those topics and use those images, allowing the book to be a powerful exploration of what blood means. While I would have also enjoyed something about blood and joy in the work, I am content with what these rysowniczki chose to do with their stories.

I particularly enjoyed the choice in “Dimming” by Marii Kadyszewskiej to use red, the color of oxygenated blood, to depict bugs, or as gaseous molecules, and the spirit. These all allow us to understand blood as tangible and ethereal. It allows blood to exist as both and neither in a liminal space of connection.

This space of liminality and creation allows “Untitled” by Katarzyny Kowalczyk to be a great ending to the anthology. The comic explores how media, like the anthology itself, takes our blood for it’s creation. However, it also creates and illuminates us. Art, like the comic and the light bringing television program the main character in that comic turns on by submitting a drop of blood to, does not exist without us but it some ways we do not exist without it either.

And that’s where the challenge in this book comes from. The stories are personal yet public. They are gendered but not necessarily about gender. And they exist in English but with the cultural history of Poland. And while not perfect, all of the works are worth a drop of time.

Paulina Przystupa

Paulina Przystupa

Paulina (aka @punuckish) is a Filipine-Polish archaeologist and anthropology graduate student who grew up in the Pacific Northwest and loves comics and pop culture. Her academic work focuses on how buildings and landscapes aid or impede the learning of culture by children. In general, she is an over-educated fan of things; primarily comics, comics-related properties, cartoons, science-fiction, and fantasy. This means she takes what she knows and uses it to critique what she loves. Recently, she has brought such discussions to the public by organizing and moderating panels at comic cons centered on anthropology/culture related topics.