“It’s based on the bastard children of junk culture” Lukas Kowalczuk talks Knock Off Wars, 80s wrestling and Polish comics

We’ve been a big fan of Polish artist Lukasz Kowalczuk, ever since we discovered the awesome Vreckless Vrestlers, and so we look forward to every new book we get that features his unique blend of 60s underground comix and 80s nostalgia. His latest, Knock Off Wars, is perhaps the perfect blend of everything that makes his work so appealing, so we used it as a chance to catch up with him to find out more about his love of wrestling, violence and action figures!

Knock Off Wars is written by Luke Toywalker and based on his blog about mashed up 80s action figures

So tell us a bit about what your new comic Knock Off Wars about?
Lucasz Kowalczuk:
Knock Off Wars is about friendship, journey, muscles and cutting off body parts. It’s inspired by and based on one of the bastard children of junk culture – Masters of the Universe bootleg figures. Luke Toywalker, writer, is doing his own line of such toys – Underworld Muscle. Knock Off Wars comic book is part of this project. If you want to know more about knock off action figures, check Luke’s blog: knockoffcollector.tumblr.com.

So did Luke pitch the idea to you or did you develop it together?

LK: In the end of 2015 I did a project titled Comics That Should Happen. Covers and random pages of various titles that… should happen. Samurai Jack vs Dredd, Savage Dragon vs NWO, Tarzan Holmes etc. Knock Off Wars was one of them. I read Luke’s blog, Underworld Muscle that was released at the same time. Luke told me that Knock Off Wars should happen and he would write script.

It’s a great fit for your work! Did you grow up as an action figure fan? Which were your favourites?

LK: Of course! However we didn’t have much of a choice here [in Poland]. We could only see some toy lines in foreign TV channels. In the early 90s, I was into New Adventures of He-man and G.I.Joe. Poland is also well known for it’s high quality bootleg figures from 80s and 90s – Star Wars, MoTU, TMNT. I am still action figure fan but I barely buy anything, mostly when it’s cheap and won’t take too much place in flat. I am definitely not a collector

Each chapter features a full page intro containing a fantastic selection of 80s and 90s pop culture accessories like video games, movie posters and wrestling action figures

We love the intro pages in Knock Off Wars that are filled with all sorts of pop culture references, like video games consoles and posters – they must have been fun to do! Is that all your stuff in those? Or just things you wish you still had?

LK: Thanks! I choose things that I would have if I were a American or Western European kid in certain times. I did some research on this stuff, including how TV sets looked in 80s and 90s. It was a lot of fun and work. I have some of these things, but i mostly bought them as an adult (NES, M.U.S.C.L.E. figures).

As I mentioned, I am not collector, but after getting married and leaving my parents I started to buy stuff like stupid. Old console games, action figures, books, comics. After a year or two you realise that you can’t have everything, and 80% of these things are covered by dust.

From reading some of your other books I’m guessing you’re also a big wrestling fan?

LK: Yes, I am. Used to watch WWF on Sky One when I was a kid. As I started to work on Vreckless Vrestlers (5 self-published issues took me about a year) I fell in love in wrestling again. My favourite era is the 80s and early 90s. I would like to check and support more indie stuff, as my patience toward McMahons and their product is finished.

We did SzlamFest (SlimeFest) at the beginning of the year. It was pop/junk culture festival with wrestling event. And people loved wrestling

Knock Off Wars was inspired by the replica action figures from Lukasz’s childhood in Poland

So you run events as well as do comics? Are there a lot of fans of both wrestling and comics in Poland?

LK: I co-organised this one and I am involved in others. Comics are popular here, the market is getting bigger each year, but I don’t feel that creators like me are the equal part of it. It’s a longer topic.

Wrestling is niche of the niche, but I hope that Polish federations will be more popular. Live wrestling is great idea for comics related event. Much better than tv “stars” or some other Star Wars decorations.

You seem to be busy working on lots of books and events!! Whats The wrestling fanzine I’ve seen you posting links to online? Is that another one of your projects?

LK: It’s Atomic Elbow, I co-operate with Robert (publisher) for 2 years or so. Very good zine, and i am proud i did cover art for issue 21. Another one worth checking is SCREWJOB – wrestling comics anthology. Issue 5 and 6 coming out this year. My strips will be in both.

Yes, I am busy. It’s like Role Playing Game. I am not great artist but my charisma is high. I am involved in a lot of stuff. Thankfuly more of it is paid, so i guess i am independent pro now.

Lukas’s artwork featured on the cover of experimental anthology Sliced Quarterly

You have a really unique style which helps your work stand out! Who were your influences? A lot of US stuff or are there polish comic creators you admire?

LK: I could write a book about it. A LOT of stuff from US and UK, thousands of artists and writers. Crumb and Kirby are highest ranked i think. I was raised on Polish comics, some of them are still great read. Tadeusz Baranowski, Janusz Christa, Papcio Chmiel, Jerzy Wróblewski – I am not original here, most of creators from Poland will name similiar names.

We love your strong use of colour in your work, it really makes it stand out!

LK: It’s 64 color palette made by Ed Piskor, available online

We loved your work in Sliced Quarterly and of course Slime, do you prefer doing short stories for anthologies or longer stories?

LK: I don’t prefer one kind of stories. Short ones can be easily collected in bigger book (which I am always thinking about). Longer are alright, but I like one-shots, or mini-series. Generally, story with reasonable end is best.

So have you got any plans for a longer series with regular characters?

LK: MonkeyKat – written by Paul D Houston. 4 issues mini-series, it will be one titles published by SelfDropKick. Mutants, dystopia, ninjas, kung fu… Typical comic book for younger audience.

Slime! was an anthology packed full of wrestlers and surfing werewolves that he created with writer Kek-W

Do you aim your books at all ages?

LK: No, definitely not. I am not ready for that. MonkeyKat will be for Samurai Jack type of audience. There is also a plan to do story for small kids, but it seems that i am “tough negotiator” for the publisher here.

When will MonkeyKat be released or is it available now?

LK: MonkeyKat will be part of initial SelfDropKick lineup. We will do Kickstarter for five titles. In April.

Do you publish books yourself?

LK: I do what suits me at the moment, still publish myself from time to time. With publisher or not I like to have control over the final product. I am surprised how many publishers don’t have idea about basic stuff like graphic design, layouts, print preparation…

Do you enjoy working with a writer or writing yourself?

LK: Working with writer is probably less time consuming, each year i like to work with writers more than doing all by myself. Especially when they pay me page rate

So if fans like Knock Off Wars which of your other books would you recommend they check out?

LK: I would recommend all the titles published in English, because they are still quite new. Vreckless Vrestlers, Violent Skate Bulldogs, RadioActive Cross (in volume 20 of Aces Weekly), Slime!, upcoming Only Wrestling Is Real, Ultra Minion (written by me, drawn by Maciej Czapiewski, published by WP Comics). I am also trying to do webcomic titled Battle 365. I wanted to do panel per day on Instagram, but now i have two weeks lag. Maybe switiching to digital at some point will help.

You can pick up the first 5 issues of Lucas’s awesome Vreckless Wrestlers on ComiXology

And where’s the best place to get them from? ComiXology? Or do you have a store?

LK: I am working on digital store (still need to figure out which place is the best, maybe till this interview will be ready I’ll have some set up). Printed versions are available at publisher’s store, shipping from Poland might be expensive. There will be also possibility of buying some titles from me in person, as i am going to do few trips outside Poland.

Where are the majority of your readers? Poland or the U.K. or Europe? And which is most important for you?

LK: I don’t have statistics, but I guess I still have most readers and support in my country. Market-wise and business-wise, “west” countries are more important for me, as conditions for creators in Poland aren’t good. So I think first about publishing and being established in US and UK. Or in US via UK. Every reader is important so i want to have my every book in Polish version, sooner or later.

Poland isn’t somewhere we think of having a big comic history so it’s interesting to hear your experiences.

LK: It has big comic history, but circumstances in Eastern block were devastating. Instead of doing a lecture here i can give you good article on this matter:

To finish things off , if you could draw a fight between one classic action figure character and a classic wrestler who would you choose?

LK: The Tramp from Dick Tracy Playmates toyline versus Brooklyn Brawler in No Holds Barred Street Fight.

You can find out more about Lukasz’s work at lukaszkowalczuk.com and www.selfdropkick.com and purchase Knock Off Wars in print and digital from the Underworld Muscle website.