“I wanted to explore how you can be from two places and not quite belong in either” Kristyna Baczynski on what it is to be an alien in Retrograde Orbit from Avery Hill Publishing

Set on a mining colony in the depths of space Kristyna Baczynski’s Retrograde Orbit is a complex and poignant tale of a young alien girl trying to fit into a world that is different to her own. With it’s subtle look at immigration and identity, we caught up with it’s creator to find out more about about what it is like to be an alien in both senses of the word.

Can you tell us a bit about the inspiration for Flint’s story? Did you set out to write a sci-fi story, or was the idea of family and a personal journey the starting point? 

Kristyna Baczynski: The sci-fi setting was decided early on, after conversations with Ricky, my editor at Avery Hill. I pitched several ideas — my personal preference being the sci-fi story — and Ricky was most interested in sci-fi too. So we rolled with that.

It has a very personal feel to it, does it include any elements of your own experiences growing up in it? 

KB: Yes, the story incorporates a lot of my personal experiences. I think, as an adult, you’re able to look back at your childhood and unpack it in a way that you can’t at the time, or even near the time. I wanted to better understand and define those things that felt strange.

Flint’s relationship with her home world is really interesting. It feels like she is an immigrant who has fled to safety, or at least her family have. Is this based on the real world at all – you could see Flint as being like a Syrian refugee for instance?

KB: My family are from Ukraine and came to the UK after surviving the Second World War, so I’m a second generation immigrant. I hadn’t really understood completely what that meant while I was growing up, so this was an opportunity to get to know that aspect of myself. I also grew up in a single-parent, working class family and the Chernobyl disaster happened the year I was born. All of this plays into the comic.

Do Flint’s family have any specific ethnicity? They feel a bit Jewish, but I can’t decide if that is me reading too much into it? Certainly the way they cook together and their outsider status in the mining colony makes them feel like a displaced group of people? Was any of this based on real world cultures?

KB: They are from another planet, forced to leave and resettle two generations ago; an element inspired by the Ukrainian diaspora in Huddersfield, where I grew up. Displaced is right, but integrated too. Flint’s family are settled on their new colony and have a home there, as well as friends, jobs and all the trimmings of a good life. I wanted to explore how you can be from two places and not quite belong in either.

The idea of family feels very important to Flint’s character and really seems to drive her, as well as hold her back. The scene where she meets her best friend’s family was one of my favourites and seems to really feel like the turning point for the whole story. (I don’t really know what the question I am trying to ask here is, but it is something I would like to hear your thoughts on?) 

KB: That scene is one of my favourites too. Being invited into my friend’s homes for dinner with their families, or to celebrate special occasions, was always a weird experience, as it taught me that my ‘normal’ was different to their ‘normal’. I experienced huge anxiety around birthdays and festivals like Christmas because of it. It was unpleasant in the moment, but afterwards helped me define the Ukrainian customs and working class upbringing that I had taken for granted, or simply never understood at the time. That scene is in stark contrast to the previous scenes with Flint’s family, so you feel her rush of nervousness.

Which of the alien species was your favourite to draw and create? It feels like you have a lot of fun creating the world and aren’t afraid to create non-humanoid characters!

KB: I loved drawing the background characters in the crowd scenes at school or in the refinery. I hid a lot of goofy aliens in this comic, in part to keep myself entertained while drawing it, but also for readers to have a fun spotting them. The characters you draw once always feel more exciting that the ones you draw hundreds of times, so I’m biased about favourites. I’ll let readers pick their own.

You also seem to really enjoy the more science fiction elements, from the star charts to the mining machinery. Is astronomy a bit of a passion for you? And did you enjoy creating the galaxy that Flint lives in?

KB: I love sci-fi. Let’s just watch DS9 and read Valerian and Laureline. If you’re going to be working on something for four months, it has to be enjoyable to draw, otherwise you can fall into a pit of despair.

Am I right in thinking this is your first graphic novel? Have you produced any more comics we could check out? And how did you get involved with Avery hill?

KB: Yes, it’s my first graphic novel. It picks up themes from some of my previous comics, specifically A Measure of Space which is about introverts and post-apocalyptic catastrophes, and Hand Me Down which plays with object biographies and time jumps. Hand Me Down was nominated for an Eisner in 2016, which definitely gave me a push to be more ambitious with a graphic novel. All my other work is available from my Etsy store: www.kriski.etsy.com .

(Links: A Measure of Space: https://www.etsy.com/uk/listing/193086098/a-measure-of-space-comic-book-zine

Hand Me Down: https://www.etsy.com/uk/listing/208105249/hand-me-down-comic-book )

Avery Hill have been following my work for a few years, and Ricky would pick up my comics at shows. He would always follow up purchases with kind emails and Avery Hill were the only publisher to congratulate me on my Eisner win. I knew my first graphic novel would have a good home with them.

Your book is one of three being released by Avery Hill at Thought Bubble, and they feel like they have quite a bit in common – they are all created by exciting female creators, and they all feature stories about family and making personal journeys of discovery – have you had a chance to check out either On A Sunbeam or Follow Me In yet?

KB: These releases are so impressive and I’m honoured to be one of them. I read Tillie’s On A Sunbeam as the webcomic was updating and have been reading Kat’s KatZine issues for ages. They’re both beyond talented, making beautiful work. So just buy all our books and have a good time.

And finally what can we look forward to from you next?

KB: I finished Retrograde Orbit three weeks ago, so I had a bit of time off to celebrate and put my brain back together. I’m back to freelancing as an illustrator now and making some new stuff for Thought Bubble. I’m in talks with a new publisher about a comic for release in 2020. I also worked on my first children’s book at the same time as working on Retrograde Orbit, which isn’t announced yet but will be released in spring 2019.

You can find Kristyna at Table 47 in the Originals Marquee and Avery Hill at Table 66 in Victoria Hall. You can pre-order Retrograde Orbit from the Avery Hill webstore and find more of Kristyna’s work at www.kristyna.co.uk and follow her on twitter twitter.com/kbaczynski