The Power Pack Package Part 3:
Interview with Irmantas Povilaika,
the man behind The Power Pack of Ken Reid
Okay, it's fair to say that he's not a name that you probably recognise, and when I add the fact that he's from Lithuania, one of the Baltic States, then many of you will be trying to think of anyone from there who's famous at all.
But for many British comic paper fans - no, I'm going to call them comics - he's probably one of the more well-known names around when it comes to British comic collections. And he's quite an expert on them as well. He's also contributed to British comics magazines and even involved in some of the collected albums of famous UK comic strips issued by Rebellion.
But how come that it's taken someone from well outside the UK to have one of the biggest collections of British comics in the world? After all, well, they're all in the English language for a start, and if one looks at some examples of popular humour strips, I'd say that the scripts, colloquialisms and dialects would confuse even the most enthusiastic of language students.
So having picked up a wonderful two-book collection from him, I wanted to ask him a few questions. As a comic enthusiast myself, I was ready to take my 'fanboy' approach, but since this is a site whose job is to focus on the English language, I was curious to find out more about the man - that is, how he learnt English, where he studied, what aspects of the language still confuse him, was it British comics that enthused him, and so on.
And as it turns out, his English is probably better than many native speakers!
Please note: copyright of all images used here is with their respective owners. Any such copyrighted material is used exclusively for educational purposes and will be removed if requested by the copyright holders.
All words and phrases highlighted in blue are explained in a vocabulary list at the end of this page.
Where did you learn your English?
I learnt my English at school. I was at a special school in my hometown of Panevezys, which is Lithuania's fifth largest city, in the north of the country. The school was special because it had its focus on English and they taught us the language for 11 years. From first grade of primary school, we had one or two lessons daily. Of course, we studied Lithuanian and Russian in parallel (as I'm sure you know, Russian was the second official language in Soviet times, although contrary to what many people abroad believe, Lithuanian has always been the main language in school as well as in public and daily life here). I then joined Vilnius University where I studied English language and literature for five years.
So the inspiration to learn English did not come from British comics?
I don't want to disappoint you, but as you can see from the above, comics weren't where I've learnt the language from.
Did you find English an easy language to learn and study?
I never struggled with learning the language. I don’t remember myself sitting at the books trying to master grammar or memorize vocabulary. It came quite naturally to me – maybe I am simply good at languages... Apart from Lithuanian (my native language) and English, I am also fluent in Russian. I can speak some German too. I use English at work every day.
How would rate your English today - intermediate, upper intermediate, advanced?
What aspects of the English language still confuse you today?
That would be dialects. I have no problem with American dialects but some of the British ones are really tough to understand. I am sure I am not the only one with this problem. I have friends in the USA who thought they found themselves on another planet when they first came to London :-)
As well as British comics, do you read anything else in English, or watch English language films/TV/radio programmes?
I usually watch my films and TV series in English and I listen to BBC radio most of the time when I drive. I find it hard to imagine how one could survive in today’s world without English. The language gives access to limitless information resources on the web, etc.
Above: SLUOTA magazine from 1990. Although the cover art is not from Irmantas, his artwork appeared on the back cover page (right), and he also supplied the script.
Are you one of the biggest cartoonists in Lithuania? What publications do you contribute to?
I am not one of the biggest cartoonists in Lithuania. I used to freelance for Sluota magazine for some three years in my twenties, but those days are long gone :-) I am flattered that some people here still remember my published comic work – I know I was good at it then, but on the other hand the fond memories may have to do with the fact that it was a fresh and unfamiliar artform here in the early 90s. I also drew the odd illustration for a children’s weekly newspaper. Apart from comics and illustrations, I drew two colouring books for a major publisher in Lithuania. Besides, your readers might be interested to know that I was invited to illustrate a series of booklets for very young learners of English. It was published by a small publisher who had two teachers of English writing texts and preparing the various exercises, while I provided all the illustrations (see below).
Above: the first three images are the front covers of three issues of Rainbow - the booklets for young Lithuanian learners of English, as well as some inside pages of the booklets. "... All artwork was by me. The scans are from the printed versions of the booklets that had huge print runs of 20,000 copies each. I can't remember how many issues of Rainbow we produced, but there were at least four."
Are you a 'traditional' artist - as in pencil, brush and ink - or do you use a graphics tablet?
I used to be a traditional artist – tablets didn’t exist back then. Paper, pencil and brush were my tools of trade.
Did they discover you or did you submit examples of your art to them?
We are a small country and people know people. It so happened that my mate’s dad was one of the cartoonists who worked for that magazine. He spoke to the editor who then invited me to chat and show my artwork, and there I was. Those were the early days of our restored independence when Lithuania was breaking away from Russia. A whole new world opened up, and suddenly there was a big demand for many things that Soviets used to frown upon – comics included. It was a happy coincidence that I had been drawing comics (funny races, humorous cowboy and space adventures, etc.) for my own and my mates’ pleasure for many years and mastered my technique. When the demand appeared, I was fully prepared and equipped to step forward :-)
Did the job pay well? ;-)
Honestly, I can’t remember that. I know they paid something but it couldn’t have been a lot, or I would remember.
Above: "Two pages of my comic work from the period when I teamed up with the writer - scanned from original artwork, with English translation of captions and speech balloons added to the scans (the original printed version was in Lithuanian, of course),"
As well as drawing, do you write any strips yourself?
My early unpublished comic work was drawn from my own scripts, as was my first published series in Sluota. Later on, I teamed up with one famous Lithuanian writer of short stories and we turned some of his work into comics.
Have you ever drawn a strip from an English language script?
I haven’t but I have written and illustrated two stories in English! I am unsure about the timeline, but it is possible that my first-ever published cartooning work appeared in the UK. I wrote and illustrated a fairy tale with captions underneath, made it into a booklet and showed it to my English teacher. Without hesitation, she posted it to her colleague in Leeds and low and behold – some time later I received a copy of the Shakespeare Middle School magazine (a Xeroxed b/w zine-kind publication) with my booklet printed inside!
Do you attend any of the comic fairs and conventions organised in the UK, and how do you get on with communication?
I went to one comics fair in London a few years ago and had no problem with communication there :-)
Do you have any favourite strips from Europe that you think could work in the English language?
My interest doesn’t go beyond British comics so I don’t know much about European strips. However, when I was in school, I used to buy FRÖSI – a children's magazine published in communist East Germany. It used to have a comic strip called ‘Otto und Alwin’ by Jürgen Günther, whose style I liked a lot. Some time ago I was delighted to find out that an enthusiast of East German comics published several collections of strips from FRÖSI, and I bought those of ‘Otto und Alwin’ that I could get hold of – the print run of 300 copies sold really quickly. I think the strip might work in the English language but I may be biased because of my nostalgia...
Any remaining ambitions in the comics world?
I don’t have plans to publish more collected editions in the near future but some time ago I and another fan in the UK had an idea to publish a complete and detailed biography of Ken Reid covering his entire career. We have the support of Ken’s son Antony who is willing to give us access to his dad’s archive of diaries, correspondence, etc. The project is presently on ice, but perhaps it will materialise some day.
Irmantas Povilaika, the man behind the Power Pack of Ken Reid, thank you so much for your time talking to us!
Thanks for talking to me! :-)
Irmantas Povilaika is a keen collector of British humour comics of the 60s and 70s, and has a blog that shares, as he says, his 'humble knowledge about different titles, favourite characters and creators'. Check out his blog, which he updates regularly, at http://kazoop.blogspot.com. He is a regular contributor to the Comics Scene UK magazine and has also assisted in the production of Rebellion's humour editions from their Treasury of British Comics collections.
dialect - a form of a language that is spoken in a particular area
fanboy/fangirl - a person who is very enthusiastic about and interested in a particular thing such as a film, entertainer, or type of music. It is sometimes used in a negative form by the person of interest if they feel fanboys/girls are becoming obsessive
approach - here, a way of doing things, often preceded by an adjective: Taking a very careful approach to solving the problem.
to step forward - to offer your help or services
without hesitation - to emphasise that you are willingly and happy to do something immediately
Xeroxed b/w zine-kind publication - a magazine about a particular subject, sometimes giving the impression that it is written by people who are interested in that subject rather than by professional journalists, and is produced in black and white on a photocopying machine