In just a few line marks Frankfurt-based illustrator Jan Buchczik can draw a character’s face which displays a complete personality. Worried, joyful, lonely or silly, Jan can portray it all in an L-shaped nose, two tiny eye dots, and a certain concave smile. It’s a skill we’ve had the pleasure to write about countless times on It’s Nice That since it started, but the illustrator’s latest book, The One & The Many might just be his best yet.
A fragmented story of character studies across 100 pages, The One & The Many illustrates the tale of “the long and often rocky road of finding yourself” through Jan’s signature illustration style accompanied by snippets of written narrative. “3/4 midlife crisis” for instance, or “We were turning left not sure if it’s right,” relate to anyone’s feelings of wandering through life a little lost. These observations are ones Jan’s been gathering over a number of years, “but I never knew what exactly they meant to me or what exactly this could be paired with or transformed into,” the illustrator tells It’s Nice That.
Taking inspiration from books such as Ear Witness by Elias Canetti or Stiller and Gantenbein by Max Frisch, “everything started to come together,” says Jan, finding comfort as “these stories also deal with the weird mix of fluidness and stiffness our identities are made of.” As a result, The One & The Many doesn’t follow a chronological storyline or plot as Jan “knew I wanted to tell a pretty abstract story of someone collecting identities in a manic, obsessive way,” he explains. This is also mirrored in the book’s design in “a pinboard arrangement of drawings and texts”. The abstract quality of Jan’s illustrations and individually interpretable texts is purposeful with the viewer in mind Jan points out. “It’s more about conveying feelings, leaving a lot of room for the viewer and being able to dive into the narrative no matter which page you open up of the book.”
Although put together in a way that appears sporadic, the placing of images and texts within the book took a large amount of arrangement and thinking. “I tried to find a good balance and contrast between the different elements of the book,” he points out. “I re-arranged a drawing or a text until something happened in the inter-medial space between text and image. I also wanted to it to feel like a loose arrangement, like it didn’t matter which parts are paired together, like it could be rearranged anytime. At least the best I can in the pretty confined space of a classic book.”
On asking Jan whether the book’s narrative of finding an identity is personal he explains that “your own identity is something everybody is more or less exploring their whole life. The scenes and characters are not directly not taken from my experiences, but definitely inspired by situations and characters, or warped exaggerations of those.” This is particularly relevant to those in the creative industry as Jan is: “being an illustrator it’s especially interesting as you’re exploring and developing your own visual identity and voice constantly,” he says.
As The One & The Many is designed, illustrated and written with its reader consistently in mind Jan hopes it will provokes “a lot of different feelings,” he says. “It should be able to offer comfort and hope, but also trigger thoughts and reflection. Just gently push the viewer between two opposite poles. At best, it should be funny and pensive at the same time.”
The One & The Many is currently in production, and available for pre-order here.
About the Author
Lucy (she/her) joined It’s Nice That as a staff writer in July 2016 after graduating from Chelsea College of Art. In January 2019 she was made deputy editor and in November 2021, became a senior editor predominantly working on It’s Nice That's partnerships. Feel free to get in contact with Lucy about creative projects for the site or potential partnerships.