Sour Apple (Timof Comics / Europe Comics)
Script – Jerzy Szylak
Art – Joanna Karpowicz
Content Warning: Sour Apple deals with complex themes of Domestic Violence, Physical and Sexual Abuse in a graphic nature. This book is recommended for Mature Audiences.
Sour Apple is confronting reading. It is a very real account of an abusive relationship captured in harrowing, unfiltered detail.
Europe Comics, in conjunction with Polish publisher Timof, brings the sad universal truth behind this important and challenging work to an English language audiences for the first times.
At face value the nameless couple whose lives are documented in Sour Apple have a perfectly mundane upwardly mobile middle class life.
He is the handsome rising star executive who no doubt spends his days hammering out big business deals and his nights wining and dining clients and stakeholders at expensive restaurants.
She is a school teacher, devoted to her husband, her church and her family.
They appear happy together and in love but the terrifying reality of their relationship could not be more different.
As a married cis white man I am aware that my position of privilege and power influences my ability to comment on the violence and abuse which the anonymous female narrator is subjected in this story but I do not want to downplay the ability of this book specifically and of art and stories in general to create discussion about these issues and how they impact all of us.
It was important for me to understand the culture and context which informs the story that Szylak and Karpowicz are telling. Over 85% of Polish people identify as Catholic according to 2011 Census Data. Both major political parties, the Civic Platform and the Law and Justice Party, identify as centre right or right wing. Women’s lives and gender roles continue to be defined by conservative family values. The end result, according to artist Karpowicz, is that “Basically – woman <are> fucked in this political reality we have”.
Jerzy Szylak is a noted Polish writer, critic and academic. His decision to have the characters remain nameless reinforces the universal truth at the heart of this story.
Although Polish Society and the experience of Polish Women clearly heavily informs Sour Apple, the couple, devoid of name or any clear link to any specific time or place, could be anyone anywhere. This could happening in your street or to someone you love.
That is the power at the heart of this story with Karpowicz’s fully painted acrylic on canvas art documenting the events of Sour Apple with a sense of stark, harsh reality.
It is shocking how quickly the violence becomes a normalised part of the couple’s relationship. Readers are compelled to watch on in almost voyeuristic horror as days and scenes alternate from loving, intimacy and affection to an ever escalating pattern of emotional, physical and sexual abuse.
As Sour Apple reaches its powerful conclusion it issues a question and a challenge to us the Reader.
If this is the reality for so many women, what are we going to do about as individuals, as a society as a culture?
How do we challenge the institutions, attitudes and cultural norms which allow this abuse to continue?
How do we talk to the men, women, boys and girls in our lives to let them know that not only is change possible, it is vital if we are to put a stop to these crimes?
Sour apples can be hard to swallow and this book is no exception. It is a powerful and compelling read that will stick with you challenge you and hopefully change you. It may not be a book for everyone but that shouldn’t stop you from having a conversation with the important people in your life about the issues it raises.