INTERVIEW: A Conversation With Members of Turkey’s First Sci-Fi & Fantasy Artists’ Collective
May 2012, TimeOut Istanbul (print edition only)
Turkey’s Association for Artists of Fantasy and Science Fiction (FABİSAD) was officially founded last October. The decade-old dream of a few writers and graphic artists, FABİSAD was formed to promote these genres by creating a national award for outstanding work in them, and organizing seminars, book drives, and festivals.
Three members — founding authors Doğu Yücel and Barış Müstecaplıoğlu, and graphic designer Emre Soyak — sat down with TimeOut to discuss FABİSAD and science fiction/fantasy in Turkey today.
Talk about your lives in the outside world. What are your day jobs?
Doğu Yücel: I earn money as a music writer; I’m the editor in chief of the most popular music magazine in Turkey, BlueJean Magazine.
Emre Soyak: I’m a graphic designer in a company that provides broadcasting graphics to major TV channels. Most of my work is actually being broadcasted as we speak. I’ve designed the interface for several sports channels.
Barış Müstecaplıoğlu: I’m a Human Resources manager at Atatürk Airport in Istanbul. It’s a great job for a writer, because I meet many people who tell me their life stories.
What were the first fantasy and science fiction books or films that you got really excited about?
YÜCEL: Movies and TV series, like E.T., Star Wars, Flash Gordon, Twilight Zone and Amazing Stories. My first real literature love was Jules Verne’s A Captain at Fifteen. I was very influenced by “Choose Your Own Adventure” books. Also some comic books, like Superman, Spiderman, Tintin. In sicence fiction, Asimov. In horror, Lovecraft and Bram Stoker.
SOYAK: I didn’t realize until high school that there was such a genre as fantasy. I just expected all literature to be this way. I mostly watched cartoons, but the first stories that influenced me were myths. I used to read from them the way people jump around Wikipedia articles. Of longer novels, I most liked Tigana by Guy Gavriel Kay, and everything by J.R.R. Tolkien, especially The Silmarillion.
MÜSTECAPLIOĞLU: There was Talisman, a book by Stephen King and Peter Straub. Also very important to me were Ursula LeGuin’s Earthsea books. Those were the first books that really made me feel that I had to write fantasy books. And Frank Herbert’s Dune. These series both have strong social and political themes.
Many writers have used fantasy and science fiction stories to address realities in their own lives and times. Do you?
MÜSTECAPLIOĞLU: Yes. If you take out all the fantastic and imaginative things from my books, they are still strong stories about people’s prejudices against each other, and the complex relationships between countries and people. In my last book, for example, I told a story about genocide and culture conflicts. If it was a story set in the real world, people might choose one side and see the events just through the eyes of one side.
YÜCEL: For me, out of all literary genres, fantasy is actually the nearest to reality, because it feeds off of reality and directly criticizes reality. The best sci-fi books, like Fahrenheit 451 or Brave New World, are extremely realistic. They’re all about real systems, about the way the world works, while lots of more “realist” books are not that realistic. So I think fantasy isn’t an escape, it’s about reality.
SOYAK: It’s actually extremely hypocritical for some mainstream writers to claim that our fiction is escapist, when many of their stories don’t really sound proper or logical. A lot of the stuff they’re writing, though it’s supposed to take place in the real world, is actually more fantasy than ours.
What traditions of fantasy, science fiction, or magical realism have existed in Turkey before now?
MÜSTECAPLIOĞLU: If you go back to very old times, Turkey was a land of shamanism, which resembles high fantasy in some ways. There was an oral culture back then, and some storytellers would make fantastic illustrations to accompany their stories. My latest book is about a 13th-century storyteller, Mehmet Siyahkalem, who drew incredible illustrations of demons with snake-headed tails and other fantastical creatures to accompany his stories. A little later, there’s the epic of Dede Korkut. But when the Ottomans came and found shamanism here, they wanted to establish a new religious culture, so they tried to destroy the shamanistic roots. And after that, the republic was established. The republicans wanted to change Turkey’s religious culture into a more secularist culture, so they cut all study of fairy tales and other imaginative things from schools. Everything imaginative was hushed up.
SOYAK: Imagination became something that people began to ignore or fear. They began to spread the message that Turkey needed more factory workers than dreamers: “Don’t think, just work.” There are lots of sayings in Turkish that discourage you from being imaginative or creative. I’m not saying it’s only a bad thing — in fact, the main point of the sayings is just, “Be careful, don’t get lost in your dreams.” But there are so many of these sayings that it’s actually a little alarming.
MÜSTECAPLIOĞLU: They wanted to block all imaginative traditions and make people believe only in science and things that they can prove. There were still some artists and writers in the early republican period who ignored this, and continued producing imaginative work. But they were told that their work was childish, and that they must only write about the real Anatolia. Nobody asked the government to define reality, or why its idea of reality should be everyone else’s reality. They ignored the fact that people with strong imaginations can create a better life for themselves than the government’s so-called reality.
YÜCEL: They didn’t only ignore imaginative works, they ignored experimental novels too. Anything that wasn’t mainstream. Oğuz Atay, for instance, is now considered one of the most important Turkish writers. But he wasn’t successful in his own time, because at that time people found his novels too personal, too out of the social reality.
What are the biggest challenges that face sci-fi/fantasy writers and artists in Turkey today?
MÜSTECAPLIOĞLU: Most people think you’re just writing for children. When I published my first book, I gave an interview to a journalist. It was a good interview, but in the last question, she asked, “Do you think you’ll write more serious things later?” And I said that I thought I was writing more serious things already.
YÜCEL: In 1997, I wrote a story called “Life at the Theater”, which I was never able to publish anywhere. But last year, the story was selected to be in a compilation with writers like Oscar Wilde and Franz Kafka. So mainstream literature editors are starting to understand our work. With all that Turkish fantasy and sci-fi authors have published in the last ten years, I think we’ve broken down some prejudices against the genre.
SOYAK: Since I play role-playing games, I feel a sort of double prejudice: “You’re a fantasy artist, plus you’re creating games!?” There’s no combination more embarrassing. However, among graphic designers, there aren’t any problems. In fact, there are many other graphic designers around that are more into fantasy than me. I get embarrassed sometimes because they’re so nerdy compared to me.
YÜCEL: They look nerdy next to you?
SOYAK: I know, can you imagine? [laughs]
MÜSTECAPLIOĞLU: If you are a very good illustrator, you can post your work online and get attention. But for novelists, you need to get it translated it first. It’s a big obstacle for writers. That’s why we’re working with Kalem literary agency, for example, because you need an agency to support your work and get it published internationally.
What about the film industry, are there also challenges there?
YÜCEL: In 2002, I wrote the script for Okul (School), an adaptation of one of my novels. There had only been a few horror movies in Turkish cinemas before, like Dracula in Istanbul, and the Turkish version of The Exorcist. When we were in pre-production, everyone in the cinema sector was saying, “It will fail, nobody wants to see a Turkish horror movie.” Our producer panicked and tried to put extra comedy into the movie. Still, nearly one million people watched it. After that, every producer started trying to make horror movies. When we were making our second movie, Küçük Kıyamet (Little Apocalypse), the producer didn’t say anything to us; we controlled it thoroughly.
SOYAK: There is one animated film I would like to mention: Kayıp Armağan (The Lost Present). That movie didn’t get the attention it deserved. It was made by just four or five dedicated people, who drew everything by hand. But it was very successful, and I believe it will influence future Turkish animators. There are also lots of Turkish artists outside of Turkey that are working in animation. If they come back, we will see the rise of Turkish animation.
MÜSTECAPLIOĞLU: Even if they don’t come back, we can make their work more popular here, with the help of FABİSAD. Maybe its better they stay abroad, in fact, to be our contacts in foreign countries.
How do you hope the foundation of FABİSAD will change the future of sci-fi and fantasy in Turkey?
MÜSTECAPLIOĞLU: We’ll make people understand how not just artists, but the entire public can benefit from imagination. Turkey has a problem with imagination, not only within sci-fi and fantasy. When they make a new TV show, for example, they go and buy the license of a foreign contest program and adapt it. Elsewhere, some people are developing new ideas, and here people are adapting them and trying to get money from them, they aren’t putting new ideas on the table.
YÜCEL: We’re not just aiming to inspire new writers, we want to change the attitudes of readers too. If Barış had written his books under the name “Daniel Smith”, I think he would have sold more. There are some Turkish readers who only read fantasy books by foreign writers.
SOYAK: If you ask them why, they say, “Well, Turkey has no local authors who write in these genres.” So FABİSAD will also help break down this lie.
YÜCEL: FABİSAD is our Voltron, the super robot that we make when we come together. We’ve joined forces and we will show the rest of the country that we are serious. We’ve worked within their bureaucratic system to establish ourselves as a foundation. We are using their tools this time.