Prague author launching world’s first graphic novel made with AI

Adam Trachtman used the thousands of photographs he took in the early 1990s as a basis for the book's illustrations.

Raymond Johnston

Written by Raymond Johnston Published on 15.05.2023 15:00:00 (updated on 15.05.2023) Reading time: 3 minutes

Prague-based author Adam Trachtman has just published Immersion, the world’s first full-length graphic novel with art made using artificial intelligence. The illustrations are based on over 10,000 of his own photos, while the stories are inspired by his experiences in Central and Eastern Europe in the 1990s.

While a few comic books have been made using AI, Immersion is the first work of such a large scope. It is also the first volume of a planned series.

The launch party for Immersion takes place at the Globe Book Store and Café on May 16 at 7 p.m. Trachtman will be reading from his work, showing some of his artwork, and signing copies of the novel, which is available in both English and Czech versions. 

“The artwork, like the story it illustrates, evokes the stark beauty and drama of those transient years when democracy in Eastern Europe was evolving,” Trachtman said.

A look at Immersion. Photo: Adam Trachtman.
A look at Immersion. Photo: Adam Trachtman.

He left Philadelphia in 1994 to travel, play chess, and create artwork in newly post-communist Central and Eastern Europe. Unlike most people who came to then-Czechoslovakia, he found himself living outside of Prague and sinking deeply into Czech culture and counterculture.

While the 11 short stories in Immersion are based in the Czech Republic, they grew out of his experiences in Slovakia, Poland, Bulgaria, Bosnia, Serbia, Ukraine, and Russia.

The stories touch on cultural assimilation, illegal gun markets in Romany ghettos, playing chess with mobsters, activism, incarceration, and sexual escapades while motorcycling through war zones. Finally, the author went to a concentration camp to face his conservative Jewish upbringing.

Panel from Immersion by Adam Trachtman.
Panel from Immersion by Adam Trachtman.

“Sadly, many of these topics – war, corruption, mob rule, xenophobia, and cronyism – are still just as destabilizing today as they were 30 years ago,” Trachtman said.

Trachtman said the artwork and tales evoke the stark beauty and drama of those transient years when democracy was evolving in the former Eastern bloc and the author was simultaneously coming into his own as an adult.

AI art requited custom scripts and a lot of retouching

The AI used was more than just simple text prompts. Customized scripts were created to help convert Trachtman’s original photos into something resembling his own artistic graphic style.

The novel was a long time in the making. Trachtman first had the idea 20 years ago. “Working on it by hand was taking forever. Graphic novelists working on a book this size, require three to six years. I didn't have the free time, so without the use of the artificial intelligence tools I would have never found the time to make the book,” he said.

“We are still a long way before someone could use text threads with something like Midjourney or Dall-e to make something like this into a full-on book,” he said. AI tools currently cannot handle book layouts and the images usually have poor resolution.

Trachtman stresses that AI didn’t create the book. It was simply a tool to convert reference photos into artwork. “There was a ton of touch-up, editing, compositing, painting-over, and outlining, as well as the text layout, text effects, and working with the right images to properly convey the story,” he said.

A heavy book in several ways

The quality of the finished product was also important to Trachtman. The novel was printed on heavy matte paper and weighs almost a kilo.

“It is a big, thick, heavy beast of a book. Even though I am using AI and a computer to make it, I wanted it to feel like a proper graphic novel in the style of Daniel Clowes or Chris Ware,” he said.

Cover of Immersion. Photo: Adam Trachtman
Cover of Immersion. Photo: Adam Trachtman

Clowes is known for the graphic novels Ghostworld and David Boring. He has contributed to magazines like The New Yorker and Vogue. Chris Ware became famous with the graphic novels Jimmy Corrigan, the Smartest Kid on Earth and Building Stories.

The book is available in Prague, Berlin, and Paris, and hopefully also soon in London by the summer. In the U.S. it can be found in Philadelphia and New York City. It can also be bought online from Amazon or Barnes & Noble.

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