Czech Comic Books Celebrate 170 Years


At least such is the slightly exaggerated claim of the Comics Study Centre, whose collaborators include Martin Foret, Tomáš Prokůpek, Michal Jareš and Pavel Kořínek. These four men have introduced their research into the historical development of Czech comics art at the book fair. 

According to their studies comics had made its first appearance on our territory in the relaxed year 1848, when first satirical magazines emerge. One of their regular features was a short illustrated narrative, a proto-comics of sorts. These were authored by such outstanding artists as the painter Josef Mánes. However, Bach's absolutisms resulted in the forced discontinuation of published satire, which meant new attempts at the genre only appeared in the 1860s, when the forefather of Czech comics, Karel Václav Klíč, entered the stage as publisher of Veselé listy (The Merry Herald) and innovator in the field of graphic and printing techniques. He is credited with creating the very first Czech comics character - stréček Mrkvička (Uncle Carrot). At that time, however, all accompanying text was printed outside of the picture itself. 

It was not until 1905 that Karel Stroff first experimented with speech bubbles that had been incorporated into the pictures of his Příhody pana Ťopáska (The Tales of Mr. Topas). In 1922 Josef Lada introduces his Šprýmovné kousky Frantíka Vovíska a kozla Bobeše (The Merry Antics of Frankie Oats and Bob the Billygoat). Two years later the first Czech magazine specialised in comics is being launched under the title Koule (The Sphere), only to disappear again after a while due to a lack of readership for this type of magazine at the time. But from here on Czech comics art gains unstoppable momentum. In 1929 the first strips featuring the eponymous character Pepina Rejholcová appear authored by František Voborský. She is a jovial peasant woman and through various linguistic puns portrays the contrast between the city and the countryside. This was also the very first comics to give rise to a feature film adaptation. 

From here the path leads to the first masterpieces of the genre: Ondřej Sekora's Ferda Mravenec (Ferda the Ant), Puňta the dog by René Klapáč (for the first time we see an idiosyncratic world being created around the main character) and, most notably, the comic book legend of Rychlé šípy (The Fast Arrows). Comics authors continue working during the war (Lovec jelenů or The Deer Hunter by Miloš Novák), with the years 1947 - 48 seeing the first romantic comics Zuzanka a její svět (Susie's World) adopting a gently parodic approach. After that a prolonged period of comic book silence settles in, broken only in the mid1960s, when Kája Saudek emerges as a true epiphany with his crowning achievement Kdo chce zabít Jessii? (Who Wants to Kill Jessie?). In the normalisation period comics survives mostly in the form of works for children. Kocour Vavřinec (The Cat Called Lawrence) by Věra Faltová enjoys considerable following, overshadowed, however, by the popular appeal of Čtyřlístek (The Lucky Four) by Jaroslav Němeček. 

Besides a comic strip series it also adopted the form of a more or less regular magazine, which provided platform to many other comics series. Perhaps surprisingly, comic books were also found in the samizdat. After the Velvet Revolution probably the greatest success was enjoyed by Zelený Raoul (The Green Raoul) authored by Štěpán Mareš. Then, after a brief comics downturn, Generation Zero makes its entrance around the year 2010 with the specialised magazine AARGH!, which is still in publication today. At the same time the first original graphic novels start appearing, of which the best known example is the Alois Nebel series (Jaroslav Rudiš & Jaromír 99).