Comic book about co-founder of Czechoslovakia wins Muriel Award

The Czech Republic’s annual Muriel Award for the best comic book of the year was given to Štefánik, a graphic novel about one of the founders of Czechoslovakia. The novel, a joint endeavour by writer Michal Baláže, Gabriela Kyselová and illustrator Václav Šlajch also received the Czech Academy of Comics Award.

I discussed the book with the head of the academy, Pavel Kořínek, who explained what makes it stand out from the abundance of biographical graphic novels published in recent years:

“It is a graphic novel about a huge historical figure, one of the founding fathers of modern Czech state, but it is also a graphic novel that does not offer that typical one-dimensional image of someone famous.

Photo: Štěpánka Budková,  Radio Prague International

“It is a much more interesting piece that deals with how difficult it is to depict a character, how difficult it is to offer a concise interpretation of some historical personality and how difficult it is to present someone as complex, as interesting and as contradictory as Milan Rastislav Štefánik.

“It deals with all these difficult questions of how you can create a historical presentation of some character for fiction and it does it with brilliant script and really beautiful art by Václav Šlajch.

There has also been a growing trend among Czech comic authors in autobiographical or semi-autobiographical stories. Was that reflected in this year’s edition of the Muriel Awards?

“It’s definitely something that started several years ago. Czech comics were slightly behind the European comic scene and autobiography and semi-autobiography came later to the Czech context.

“But when you take a look at the nominations for this year’s Muriel Awards, you can see that there were several interesting autobiographical or semi-autobiographical works published in 2021.

Photo repro: Šlajch,  Kyselová,  Baláž,  'Štefánik'/Labyrint

“One of the nominations was Lucie Trávníčková’s Lymphoma City, which is this really strong, tense, expressively drawn autobiographical narration about its protagonist’s fight with the cancerous disease.

“And in Utter Madness (Naprostá šílenost), a comic about anxieties of young girls, you can also notice some semi-autobiographical features. So it’s definitely an emerging trend in Czech comics.”

Photo repro: Šlajch,  Kyselová,  Baláž,  'Štefánik'/Labyrint

Apart from Štefánik, which other graphic novels or comic books that won this year’s Muriel Award, would you like to highlight?

“We have 11 categories, so it is difficult to pinpoint just one. I think it would be nice to mention R as a Runner by Jindřich Janíček, which won in the Best Art category.

“It is an anthology of six short comic stories about various aspects of running – about running in various historical contexts, about running for various reasons.

“It is a really strange but captivating book about something that at first glimpse is definitely not the most common topic for comic adaptation.”

Photo repro: Šlajch,  Kyselová,  Baláž,  'Štefánik'/Labyrint