Legendary Czech comics Rapid Arrows celebrates 80th anniversary

Photo: repro Rychlé šípy/Olympia

Rychlé šípy or The Rapid Arrows, a legendary Czech comic series by Jaroslav Foglar about the adventures of five boys in the city, marks its 80th anniversary this week. The first strip was published on December 17, 1938 on the back-page of the New Herald children’s magazine. Since then the comics have enjoyed a cult following, despite being banned several times first by the Nazis and then by the Communists.

Photo: repro Rychlé šípy/Olympia

I discussed the Rapid Arrows with comics expert Pavel Kořínek and I first asked him what made it become so popular:

“In a way, the Rapid Arrows was a new type of comic series for Czech readers. Up to that point, the majority of comic strips in the media used the combined form when pictures were accompanied by sentences and verse below the images. The Rapid Arrows decided to use the more modern, dynamic type of comics, putting the speech balloons directly in the panels.

“Also the type of narration, the everyday adventures of five boys living in the city were somehow interesting for readers. It was something that was not that much present in the Czech kids’ periodicals at that time and it offered something to live with and live through.

Jaroslav Foglar,  photo: Czech Television
“The comic strip was extremely influential because there were several types of adventures proposed in the series and kids all around Czechoslovakia tried to imitate them.”

What was the main source of inspiration for Jaroslav Foglar? Were the characters actually based on real-life figures?

“That is something that has been discussed quite vigorously over the years. According to secondary literature there were some models for these characters. But basically the club of Rapid Arrows consists of five members and these five members are all young boys between 10 and 15 years of age.

Photo: repro Rychlé šípy/Olympia
“And there is somehow present an archetype of sorts. Each of the members has a slightly different personality. For Foglar this was a continuation of his work in prose fiction for young boys. It was a different medium to narrate the stories but his main interest was to provide adventure as well as didactic stories that were somehow good for boys and promoted what he regarded as the right way of life.”

And do you think Rapid Arrows can still appeal to children today? Aren’t they a bit naïve for contemporary readers?

“That is difficult to answer. In my opinion, the stories really tend to be too overly didactic, too naïve and too simple for contemporary taste. On the other hand we see that generation after generation of new readers somehow find their way to the Rapid Arrows. They somehow understand the narrative and they want to read the stories.

“So there is something about the Rapid Arrows. I am not exactly sure what it is, but there is something that seems to stay active and relevant even 80 years after their first debut.”