New Brno exhibition maps century of Czech comics

Miloš Novák: Hotel Victoria

 A new exhibition, currently underway at the Moravian Museum in Brno, is mapping the development of Czech comics over the past one hundred years. The show presents original drawings by some of the country’s best-known comics authors, such as Kája Saudek or Jan Fisher, but also works by contemporary authors, including Lucie Lomová, Jaroslav Němeček and ToyBox. I discussed the show with one of its curators, Pavel Kořínek:

Josef Lada’s Pranks of Frantík Vovísek and Bobeš the Goat | Photo: Moravian Museum Brno

“Together with Tomáš Prokůpek, the other curator, we did an exhibition on Czech comics ten years ago, called Signals from the Unknown.

“We tried to delineate the history of Czechoslovak or Czech comics at the time and we came up with the idea that Josef Lada’s Pranks of Frantík Vovísek and Bobeš the Goat may be considered as the first modern Czech comics.

“This comic series was first published in 1922 in the newspaper České Slovo, so we felt that now it was a good opportunity to present an overview exhibition of Czech comics.

“We decided to limit the exhibition only to original art, because nowadays, when many comic creators use digital technologies, the audacity of the original art is somehow getting lost in translation.

Work by Ondřej Sekora | Photo:  Moravian Museum Brno

“So we decided now was the time to show how beautiful a comic page original can be.”

Apart from Josef Lada, what works are being on display and how did you select them?

“There are obviously the major artists who are somehow connected with Czechoslovak or Czech comics of the 20th century. So in addition to Lada you’ll encounter works by Ondřej Sekora and René Klapač. There is Jan Fišer with his Rapid Arrows based on the script by Jaroslav Foglar, as well as works by Kája Saudek.

“We were obviously limited by the fact that some works are not existing any more or we don’t know where the originals are located.

Pavel Kořínek | Photo: Barbora Linková,  Czech Radio

“Obviously when selecting contemporary artists we had to go with the minority of them who still do their work on papers with pen and pencils or whichever technique they prefer.”

So when you are talking about contemporary artists, who is represented at the exhibition?

“The exhibition is organised in three sections. The first is before 1945, the second is 1945 to 1989, and the last section is contemporary comics. And for each of these section we have one main artist.

Lucie Lomová | Photo: Adam Kebrt,  Czech Radio

“For the contemporary one it is Lucie Lomová, who somehow represents the changes the genre went through over the last 30 years or so. She started as an artist doing kids comics but nowadays she specializes in comics for adult readers.

“In addition to Lucie Lomová, you will see Jiří Grus, Toybox and other big names of contemporary Czech comics at the exhibition.”

Also on display will be an unpublished comic series by the great Czech modernist painter Josef Šíma. Could you tell us a little but more about it?

Josef Šíma | Source:  Wikimedia Commons,  public domain

“It is a discovery of my colleague Tomáš Prokůpek who found it in the archives. It is four pages of his 1928 comic strip Poodle Horse and we exhibit one page from it.

“To be honest, we don’t know much about it, but it is a fascinating glimpse into workings of commercial caricature in the 1920s.

“It is something that definitely needs to be more researched, but Josef Šíma may, even though it’s quite a stretch, be considered a comic artists, even though we only have four pages by him.”

Finally, what does the show say about the state of Czech comics art?

“Well, the show is more of a retrospective rather than trying to say something about the here and now of Czech comics. But I think that any visitor who will spend some time at the exhibition in Brno will confirm that Czech comics has its own face and its own genres and there is something that can be translated.

“Czech comics is recently expanding globally and there is a small section dedicated to contemporary Czech comics in translation. You can see for example various editions of Kateřina Čupová’s R.U.R., which was translated into Spanish, Italian and South Korean. So I think that this proves that Czech comics still is a vital discipline that has something to say and that is worth listening to.”

Work by Artuš Scheiner | Photo: Moravian Museum Brno