New tome maps history of comics in Czechoslovakia

Fans of Czech comic books or series have a fascinating new tome to pore over, the just released Encyklopedie komiksu (The Comics Encyclopaedia). The book covers series and strips published in Czechoslovakia between the years 1945 to 1989. Under the Communists, the art form was largely frowned upon as a Western one, but continuing series were regularly published on the back page of ABC, a long-running science magazine aimed at young readers, still published today.

The first issue of ABC, or ábíčko as it is widely-known among fans, first came out in 1957 and over the years the magazine published 81 comic book series, sagas continuing from issue to issue on the magazine’s last page. Many famous authors such as Jaroslav Foglar or Vlastislav Toman were contributors. The newly-published Encyklopedie komiksu, which draws on a good deal of material from ABC, was put together by authors Josef Ládek and Robert Pavelka. Asked how it came together, Mr Pavelka had this to say:

“We got the idea to put the book together after coming across an article suggesting that comics under the Communists were practically non-existent. So we began cataloguing past series and at first we put together one-hundred-and-fifty, and when we got to a thousand we decided ‘Ok, that’s strange, this work deserves to be properly mapped’. Some of the comics that we searched for were very hard to find, especially one called Copernicus and Jeroným which had appeared in ABC. It was originally published by the Poles and even with things like the internet finding it wasn’t easy.”

ABC magazine
Some of the most famous comic series in ABC included Strážci by Vlastislav Toman (The Watchers) or Pod paprsky Zářícího, a cult sci fi hit about the meeting of an advanced human civilisation with a primitive humanoid culture. Toman wrote the series after ABC readers in the 1970s asked for a continuation of stories like the adventures of John Carter, but the magazine was unable to secure the rights. These and many more are the focus of the new encyclopaedia and co-author Robert Pavelka stressed that readers – new and old – will appreciate that putting together a solid series, not least in those days, was hard work:

“In my view, it would be great if people who pick up our book are inspired to try something like drawing a comic book or series themselves. Readers will also see how hard it was produce a comic back then. So in that sense, the encyclopaedia is not only for former fans but for new ones as well.”

In his view, readers will also appreciate the difference between comic books then and today. Robert Pavelka again:

Josef Ládek, Robert Pavelka (right), photo: CTK
“Today, of course, comic books are often referred to as graphic novels. In my opinion, though, today’s stories suffer a little by comparison at the expense of the visual design. Back then, comics too were all meticulously hand-drawn: there was no opportunity to add any touches by computer. So, while the end product was maybe a little rougher then, maybe even a little naive, it was also more natural. It’s like the difference between a vinyl record and a CD.”

Anyone interested in picking up a copy of Encyklopedie komiksu can now do so at most bookstores throughout the country; the new volume is however only available in Czech.