Pack your bags! It’s time once more for our transcontinental journey with Batman: The World. Comic books are more than a genre. They’re a medium of expression with which every nation has their own unique relationship, and one which is used by each of those cultures to express themselves in a way that represents their aesthetic and cultural values. Using the global icon of the Dark Knight, Batman: The World is a special opportunity to shine a light on the vibrant differences between our cultures by looking at how each of them addresses a Batman story in their own way. On this leg of the trip, we’ll be taking a closer look at some select contributors from Eastern Europe and Central Asia. Onward!
The Czech Republic
The Czech comic industry is shared between the two nations which formerly comprised Czechoslovakia until 1993, Slovakia and the Czech Republic. This market provides a unique challenge, in that to reach its audience, comics must typically be translated into both the Czech and Slovak languages. DC talent from this area includes Slovakian artist John Sikela, one of the most prominent Superman artists of the Golden Age, who worked under Superman co-creator Joe Shuster himself.
Czech comics of the early 20th century typically ran in local newspapers as strips in children’s magazines like Koule, much like comics in the US before the invention of the dedicated comic book. From the 1920s to 1940s, artist Josef Lada was seen as a sort of godfather to the Czech comic medium with his Šprýmovné komiksy: Obrázkové (Joke Comics: Picture Series), setting the comical tone within the culture for other Czech comic creators and cartoonists. Comics were mostly suppressed in Czechoslovakia under the early years of Communist rule, but by the 1960s, the “Funny Animal” genre which had previously swept America, Italy and Germany had found its way into the territory with popular serialized comics like Čtyřlístek, a series depicting the misadventures of a cat, a dog, a pig and a rabbit that runs to this day. A few science fiction comics, meanwhile, found publication in the 1970s through the Czech ABC Magazine and generated some of the most daring and well-regarded Czech works of comic art, such as the retrofuturist Muriel a andělé. The first dedicated Czech comics anthology, Crew, was published from 1997 to 2003, but ABC Magazine continues to provide space for comics such as the graphic adventures of Czech folk hero “Pérák, the Spring Man,” reimagined for a new audience as a superhero. Though young reader titles like Čtyřlístek still represent the lion’s share of original Czech comics, Crew and ABC have spread the potential within the market for comics to tell more than just children’s stories.
Representing the Czech Republic for Batman: The World is science fiction and mystery novelist Stepan Kopvira, previously the writer of the graphic novel Nitro, and illustrator Michal Suchanek, who adapted a collection of science fiction stories by Czech author Ondřej Neff into the anthology Horrifying Delights.
Over the cultural barriers of the Cold War, interface between American and Russian comic traditions is a relatively recent phenomenon. However, one of the very first artists in DC history, Matt Curzon, originally hailed from Russia, as did (far more recently) Alina Urusov, illustrator of some iconic covers for Birds of Prey and Teen Titans GO!
Like many European cultures, the first known examples of sequential art in Russia are dedicated to religious iconography, translating events from the Bible into pictorial form. 17th century Russia saw the rise of the lubok, which were wood carvings, copper engravings and lithographs depicting popular folk stories and sometimes even cartoons, which verged on political. It wasn’t unheard of for these lubok of text and images to be bound together in collected forms, thus providing us with a very early example of the comic book. By the 20th century, the lubok had faded from Russian popular culture, though its iconography and themes endured in political posters and messaging. As a growing Communist regime began to enforce strict rules over Russian culture, some Russian emigrants to neighboring countries kept their traditions and folk stories alive by continuing to illustrate them in comic form. In the 1960s, children of Soviet Russia were introduced to single page comic stories in magazines such as Koster, but comics as a whole wouldn’t find open acceptance in Russia until the waning years of the Soviet Union. The Russian comic anthology Mukha arose in the ’90s, providing a platform for Russian artists to express themselves through the form. Folk tales and fairy tales continue to provide a strong influence on Russian comics, as does post-Cold War tensions and anxieties in horror tales which echo Chernobyl and the ever-present threat of nuclear war.
Representing Russia for Batman: The World is The Shadow Thief writer Kirill Kutuzov, 41 Nights graphic novelist Egor Prutov, and Plague Doctor artist Natalia Zaidova.
Polish comics have historically been a relatively insular field, with few titles translated for international audiences. Nevertheless, a wealth of Polish talent has graced DC’s hallowed halls—like Agnes Garbowska, artist of DC Super Hero Girls, Piotr Jablonski, Daphne Byrne cover artist, and Szymon Kudranski, artist of Penguin: Pain and Prejudice. Two of Poland’s greatest contributions to DC history: the medium-changing artist Joe Kubert, for not just his work on titles like Sgt. Rock and Hawkman, but for founding an enduring school for comic art, and Max Fleischer, who gave us the immortal Superman cartoon serials of the 1940s.
One of the cornerstones of Polish children’s literature is Koziołek Matołek, Poland’s own early example of a “funny animal” comic starring an anthropomorphic billy goat. Children’s comics like the light fantasy Lil i Put, and a uniquely Polish take on the Franco-Belgian style adventure comic, Tytus, Romek i A'Tomek, have continued to drive the core of original Polish comics. But satirical counter-culture titles like Jeż Jerzy, police procedural Kapitan Żbik, and the ’80s cult classic sci-fi epic Funky Koval continue to provide fertile ground for a variety of storytelling in Polish komiks. Today, like in much of the world, Poland’s biggest opportunities to reach a wider audience have arrived through the potential of online webcomics.
Representing Poland in Batman: The World is The Witcher comics art team of Piotr Kowalski and Brad Sampson, along with award-winning sci-fi novelist and director of Poland’s “World Comics Club,” Tomasz Kołodziejczak.
Like Poland, Turkish comics haven’t been afforded much of an international audience. But also like Poland, there are some truly fascinating original works within and inspired by the culture once you dive into their history. We’ve had some Turkish DC talent as well, including Supergirl artist Mahmud Asrar, Legion of Super-Heroes, Firestorm, and Teen Titans artist Yildiray Cinar, and illustrator of Vertigo’s Air, MK Perker.
Like the earliest American comic books, most Turkish comic books have historically been compilations of strips which ran daily in Turkish newspapers. Popular historical fiction titles like Karaoğlan, Abdülcanbaz and Tarkan provided sympathetic perspectives on the Turkish ancestry of Genghis Khan and the often-misunderstood Hunnic nomads of the 4th century. Like the folktale tradition which came before them, Turkish comics have historically focused on aggrandizing the past, and growing history into legend. Since the 1970s, more mature humor comics trading in irony and satire have found a wider audience among Turkish readers. Perhaps the reason few Turkish comics have appeared outside of Turkey is because of how proudly and fervently they wear their own national and historic roots on their sleeve. Most Turkish comics you’ll find are simply, unapologetically Turkish.
Representing Turkey for Batman: The World is writer Ertan Ergil, one of the country’s most dedicated Batman fans, and award-winning film poster designer Ethem Onur Bilgiç.
We’re two-thirds of the way through our journey with Batman: The World, but some of the best is still yet to come. Join us tomorrow, when we’ll be exploring the comic traditions of Mexico, Brazil, China, Korea and Japan! Ahoj, до свидания, do widzenia, and güle güle!
Click here to read part one of our journey around the globe with Batman: The World.
Batman: The World is now available in bookstores, comic shops, libraries and on DC UNIVERSE INFINITE. Pick up a free chapter at your favorite comic book store or digital retailer on Batman Day this weekend!
Alex Jaffe is the author of our monthly "Ask the Question" column and writes about TV, movies, comics and superhero history for DCComics.com. Follow him on Twitter at @AlexJaffe and find him in the DC Community as HubCityQuestion.