Preview: Signals from the Unknown: Czech Comics 1922-2012
The illustrated stories in which generations have found refuge
Posted: March 20, 2013
Those who grew up before the 1989 revolution will be familiar with the stories of Planetárik Tuti (Spaceman Tuti), who, for example, landed on a strange world and beat the natives at a cake-eating race because they all had rotten teeth. This strip was an advertisement on a box of the toothpaste called Tuti Fruti and now can be found at DOX Gallery as part of the exhibition "Signals From the Unknown: Czech Comics 1922-2012."
The exhibition features more than 300 originals, prints and other items related to comics. The dynamic duo of curators, Tomáš Prokůpek and Pavel Kořínek, has managed to assemble this representative collection thanks to loans from many institutions, authors or private collectors. Prague is the second stop of "Signals from the Unknown," which previously showed in Brno and will continue to Pardubice's East-Bohemian Gallery.
"The idea for this exhibition came to our mind back around 2008," Kořínek says. "We had to organize the loans, and I can say we managed to gain all the most important artifacts. The topic of the exhibition is delimited by the year 1922, but not because Czech comics were born at that time. The protoforms of comics date to the second half of the 19th century. But, in 1922, Josef Lada started to publish Šprýmovné kousky Frantíka Vovíska a kozla Bobeše (The Pranks of Frantík Vovísek and Bobeš the Billy Goat), which is still a popular story these days - the 90th anniversary in 2012 is also symbolically important."
Despite the time delimitation, the exhibition is not ordered chronologically but divided into 11 thematic parts. It displays, for example, comics by use (as advertisements or in the service of ideology), medium (magazines, newspapers), type of protagonist, and author.
When: Through May 20
Admission: 180 Kč; concessions 90 Kč
All the greatest hits are on display, from Jaroslav Němeček's Čtyřlístek (Four-Leaf Clover) to Ondřej Sekora's Ferda Mravenec (Ferda the Ant). The parallels and contexts of the protagonists are very interesting. Ferda, for example, a communist construction, fought an evil American insect: the potato beetle. The animal gang in Čtyřlístek, however, managed to stay mainly apolitical.
The comics also display various regional identities. "Specific to the Czech Republic is the genre known as club comics," Kořínek says. "It means comics describing mostly groups of young boys who go through different adventures together. The most popular are of course Jaroslav Foglar's Rychlé šípy (Fast Arrows). Even though it was banned many times for political reasons, it has survived." Visitors can admire versions of Rychlé šípy from different illustrators and compare the development of this famous story over time.
One whole section of the exhibition is dedicated to one of the most important authors: Kája Saudek. This cartoonist can be compared to renowned American and European comics artists such as Art Spiegelman and André Franquin. Because of complicated family and political conditions, Saudek could only freely work on his stories for a short period. Still, he managed to create such works as Honza Hrom (Johnny Thunder), Pepík hipík (Joey the Hippie) or the beautiful Muriel. His influence on any number of Czech comics artists - his contemporaries or those of the present day - remains clear.
On the occasion of this exhibition, Arbor vitae has published an extensive monograph. The book's patron is the artist František Skála, also on display at DOX. His original comics Velké putováni Vlase a Brady (The Great Wanders of Hair and Chin) and Skutečný příběh Cílka a Lídy (The True Story of Cílek and Lída) are presented as sketches and puppets.
All in all, the exhibition is both encyclopedic and up to speed with all of the new stuff, and anyone who loves comics will find it beyond fulfilling. Those still lukewarm on the form may just find themselves falling in love, too.
Monika Ticháčková can be reached at