José Alaniz explores the problematic publication history of komiks—an art form much-maligned as “bourgeois” mass diversion before, during, and after the collapse of the USSR—with an emphasis on the last twenty years. Using archival research, interviews with major artists and publishers, and close readings of several works, Komiks: Comic Art in Russia provides heretofore unavailable access to the country's rich—but unknown—comics heritage. The study examines the dizzying experimental comics of the late Czarist and early revolutionary era, caricature from the satirical journal Krokodil, and the postwar series Petia Ryzhik (the “Russian Tintin”). Detailed case studies include the Perestroika-era KOM studio, the first devoted to comics in the Soviet Union; post-Soviet comics in contemporary art; autobiography and the work of Nikolai Maslov; and women's comics by such artists as Lena Uzhinova, Namida, and Re-I. Alaniz examines such issues as anti-Americanism, censorship, the rise of consumerism, globalization (e.g., in Russian manga), the impact of the internet, and the hard-won establishment of a comics subculture in Russia.
Komiks have often borne the brunt of ideological change—thriving in summers of relative freedom, freezing in hard winters of official disdain. This volume covers the art form's origins in religious icon-making and book illustration, and later the immensely popular lubok or woodblock print. Alaniz reveals comics' vilification and marginalization under the Communists, the art form's economic struggles, and its eventual internet “migration” in the post-Soviet era. This book shows that Russian comics, as with the people who made them, never had a “normal life.”
Table of Contents
Introduction: Comics Agonistes (3)
- This book is about Russian comics, or komiks, tracing its origins from the religious icon-making and book-illustration tradition to the lubok or woodblock print of the seventeenth to twentieth centuries, its vilification and marginalization under Communist rule, its economic struggles, and Internet “migration” in the post-Soviet era as well as the postsocialist era of predatory capitalism. It discusses the historical and sociocultural background of comics and proto-comics in Russia and the central role played by single-image, nonsequential caricature in the comics’ development. It also offers close readings of individual works and/or artists from a cultural studies perspective and how they reflect and shape attitudes regarding mass culture, globalization, nationalism, anti-Americanism, consumerism, and feminism in the post-Soviet era. Furthermore, it explores the problematic status of autobiography in Russian comic art and the medium’s contemporary status in relation to other cultural practices such as art, literature, and cinema.
Part I: Historical Background
1. Lubok and the Prerevolutionary Era (13)
- This chapter traces the history of comics or komiks in Russia, from the earliest religious icon-making tradition to the rise of the lubok or woodblock print. It first looks at the use of icons in religion and the emergence of the first form of proto-comics in Russia. It then examines the influence of the lubok on avant-garde art, with reference to two major art movements of the prerevolutionary period: the World of Art of Alexander Benois and Sergei Diaghilev and the Russian Futurists. It also considers the role of World Art member Ivan Bilibin as the direct link between the lubok and Russian graphic art and comics of the twentieth century. Finally, the chapter discusses the rise of caricature and satirical journals as a result of the stark political changes brought about by the 1905 Revolution and its aftermath.
2. Comics During the Soviet Era (31)
- This chapter examines the history of Russian comics or komiks under the Soviet regime, breaking it down into three main phases: the Revolutionary Era (1917–1934), Socialist Realism (1934 to mid-1980s), and the rise of the Non-Conformists (1960s–1980s). It also looks at the work of comics artists of the diaspora, namely the “Whites” who fled the Red Communists during and after the Russian Revolution. It considers how the Bolsheviks, led initially by Vladimir Ilyich Lenin, sought to transform what they saw as backward Russian society into a modern industrialized state grounded on Marxist principles. It discusses the impact of the seventy-year Soviet domination of Russia under the Communists on the development of comics as an art form. It also describes the use of the poster or plakat in Soviet propaganda, the Russian Telegraph Agency’s (ROSTA) employment of “ROSTA satirical windows” as a communications device which fully exploited the sequential language of comics, and the rise of caricature and satirical journals in Russia. Finally, it assesses the state of Russian comics after World War II.
3. The Rebirth of Russian Comics (79)
- This chapter examines the renaissance of comics or komiks during the era of Perestroika (“restructuring”) under Mikhail Gorbachev, who assumed power in March 1985 as president of the Soviet Union. It looks at Gorbachev’s policies of a new engagement with the West, economic reform, and loosening of censorship and their impact on publishing in general and comics in particular. More specifically, it explores how Perestroika and Glasnost led to the emergence of a comics industry in Russia. It also considers KOM, a group of Russian artists dedicated to comics works, as well as Vladimir Sakov’s Moscow-based Tema.
4. Russian Comics’ Second Wave (91)
- This chapter examines the “Second Wave” comics or komiks subculture in Russia from 1991 to the present. It begins with an assessment of the situation not only for comics but for many other areas of Russian culture following the collapse of Communist rule. It then looks at the rebirth of Russian comics under Perestroika reforms. It considers the success of Mukha (The Fly), an anthology journal published by Vitaly Mukhametzyanov and which represented native Russian comics in their most commercialized, mainstream form. Furthermore, it discusses the rise of a number of komiks journals at the turn of the twentieth century; Russian scholars’ attitudes toward production advances and professionalization of komiks in the late 1990s; and the impact of the Internet on comics, with reference to Komiksolyot, one of the first venues to publish work in a relatively new genre, Cyberpunk. Finally, the chapter analyzes the influence of manga and anime on Russian comics.
Part II: Close Readings
5. ArtKomiks in the Museum (145)
- This chapter examines the emergence of ArtKomiks, a branch of comics practice, in contemporary Russia. It shows how Russia’s modern artists experimented with, and in some cases embraced, comics iconography since the early 1990s and how ArtKomiks was showcased in exhibitions. It looks at the 2004–2005 exhibit Bubble: Comics in Contemporary Art, held at Moscow’s Guelman Gallery and featuring work by artists such as Georgy Litichevsky, Georgy Ostretsov, Zoya Cherkasskaya, Vladislav Mamyshev-Monroe, the Blue Noses, and the PG group.
6. New Komiks for the New Russians (162)
- This chapter examines the depiction of New Russians (novie russkie) in comics or komiks in post-Soviet Russia. In a 1999 essay on Russian subversion, laughter, and jokes, Anna Krylova described New Russians to refer to the group of people who have “made it” under the new market-economy conditions. The New Russians are dismissed as crude, uncultured, vaguely “foreign,” and Other, showing no proper respect for tradition, and undeserving of a place in Russian life. The chapter analyzes Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy and its “shocking” komiks format. It also looks at the early 2000s comics journal Novy Komiks, viewed by Soviet authorities—and later the anti-comics crusader Natalya Markova—as representative of “decadent” Western comics.
7. Autobiography in Post-Soviet Russian Comics: The Case of Nikolai Maslov (180)
- This chapter examines some of the reasons why the genre of autobiography, a staple of Western comics, has been slow to develop in post-Soviet Russia. To this end, it analyzes Nikolai Maslov’s comics memoir work and the scandal it provoked among komiksisty after it was published in France in 2004. It highlights the general public’s indifference to the Maslov case and the longstanding Russian bias against comics as a legitimate medium for adult themes, along with the komiksisty’s preconceptions regarding komiks.
8. “I want”: Women in Post-Soviet Russian Comics (196)
- This chapter examines comics created by women artists or komiksistky, such as Elena Uzhinova and Re-I (real name Liudmilla Steblianko), in post-Soviet Russia. It looks at their use of various design strategies for (re)fashioning feminine identity, the possibilities offered by the comics medium to women authors, and the genres that these women prefer. It also considers how women comics artists’ choices reflect current economic, literary, nationalist, and gender realities; the cultural burdens borne by komiks that affect the sorts of expressions komiksistky can, cannot, do not, or will not produce; and Almira Ustinova’s notion of a gendered “visual turn” in late-Russian modernity in relation to komiks by and about women. The chapter concludes with a discussion of the emergence of autobiography as a staple of women’s comics in post-Soviet Russia.
Conclusion: Impolitic Thoughts (216)
- This chapter focuses on the political apathy, hegemony, and outright censorship that has characterized the rare attempts at sociopolitical critique in contemporary comic art in Russia. It discusses the paucity of “politkomiks” and why more artists did not use comics to speak out about the many ills in society. It also comments on the komiksisty’s lack of concern about politics in contrast to Russian politicians’ interest in komiks and cartoons.