A SAMPLING of Czech comics at the exhibit Meanwhile, elsewhere.

COMICS HAVE a long history in print, but they have not been consigned to the dustbin of history in this digital age. They are, instead, thriving. In the Philippines, there’s the successful annual Comicon Manila where local comics like Pugad Baboy, Trese, and Kiko Machine are always blockbuster hits. Then of course there is Japan’s famous manga, which includes comics, animation, and cartoons. The Czech Republic’s comics industry, apparently, has a lot to share as well.
An exhibition, Meanwhile, elsewhere, celebrating the 100th anniversary of Czech Republics’ comics is currently on view at the National Commission on Culture and the Arts (NCCA) in Intramuros, Manila.
The history of the country is told through its comics — the foundation of Czechoslovakia in 1918, the 70 years of communist rule, and the years since the creation of the Czech Republic in 1993. Comics, after all, aren’t only forms of entertainment but can educate and teach history as well. Comics mirror culture.
Some of the comics on view in the exhibit include Kája Saudek’s superheroes, Rapid Arrows, pre-WWII artist Ondřej Sekora’s Ferda the Ant, and more contemporary works like Jaromír Rudiš’ Alois Nebel and Jaromír 99.
“Comics tell about history. [What were included in the exhibit are] old masters of comics, the important parts of our history, and samples art to show the best Czech artists we have,” curator Tomáš Prokupek told BusinessWorld at the sidelines of the exhibit’s opening on Sept. 11.
The exhibition, which spans a century from 1918 to 2018, isn’t arranged chronologically. According to the exhibit notes, the exhibition “serves for a plurality of perspectives, a diversity of individual ‘pieces of narration’. In the attempt to sell the story of Czech comics so as to be able to track its course over 100 years of Czech Independence, we gave up on the idea of a strictly chronological exposition, which seems to offer a fixed and undeniable conceptual framework, but actually forces all involved into fettered obedience. Czech comics underwent enough of fettering and forced obedience in the 20th century, and we certainly do not want to add to it.”
The “forced obedience” referred to was the time of the communist dictatorship in Czechoslovakia when the majority of comics were not only censored but banned.
Becoming a socialist state under Soviet domination in 1948 affected the comic culture in the country. The first half of the 1950s saw the forced silencing of comics, save for the few minor works. Then in 1968, during the brief Prague Spring, there was a political relaxation and social awakening and the banned comics were once again in circulation. After that comics were only allowed to exist if they were not confrontational and subversive.
“Because of the communism in the past, everything American was banned. We have no influence of Marvel or DC in our comics. The Czech comics is in a way similar to European comics, it’s more artistic and less technical. It’s more about trying to make a story longer and with artistic ways — it’s not comics any longer, but visual arts. It is painting, in a way,” said Czech Ambassador to the Philippines H.E. Jaroslav Olša, Jr.
After the Velvet Revolution restored democracy in 1989 and democracy was restored, the Czech comic industry boomed.
“Now that we have freedom, comics, like literature and film, can be studied and analyzed,” said Mr. Prokupek, who also happens to be the editor of Aargh!, a Czech comic that is published once a year.
Aargh! publishes comic strips by local and international artists, interviews, and stories on the international comic scenes.
“We have no special genre, it’s about everything, which is to show that comics can have many faces: you can find stories of funny animals, or sometimes political comics,” he said.
Comics are still relevant, he added. — Nickky Faustine P. de Guzman