Important Book on Comics in Eastern Europe is Out

Editors Martha Kuhlman and José Alaniz have found, explored, brought to us a topic that is hardly ever discussed: the comics of Eastern Europe. I am so happy that they thought about Hungary, too, and I could contribute with a chapter on a brief history of Hungarian comics and on contemporary autobiographical comics in Hungary. Thank you, Martha and José, for this collection.

Often, when the phrase “European comics” is uttered, what people mean is French or Belgian comics. However, the countries of Eastern Europe have their own diverse comics traditions. Why are they diverse and what are they like? At the end of the 19th century, magazine culture was hot and trendy in Europe, and the countries of the Austro-Hungarian Empire were no exceptions. Nationalism at the rise, these countries had worked hard to have press in their native languages and not in German. These papers started publishing political satirical cartoons — just like Punch in Britain. In Hungary, these papers often borrowed German and Austrian cartoons and jokes. So the national press, at least in Hungary, was part of a broader European press culture and development of visual culture. We even ripped off the Yellow kid!

However, before WW2 in Hungary Jewish-owned businesses were banned, and this affected many magazines and periodicals. After WW2, under the Soviet invasion, comics were banned as they were considered to have bad imperialistic American ideological influence.

After a while, especially after the 1956 unsuccessful revolution against Soviet rule, some entertainment was offered to the people as diversion, and a few pages of comics were also published in some magazines of entertainment. These comics were adaptations of literary works, and were hugely popular.

In Hungary, comics from the 1950s onward developed completely without American influence (some left-wing French stuff was translated later, though), and the ideological decision to exclude imperial influence had very material and aesthetic consequences: these comics look very different.

During Soviet rule, each country in Eastern Europe had their own comics traditions, and after 1989 they each developed different discourses in the medium of comics. I am so happy that I could contribute with a chapter on contemporary Hungarian comics. Interestingly, we do not really have works that would study our past in a reflective or personal way (yet). I have seen in Comics of the New Europe that some countries have very serious and interesting working through going on in comics. I cannot wait to find out more about the collection, the Introduction, which I have had time to read so far, is really interesting.

More on the book on the homepage of Leuven University Press.

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