LITHUANIAN COMICS - an overview|
It is rather complicated to write about Lithuanian comics because no one has yet described this phenomenon in our culture in any encyclopedic detail. Thus my article will be the first try to explain it concisely. In Lithuania, the first comics appeared in the pages of newspapers and magazines for children and in humor publications around 1922. They were similar to the comics of Wilhelm Busch or Rudolf Töpffer, the construction of which —the picture above and the text below it— did not remind one of real comics yet. Jonas Martinaitis (1898-1947) was one of the initiators who created these comics. His comics had witty verses and did not avoid social problems; they were very popular. Very often the press would pick up foreign comics like those in the Catholic magazine for the youth Lurdas which was the best for publishing comics in prewar Lithuania. This period was rather propitious for comics in Lithuania, but it was drastically curtailed by World War II. After the war, the work that occasionally appeared in the press were usually comic strips with propaganda content. The most important moment in the history of the Lithuanian postwar comics would be in the ‘60s, when the newspaper comic strip was completely matured and the first comics appeared that employed speech balloons and other artistic conventions and signs characteristic of the genre.The caricaturist Romas Palcauskas could be considered as the father of the postwar Lithuanian comic. His first comic was published in the satire and humor magazine Sluota in 1966. Although these comics were marked with the slight Soviet propaganda (they would not have been permitted otherwise), they were the vivid examples of this genre in Lithuania.
Aleksandras Vitulskis, who published his own comics in the political-literary magazine Svyturys in 1968-69, was the first Lithuanian to create fantastic and detective comics whose graphic manner could be compared with that of Alex Raymond. They could be considered the most masterful comics ever created in Lithuania. He has never been equaled. There is an interesting fact about the magazine Svyturys. It is the magazine that published the only Lithuanian comic strip for a long time. The comic Miko Ridiko nuotykiai (The Adventures of Mikas Ridikas) has been published from 1968 until the present. Three cartoonists have come and gone during this period, but the hero has remained almost the same. In the middle of the ‘80s, comics disappeared from the above mentioned magazines. The new Soviet political wave denied everything that reminded them of the West and the comics became one of the most hated genres. In summarizing the period from 1922 to 1988, we must note that comics were never published in separate albums and there were no periodicals devoted exclusively to comics. Everything started to change in 1988. The democratic changes in the Eastern Europe and Lithuania created favorable conditions for new artistic forms. The first publication to popularize comics in this period was the magazine Sluota. In 1991, it published several special issues devoted to comics. There the well-known Lithuanian caricaturists K. Siaulytis, V. Suchockis, G. Akelaitis, I. Povilaika and others presented several new comics of their own which reflected the spirit of this magazine, namely satire and humor. In 1992, the first album was published, Pabegimas (The Escape) by cartoonist Juozas Griusys. The great influence of Polish cartoonist G. Rosinski was seen in J. Griusys’ work, but this fascination was more or less a blind imitation.
In 1993-1994 after a strong ad campaign the first magazine of the comics, Bus Dar, was published. Unfortunately, this issue was the last. They tried to continue this idea in the form of a weekly newspaper but that initiative also failed. It was really the most disappointing fact in the history of the Lithuanian comics. Probably there were various reasons for this failure but the most notable was that the editors of the magazine lacked the experience to choose good material. The comics in this magazine, to put it kindly, were terrible - except for one cartoonist. He is Andrius Zaksauskas. A. Zaksauskas now is successfully publishing his work in the children’s magazine Flintas and in the sci-fi almanac Kaukas but they are only the small crumbs from the table of his talent. I would like to mention the only woman in our comics, Herta Matulionyte. She is a graphic artist of great talent who creates the comic strip The Story Of The Rats in one of the greatest Lithuanian dailies. These comic strips are very close in their spirit to Peanuts and Calvin & Hobbes. Unfortunately her work and the above mentioned cartoonists’ work has not been published in books or albums. Publishers are indifferent to comics. There is no comics paper or magazine where both old and young cartoonists can show their worth. Today the trivial Mickey Mouse is the only comics periodical in Lithuania. The only comics fanzine, Balionas, cannot take the place of regular comics magazines in popularizing Lithuanian comics, and cartoonists cannot make a living because there is no viable commercial outlet for their work.