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ARCHIVES  Danyliw Seminar 2016

Yuliya Pivtorak

Ukrainian Catholic University (Ukraine)

Yuliya Pivtorak is a PhD Student at the University “Kyïv Mohyla Academy” and a Lecturer in the Department of Cultural Studies at the Ukrainian Catholic University in Lviv, Ukraine. She has an MA in Humanities and Social Thought at NYU. Her research interests include Ukrainian Visual Arts and Nationalism & Dance.



Contemporary Ukrainian Comics: Dimensions of a Hero

Despite being a widespread popular culture medium in North America and Europe, the genre of comics does not have a developed and pronounced history in Ukraine. Beginning in 2012, however, several comic series and graphic novels have appeared which gradually fill a void in this cultural space. The first ComiCon took place in Kyiv in 2015 (as a private, partly crowd-funded initiative) gathering an unexpectedly wide audience and becoming an annual event.


The first printed Ukrainian comics magazine (Chervony)“Perets” (Red Pepper) has a long history. “Perets” started out in 1927 as a magazine of Soviet political satire and humor. It was one of the most popular printed editions in entire USSR with a circulation of 3.3 million copies in 1986. Eventually the magazine faced closure in 2013 due to a decrease in sales and popularity in general. Another comic magazine which made its way to the Ukrainian market was “K9” (2003-2009), which was open for contributions and published translated and abridged versions of European comics, manga and stories by Ukrainian artists.


It wasn’t until the mid 1990s that Ukrainian comics started to develop distinctive heroes of their own. In 1993 the Kyiv writer and graphics artist Igor Baranko created a series of comics about Mamay the Cossack (1993-1998). Flourishing with all the folk legends and mystical stories, Mamay transformed from a character of 17th century folk paintings and mythology into a pioneer of Ukrainian comic characters. Baranko continued with “Maksym Osa” (2008) – a story of Zaporizhian Cossack “who came back from the parallel world” (it will be made as a film in 2016). “Maksym Osa”, which came out as a graphic novel, was followed with a series of Cossack stories, produced by two Kyiv-based artists – Maksym Prasolov, Oleksiy Chebykin and Oleg Kolov, their project titled “Daogopak”. The trilogy came out as graphic novels with an entire developed set of characters themed by Zaporizhian Sich.


Cossacks also appear in “Victory. Savur Mohyla”, a graphic novel composed of the collaborative work of thirteen artists. It describes recent events near Donetsk (ATO). The main character of the novel is a corrupt district attorney who sees in a dream events of a popular Cossack epic — “The Three Brothers’ Escape from Azov” — and eventually changes his behavior. Another character which made his way to the pages of a Ukrainian graphic novel is Stepan Kalynovych – a typical bookkeeper, who dedicated twenty years of his life in an office in Austrian Lemberg until the events of 1848, Spring of Nations pulled him into revolutionary street action. Expat artists based in Lviv – Cyril Horiznyi (France) and Mihay Tymoshenko (Romania) created the comic version of a novel by Ivan Franko “Involuntary Hero.” Presenting Ukrainian literary classics in this way happens for the first time. Contemporary Ukrainian comics develop characters connected to history and, strikingly, the events described in several novels are based on real historical ones, which is very rare for contemporary European comics, mostly relying on science fiction and fantasy.


The paper looks at comics as “public culture” in Appadurai’s and Breckenridge’s sense of this notion - as describing not a type of cultural phenomenon but a zone of cultural debate, controversial in character due to the contradictions between the national and transnational cultural processes they embody.

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