A looooong time ago I promised a series of post about Polish comics. I never got around to starting that until now. Without further delay, here’s the first installment.
One of the first comics I remember looking at was Professor Filutek by Zbigniew Lengren (1919-2003). It ran weekly in the Przekr√≥j magazine from for over 50 years, a record run in Polish comics. It was very well know in Poland. It‚Äôs closest analog in the USA in terms of name recognition was probably Peanuts, though Filutek never achieved the kind of commercialized ubiquity of Peanuts merchandising. As far as I know there were no Filutek toys. Perhaps that was just how things worked in Communist Poland. Or maybe it‚Äôs because Filutek had a more ‚ÄòNew Yorker‚Äô sensibility and wasn‚Äôt translatable into plastic baubles. I don‚Äôt know. There was an animated cartoon though. I‚Äôve never seen it.
I recently stumbled on a small collection of the Professor Filutek strips on Abe Books. I was struck by a kind of gentle modernism of the strip that‚Äôs rarely seen in western cartoons. The art is minimalist, with that 1950‚Äôs pen line. The characters and objects and are rendered with precision and economy. Professor Filutek is a kind of cartoon version of Monsieur Hulot. He‚Äôs absent-minded, generous, a child-at-heart full of wonder at the everyday chaos of a rapidly changing world.
The introduction to the book claims that Lengren himself didn‚Äôt know the age of Professor Filutek. According to the cartoonist, the character‚Äôs beard may have been glued on! Filutek is often shown interacting with children. He waits in-line with kids to see a Tarzan movie, buys art supplies to help a boy create better graffiti on a wall, or entertains a toddler with a bicycle pump. But this isn‚Äôt a simple endorsement of childishness. In a famous strip, Professor Filutek corrects the spelling of vulgar graffiti. Write on walls if you must, but at least learn to how spell! Break rules, but do it well. In some ways he reminds me of eccentric Zen Masters; older than dirt, wise, but with the impishness of a child. The strip has a playful didacticism that‚Äôs seen in other cultural products of Eastern Europe of that time (like the Chechoslovak Krtek and Russian Cheburashka cartoons‚Ä¶). It encourages playful co-operation, generosity and good manners. It punishes selfishness, greed and rudeness. The possibility of human progress and betterment is palpable in every frame.
I‚Äôm not sure if that‚Äôs true of all Filutek cartoons. The collection I have is from 1957. At that point in time, the communist project in Poland was still young. It was a few years after Stalin‚Äôs death and a only year after the death of Poland‚Äôs Stalinist Prime Minister Boleswlaw Bierut. These were the early years of the cultural thaw, de-stalinizaton and Roman Polanski‚Äôs early films. It was an optimistic time. It would be interesting to compare Lengren‚Äôs work from the 50 years of it‚Äôs existence. I wonder if Poland‚Äôs numerous political shifts would be detectable in the absent-minded life of Professor Filutek.
Zbigniew Lengren’s memorial featuring Filutek’s dog Fafik, his umbrella and hat in the Old Town in Toru≈Ñ, Poland. Fafik hadn’t appeared in the strip at the time the collection I have was published. Photo from Wikipedia.