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December 04, 2008

Comics in Poland: Zbigniew Lengren

prof filutek cover Zbigniew Lengern

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.

filutek train earring lengrenfilutek phone lengren filutek lengren tarzan cinema
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One of the first comics I remember looking at was Professor Filutek by Zbigniew Lengren (1919-2003). It ran weekly in the Przekrój magazine from for over 50 years, a record run in Polish comics. It was very well know in Poland. It’s 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’s because Filutek had a more ‘New Yorker’ sensibility and wasn’t translatable into plastic baubles. I don’t know. There was an animated cartoon though. I’ve never seen it.

filutek paint graffiti lengren filutek bike pump lengren filutek carve tree graffiti lengren
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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’s rarely seen in western cartoons. The art is minimalist, with that 1950’s 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’s 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’t know the age of Professor Filutek. According to the cartoonist, the character’s 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’t 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’s seen in other cultural products of Eastern Europe of that time (like the Chechoslovak Krtek and Russian Cheburashka cartoons…). 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.

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I’m not sure if that’s 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’s death and a only year after the death of Poland’s Stalinist Prime Minister Boleswlaw Bierut. These were the early years of the cultural thaw, de-stalinizaton and Roman Polanski’s early films. It was an optimistic time. It would be interesting to compare Lengren’s work from the 50 years of it’s existence. I wonder if Poland’s numerous political shifts would be detectable in the absent-minded life of Professor Filutek.

Filutek Fafik Lengren
Zbigniew Lengren's memorial featuring Filutek's dog Fafik, his umbrella and hat in the Old Town in Toruń, Poland. Fafik hadn't appeared in the strip at the time the collection I have was published. Photo from Wikipedia.

Posted by tomk at December 4, 2008 08:53 PM

Comments

Ha. Bardzo pozytywny materiał ;). Mam nadzieję, że częściej będziesz pisał o polskich komiksowych sprawach.

For English speaking...
Ha. Very positive ;). I hope you'd write more often about polish comics stuff.

Pozdrowienia z Polski ;).

Posted by: pjp at December 5, 2008 03:38 AM

Dziekuje!

There will be much more about Polish comics. I just learned that Janusz Christa died a few weeks ago. I think I'll have to do a little piece about him.

Posted by: Tom K at December 5, 2008 10:38 AM

wow! i thought fafik was just wujek staszek's dog's name...learn something new every day.

Posted by: emilia at December 8, 2008 05:33 PM

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