Three generations of Czechs have been raised on the adventures of Bobík, Myšpulín, Fifinka and Pinďa – the stars of the comic Čtyřlístek. This Friday, the now-cult comic celebrates its 40th birthday. I met the man behind one of the most swapped items in Czech playgrounds of yore:
Jaroslav Němeček has been drawing Čtyřlístek for the past forty years. He came up with the idea for the comic on a trip to Munich in 1968:
“Because I was already illustrating children’s books, I noticed these comics which were available in all the shops, printed on beautiful paper, and so brightly coloured – they were unlike anything I had seen here. So I came back and thought ‘okay, so we don’t have this good paper and these good printing inks, but we can be clever and get around this, why don’t we bring out a Czech comic?’ So my wife and I sat down and came up with the central characters.”
The first editions were an astounding success, with print runs of 70,000 proving far from sufficient. Throughout the 1970s and 1980s, Čtyřlístek’s publishers often found that they couldn’t get their hands on enough paper to meet demand:
“Our publishers wanted to start putting Čtyřlístek out as a magazine. But we couldn’t, because at that time only political organisations could bring out magazines, not publishing houses. So, we thought long and hard about how to do it and in the end we brought out a library of Čtyřlísteks.”
As the publication wasn’t strictly a magazine, it didn’t come out on a fixed date. Jaroslav Němeček says that newsagents would put people down on waiting lists and call them up when a new edition came in.
In light of its enormous popularity, Čtyřlístek’s creators were once pressurised to make the comic more political, by dressing the central characters in Pioneers’ uniforms. This idea was staved off when cartoonists told apparatchiks that a pig in a Pioneer’s scarf could be interpreted in the wrong way. Human beings do appear in Čtyřlístek but, as erstwhile avid reader Robert Candra explains, it’s a quartet of animals who steal the show:
“Bobík was the strong one, and he was a pig. And then there was a cat, that was the clever one, he was called Myšpulín and he was the inventor and the brains of it. Then there was a female dog called Fifinka, and she was taking care of the home stuff, and then there was Pind’a, and he was a rabbit and always scared of everything.”
Can you tell me why you liked it so much? You told me that you were a fan…
“It was hard not to be a fan actually, because there was not much besides this that one could read and enjoy at this point in my life.”
It seems that it has become a sort of cult thing amongst Czechs of a certain age. Why do you think that has happened? Just because it was one of the only available comics here?
“Yes, so that means that everybody knows it. Everybody used to read it. I personally inherited quite a pile of old magazines from my cousins, and I was very, very proud of it because I had, like, a hundred old Čtyřlísteks under my bed. So, everybody knows the stories. And you know, it used to be fun for me when I was a kid, my grandmother would come in with some chocolate and a new edition of Čtyřlístek and, for that moment, I was totally happy.”
The ‘gang from Třeskoprsky’ haven’t changed much in appearance over
the years, but they have adapted to modern times. They now star in their
own computer games and even brought out an album in 2007 called
‘Superkapela z Třeskoprsk’. Bobík, Myšpulín, Fifinka and Pinďa
also have a web presence, you can find them at www.ctyrlistek.cz.