Czech children’s author Adolf Born died in Prague on Sunday at the age of 85. During his career, Born – whose work has been part of the lives of several generations of Czechs – illustrated more than 400 children’s books, and also had some of his works adapted into animated films.
Adolf Born’s artistic talents covered a range of genres, from painting, illustration, animation and caricatures. Born in 1930 in the Czech-Austrian border town of České Velenice, Born found steady work during the 1960s and 1970s as a caricature artist, aided by a witty and distinctive style of drawing. Later, he shifted to illustrating children’s books. Born’s most notable collaboration in this regard was with Czech children’s author Miloš Macourek. The pair worked together on dozens of books, some of which were also turned into animated films – for example the popular series Mach a Šebestová, which premiered in 1982.
Born heaped much praise on his colleague Macourek, calling him the most intelligent children’s writer he knew:
“I am weaned on the humour of Miloš Macourek aimed at children. We worked on so many books together that I can’t even remember how many – nor can I remember how many ended up being filmed as animated stories.”
Born was also a lifelong monarchist and adherent of the Austro-Hungarian empire. During communist times, he even grew a handlebar moustache following the 1968 Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia as a form of subtle protest – he believed until the end that life was simply better during the old monarchy, abolished in 1918, before the illustrator was even born:
“People behaved more honourably to each other in those days. Back then, a handshake meant a binding promise – whether it was that a carpenter would make a beautiful table in one week, or anything else. A person’s word mattered.”
Indeed, Born’s style was directly influenced by his love of all things retro-Hapsburg. His characters often looked and dressed like they belonged in the 19th century or earlier still. He once said he enjoyed going against the grain, be it under the Nazi or Soviet occupations – he wanted to provoke in order to prevent “marching in step into the pit with everyone else”. He also said he wanted his drawings to live “parallel lives” next to the words printed in his books.
Asides from Macourek, Borne illustrated books by numerous other Czech authors including Zdeněk Svěrák, Ivan Kraus and Vojtěch Steklač. He even illustrated a version of the Pippi Longstocking books by Swedish author Astrid Lindgren. Genres spanned children’s stories and fairy-tales, but also comics, satire, historical works, travelogues and cultural observations. His works have been displayed in galleries from Montreal to Oslo. Born was also honoured many times, including receiving a Medal of Merit in 2003; a decade later he received a lifetime achievement award at the Anifilm festival in Třeboň.
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