Chances are that you are familiar with the inane, smiling face of the Good Soldier Švejk – one of Czech literature’s most famous characters – immortalized in the sketches of artist Josef Lada. Well, Švejk has been sent back to the drawing board, perhaps somewhat controversially. Jaroslav Hašek’s literary hero has been redesigned by artist Petr Urban, a man famous for his bawdy cartoons often featuring beer and busty women. The new edition of Švejk is being brought out by XYZ Publishers - its boss, Robert Kubánek, explains his choice of illustrator:
“After discussing the situation with distributors and booksellers, we chose Petr Urban, who was very happy with the offer, and who likes Švejk very much. It was a dream come true for him. His pictures reflect perfectly Hašek’s own philosophy.”
And what is Hašek’s philosophy that you think is so well encapsulated by Urban?
“Well, I believe that Hašek would like Urban’s illustrations, that their nature would be close to his heart, because the pictures stem from the same traditions of folk humour as the text itself. It isn’t only that Urban’s themes and topics are similar to those of Hašek, but both authors have similar world views, and a similar sense of humour, as far as I see.”
Hašek’s book has famously been accompanied by illustrations drawn by Josef Lada – which a lot of people here in the Czech Republic and abroad know very well – isn’t it a bit controversial to replace these highly-respected illustrations with pictures by Petr Urban, who is very well known for his base sense of humour?
“I don’t think that Urban’s illustrations should in any way be compared with Lada’s, or judged in their light. Urban’s work is original, independent, has a life of its own. It has a right to exist, just as any other work does. I don’t think that choosing Urban for Švejk is controversial.
“And I should say that we are not the first publishing house to use new pictures for Švejk. In the 1990s, another publishing house tried something similar using the illustrations of Karel Klos. And as far as our publishing policy is concerned, Hašek is not the only author who we treat this way. In our series called ‘The Immortals’, we are going to publish other works of classical literature too, with new illustrations, for example ‘The Three Musketeers’, ‘Gargantua and Pantagruel’ and ‘Don Quixote de la Mancha’.”
And finally, have you been working with Jaroslav Hašek’s relatives in the course of this project?
“We have not. The rights for Švejk are free, which is why we decided to publish the title – this was the same with the other titles I just mentioned. We think that working with the author’s relatives and other people concerned with the author would be very difficult, with all of their conditions and demands. We think it would have slowed down the project.”
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