In today’s edition of The Proust-Esque Questionnaire, we welcome Czechoslovakian author-illustrator Petr Horáček, whose book The Fly was released in North America just this month, and whose next book, The Mouse Who Reached the Sky, will be published in August by Walker Books. You can read his Questionnaire HERE. It occurred to us that many of our readers may not be overly familiar with the very long and storied tradition of children’s book illustration in Czechoslovakia.
Czech artists have a long road to hoe, dealing with everything from a communist government-nationalized publishing industry, to… Well, they had to deal with a communist government-nationalized publishing industry, and that could not have been easy, especially since said government frowned on its artists’ books being published in other countries. (Josef Palaček published his first book in Switzerland, and suddenly the work offered him in his home country dried up, and it stayed dried up for five years…)
Below we’ve assembled a very brief, hugely inadequate primer for anyone interested in knowing a bit more about Czechoslovakian illustrators and writers.
Jiří Trnka (1912-1969)
Trnka illustrated well over 100 books in his too short lifetime, gaining notoriety especially for his interpretations of The Borthers Grimm. In 1968, he was awarded the Hans Christian Andersen medal for his body of work.
He was also a renowned maker of animated films, earning him the title of “The Czech Walt Disney.” He was an innovator in many animations styles, and in the use of puppets in his films.
Vojtěch Kubašta (1914-1992)
After graduating from art school, Kubašta began working in advertising, creating marketing materials for a variety of Czech products and companies. It was in this position that he began playing with 3-dimensional paper sculptures, which would become his trademark in later years.
He released his first pop-up book, Little Red Riding Hood. From there he built a worldwide reputation as a genius of paper engineering and storytelling. Trnka was the Czech Walt Disney, Kubašta would maybe be the Czech equivalent of Robert Sabuda… But a few decades before there was a Robert Sabuda.
Květa Pacovská (1928- )
Pacovská is a Prague-born and -based author and illustrator, and would have to be considered a master of collage. She mixes media with abandon, and plays with dimensions; her book Unfold/Enfold is essentially a giant xylophone, with pop-out, sliding components, and vibrant, almost shocking, colors. Like Jiří Trnka, she was awarded the Hans Christian Andersen medal, in 1992.
I’m going to let my bias show for a second and say that, not only is Pacovská my favorite Czech illustrator, but she must certainly be held as one of the greatest living illustrators, regardless of nationality. Her work is beautiful in unexpected ways, and unsettling in unexpected ways, and often both simultaneously. A genius.
Josef Palaček (1932- )
Palaček is an internationally recognized (and award-winning) artist, whose work has been published in 40+ languages. Globally, he is most identified with his interpretations of classic fairy tales, such as Peter and the Wolf and The Little Mermaid. His work could be compared to Marc Chagall or Gustav Klimt, for his use of bold colors, and a certain dreamlike quality.