“The European cannot live without beginning a unifying process. Only the determination to build a great group of persons of the continent will give a new impulse to Europe. This would lead people to trust in it again”
José Ortega y Gasset, 1929
Tintin, Asterix or Spirou are without doubt comics with international fame, and not only in Europe. But did you notice that each European country has developped over decades its own national comics art? In some European countries, comic strips are even an integrant part of the national culture and history. It is interesting to compile in a single list the probably most famous comic strips of every European country and get to know the national comics hero of our closest neighbours. We also understand from the various examples below that Europe used to be divided, as in the East, most of the comics were censured, while it has been a long established tradition in the West.
Quim e Manecas
How old do you think they are? Don’t judge a book by its cover, because Quim e Manecas are said to be the very first Portuguese comics characters – their stories were published between 1915 and 1953 in the humorous newspaper O Século. They may be old, but it doesn’t mean they play nice. On the contrary, Quim e Manecas are actually more of the bratty types with their frivolous actions and unintended consequences. If the series was first targeting children and teenagers, it however quickly evolved into a compelling portrait of the Portuguese society of the first half of the twentieth century.
Mortadelo y Filemón
Mortadelo y Filemón is one of the most popular Spanish comics series, published in more than a dozen countries. It appeared for the first time in 1958 in the children’s comic-book Pulgarcito drawn by Francisco Ibáñez. The series features Mortadelo, the tall, bald master of disguise named after mortadella, and his bossy partner, the shorter, pudgier Filemón. Initially, they were private detectives operating as Mortadelo y Filemón, Agencia de Información, but now both serve as secret agents in the Técnicos de Investigación Aeroterráquea (TIA is the Spanish word for “aunt”, a spoof on CIA).
The popular anti-heroes Iznogoud (pronounced with a French accent “he’s no good”) is the second in command to the Caliph of Baghdad Haroun El Poussah but his sole aim in life is to overthrow the Caliph and take his place. This is frequently expressed in his famous catchphrase, “I want to become Caliph instead of the Caliph”, which has passed into everyday French for qualifying over-ambitious people who want to become chief. Why Iznogoud? Because most of the comic strips published in France actually come from Belgium. This is why the most popular truly French comics character may be Iznogoud, created by the comics writer René Goscinny (the father of Asterix) and comics artist Jean Tabary.
Superhilbo! is a brand new pint-sized superheroine from Ireland created in 2008 by Hilary Lawler. Together with her canine partner, Roast Beef, her mission is to “save the world in time for sausages”. For those you are interested in discovering more Superhilbo, her first adventures can be found for free online.
Dennis and Gnasher
Dennis and Gnasher, originally titled Dennis the Menace is a long-running comic strip in the British children’s comic The Beano. The strip first appeared on 17 March 1951 at the same time of another comic strip named Dennis the Menace in the United States. But the two strips should not be confused. Dennis is the archetypal badly behaved schoolboy. The main recurring storyline throughout the years features his campaign of terror against a gang of ‘softies’, particularly Walter
The Norwegian comic strip Nemi first appeared in 1997. At that time, it was a very dark cartoon concerning heavy metal subcultures. Over the years Lise Myhre, the drawer, has made it brighter, though she still frequently publishes strips about serious issues. It is currently the most popular comic strip in Norway and is printed daily in the Metro newspaper in the UK and Ireland, after translation into English
The Swedish-Finn Moomins are a family of trolls, who are white and roundish, with large snouts, that make them resemble hippopotamuses. The carefree and adventurous family live in their house in Moominvalley, in the forests of Finland. They have many adventures along with their various friends. In all, nine books were released in the series, with five picture books and a comic strip being released between 1945 and 1993.
The central milieu of the Finnish strip is Fingerpori, an imaginary Finnish small town. The main character in the strip is the eyeglass-wearing Heimo Vesa, but other citizens also appear, such as the brash-mouthed café worker Rivo-Riitta. As well as the Fingerporians, the strip has included characters such as the Pope, The Phantom, Spider-Man or Adolf Hitler. A few strips, featuring Jesus, have caused controversy in some circles.The humour in Fingerpori is largely verbal and is often based on (mostly untranslatable) wordplay and puns.
Rasmus Klump is a comic strip series for small children created in Denmark in 1951. The series tells the adventures of the bear cub Rasmus Klump and his friends: Pingo (a penguin), Pelle (a pelican), Pilskaden (a turtle), Skæg (a seal) and others. Always dressed in red dungarees with white polka dots, Rasmus Klump travels the world on board his boat Mary. On several occasions, he comic has also been turned into animation.
Tom Poes is a fictional cat of an originally Dutch series of comic books, written by Marten Toonder. It appeared in daily installments in the Dutch newspaper De Telegraaf as a replacement for the Mickey Mouse comic in 1941. The catchphrases used by Sir Bumble in the comics have become household expressions in Dutch and have gained much mainstream support, such as: “like my dear father always said”, and “if you know what I mean”. Tom Puss’s favorite catchphrase is “Hm”.
In the country of all comic strips, choosing a comic character to include in this list was not obvious. But Gaston Lagaffe may be the most interesting, as it was not published in English despite is very large popularity in France and Belgium. Gaston Lagaffe was created in 1957 by the Belgian cartoonist André Franquin. The series focuses on the every-day life of Gaston Lagaffe (whose surname means “the blunder”), a lazy and accident-prone office junior.
The figure of Superjhempcreated by Roger Leiner and Lucien Czuga emerged as a mockery of the new wave of national consciousness, which came up in Luxembourg in the 1980s. He is inspired by Camembert Super Dupont, a French figure of Gotlib and Jacques Lob, which in turn is again a caricature of the American Superman. In each of the 26 episode, Superjhemp must save the country of Luxembourg from evil characters such as “Filip Filoux” or “Jessica Jaguar“. Superjhempis in real life “Charel Kuddel“, a typical Luxembourg public servant.
Werner is the most successful German comic character of all time with over 10 million books sold and over 13 million film admissions. The Werner books are known for their anarchic humour, often based on Northern German dialect and puns. Standard High German is rarely spoken in the books, when it is used it is usually to portray the speaker as overtly formal and square. Werner‘s life is that of an unemployed biker that consists of souping up his motorcycle and consuming large amounts of beer.
Kratochvil is a comic strip by the Austrian Nicolas Mahler who publishes his drawings in Austrian, German and Swiss newspapers and magazines. In recent years, he has published over twenty books, mainly in France, Canada and the USA. His comic Kratochvil gained popularity in Switzerland, Austria and France. The tone of his comic strip is very calm, quiet, sometimes boring, like the main character Kratochvil. The humour is quite absurd, but is still funny.
Titeuf is a swiss comic series created by Zep which was adapted into an animated TV series. The series chronicles the daily life of Titeuf, one child with a golden lock and his vision of the world of adults. A large part of his discussions address the mysteries of girls, sex, seduction, and Nadia, the girl Titeuf is more or less secretly in love. Titeuf’s expressions are numerous including “Tchô” and “C’est pô juste”. He is often accompanied by his best friends, Manu and Hugo. The age of Titeuf is uncertain: he seems to be between eight and ten years old.
Martin Mystère is an Italian comic book created by writer Alfredo Castelli and drawn by Giancarlo Alessandrini. Martin Mystère is an art historian, adventurer, writer, television producer, and collector of unusual objects. Based in New York, where he was born, he spent much of his early life studying in Italy, where many of his adventures take place. After the unexplained deaths of his parents in a plane crash, he started to devote his studies to the most enigmatic events and places of human history.
Čtyřlístek has four main characters – Myšpulín a cat scientist, Bobíka pig tough guy, Fifinka a pretty dog woman and Pinďa a rabbit. They live in the little fictive village Třeskoprsky, somewhere nearby Podbezdězí. Čtyřlístek, meaning in English ‘Four-leaf clover’, has been published continuously since 1969 when it was created by Jaroslav Němeček. In the 1980s, 220 000 copies of each edition were printed on average. It became one of the most popular comics book for children in Czechoslovakia.
Jožinko, dieťa svojich rodičov (Jožinko, the child of his parents) is one of the most famous Slovak cartoon ever. The complete series of this legendary comic strip was published in the humorous magazine Roháč between 1965 – 1988. Jožinko was able to speak to all generations and voiced the unspoken opinions of the general public. The father of Jožinko‘s character is Pieštany born Jozef Babušek, a remarkable Slovak caricaturist, founder of Slovak comics and modern humour.
Koziołek Matołek (Matołek the Billy-Goat) is one of the first and most famous Polish comics which first started in 1933. It became a cult classic, popular since its creation till today, and becoming an important part of canon of Polish children’s literature. Matołek is a goat following the quest to find Pacanów, a town where it is rumored they are making goatshoes. Matołek’s surreal adventures will take him to various corners of the Earth, from Africa to the Wild West.
The comic Miko Ridiko nuotykiai (The Adventures of Mikas Ridikas) has been published from 1968 until today. Three cartoonists have come and gone during this period, but the hero has remained almost the same. In the middle of the ‘80s, comics disappeared from the magazines. The new Soviet political wave denied everything that reminded them of the West and the comics became one of the most hated genres.
Olimar Kallas was an Estonian caricaturist and comic artist. All his characters are well known and loved in Estonia and have an important place in the Estonian comic book history. He published several comic strips in magazines like Pioneer in the 1960s and 1970s. In 1979 he published his first album ‘3 Lugu’.
Святослав і вікінг (Svyatoslav the Viking) is a Ukrainian comic strip created by Igor Baranko, who is a world-wide famous cartoonist. Igor Baranko was first published in a newspaper, but as his comic strips were not profitable, so that the publication did not last. French-Belgian editors decided to take over and give him more visibility.
Cowboy Dog is a Romanian Comic strip published in the 1990 and created by N. Nobliescu. The story is a bit similar to Lucky Luke and depicts an animal Western with a Cowboy dog as the main Character.
Ágoston a nukleáris baromfi (Ágoston the nuclear chicken) is the character from a self-published Hungarian comic author called Róbert Vass. The main character Ágoston is a chicken trying to rule the world thanks to nuclear powers. In 2011, Róbert Vass received the Hungarin Comic Awards for his creation.
Zvitorepec, Lakotnik in Trdonja
The Adventures of Zvitorepec, Trdonje and Lakotnika is a series of comic books written by Miki Muster. Between 1952 and 1973 he published over forty adventures that originally appeared in the Tedenski tribuni and Petkovi panorami, and later were often reprinted in book form. The names of the main characters are represented by their personal characteristics. It is also typical that all three main characters do not have regular jobs, but they never lack money, as they always get a reward for successfully resolved adventures.
Borovnica is a short comic strip created in 1992 by Darko Macan and published in the Croatian children’s magazine Modra Lasta. Borovnica, meaning “blueberry” in Croatian, is a dark, angry, and rude girl. She is afraid of spiders and, despite her personality, has lots of friends. The victims of her pranks are usually teachers, her father, or the character Oraščić. The comic strip was originally printed in black and white, although versions in color appeared in later years. Each strip usually consists of six frames.
Billy the Pljuc
Billy The Pljuc (Billy The Speed in some magazines) is a Serbian comic book series created by Branislav Kerac, who was a popular Serbian comic-book creator, known best for his series “Cat Claw” and also a drummer for the heavy metal band. Billy The Pljuc had been done during the period of 1980 1990, and very rarely, because it was just a hobby of very engaged author.
Albania – Kosovo
Unfortunately there is no comics tradition in Albania, nor are any being published today. For about half century Pop Art was prohibited by the dictatorial regime. Comics were seen as junk literature known as fumeti. Today there is one comic magazine published in Kosovo called Leon, and there is Tafë Kusuri comic-strip (oldest serial character founded by Agim Qena, and continued by his son Rron Qena).
Choko I Boko
The Adventures of Choko the Stork and Boko the Frog were popular in Bulgaria during 1970s and 80s. The characters were created by Rumen Petkov, one of the main artists of the comics magazine DUGA (Rainbow), which was the most popular comics for several generations of Bulgarian children. The comics were adapted into a TV series.
Flying Starts is a series about two birds created by Arkas, a Greek comics artist that started his work in the early 80s. His comics have a unique style, combining humor and sometimes deep philosophical questions. The structure of the stories is very simple, with each volume having individual strips which follow some general plot guidelines. Most of the times it will feature only two main characters: One is the rational, sceptical and questioning figure, while the other is a rude, vulgar or just empty-headed character.
The development of comic strips in Turkey started only during the 1970s, but a great number of artists became soon popular. Sandık içi is an interesting example. It was created by Ersin Karabulut who recently attracted great attention in Turkey and has been recognized as a major Turkish cartoonist. In Sandık içi he relates the views of his own life.