by DODO NIȚĂ
II. Brief history of the Romanian historical comic strip under communism
The comics from communist Romania served as subtle tools of ideological propaganda, meant to deceive young readers with the benefits of the new regime, to rewrite the recent or the early history of our people, but also to mobilize less diligent students, by the example of an entire gallery of negative characters, unworthy of the red pioneer’s tie.
As long as Stalin lived in Romania – as in other socialist countries, internationalist communism was promoted. After his death, and more precisely after the 20th Congress of the CPSU (Communist Party of the Soviet Union) in 1956, when the cult of personality was denounced, the socialist countries tried to break away from the suffocating seizure of the older brother from the east.
But, as a post factum effect, internationalist communism was gradually replaced by a nationalist one in Romania. One of the stages of this replacement was the reconsideration of Romania’s history, among others by denouncing the Romanian history manual coordinated by Mihai Roller, who focused on the false Slavic influence founding the Romanian people, on the old friendship between the Russian people and ours.
In 1957, in the magazine, “Cravata roșie” (1947 – 1953 ,,Licurici” – 1967, the magazine of “pioneers and schoolchildren”, published by C.C. of the U.T.M.), Mircea Sântimbreanu, who was then a young and enthusiastic teacher, wrote the script of several historical comics – the first during socialism – in which he denounced the conquest and extermination of South American peoples by Western colonialists, slavery, etc: Comoara lui Montezuma, Steaua Robilor, drawn by Puiu Manu.
In the same year we find in the magazine “Scânteia Pionierilor”, the first historical comic strip whose action takes place on the later territory of our country: Arcaşul Negru, text by A. Weiss, drawings by Z. Iulian. In 7 weekly episodes is told the story of the Arcașul Negru (Black Archer) who, in 1514, in the Apuseni Mountains, fights against baron Istvan Kardos, owner of some serf villages with 8.000 souls. After defeating him, he joins Dosza (Gheorghe Doja) with his group of warriors who was preparing to attack the fortress of Timisoara.
However, after this work, there will never be another comic strip to present a confrontation between the cohabiting nationalities of Romania.
The above works were carried out by chance. Only after the investiture of comrade Nicolae Ceausescu as general secretary of the PCR and leader of the Romanian state, the historical comic strip will become a permanent presence in the pages of magazines for schoolchildren and pioneers in Romania.
Already in 1965 is published the series Gebeides Șoimul (a legend novel by Alexandru Mitru, drawings by the Jewish painter Beca (Rebeca) Rind), comic strip that narrates the battle of the Getae, under the leadership of Dapix, against the Roman invaders, at the same time with the love story between his daughter Gebila and the brave Gebeides.
From now on, every year at least one comic strip with a theme and historical character is published, most of the times animating the most important leaders of Romania, in the vision of the Romanian Communist Party ideologies: Burebista, Decebal, Basarab I, Mircea cel Bătran , Vlad Ţepeş, Ştefan cel Mare, Mihai Viteazul, Dimitrie Cantemir, Constantin Brâncoveanu, Alexandru Ioan Cuza.
Other works will have as protagonists some of the revolutionaries such as Horea, Tudor Vladimirescu, Nicolae Balcescu, Avram Iancu.
All these historical characters have also been before the protagonists of some Romanian artistic films and literary works, demonstrating the imitation and conformity of comics under socialism.
In October 1967, “Cravata Roşie” disappeared and the magazine “Cutezatorii” appeared in its place and of the newspaper “Scânteia Pionierului”. Even in the first year of its publication, the comic strip with historical subject Dan Buzdugan (drawings by Livia Rusz, screenplay by Dumitru Almaş), a comic strip about a fictional brave soldier, who fights with a mace in each hand during his reign, was published in the series. Mihai Viteazu, the Romanian ruler who succeeded to rule Wallachia, Moldova and Transylvania at the beginning of the 17th century.
In 1972, the first drawings of Valentin Tanase appeared, at that time a student at a high school in Bucharest: Dreptatea lui Cuza Voda, after a story by Dumitru Almaş. Ten years later, V. Tănase will make illustrations for the trilogy “Povestiri istorice” by Dumitru Almaş, books that will become best-sellers during the communist period.
In 1976, the historical comics appeared in the magazine “Cutezatorii” in a cycle entitled „File din epopeea națională”. Columnă în milenii (drawings by Vintilă & Viorica Mihăescu, adapted by Vasile Mănuceanu after Titus Popovici), is in fact a reproduction of the photograms of Mircea Drăgan film “Columna”, in 1968.
1977 is a multi-anniversary year and the cartoonists and screenwriters of the magazine have to celebrate properly: 70 years since the peasants’ revolt of 1907 (Neuitatul an 1907, drawings by Ioan Mihăescu, screenplay by Vlaicu Bârna); 100 years since the War of Independence (Eroii de la Plevna drawings by Puiu Manu); 60 years since Romania’s entry into the First World War (Măriuca, drawings by Vintilă Mihăescu, screenplay by Costache Anton).
Nicolae Ceauşescu appeared for the first time in a comic strip in 1983. Vedea prin viitor departe… (“images” by DumitruDobrică, lyrics by Elena Dragoş), published in the magazine “Șoimii Patriei” (propaganda magazine) for preschool children between 4 and 7 years old), in the cycle “Legendary Files”, is the story of the unhappy childhood and the class struggle of the future leader of Romania. In 1984, in the story Un întâi mai legendary (screenplay by Gheorghe Brătescu, drawings by Sandu Florea), published in “Luminița”, Nicolae Ceauşescu becomes a character for the second time: together with his future wife, he “leads” the great anti-fascist demonstration from 1 May 1939. Then, in 1988, in Eroi de epopee: Marea Unire, a comic strip photo collage by Puiu Manu, Nicolae Ceausescu appears again (it was 70 years both from the Union with Transylvania and from the birth of the “beloved leader ”).
It is noted that the four kings of modern Romania were never in the historical comics during the socialist regime. Considered the greatest enemies of communism – between 1924-1944, the Romanian Communist Party was banned by royal decree and had to work illegally – comic strip writers preferred (or were expressly forbidden) to never mention them in their works. Moreover, a royal crown on the head of a comic strip character was roughly removed at the last moment before the magazine was printed.
The story is as follows.
In 1967, Felicia Avram started in the pages of “Luminiţa” magazine a long-lasting series, Minunile din Cetatea Piticilor
Under the wise leadership of Alinuţă Cuşmă lungă, the dwarf emperor from Poiana Poienilor from Codrul Codrilor on the Muntele Munților, the 100 dwarfs, all with long white beards and wearing funny hats, but also having the funniest names start to build together a Dwarf Fortress.
These nice dwarfs, with Mac and Cocofifi drawn by Livia Rusz, will be the favorite and long-lived characters in the pages of Luminiţa magazine. That is why they will often appear on the covers of magazines, either drawn by Felicia Avram or drawn by Livia Rusz.
Therefore, in December 1974 issue, someone in the editorial board decided that a royal crown could not appear on the cover of the magazine, nor in the comic strip, even if it was placed on the head of Emperor Alinuţă Cuşmă lungă, an imaginary character. Because Livia Rusz, the author of the cover and the comic strip board, lived in Cluj, and at that time the correspondence was transported by train, and not instantly, by electronic mail, as today, the crown on Alinuţă head was removed by someone from the editorial board, with the white color, as can be seen in the image, be coming today the most flagrant case of censorship in Romanian comics.
It is suprising that, both before 1974 and after, Alinuţă Cuşmă lungă will always be drawn with the crown on his head. What happened in December 1974 was an over-zealousness of the editor-in-chief or an intentional request of the censorship, we will never know.