The Avant-Garde Aesthetic of Vojtěch Mašek
monstrosity; avant-garde; Czech comics; historical representations of trauma; post-communism
Ohio State University Press
Inks: The Journal of the Comics Studies Society, 3(2), 133-146
Vojtěch Mašek, a graduate of the Czech film school FAMU, is not a traditional cartoonist. Given that his wide-ranging interests have led him to collaborations in film, theater, anthropology, and literature, he has been relatively free to invent his own unique aesthetic and approach to comics. Whether working in fiction or in a more documentary vein, however, what makes Mašek's work unusual is the way that he revives and recuperates an avant-garde sensibility in his graphic narrative. Mašek is drawn to stories about monstrosity—some figurative, like Fred Brunold's "melancholic freakshow" in Monstrkabaret Freda Brunolda uvádí [Fred Brunold's Monster Cabaret presents] (2004–2008), which he co-wrote with Džian Baban, and others literal, in the case of mistreated minorities and dark episodes in Czech history (see O přibjehi [Stories] (2010) about Roma in the Czech Republic and the series Nejisté domovy [Precarious Homes] (2015) about children from orphanages and other institutions). This fascination with cruelty and the absurd is expressed through his use of collage, repetition, intertextual references, and unconventional page layouts, all of which renders his work highly unusual and experimental. From an ideological standpoint, Mašek's work is quite subversive, as these stories undermine standard assumptions about who is marked as "deviant" and what is considered "normal." This essay analyzes how Mašek develops his avant-garde aesthetic in the Monstrkabaret trilogy, which is primarily fictional but reflects historical realities, and compares this to his later work 1952: Jak Gottwald zavraždil Slánského [How Gottwald Murdered Slansky], (2014), which is historical in focus but elaborated with fictional details.