Bohdan Butenko was one of the most celebrated Polish cartoonists and illustrators. He was an author of comic books and novels, as well as a designer of dolls and sets for puppet theatres and the renowned Kabaret Starszych Panów (Elderly Gentlemen's Cabaret). He was the creator behind the adventures of Gapiszon, Kwapiszon and Gucio i Cezar.
Cartoonist, illustrator, author of comic books and novels, designer of dolls and sets.
Bohdan Butenko was born on February 8th, 1931 in Bydgoszcz. Since 1939, he has lived in Warsaw, where he graduated from the Academy of Fine Arts in 1955. For his thesis, he developed illustrations for Mikołaj Leskow’s novel Mańkut. Opowieść o tulskim mańkucie i stalowej pchle (Left-hander. The Story of Tula’s Left-hander and a Steel Flea). Soon after obtaining his diploma, he became editor-in-chief of Nasza Księgarnia publishing house and worked there for 10 years. At the same time, he illustrated numerous novels by Polish and international authors and wrote his own stories: among others, Gapiszon and Kwapiszon – his two all-time favourite characters.
Some of the latest projects by Bohdan Butenko were books. First Captain Drake’s Hat, by Andrzej Żak, published by the AKAPIT PRESS. Here again Butenko employed his usual sense of humour and lightness in black and white drawings. Immionnik, published in 2016 by ISKRY is a proposition of an utterly different character. No longer a story for kids, this time both illustration and texts were prepared by Butenko. For adults only stamp on the cover suggests a rather intriguing content.
Works and Characters
Gapiszon, a preschooler wearing a beret with antenna, and Butenko’s most beloved character, was brought to life on 5th November 1958. Initially he was drawn live during the TV show on breakable glass panes. Seven years later, he became a crucial personality of the children’s magazine MIŚ (Teddy Bear). There was a total of seven books of Gapiszon’s adventures published, mostly being named with a dose of Butenko’s humour: Gapiszon’s This and That, Gapiszon and a Pumpkin, What’s the Matter with Gapiszon? Gapiszon’s Adventures became popular not only in Poland, but also in Lithuania, Hungary, the German Democratic Republic and Bulgaria.
By the end of 1960, for the purposes of another popular children’s magazine, Świerszczyk (The Little Cricket), Butenko created new characters: a hippo called Gucio and a dog called Cezar. Sloppy Gucio and prudent Cezar love to have fun and travel a lot and they always try to help those in need. Their imagination is so fertile that they always have extraordinary adventures, even in the kitchen or the garden. Gucio and Cezar’s adventures were published several times (even as recently as 2011, compiled into a single book). A TV series of bedtime stories using puppets was also developed, based on Butenko’s comic books.
Finally came Kwapiszon, addressed to slightly older readers, who is main character of a comic series published by Nasza Księgarnia between 1976 and 1981. Kwapiszon is a Varsovian, a scout and a keen fisherman. Finding a magic jewellery box gets him into trouble - two dangerous thieves, Faworyt and Kompan constantly chase him trying to steal it. Kwapiszon’s series is distinguished by its unusual technique. Comic boards consisting of black-and-white photos and photomontages are used as backgrounds for Butenko’s drawings. Even though characters lines are very terse, the author successfully inserted some didactic values, which are to be read between the lines, and are related to Polish history, historical sites and figures.
The way Butenko draws is very characteristic and reminiscent of children’s drawings – characters are flat, simplified as much as possible, drawn with a single thick line, and mostly shown in profile. Characters’ dialogue is not shown in speech bubbles but instead a dotted line from quote to character denotes the speaker. No other cartoonist has such an original way of introducing dialogues – says Tomasz Marciniak in his work 'Bohdan Butenko i iego twórczość' (Bohdan Butenko and his Works).
Alongside authors like Daniel Mróz, Janusz Stanny, Jan Marcin Szancer, Franciszek Themerson and Józef Wilkoń, he earned the status of ‘classic of the genre’, while his projects aesthetically educate a third consecutive generation, being a major influence for young illustrators. Butenko was an extremely conscientious artist who turned printing into an art form. While developing each tome he took care of everything: from cover to imprint, comparing the creative process to the knitting of a sweater. As he said: ‘You need to knit so that it does not come undone’. Thanks to his aesthetic sense and obsession with details each of Butenko’s book is a true piece of art where each element co-creates a multilevel plastic narration. – as written by Anna Bargiel i Jakub Woynarowski in a foreword to an exhibition organised in Bunkier Sztuki in Kraków in 2013.
gucio i cezar
polish comic book illustators
The uniqueness of Butenko’s style lies not only in his masterful choice of illustrations or typeface but also a rare ability to choose printing methods which were way ahead of the coarse solutions used during the communist period.
It is Raining Awards
Butenko was one of the most honoured Polish cartoonists. Since the early 1970s, he has received an enormous number of awards including:
- Best Book of the Year Award by Polish Community of Publishers (7 times)
- The Grand Prix of the Children and Youths Film Festival (2 times)
- Best Book of the Year by IBBY Polish Section
- IBA award in Leipzig for his illustrations.
- Premio Europeo Award in Padua
- IMGE Award in Istanbul
He has also been given 12 lifetime achievement awards including the Order of Polonia Restituta and an award from Ministry of Culture and National Heritage.
In an interview for “High Heels” Butenko himself spoke about his passion for drawings, stating:
If I get engaged into something, such mundane issues as eating or resting do not exist for me anymore. One time I had to pay for this kind of deep engagement with a cold, as I sat down with my hair still wet after showering just for a moment to correct one of my drawings and I ended up spending several hours on it. Well, either you do something or you do not.
He found ideas and inspirations in unusual places and unexpected times:
You need to have a concept, figure something out. Ideas come to me in different places: at a bus stop, while walking, in a café. Then I confront these ideas with a brutal reality of a blank sheet of paper. It happened to me twice that I have already had quite a lot of illustrations for a book. While working on one of my final drwings I noticed that it could be done differently, in a much better way. The first idea was good, but the new one was better. I had a choice: throw everything away and start anew or throw away the new one and finish the initial project. I would not, however, be able to sleep, thinking that I could have done it better. So I started completely afresh, all over.
Author: Katarzyna Zacharska, listopad 2013, translated by W.O. 22.01.2014. Update Oct 2019.