One of the first authors of comic books in Poland.
Janusz Christa (1934-2008) and Papcio Chmiel, the creator of Tytus, Romek i A’tomek, are precursors of comic books in Poland. Christa debuted in 1957 in the magazines Przygoda (Kuku Ryku - Cockadoodledoo) and Jazz (Opowieść o Armstrongu -The Tale of Armstrong). In the following year, the evening paper Wieczór Wybrzeża regularly printed his comic strip about the two sailors Kajtek and Majtek, who quickly became Kajtek and Kokosz. That was how the series, which had numerous editions and was re-issued many times, was born.
In the end of the 70s, Christa created a pair of sailors, Gucek and Roch and two albums with their adventures appeared. The drawings of Kajtek and Koko were made out of the deformed lines characteristic of humorous publications, whereas Gucek and Roch were definitely more realistic. It was, however, the series about the adventures of the footmen Kajko and Kokosz which brought Christa his greatest acclaim.
Comic strips about these characters were printed in Wieczorne Wybrzeża at first, and later in Świat Młodych. The first album appeared in 1975, there were 20 books in total. The best of said publications include W krainie Borostworów (In the Land of the Forest Monsters), Na wczasach (On Vacation), Szkoła latania, (Flying School) and Festiwal czarownic (Witches’ Festival). Three albums from the Kajko & Kokosz series were published in languages such as Kashubian and Silesian, as well as in the Podhale subdialect. The first albums were black and white, the later ones were coloured.
In order to get a job at Przygoda, Christa claimed that he was a repatriate from Sweden. He was hired, but his situation became problematic when he was asked to appear at the editorial office in person. The then 17-year-old Christa, who was born in Vilnius, nearly panicked. However, he managed to turn the situation into a joke.
His comic strips about Kajtek and Koko that appeared in Wieczór Wybrzeża were very popular. Supposedly, people read who the paper first turned turned to the page with Christa’s drawn stories. The author often made use of fantastic topics as evidenced by Kajtek i Koko w kosmosie (Kajtek & Koko in Space), which appeared in Wieczór Wybrzeża for 4 years. After over forty years this drawn story was finally published in book form – the album is nearly 600-pages long and is the longest Polish comic book.
Christa is valued above all for his masterly technique and perfect lines. He drew very stylishly and his lines were very firm and vivid. He also knew how to tell a great story. His plots were easy, unpretentious and humorous. They often alluded to the realities of communist Poland. Christa’s comic books were addressed chiefly to younger readers. He was successful at creating very original and interesting characters.
After a series of maritime comic books he decided to turn towards early medieval times. Kajko and Kokosz, the footmen of Mirmił, fought against the Bandit-knights led by Hegemon. The duo was usually associated with Slavic people in general. Christa didn’t want to have problems with the censorship office nor with the Catholic church therefore he set the stories in a somewhat undefined, quasi-Slavic reality.
Kajko & Kokosz bore semblance to René Goscinny’s and Alberto Uderzo’s Asterix and Obelix, which stirred controversy. The main characters of both of the aforementioned series are footmen. Each pair consists of a small cunning hero and a fat, dull-witted partner. Also, the bigger characters were both very strong (Obelix had once fallen into a pot with a magical potion, in the early albums from the Kajko & Kokosz series Kokosz’s strength was linked to the size of the large Slav’s shadow). The stories were both set in archaic times.
Christa defended himself by saying that there were many pairs of heroes characterised by such differentiating features. The first comic book about Asterix appeared in the end of 1959, whereas the first album of the Kajko & Kokosz series was published in 1972. It is worth noticing however that the first stories about Kajtek and Koko, who may easily be considered precursors of the two Slavic footmen (similar names and character concepts), appeared back in 1958.
Information about Christa’s inspirations is published by a blog devoted to him, which is named na-plasterki.blogspot.com. The similarity to the French comic books doesn’t belittle the genius of the Polish author. The said likeness also doesn’t lessen the importance of the role he played in the development of Polish comic books. As evidenced both by the drawings and scripts, Christa managed to create his own world and specific characters, who were infused with his sensibility. The author kept creating comic books from this series until the 1990s. Later, his deteriorating health didn’t allow him to draw anymore. Next to comic books, his biggest passion was jazz; he was known to play the drums.
The album Festiwal Czarownic became the basis for the play Kajko i Kokosz (Kajko & Kokosz). This play, directed by Marta Ogrodzińska, premiered in the Stefan Jaracz Theatre in Olsztyn in 2010. Back in the 80s attempts were made to create an animated and also a feature film based on Christa’s comic books. In 2006, a 16 minute animation based on the album Zamach na Milusia (The Attack on Miluś) was released in cinemas. Two board games with Kajko & Kokosz appeared -Wielki wyścig (The Great Race) and Wyprawa śmiałków (The Adventurers’ Journey). Six computer games featuring Christa’s pair of heroes were created (one of the programs was compatible with the Amiga platform). Plastic figures of the two Slavic characters were made as well. The authorities of the town of Sopot, where Christa lived for his entire life, are considering the creation of a Kajko & Kokosz park.
In 2006, the publishing house Egmont organised a competition for the continuation of the adventures of Kajko & Kokosz. Eventually, the firm didn’t publish any albums with the famous duo by authors other than Christa.
Christa was honoured with the Silver Medal for Merit to Culture – Gloria Artis.
Author: Łukasz Chmielewski (December 2013)
Translated by: Marek Kępa