Russian Superheroes: Artist Draws Traditional Russian Folk Heroes in a Modern Fantasy Style

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Where do super­heroes come from? The con­cept did­n’t just emerge ful­ly formed into the world when, say, Super­man showed up on the cov­er of Action Comics in 1938. Human­i­ty has enjoyed sto­ries of super­hu­man hero fig­ures since time immemo­r­i­al; you can find prece­dents for the super­hero deep in the mytholo­gies of a vari­ety of cul­tures. When the Russ­ian illus­tra­tor Roman Pap­suev looked deep into the mythol­o­gy of his own cul­ture, he found plen­ty of mate­r­i­al he could car­ry right over into a mod­ern visu­al idiom. And what with the cur­rent Game of Thrones-dri­ven wave of swords and sor­cery in the glob­al pop-cul­ture zeit­geist, he picked the right time indeed to pub­lish his elab­o­rate draw­ings of Russ­ian folk­lore heroes in the style of today’s high-fan­ta­sy com­ic books, movies, TV shows, and video games.

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“The first char­ac­ters were based on the author’s feel­ings and fan­tasies,” writes Daria Don­ina at Rus­sia Beyond the Head­lines. “He began, of course, with Ilya Muromets — the main Russ­ian epic hero and the strongest bogatyr or war­rior.” Then, “the more the author got immersed in the sub­ject, the more accu­rate his pic­tures became.

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He began to reread the tales and study the works of famous folk­lorists.” Don­ina quotes Pap­suev him­self: “ ‘What I like most is when peo­ple look at my pic­tures and then begin to read the tales and under­stand why, for instance, Vasil­isa the Beau­ti­ful has a doll in her bag or why Vodyanoy rides a giant cat­fish. This grass­roots revival of ancient folk­lore through my hum­ble project gives me great plea­sure.’ ”

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You can browse all of these illus­tra­tions and more at Pap­suev’s Insta­gram page, which includes not just fin­ished pieces but works in progress as well, so you can get an idea of just what sort of process it takes to ren­der a Russ­ian hero for the 21st cen­tu­ry. To a non-Russ­ian, this all may seem like sim­ply a neat art project, but any Russ­ian will rec­og­nize these char­ac­ters as cen­tral to a set of sto­ries them­selves cen­tral to the cul­ture. “The tales are stamped in the sub­con­scious from child­hood,” Pap­suev says in the Rus­sia Beyond the Head­line arti­cle, and as with any mate­r­i­al with which peo­ple grew up, any rein­ter­preter takes them into his own hands at his per­il.

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“This project has no rela­tion to real his­to­ry or real life,” says the artist. “These are just tales, trapped in a world of games. It’s a fun project. Don’t take it too seri­ous­ly.” But which enter­pris­ing Russ­ian devel­op­er, I won­der, will take it seri­ous­ly enough to go ahead and make an actu­al video game based on Pap­suev’s too-hero­ic-to-waste folk­loric char­ac­ters?

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Find more draw­ings at at Pap­suev’s Insta­gram page.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

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Based in Seoul, Col­in Mar­shall writes and broad­casts on cities and cul­ture. He’s at work on a book about Los Ange­les, A Los Ange­les Primer, the video series The City in Cin­e­ma, the crowd­fund­ed jour­nal­ism project Where Is the City of the Future?, and the Los Ange­les Review of Books’ Korea Blog. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall or on Face­book.


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