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Comic Book / Rychlé šípy

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Left to right: Jindra Hojer, Jarka Metelka, Mirek Dušín, Rychlonožka, Červenáček

Rychlé šípynote  is a 20th-century Czech magazine-published comics series, directed at children and teenagers. It features a club of five boys named, of course, Rychlé šípy. It is probably the comics if you're Czech, the old golden standard every other comics will inevitably be in some manner compared to (if only to say it is nothing like it) - and it introduced the unique flavour of "club comics" to the Czech scene.

It was originally (from 1938) published in the magazine Mladý hlasatel ("Young Herald"), and intended as a fun edifying and educational tool, especially as an inspiration to the reader clubs connected to the magazine. It was - just like the clubs themselves - the brainchild of the writer, and Scout leader, Jaroslav Foglar. The two most prominent artists were newspaper cartoonist (originally lawyer) Jan Fischer (between 1938 and 1948), and illustrator and musician Marko Čermák (a Promoted Fanboy, during the comics' revival in the wake of the Prague Spring). A few other artists filled in for Fischer a couple of times for a couple of issues/pages. Fischer's versions of the characters are the most iconic, and he captured the town sceneries well, while Čermák relished (and still relishes) drawing natural sceneries.

Rychlé šípy are an intentionally idealised group of teenaged boys who always try do the right thing, help the elderly, never utter vulgarities, etc. They also sometimes solve mysteries because what young heroes of this kind don't? Many of the stories are only single- or double-page, although there is also a number of longer arcs. The majority is adventurous or depicting events intended to edify the readers, but there are also some comical ones.

The members of Rychlé šípy are:

The characters are also featured in three novels written by Foglar, the so-called Stínadla Trilogy dealing with the mysterious town district of Stínadla ("Shades", but also with "beheading" undertones in Czech) and its secretive and belligerent society of children, the Vonts. In these books, Rychlé šípy venture into Stínadla in order to unravel its mysteries. The first two books were originally published in serialised form in the magazines publishing the comics at the time; the third was first published abroad and then in Czechoslovakia after the Velvet Revolution in one volume with the first two. The books are:

  • Záhada hlavolamu (1940-41, usually rendered in English as "The Mystery of the Conundrum" note )
  • Stínadla se bouří (1947, "Stínadla in Revolt")
  • Tajemství Velkého Vonta (1986/1990, "The Secret of the Great Vont")

All three books were also adapted into comics form, with Marko Čermák as the artist.

Due to the 20th-century political upheavals in Czechia, the publishing of Rychlé šípy was stopped several times for varying lengths of time, what with Those Wacky Nazis having no use for the independent reader clubs, Dirty Communists perceiving comics as the Western imperialist medium and likewise frowning on independent organisation, and Foglar's Scouting-influenced morality not suiting either of those groups. In a twist of fate, however, this may have only served to introduce new generations of fans to a work that might have otherwise run to the natural end of its course much earlier, and turned an undoubtedly influential comics into a downright iconic one.

In 1998, the publishing house Olympia published all the stories in a single omnibus book complete with detailed explanatory sectionnote  - which book, just like the comics itself, then became the standard to which such efforts are being compared in Czechia.

There has also been a TV series, a film, radio plays, and theatre productions. Rychlé šípy also feature in a couple of songs (which apparently Foglar was quite happy about). As well as parodies.

The Stínadla books in particular have really entered public consciousness, and have as a result practically entered the public domain with no regard to the actual law involved: Several authors have written continuations of them which break the usual rule that Ascended Fan Fic has to be in some way reworked in order to be published - these are openly a continuation of Foglar's work, featuring at the very least the same settings and concepts if not the same characters, and some of them were even published while Foglar was still alive. There were also people actually creating their own real life Vont societies. And there are public games being run based around the concept of "finding Stínadla in your own hometown".

The comics provides examples of:

  • Action Girl: It is implied that Podkova won the leadership of her large club consisting mostly of boys by force. Her right hand, Haha Bimbi, is used for Comic Relief (as something of a female foil to Rychlonožka), but in one Čermák-drawn story she is also shown successfully fighting her way through a crowd of boys (using an umbrella for a weapon).
  • Adults Are Useless: Zig-zagged. They really do not help most of the time or are even a significant problem for the protagonists, as many minor villains are criminals (petty or hardened) and the boys have to fight them or thwart them. Sometimes authorities are mistaken and Rychlé šípy have to prove something to them. In many cases the boys solve problems that arise while adults are standing useless to the side. On the other hand, there is definitely an underlying respect for (capable) adult authorities present, and some Aesops are delivered by an authority figure such as a teacher, a policeman or a doctor. For the most part, though, adults simply do not enter the story in a significant way (it has to be borne in mind that the comics is rooted in an era when it was much more common for children to play in the streets on their own), and can range from actively adversary, through useless, to actually supportive.
    • In Stínadla in Revolt, a boy gets kidnapped by the Vonts for venturing into Stínadla and it falls on Rychlé šípy to save him. To be fair, though, word of mouth among the children (from eyewitnesses) passes that particular piece of info to them much faster than it would have to the parents (in fact careful examination of the text reveals it to probably be a matter of minutes) and we never learn what the parents might have done otherwise had their son's disappearance lasted longer than one evening.
  • Amphibious Automobile: If you replace "automobile" with "pedal-driven vehicle" - Rychlé šípy build themselves one of those.
  • An Aesop: Unsurprisingly, given the purpose of the comics, a great number of the stories carry some sort of message - either moral, or practical advice ("don't jump into cold water after physical exercise"). Some of the Aesops are somewhat unconventional, though: such as the story in which Rychlonožka wants to have his pictures published in Mladý hlasatel and after a series of hijinks the club manages to get to the editorial office, only to find out Rychlonožka's pictures don't meet the requirements - which are stated explicitly for the readers who might want to do the same.
  • Arch-Enemy: Bratrstvo kočičí pracky - " The Brotherhood of Cat's Paw" - are three boys who display many kinds of unworthy behaviour, including superstitiousness (the cat's paw was meant to be a talisman), and of course try to cross Rychlé šípy at any opportunity.
  • Author Tract: Foglar almost always wrote those, but he was good at making them entertaining.
  • Befriending the Enemy: The original villains of the story were Černí jezdci ("Black Riders"), a band of bullying boys in the neighbourhood whose exploits drove the boys of Rychlé šípy together. After a number of issues detailing their rivalries, they joined forces to put out a fire and their enmities ended. Černí jezdci were never seen again.
  • Comic-Book Time: Big time. See above for the range of publishing dates. Beside seasonal changes, there is no obvious reference to time passing after the first year or two of the comics running, but subtle changes do occasionally happen - such as Rychlonožka entering an apprenticeship (thus having finished primary schooling). The time setting also varies. The books are presumably set in the time of the First Czechoslovak Republic, while the comics likely take place in the time they were written (for example, they feature the versions of police forces contemporary to the time of publishing).
  • Country Cousin: In one of the Čermák-drawn longer arcs, Jindra is invited to visit his aunt and cousin in the country near a lake / pond - because he had already been planning to go camping with the club, they decide to camp at the lake instead, and Jindra's cousin Alena and her friends play female foils for the boy club during their stay. Although in fact not that much hilarity ensues; because this arc largely features an abandoned castle on the other side of the lake, its tone is more sombre and mysterious.
  • Denied Food as Punishment: A variant in which a character is only given bread soupnote  for dinner as punishment for coming home late.
  • Dream Sequence: Always Rychlonožka, and always Played for Laughs. Includes Dreams of Flying.
  • Enclosed Space: One longer and tense story arc has Rychlé šípy trapped in a cave by rain and flood for several days.
  • Good Is Not Soft: Mirek may be a genuine Nice Guy who has better things to do than just constantly fight with other boys like those boys with no purpose in their life... but that doesn't mean he won't fight. And you probably don't want to be his opponent when that happens, because not only does his active lifestyle make him a good fighter... he will bring an army of willing followers.
  • Gosh Dang It to Heck!: Foglar was actually good at making his Unusual Euphemisms both fun and inventive, and a natural fit in the characters' speech - so good that himbajs šůviks and plantážník ("plantationer") have essentially become the series' catchphrases.
  • Human Snowball: In one wintertime story, Bratrstvo kočičí pracky laughs at Rychlé šípy for building a snowman like little children. They drop one of their large snowballs on them, and Bratrstvo ends up as this.
  • Ice Palace: In one Čermák-drawn story, Rychlé šípy find a mysterious and detailed ice building during a winter hike.
  • I Owe You My Life: In one story arc, a boy saves Jindra's life (or at the very least health) from snow falling from a roof. Jindra promises to fulfill any wish for him... with rather angsty consequences. It all turns out well in the end, of course.
  • Limited Wardrobe: Very much so with all the recurring characters. Eventually lampshaded with Bohouš, who is typified by his green tracksuit with the hood always up.
    Mirek: Take off that eternal hood of his!
  • Missing Mom - We never get to see much of Bratrstvo's home life, but we eventually do meet Dlouhé bidlo's father, who speaks of him as "my son, my child, my everything" (in a rather hilarious moment in which he immediately proceeds to threaten him, as only a worried parent can). It's reasonably safe to assume that Dlouhé bidlo is the only child of a single father.
  • One of the Boys: Podkova hangs out with boys and is respected by them for more traditionally masculine traits like her ability to fight. Nonetheless, she does not seem to eschew her femininity, as she is always shown wearing a skirt and her trademark fancy horseshoe hairclip ("podkova" means "horseshoe" in Czech).
  • Only Known by Their Nickname: Červenáček and Rychlonožka are literally only known by their nicknames: their real names are never revealed.
    • There are other characters as well: Dlouhé bidlo and Štětináč from Bratrstvo kočičí pracky are also nicknames unrelated to their unknown names (although a late story suggests Dlouhé bidlo's surname may be... Bidlo); the third member is known as Bohouš, which is a nickname for Bohumil or Bohuslav.
    • Plus there are Podkova, Metráček, Bambus, Tlouštík and Pískloun, Saf...
    • In the books, there is the menacing Em in Jan Tleskač's diary in Záhada hlavolamu, in the end revealed to be the elder Mažňák, and Širokko, the mysterious figure from Stínadla se bouří.
    • Borderline case with Haha Bimbi, who always introduces herself with her full name (Alžbětina Prknářová), but whom other characters refer to by her nickname, and fans tend to remember her by it.
  • The Runaway: One story arc has Rychlé šípy following the tracks of three boys who ran away from home after they got bad end-of-year school reports. There is also the recurring character of the orphaned Tonda Pírko.
  • Parasol Parachute: Rychlé šípy use a partially broken down one to jump from a cliff for fun; they christen it Samoletka ("Autoflier"). It does not last long.
  • Parasol of Pain: One of Haha Bimbi's weapons of choice is an umbrella. (The other is her sharp tongue.)
  • Save the Villain: In one story, Rychlé šípy end up rescuing the leader of Bratrstvo kočičí pracky from drowning in a fountain.
  • Shaped Like Itself: In one of the page-long stories, Rychlonožka needs the services of a clock-repairer, whose shop is however closed at the moment. When you look closely, the "Closed" sign actually reads "When I'm not here, I'm away."
  • Smoking Is Not Cool: A Fischer-drawn story has a formerly successful teenaged athlete succumbing to the influence of bad company and losing his athletic skills to smoking. A Čermák-drawn story has a PG-rated version of Sex, Drugs, and Rock & Roll with a popular local band of older boys teaching younger boys to smoke (trying to convince them it is cool, but thanks to the intervention of Rychlé šípy and the band's overreaction, it doesn't stick).
  • Spell Book: One story arc concerns the old "witch" Jeremiáška and the club's continual efforts to get her magic book to prevent her (and others after her death) from performing (black) magic - which they may or may not believe in themselves.
  • Totem Pole Trench: When Rychlé šípy are trying to inflitrate the editorial office of Mladý hlasatel over the protests of a porter and a cleaning lady in the building, they finally succeed by employing this tactic. Instead of a trench, though, they just use their own winter coats.
  • Trope Namer: Unofficially. In the Czech Republic, Mirek Dušín is considered to be a fine example of an honorable, chivalrous, clever, strong and friendly person, and is therefore used to describe people who share similar qualities. On a hypothetical Czech version of TV Tropes, there would definitely be a "Mirek Dušín" trope.
  • Where the Hell Is Springfield?: The real location of Druhá Strana and Stínadla remains, and shall remain, a mystery. Even though it was most likely inspired by Prague, Foglar insisted it had to be kept secret to maintain its mystique and so that each reader could discover their own Stínadla.