Of Russian origin: Lubok
Lubok is a colored woodcut or lithographical print, usually - a sequence of pictures accompanied by simple text explaining the images, much like a page from a comic book. Nowadays, luboks can be seen only in museums, but in the 17th-19th century one could meet lubok sellers at every market. For common peasants, most of which could barely read and had no opportunity to get a book or a newspaper, luboks served as information sources, decorations and a good laugh too.
People usually consider lubok being originally Russian, but this is not true. The lubok was originally invented in China. From there, it came to Europe. In the beginning of 17th century, the first “German funny paper sheets” appeared on Russian counters. Most of them were not in fact funny, and depicted saints and Biblical scenes. The Tsar and his family members hung luboks in their rooms, nobility took after the royalties and step by step luboks left the palaces and reached the huts.
Russian craftsmen learned the technique and began to make prints by themselves. The first Russian luboks were black and white, but then someone came up with the idea of coloring. Artisans originally used a cheap coarse brush, but it was a difficult task and the pictures often came out rather untidy. Buyers, however, were unpretentious – they just liked bright colors and short stories.
As luboks spread, their plots of pictures became less and less biblical. Among the prints, there were illustrations of tales and proverbs or folklore and heroic epics, “retellings” of newspaper articles and foreign novels. One could buy “The Story of the Wayward Son” to look at and to think about God’s mercy and wisdom, or something like “A Fireproof Man” or “Peasant Girl Marfa, Who Spent 33 Years Under the Snow and Came Out Alive”. They sound an awful lot like contemporary newspaper headlines, don’t they?
People, monsters, clowns and saints on luboks usually looked kind and funny. Nobody wanted to buy something frightening.
Caricatures of political figures were rather popular too. The most famous one is “How Mice Buried a Cat”. It is an illustration from a folklore tale. Once upon a time, a cat pretended to be dead, and mice decided to give him a proper burial. On the way to graveyard, the cat jumped up and ate the whole funeral procession. Where is the satire? This picture appeared soon after Peter I death, and many “mice” on it have certain resemblance to Peter’s associates. Text on the lubok also implies on Peter.
By the middle of 19th century every literally every peasant decorated his home with luboks. Children used them to learn how to read. In these times, many famous Russian novels and poems were “retold” by lubok printers, so common people got to know Pushkin, Gogol, Lermontov. Although these retellings were usually primitive and inaccurate, it was venertheless very hard for a peasant to get a real book. It was around this time that a figurative meaning of the word “lubok” appeared: “bad art” or “cliche art”.
Lubok “died” in the beginning of 20th century, soon after the October Revolution of 1917. Libraries and schools were opened in villages, and luboks became unnecessary.
Nowadays, one can see a collection of luboks in the State Literature Museum in Moscow.
Written by Olga Pigareva, RT