- Graphic Satire in the Soviet Union: Krokodil's Political Cartoons by John Etty
In Graphic Satire in the Soviet Union, Etty takes on the ambitious task of writing the first book-length study of Krokodil, a popular satirical magazine produced within the Soviet Union and Russia (1922–2000; 2005–2008). Etty's focus on the 396 issues published between January 1954 and December 1964 provides a fresh perspective and important contribution to Russian historiography of this pivotal, transitional time in Soviet history, marked by the death of Stalin, the rise of new leadership under Khrushchev, the relaxation of censorship, and the expansion and normalization of Cold War geopolitics. Throughout the book, Etty rejects Western, structuralist approaches to the study of Soviet media that portray the magazine as simply an ideological propaganda tool operated by [End Page 345] the Soviet state. By utilizing a revisionist approach and a poststructuralist analysis of the graphic content of the magazine, Etty argues that Soviet satire was more complex, diverse, and critical than the traditional propaganda paradigm allows (211).
Etty begins familiarizing the reader with Krokodil by providing a brief history of the magazine, its production, and its purpose, discussing the relevant historiography, and outlining the scope of his book. In the first three chapters, Etty examines the conceptual, visual, and satirical dimensions of Krokodil and argues for a revisionist view of the magazine that extends beyond politics. In chapter one, Etty critiques the traditional, structuralist approach towards the study of Soviet media and propaganda due to its overemphasis on state ownership and control over the media and its subsequent characterization of all Soviet media as uniform, ideological propaganda. Etty argues that such an approach ignores the impact and effect of Krokodil on the Soviet population, fails to explain the magazine's popularity among Soviet citizens, and ignores the use of humor and satire in Soviet media (21). Chapter two explores the format and visual language of Krokodil. Etty outlines the historical and contemporary influences on the magazine including Russian Orthodox Iconography, Lubok prints, satirical magazines published in Russia during the 1905 Revolution, contemporary satirical publications in Europe and the United States, and the political theatrical performance and caricature characteristic of Russian political culture in the 1920s. Etty again challenges the propaganda paradigm by claiming that Krokodil was not focused primarily on state issues and foreign affairs, citing as evidence the fact that nearly half of the magazine's content came from readers or amateur contributors reporting on local conditions and issues (54). In chapter three, Etty explores the carnivalesque humor of the magazine, describing it as a seriocomic satirical text that was part of the Menippean satirical tradition (76). He examines Soviet space cartoons, satirical graphics regarding technological inefficiencies and inept bureaucrats, and the use of the 'trickster', the Red Crocodile character that served as both an avatar of the magazine and as a character engaging in acts of retribution against the magazine's targets, and concludes that rather than supporting a state ideology, these satirical images could serve as a means of criticizing the Soviet system and its own inadequacies (83).
Chapters four and five focus on the relationship between Krokodil and the Soviet government, along with the transmedia influence of the magazine. Etty acknowledges that Krokodil was part of the Pravda Publishing House which was under the control of the Department of Propaganda and Agitation; nonetheless, he argues that editors had a greater degree of creative autonomy than one might expect. He notes that Krokodil was mentioned in only four decrees coming from the Communist Party Central Committee, two of which encouraged the use of different genres of graphics and called for greater contributions from amateurs and the general public (112). According to Etty, direct political intervention from the state or its censors was infrequent. Moreover, the state welcomed democratic participation from Soviet citizens in the form of letters to the editors, amateur cartoon submissions, and submissions to the magazine's national art, poetry, and prose competitions. Thus, the magazine was distributed largely to individual subscribers but...