Last Sunday, on Vladimir Putin's birthday, the Super Putin! comic book crew placed a weird statue of Russia's Prime Minister and returning President outside the former KGB building in the centre of Moscow. Passers-by stared at it in wonderment. What could it mean? And why was it wearing judo pyjamas?
Perhaps the rumours were true. Perhaps the people who ink Super Putin! really are on the payroll at the Kremlin, and this was their latest ploy to make the real-life Putin seem more like the sensei-cum-superhero in their comics. Or maybe they're just a gang of playful dissidents who did it for a laugh.
This is Sergey Kalenik, the guy who created Super Putin! We sent one of our Russian correspondents over to Sergey's flat in downtown Moscow to find out what was going on.
VICE: You’re not paid by the Kremlin to make Putin popular amongst the kids, are you?
Sergey Kalenik: No. On the contrary, we want people to think, “Who is Mr. Putin, really?” You could call what we do a kind of innocent political satire. For example, in the first comic strip we did, Super Putin is driving Medvedev around on a bus.
That’s a pretty spot on symbolism.
Moreover, Putin isn’t portrayed as a problem solver at all, but rather as a problem maker.
OK… Why is Medvedev portrayed as a dwarf?
Well, when Medvedev was going to visit Omsk, they decided to take down the poster for a local theatre show that had, "We welcome you, merry dwarf" on it, as they were worried Medvedev would take offense. We found it funny, so we made him a dwarf. On a side note, according to the last census, we have more than 10,000 dwarfs in Russia.
How did you come up with the idea for the Super Putin! comics?
In Russia you can’t joke about anything but Putin. He is all over the media and always very composed. If you make him do crazy, silly things, it’s instantly funny. We’re also very inspired by the Superjail! series [psychedelic, ultraviolent cartoon series set in a prison in a volcano that airs on Adult Swim].
Have the Kremlin commented on the comic?
Not officially, but there are rumours that it triggered a negative reaction among the administration at first, but then Putin and Medvedev read the comic, liked it and suggested to let us keep going. We are blocked by Russian media, though, and Rykov [a pro-Putin blogger] told me that we’re on what they call a "stop list".
So you're not paid by the Kremlin at all? You're basically censored?
With that in mind, will you dare to be more critical of the regime?
You know the general rule of all sitcoms, don’t you? No pornography, no drugs, no politics, no kinkiness and no critical jokes before the fourth episode. Can you imagine how hard it is to stop ourselves from drawing Putin and Medvedev embracing and kissing each other on top of the mausoleum, saluting gay pride?
I can only imagine. Thanks for talking to me, Sergey, I'm glad we got this cleared up.